I was lucky enough to serve in 22 SAS through 3 decades. Mid 70s to mid 90s.
Winners of the best dressed patrol award…First Gulf War 91. Every man in the right mind set…and every man I’d lay my life down for…even today.
In that time I’d not only see that short evolution of the Regiment, but I’d see the evolution of the British Army too.
Getting involved in operations in that time all over the world. Some that the public know about now, and a few that they still don’t.
It hurt me back then to see good county regiments and others go to the wall as government after government seeks to save on military spending.
However, in my own regiment 22 SAS, that cost cutting had a drastic knock on effect.
We rely totally on the rest of the armed forces to pass on their best individuals. Those seen as tailored to suit the SAS. The bigger load of fuel available…the brighter the fire.
Needless to say, we struggled back then. Yes we were getting good students to attend selection…but just not enough. Some of our troops in the squadrons were down to 7 or 8 men, when they should have been at 16 or so. Many troops didn’t have troop commanders, as officers couldn’t pass selection at the rate required to man all of the troops. And the Regiment was not going to water down selection in order to up the numbers passed. Even though the pressure was on to do just that by the Army’s generals.
During those times, I would work with many lads from other units. Attached as an LO (liaison officer) to units on operations, or attending military courses outside of 22 SAS, or seeing lads while teaching in such theatres as the jungle.
The one thing that struck me was just how many good soldiers have no interest whatsoever in going SF. Just happy to soldier along at the best of their ability in their own units, while wearing their cap badge with total pride. I’d watch soldiers going about their business thinking that he needs to be with us. I’d spend time chatting with them and trying to convince them that a career with SF would be well worth thinking about. Simply because I knew that we needed lads like these…almost to the point of desperation at times.
Great for their units to be able to retain them, but not so great for us.
When students turned up back then for selection, there was always the bunch of exceptional soldiers. Yet at the other level there were those who quite frankly should never have been given a rail warrant to Hereford. In the middle were the lads who we had to make up our minds about, are they for us or not?
Even when students pass selection and go to a squadron, there are weak links on every patrol. If the truth be told, every soldier knows in the back of his mind exactly where he stands within the grouping that he’s with. Therefore, even a 4 man patrol has it’s weakest link. And that weak link may change from trooper to trooper given the task at hand, and the present skills set of individuals…but it’s a fact of life anywhere, and in any industry. It’s not to say however that the individual shouldn’t be there. I was that very weak link on occasions too, being the new trooper on the ground with little skills to show for.
Our successes were based on the raising of every soldier, sailor and airman on a limited budget and the basics of kit. In other words, every single one of us for decades have had to punch well above our weight, irrespective of cap badge.
So, with that…we were never special.
But we’re not shite either mind!
Just showing the same strengths and weaknesses as every other unit in the British military, yes we’re all human after all. And that human element can kick in for both the positives and the negatives at any time when under pressure.
We’re a grouping of soldiers who have the right frame of mind to work in a small team and sometimes alone, to the highest of standards in the worst of times, many times with no support, feeding off self motivation as one of the key factors.
So given what I’ve already said, these great individuals were all over our military…it’s just getting them to come to the Regiment that was the problem for us back in those days.
So yes, we’re called the Special Air Service, named as such way back when to alert the enemy in thinking that the unit was much bigger than it actually was at that time. The name stayed, even though the Regiment over the years has been disbanded once already, and close to disbandment on occasions over the decades.
I’m proud to have been chosen, I’m proud to have served in 22 SAS, I’m proud of the name, and I’m proud of knowing that I was seen as a good soldier…yet in my mind never ever special.