Read Part I here.
“From time to time, there is a requirement for men and women to volunteer to undertake special duties of a hazardous nature in Northern Ireland. Selection and training for the special duties is both rigorous and arduous. For further details, see defense council instructions…”
Divine words for anyone stranded in a Cold War base and bored with military routine.
Knocking at the unit’s intel officer’s door came next. He, of course, discouraged ‘good’ men from throwing away their careers and encouraged ‘troublemakers’ so he’d get rid of them.
A few days later, a mysterious bunch in civvies visited those still interested. An interview and PT and IQ tests followed. Candidates had to show intelligence, initiative, independent thinking, technical trainability, and mental stamina. Superb physical condition was a bonus, but not a prerequisite.
Candidates with unique features, such as scars, birthmarks, and excessive tattoos, were declined outright. Being unmarried and looking unmilitary helped.
For those concealing potential, a trip to a derelict WWII camp somewhere in the English countryside known as Camp One came next. Eight weeks of punishing and abnormal activities followed. (Women, initially, went through a different Camp One but this, despite ‘fraternisation’ concerns, changed to make courses more realistic.)
Selection courses aimed to be as uncomfortable as possible—most occurred in the winter.
The Directing Staff, a fiendish combination of SAS and Army Intelligence, designed the first two weeks as a sieve cruelly sifting through the weak and uncommitted.
Candidates showed up with just two warm-weather fatigues, a set of civvies, and PT gear. They’re allowed to keep their watches (so the DS could mess with their sense of time).
Photographed and numbered, they’re told never share their name, military ID number, rank, or unit with anyone, both DS and other candidates, for the course’s duration.
Few words by the CO over admin stuff, how to quit, for example, and the fun began.
The first task? A detail description of their trip to the base. At least five pages. One hour. Go.
What’s the best way to test mental stamina? Physically destroy someone. Unfortunately, for the candidates, there’s no shortage of ways to achieve that.
Activities varied from course to course.
But few were staple: midnight stretcher or log carrying races; land navigation followed by timed weapons proficiency tests; aggression assessments, aka boxing matches (the DS loved to pit Paras or Royal Marines against airmen or sailors); initiative and leadership exercises, where candidates had to work as a team to build things with oil barrels, ropes, and planks.
Candidates went through repeated psychological assessments. To gauge their psyche, the DS asked strange questions such as “Cats or dogs? Plumber or waiter? Satisfaction or happiness? Would you deceive a friend?”
Memory and attention-to-detail exercises were also a DS favorite. Candidates were dropped in local villages and told to observe things without drawing attention (a hard thing to accomplish in a small community, where everyone knows everyone) and then write detailed reports.
Candidates also watched videos of busy streets and commented on patterns (often, actual operational surveillance footage), or were given two minutes to walk through a room and then an hour to make detailed reports of its contents.
To test their mental concentration, the DS often left candidates in the cold for a night or two and then gathered them in a warm lecture room to watch a boring documentary, on which they would have to answer detailed questionnaires.
These, of course, were combined with sleep deprivation and PT sessions. Hidden cameras tracked candidates 24/7.
Many quit, others were ‘cancelled’ by the DS.
The intentionally unstructured program clashed with the military routine most were used to.
Those still standing after the eight weeks of Camp One, assembled into a lecture room. A DS called numbers. Those who heard theirs left the room, never to be seen again.
The few left proceeded to Camp Two and advanced training.
Not all made it.
Featured image courtesy of the British Army