(Please note army vets – this is just the recounting of my application process – nothing I write is intended to reveal/mislead/misrepresent anything about the British Army)
I’d had an incredible week in Georgia with Davit that showed me there was a pain I never knew.
Now it was time to head out for the army assessment centre at ATC Pirbright.
(At some point in the future I’ll trawl through my emails to get the relevant pictures/timelines/dates etc – for now, I’ll write).
It was to be a 3-day, 2-night weekend for general entry.
The process for 21SAS had changed somewhat by then.
As a couple of guys had died training out on the hills during their application in the year previously in 2014, the whole process had to be changed.
What it now meant was that anyone applying to the special forces had to go through the regular army test weekend and then go off to Alpha, Bravo and then Commando training.
You’d be put in with the reservist’s training.
If you were taking the full-time route, then these training courses were several weeks longer, and you’d have the exercises, tactics, and techniques drilled into you much more thoroughly.
Of course, the body of knowledge had to be the same. The idea, of course, was that you were ready for war. But naturally, those on the full-time programme would become a better-trained soldier.
I remember getting on the bus to head over with the other troops with no sense of what to expect.
You weren’t to tell anyone about your background, and tell the troops at the ATC that you were applying to be a driver.
The aim of the weekend was to come out on top of absolutely everything that you did.
Just getting to this weekend had been something of a test.
You had to provide your full medical history, and if there was anything that they felt could preclude you from being a soldier – it would be tested/discussed during this weekend.
There was a full medical (hearing, sight, lung, joint stress test and Q&A) as well as physical and cognitive tests you needed to pass.
But it all began with a gentle introduction to army life.
Being herded into dorms with yellow high-visibility bibs.
It demonstrated our pecking order – that we were just here for the first time and as yet had absolutely no rank whatsoever.
You can read all about the induction tests here
Through the army induction is how I met my great friend Adrian – we were there that same weekend and didn’t speak to each other at all until the very last day on the train.
Several things became relatively clear to me from the beginning.
It paid to be self-assured and confident, as it was clear that those who were a little nervous failed to fit in and struggled when asked questions and given tasks in front of everyone.
All the physical training was done in groups, whether on the race track, in the gym or otherwise. And when there were tests it was the same – you’d be doing this in front of everyone and there was an embarrassment in failure.
From the brief conversations, I had with long-time army veterans who were taking some of the classes – the army had gone soft(er) over the years in line with the softening of the world I guess. That meant nothing to me as I didn’t have any reference point to work from, so into the weekend we went.
Staying in dorms was like being back in school again and the camaraderie it brings out is noticeable. I was 27 at the time of the application but the general age was the perhaps early 20s.
Furthermore, my general educational background was a complete mix with very few ‘professionals’ (not that I was one at this time – I had been a ‘traveller’ for the last several years).
I felt like I was on a ‘lads’ weekend away.
And so just having banter with the people in the dorm was absolutely great fun. There was an adventure to be had in piss-taking the whole experience, everyone around you as well as yourself.
Everything was fair game as we started moving through the weekend.
The primary way that everyone was able to measure each other up was the combat fitness test – but in particular, the 1.5 miles run.
You’d line up on an ‘army made’ loop across the base – and would need to run your best for 1.5 miles – and this was the fastest way to size up your competition.
We were in an 18-man dorm separated out into three blocks of six men each. We had cupboards to store our stuff and specific ways in which our kit should be laid out in the cupboards.
The army training centre was for part-timers and regulars alike – it was the stream that everyone went through alongside Alpha and Bravo training.
So in these dorms, you’d meet people with varying levels of previous military experience. That became apparent even when I watched people unpack their belongings and place them into the cupboard in a precise, premeditated fashion.
I was (and unfortunately still am) someone who’d throw my items into the cupboard in a ball of organised chaos. Without the organisation.
There were definitely a couple of central points of this weekend that really stand out in my memory which I’ll walk you through:
The Power Bag Lift
‘You will be asked to lift a power bag from the ground onto a platform that is 1.45m high.
This is to see whether you could lift a rucksack onto the back of a military truck. The
weight of the bag starts at 15kg (warm-up weight) and goes up to a maximum of 40 kg.’
This test was simple to understand. It was just a test of strength, and we went to a gym room that had been prepared for this task.
It was one of those tasks that were simple but scary because of the public nature of the examination.
You’d have to lift a different maximum weight depending on what stream you were applying to. 21 was an infantry division (of sorts) so that meant you’d need to lift all the way up to 40kg.
As we lined up one by one I was nervous because I’d absolutely not practised this once. So part of me did wonder if I’d make the 40kg. Strength had not been my strong suit for some years.
Ultimately why this part stands out to me because you’d see some of the smaller guys line up who were applying to infantry (or otherwise? Who really knew) and slowly start cycling through the power bags?
As they got to 30kg plus you’d really see them start to struggle – this was closing in on half their body weight.
And then one or two would unfortunately fail.
The British Army Recruitment Battery Test (BARB)
These were ultimately very straightforward – having been used to the Deloitte type numerical, logical and abstract reasoning tests – these were in the same kind of quadrant but simpler.
I had an unfair advantage over the others perhaps having done tests like this before – but it was a good feeling; feeling supremely confident about the nature of these tests.
Now, this was a fascinating challenge and unlike anything, I’d ever done before and…
For the rest, I’ll continue another time :p