SAS troopers breaching the Iranian Embassy in Operation Nimrod – 5th May 1980.
Little has happened in the past week.
I’m still going out and training, only fuelled this time by a bit more steel and determination due to an unhealthy diet of endless youtube videos about soldiering.
From the Sharpe TV series with Sean Bean, to Jocko Willink‘s podcast (I spent nearly 4 hours listening to the story of Jonny Kim), and Mark Owen‘s No Easy Day – The Firsthand Account of The Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden, there has been a lot of research done on the military this week.
This led to a quiet reflection of the one time I tried to enlist in the ADF myself.
I’ll be using this memory to create a slightly interesting, introspective series called What If?
I like to think I am … passable at a lot of things and that I got a lot of interest in a wide diaspora of activities and occupations.
But none quite ring as strong as my obsession, hero worship and desire to sign up in the military. This has been a goal, that I had to abandon after I failed the basic physical requirements for the Army.
I didn’t even get a chance to prove myself physically. They just deemed me unfit for service due to my hearing disability.
Another little facet about me, that isn’t widely published. I can’t hear high frequency sounds. So that results in me struggling to hear softly spoken people, and also develop a lisp. Because …. if you can’t hear the sounds … why would you say it? So th, tsch, ch, sh … all of those annoying consonant combinations are a pain in my ear.
It’s also a driving factor in why I forced myself to become better at English, improve my vocabulary and write so often. Because you can’t make fun of me and my funny sounding words, if you have to read them.
This of course was a major blow to my ego, especially after I was deemed appropriate for Special Forces on my aptitude test and thus any job in the Army I wanted. But I’ve managed to reconcile that (mostly).
After all, the last thing I wanted to be, was to be a liability in the battlefield, especially if it put other squad members in harm’s way, all because I couldn’t hear properly.
As a teen, though, all I wanted to be a Blade. I wanted to earn that famed winged dagger and be a member of the Regiment. I wanted to join the Australian Army, the moment I left high-school. But as in a lot of things, regarding my life, I let others dictate what I should do and ended up in University, a period of time which I considered an incredible waste of time and money, learning little and getting even less out of it.
But I never lost my obsession with the military. I kept up to date with Afghanistan, convincing myself to the point, that my ideal holiday destination would be Afghanistan, instead of somewhere normal like California or The Bahamas.
(It still is my ideal place to visit, if I am honest. The place looks absolutely stunning.)
I loved the mythos behind the SAS, the reputation these men had and earned and the idea of being the most challenged soldier in the entire military industrial complex. I wanted to try my hand at Selection, to find myself on the brink of death/failure and be sent overseas to do some good.
I was naive, of course. Still am, if I am honest, but I suspect that is what many aspiring soldiers are like. They see men in camo, equipped with the latest war-fighting technology, rifles dripping with lasers and optics; going out and slotting enemies on a daily basis and … well, we want to be one.
The appeal of a warrior is inherent in young men who are aggressive, wish to become the best version of themselves and want to feel like their lives are worth or in serve of something greater.
This narrative is echoed across any standing army in the world.
You want to prove you are the best, most capable and deadliest man you can be.
My own family has a military background, with my grandfather being a high ranking officer in the Vietnam War. According to my father, I am an echo of him, a sentiment I took immense pride in, as a younger man.
Even now, writing this, I get jealous when I hear friends and family who had a chance to sign up and wish I could do the same. This piece is really about me indulging a bit further on a dream, that could never be a reality.
So What If I had really managed to get through? I would have signed up for Cavalry Scout, the role appealed to me the most. I love cars, driving, and the idea of being an advanced reconnaissance unit, the very tip of a spear, before the thrust even began, appealed to me. I wanted to drive FAVs (Fast Attack Vehicles), lay down fire and then disappear in a plume of dust and smoke.
After a year in that, I would have tried out for Selection to get in the Special Air Service Regiment, and this is where I am going to be realistic about my chances in this fantasy.
I would have failed.
I don’t say this lightly. But after reading the stories of other similar units around the world: U.S. Navy SEALs, Polish GROM, German KSK, Israeli Sayeret Matkal, and of course UK’s 22nd SAS, I know now, I don’t think I have what it takes to be a member of the Regiment.
The immense willpower and physical and mental attributes these men possess to be the elite fighting force in their country, is more than what I currently have. At the time when I tried enlisting, I couldn’t run very well, nor swim properly either. Add to that, I was struggling to find proper motivation and will to get myself into shape.
If I struggle with the physical side so much, and I didn’t have the will to push that aside …. there is absolutely no way, I would have gone through Selection.
The worst thing too, is that Selection is not even that hard. It’s just a benchmark test to see whether you have what it takes to be a new guy in the unit. There’s months, years of experience, training and actual combat to catch up on. Selection is just a process to weed out weaker people like myself, to see whether we will be a liability in the darkest, grimmest and toughest situations. To strip away all the pretense, ego, pride and bullshit we give ourselves and expose who we really are.
And if you are as tough as they come, then you might earn yourself a spot in the unit.
I say might because just surviving Selection isn’t enough. It’s doing it to the standards of the unit and the SAS is famous for having the toughest and most character revealing selection course in the world.
But in this fantasy, I would have failed my first attempt. Just maybe though, I’ll pass my second attempt, because I know what to expect, how to train myself and how to prepare myself.
I would also like to explore my life would be like if I was Army full-time.
I wouldn’t have been doing the TET Festival, nor met any of my current friends or maintained relationships with them either.
I also wouldn’t have met my current girlfriend, since we were first introduced to each other at the TET Festival.
I also wouldn’t have gone to university, but I suspect my intelligence would have been better if I joined the Army, simply because I was in a better learning environment, I was happier about my decision and well … universities in Australia have a shit reputation of terrible teaching methodology, leaning heavily on their antiquated and out-dated reputation and a general lack of care for their students, since they already got your damn money the moment you get your ID card.
I probably would have read more in the Army too and tried to pick up another language.
I also suspect I would have lost my obsession with guns. After firing the plastic, awkward bullpup known as the Steyr AUG or the F88, as it is known in the ADF, I probably wouldn’t have seen a gun as anything more than a tool. I also have a sneaking suspicion, that I would have hated the gun and wished I moved onto Special Forces quicker, just so I could use my preferred arms manufacturer, the Heckler & Koch.
On a darker note, I suspect I would have suffered a lot more from combat. I don’t know how I would react if one of my friends and squad-mates got shot and killed right in front of me. I know it would be furious anger and an extreme display of aggression, that, in all honesty, would have gotten me killed.
Allowing emotions in combat, are the quickest way one can get killed, or worse … get your team-mate killed.
I also suspect I would have struggled heavily with post traumatic stress disorder, and maybe been a lot less introspective, than I am today. This of course, is a horrific cycle to be locked in, knowing demons lurk in your mind, and allowing them to control you, instead of you controlling them.
I would have also been the classic loner. With all my friends on base, or on deployment, I doubt I would be more extroverted, instead preferring to seek solace in a book. I wouldn’t be playing video games as much, no doubt swapping that for more time spent on a range, fiddling with cars or training hard to maintain optimum physical fitness.
I also would like to think I would be a lot less arrogant, and far more quiet as a member serving among my heroes.
On a more positive note, I suspect I would be a lot fitter than I am now too. And I would have a greater interest in the world, having travelled it more.
Is there anything I think would be the same?
Maybe my luck. My father is always commenting on how lucky I am. Looking on the opportunities and my own abilities and personality, I would have to concur. It could very well be that luck would help me survive multiple combat deployments, but eventually all luck run out and I could be coming home in a body bag with a flag draped over my corpse.
After all, combat doesn’t care. A bullet is a bullet. The only thing standing between you and death, is not your training, nor your own excellence, or really … anything to do with you … it’s just who got a little luckier than the other guy.
If I had joined the Army, I probably would have sucked with women too. I mean, I still do, but it’s better than what I was coming out of high school. The Army isn’t exactly the best place to be a smooth operator when it comes to treating women or civilians for that matter.
Would I have a tattoo? Maybe. If I was good enough to get into the Regiment, I might get something decorative to commemorate that occasion. Probably something subtle on the upper shooting arm. Like the number 22 in kanji.
Perhaps another thing that would remain the same is my stubbornness to drink alcohol. I doubt it would have made me popular among my mates, but it is a conviction I hold very closely to my heart, after hearing the stories about my grandfather abusing my grandmother, whilst intoxicated.
As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather face all my problems sober, alert, honest and standing tall, than try and hide behind liquor, where I’m stupid, fall on my face, and unable to see the truth behind all things.
I probably would have rejected a lot of the “bro” culture behind the Army. I suspect I would be immensely unpopular. But … if I did my work right, I never complained, and I was as reliable as they came, I would probably earn their respect.
I doubt too, whether I would lose my dislike for authority figures. But then, that was the whole point of joining Special Forces. There was a greater leeway on how you could approach missions. I knew that was a big appeal behind why I wanted so badly to be a member.
I think I’ve exhausted all the possibilities that my life would have changed had I gone through and committed myself to the Army. A lot of changes for sure, physically and psychologically. I would have been committed to one goal, and that was to be a member of the SASR’s Vehicle Troop with a focus on being a medic.
I like to think that this is a relatively accurate idea of what I might have become had I joined the ADF, straight after high school.
It’s been a rather interesting and fascinating fantasy to discuss.
I will probably do some more on certain pivotal moments of my own life.