SAS Beacons course

The three men who died as a result taking part in a SAS ‘TAB’ over Pen-y-Fan is not something any one of us wants to happen, but it did and I am not surprised.

The first thing to remember is that it was not run by the SAS but running along side of it, these people were reservists and not professional soldiers. These advanced courses are for men who are fully trained for warfare and above all fighting fit, along with the right attitude.

How many men would practice for a number of weeks then run a marathon, not many, so why would you do this course after a couple of months part time training. From long experience I can tell you that the Pen-y-Fan and the Brecon Beacons take no prisoners. People look at the beacons and think how lovely it all looks, but underneath all of that there is a monster ready to reach out and pull you down; it can all change in a second.

It is not only the heat that gets you, you will more or less need to run to complete these courses and you will of course lose heat doing so. If then you have a combination of wind and rain (not cold) then you body heat dissipates quite rapidly, losing heat faster than it can produce it and you end up with hypothermia. This is the monster. What might be a nice day for some on the on the Brecon Beacons it can and will reach out and take a life within a hour or two.

I was a senior NCO in the Parachute Regiment who ended his time by being a Staff Sgt instructor at Infantry Battle School Brecon. The Parachute Regiment has a long history with the Beacons (I was also a corporal for two years at AFD) and initial training was divided into a number of weeks where recruits were led through important battle training in Brecon, later on those who survived the course would go back down to Brecon for what was called ‘advanced training’.

So early on our recruits knew the dangers and the incredible physical tasks that had to be carried out in the Beacons, beside tactics. One of the many physical tasks was from memory a ten mile TAB up over the Fan with eight men carrying a man on a stretcher, four men carrying at a time, it was normally someone who was sick that was on the stretcher.  The pace was simply horrendous, called grass marching with two men taking over one part of the stretcher when told. Rain, wind sunshine it went ahead, it was meant to take them to the absolute limit and did.

This was tough to the extreme but you need to end up with men who would be where you want them to be when called for them, right behind you.

The same advance training (but even worse) applied to prospective Parachute Regiment Sergeants but eventually the school of Infantry took us over and so the Infantry Battle School came into being.

It is not surprising that the SAS take their prospective soldiers from professional units like the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines. These courses are not for reservists and the like, you need to be tough, physically and mentally get on with it and do the job, that is what it is all about. This is why the SAS seem so callous, but they are not.



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