SAS: The Search for Warriors
For the first time in 25 years a veil of secrecy on the SAS lifts, in this gruelling SBS documentary that leaves Recruits looking like a holiday camp.
They have been concealed from our gaze for decades, known to the public largely for what we don’t know about them.
Now for the first time in 25 years, the veil of secrecy on the Special Air Service Regiment will lift, if only in part. The SAS has allowed a camera crew to film their selection procedures, in a two-part documentary to screen on SBS.
And what this fly-on-the-wall surveillance captures leaves Recruits looking like a holiday camp.
The most impressive attribute of this documentary is simply the access itself.
That the SAS, an elite division of the Australian Army, has granted a film crew the liberty to film its activities is profound. As such there are limits to how much is detailed, for fear of identifying SAS personnel and jeopardising lives.
Most of the senior staff are filmed with camouflage face masks, allowing little more than their eyes to be visible. A few are shot surreptitiously from behind, or with extreme close ups of a mouth talking to camera. None are named.
The 131 applicants hoping to be selected are filmed with full access, but only identified as “Candidate #42” and similar. It’s hard not to wonder if their identities will be compromised should they succeed in being selected. Maybe this will only feature those who do not make the cut.
The SAS work in foreign territories, including Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor. Working in counter terrorism, surveillance, peacekeeping, tactical assault and reconnaissance it is essential they remain unidentified in order to be able to work in life-threatening situations. They are the real deal.
What the men (only men are trained here, although some women work as trainers) endure is gruelling stuff. Think of every physical endurance test you have ever seen in an army movie and double it.
The sole purpose of the 21-day selection process appears to be about breaking the spirit of the men. But there is a deeper logic to uncovering those with phyical and mental super-skills.
The men face crushing physical exercises, extreme psychological tasks, unforgiving hours and conditions, all-weather and terrain challenges, sleep deprivation and 20km marathons (carrying weights) that must be completed in harsh time limits.
Big, burly blokes are made to strip naked and answer to female officers in a test to break confidence. Mental interrogation panels test the men on their personal character. Many will buckle under the pressure.
Everything here is a numbers game: how many will start the course, how much weight can they carry, how many push ups, how many hours to complete a marathon, how many hours sleep, how many will quit by the first, second and third days.
The men vary in ages, most are in their 30s. Some in their 20s are constantly warned they are too young to measure up. Others in their 40s know it is their last chance at making the cut. From the comfort of my couch it’s hard not to think that the pressure of the training must be difficult enough without actually failing in front of the camera too.
Ironically, while the men are constantly belittled and abused throughout training, there is an odd contrast of respect for those who quit. Officers display a dignified acknowledgement for those who have given their all but were unable to meet the challenge.
Filmed at Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne, Western Australia, this is a rare insight into the early training stages of becoming an SAS trooper. Matt Day narrates with a straight-talking style, fitting with the largely impersonal tone of the story. As an observational documentary it ventures beyond the lines of others in the genre.
The SAS demands the best of the best, without apology.
SAS: The Search for Warriors premieres 8.30pm Tuesday December 7th on SBS ONE.