The South African Reconnaissance Regiments are one of the lesser-known or understood groups of soldiers in the world today. They have been through many phases and missions under the command of very different governments, especially in the last quarter-century. Today’s ‘Recce’ is often attached to missions of the United Nations for peacekeeping missions in various parts of Africa. The old SADF (South African Defense Force) was primarily a highly specialized unit born in the midst of a growing fire of communist insurgencies across the continent.

Similar to the big Army mindset of the United States that was against any type of Special Forces, South Africa did not see the need for anything beyond the vaunted airborne forces known as the Parabats. A few visionary soldiers saw the need for highly specialized and mobile forces, able to perform deep recon and direct action behind enemy lines. In 1967, Jan Breytenbrach, a highly innovative officer in the Parachute Battalions secured permission to take 12 of his men to Rhodesia and undergo SAS selection in an attempt to bring that training back and multiply it and eventually form up a successful Counterinsurgency (COIN) unit of its own.

Many growing armies in war and peace seek knowledge from other countries who have experience in the areas they want to strategically employ. Breytenbach and all of his men were ground down with intention but passed Rhodesian SAS selection in good shape. This nucleus would be the beginning of a unit that would be permanent and legendary.

The initial training of a special operations soldier is generally referred to as Selection. There are other terms such as Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) but Selection is a word that holds significance. The magnitude of what men go through to make it into a unit is intended as a mutual selection. The instructors get a chance to determine the suitability of a candidate through whatever means they can devise but equally important is the soldier’s chance to select whether he truly wants to follow through and be standing at the end.

Each unit has its own tried and true methods to strip everything away down to raw and bloody will and each soldier must find a way, inside, to not only stay in the game but to find a way to perform up to standards.

Recce operators before conducting a cross-border operation during the South African Border War.

The Recces went through their own learning curve to find the best men. In the beginning, a traditional SAS-style course was undertaken. Half of the cruel and unusual punishment came from the landscape and wildlife of Africa itself. The heat, terrain, and ability to endure it would ensure Darwins ‘Survival of the Fittest’ had some say so in the Recces.

Once the unit became official in the mid-1970s the recruiting and training classes commenced, the cadre often found themselves searching far and wide for candidates. With the rigorous process of applying, showing physical fitness, and a suitability interview with a psychiatrist much was invested in prospects before they showed up for Selection.

A series of events in 1975 proved that the ‘head shrinks’ would be an invaluable tool and that the evolution onto a plain of pain and endurance was indeed a large part mental.