New Zealand’s 1st Special Air Service (NZSAS) is one of two nations outside of Great Britain, the other being Australia, that carry the SAS name.

New Zealand’s SAS have been widely involved in combat operations in the Pacific region, and more recently in the war on terror in Afghanistan, where its “extraordinary heroism” earned it a rare United States Navy Presidential Unit Citation for combat actions in 2002. This occurred while serving as part of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-SOUTH/Task Force K-BAR, between 17 October 2001, and 30 March 2002.

The NZSAS, like its Australian brethren traces its roots back to the British Commonwealth Long Range Desert Group and SAS in World War II. It formed on July 7th, 1955, and is the premier combat unit of New Zealand’s Defense Force. One that has earned a respected and professional reputation, from its many battles in the Malaya/Borneo insurgencies in the 1955 through multiple rotations during Vietnam, 1968-71, on up to Afghanistan in 2001-2005 and 2009-2011.

The organizations current structure comprises four squadrons and two wings which are as follows:

  • A SAS Squadron (Air, Boat, Mobility and Mountain troops)
  • B SAS Squadron (Air, Boat, Mobility and Mountain troops)
  • Commando Squadron (Counter Terrorism), created in 2000
  • E Squadron (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)
  • Headquarters Support Wing
  • Training Wing

Entrance into the unit is available to all Army, Navy and Air Force applicants who pass a 10 day selection course (2 day pre-selection, 8 day selection), a benign sounding endeavor which has been described by veterans to a New Zealand newspaper as “Physical and mental torture.”

About Those Tests…

All of the fitness tests in the New Zealand Army, completed to the NZSAS standard. This is followed by three days of open country navigation while carrying a 35 kg pack and rifle, with a minimum of food and sleep metered out.

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Among the exercises is the notorious ‘Exercise Von Tempsky’ which is executed on the fifth day of selection course. Von Tempsky consists of 24 hours of marching in either a swamp or sand dunes while carrying rifles and alternately one or two 20-litre jerrycans and a 35 kg ALICE pack. The final exercise is a 60-kilometre endurance march, carrying a 35 kg pack, web gear and rifle, to be completed in under 20 hours.

Officers undergo an additional two days of selection to test for the their suitability to lead NZSAS soldiers.

If selected, they move on to the nine month SAS course, where they undergo extremely intensive physical, mental, and emotional challenges which seem to have no end. Virtually every spectrum of combat and survival is covered with little respite. This weeds out those lacking in discipline and self-reliance to the point that only 10-15% of candidates will have endured from selection to standing ready to receive their sand colored berets and blue belts on graduation day. After putting them on, the berets display the patch with the famous words “Who Dares Wins.” Truly, they know they have survived an ordeal few will ever know to the end, and are part of the elite, the greatest soldiers in New Zealand.

Its not over though. Now they head off to advanced training to hone their commando skills in areas like shooting, explosives, reconnaissance, close quarter battle, mountaineering, tracking, diving, boating and parachuting which, like the 9 month course, one can still wash out.

Upon completing this they are assigned to one of the units of the 1st NZSAS ready to deploy at once, and whose secrecy is of the highest priority.