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I want to talk through a journey that I went on at the beginning of the autumn of 2014.
Of applying to 21SAS.
And getting some way into the programme itself.
21SAS – for those who are unfamiliar, is the British Special Forces reservist programme.
As someone with no previous military experience like myself – you cannot apply directly to the full-time special forces.
In fact – that idea is laughable – although somehow you can apply to be a full-time Navy Seal (to my understanding) with no previous military experience.
The reservists are for those who wish to try to go full-time – and is considered a back-door entry to the full-time programme (at least if you surf the thousands of forums on this subject online)
But the gap between being a civilian (irrespective of previous training you’ve had) and going to become part of the 21/22SAS means you’ll have to go on a pretty incredible journey to get there.
And at age 27. I decided “why not – let me give this a crack!”
And so begins the story of my application to the British Special Forces – and something that has taught me so damn much about myself and life.
It led me to become a basically trained British soldier.
To go on some incredibly intense training weekends with other applicants.
Of getting a tiny taste of what military life is like and also going on a private training programme with a former special forces sniper
(In dorms during Alpha training at Pirbright)
But the story begins around October 2014.
Sat at my laptop looking for something to do.
At the end of the summer of 2014, I’d just finished my 1st 100k+ ultramarathon, my first Muay Thai fight as well as my first Ironman.
(The Art Fighter Gym, Rio De Janeiro, 2014)
So I felt ready for a new challenge…
And wasn’t sure which way to turn.
I thought maybe I’d go back to running and began surfing the web.
Running had always been my first love.
That’s when whilst Googling in search of the world’s hardest ultramarathons I could apply for – and with ‘Death Valley’ coming up…I also came across a guy known as ‘David Goggins’ in 2014.
Quickly I discovered I’d need to do several other runs to just qualify for Death Valley so I’d need over a year. So then I turned my attention to this man Goggins.
If you’ve not looked him up – do.
He’s pretty amazing.
As a total unknown in the ultrarunning scene – he came out of nowhere and finished 3rd in Badwater – held the world 24-hour pull up the record and had many other accomplishments under his belt
It also said that at the time he was an active Navy Seal.
I thought ‘what’s that?’.
So I Googled it.
‘Woah!’ – I thought as I saw what it meant
So I then followed up with another logical search – and immediately googled ‘British equivalent to the Navy Seals.
After 10 minutes of digging into what it meant to be in the SAS; I immediately did my third and final search on Google that Wednesday evening.
‘Apply to the SAS’.
What followed was an intense 45-minute period of me reading through all of the qualifying criteria and looking to see if I matched up with them;
Less than 32 years and 364 days of age….check (it has since changed)
In good physical health…check
Able to commit to all of the training…check
To my surprise…it looked like anyone in decent health & fitness and ‘of age’ could apply.
So I did exactly that.
The whole process took 90-minutes and it was done.
Ultimately – this was a time of my life when I was lost and in search of ‘goals and objectives,’ I could cling to. I was still grieving over the end of my relationship with Daniela and the flurry of sports I engaged in provided some real respite from that
And so began a journey after submitting this application – into a very unique world.
I wasn’t sure if I would hear back… but to my pleasure (and nervousness) I did
I’d been invited to go along to the barracks closest to Great Portland Street and have an initial interview to see how I fared.
But this wasn’t before, of course, submitting my application.
And apologies for the purists (as I’m likely to get some details mixed up) – but here goes (from memory)
The application is an adventure all by itself.
They ask you what tattoos you have, the coverage of them and the size of them
That was a pretty big challenge all by itself because of the number of tattoos I’ve got.
Then there comes questions of nationality, parentage, parental background, religion and documentation.
As I would later discover – my father still had an Indian passport and being in the UK with a permanent residential visa would be queried; as well as double-checking our religious background.
I remember heading to Great Portland Street for the initial interview not knowing really what to expect.
And being surprised that the first person I met was another British Indian lady at reception. What was the bigger surprise was that she’d been with the regiment for several years (5 years+) and couldn’t remember ever having a British Indian applicant who wasn’t from a military or Nepalese background.
From my ultramarathons, ironmen, marathons and even thai kickboxing – that didn’t come as a huge surprise to me.
British Indians aren’t big on these types of activities. But if we’re talking Thursday night ‘5-a-side’ football – then it’s an all-out assault.
The second thing that happened which was strange upon coming back some weeks later for a second interview – was swearing on the Bible and to the queen and country to serve the British crown and not reveal any secrets.
Strange because…it felt surreal and like an exercise in tradition.
Even the man asking me to swear was yawning as he did it.
But it also elevated the seriousness of this undertaking.
‘So you’re having a crack at 21 are you?’ Said the Scotsman I was speaking to.
‘Yeh I’d love to give it a go’
‘Ok,’ he said simply.
And then another man entered the room who looked at me and began with his line of questioning:
My motivation for joining was questioned – and I gave the answer that seemed to make sense to me and, to be honest, was the truth.
One, that this made my parents proud (it felt like this could be a stable path that my parents understood) and that the United Kingdom had done a lot for my family.
Furthermore, I clearly loved physical challenges and this seemed to potentially be the hardest out there (I would later find out that this, certainly for me; was the truth)
Given I’d completed a (slow as hell) Ironman in 15 hours 21 minutes and had run over 100k – it was a good lead into getting through the interview stage – which probably was straightforward enough for anyone with an adventurous background.
As it turned out – my interviewer had done an Ironman and finished some two hours quicker than me…but it was still a positive nonetheless.
Then – you move on to the medical section of the application.
And a different adventure begins.
Your full medical history is taken, as well as historical travel dates and a detailed narrative of what you’ve been doing over the last decade.
This made sense but was also something pretty damn new to me.
So off I went in search of getting all of these elements to put together; as well as looking into what was required to actually pass their selection programme.
My timeline; as I’d later discover was ridiculously aggressive as the entire nature of the application process had changed.
Two selection applicants had died out on the hills phase the year before and so the Ministry of Defence had been forced to change the entire nature of the programme.
It now meant that a ‘civvy’ – someone like myself could no longer just turn up to selection weekend and have a ‘crack’ at the selection.
Furthermore, someone who had historically just ‘done that’ was in many respects useless to the general army as they had no way of assessing skills, knowledge and all.
The 21 has a programme that is entirely separate from the regular British army. They train separately, bunk separately and don’t share much at all.
This would now change in the very year I applied…and meant that even before I had begun; many people would ultimately drop out.
And IS a story if you wish to read more about just sign up here.
Meanwhile, we will journey back to before I ever set foot inside a barracks and talk of how for once in my life; before all of this…
I was…………I’ll tell you in the next email!