Debunking rumours about new anti-terrorism unit

By Patrick Gower

Sacrifice. The word is one of the few details known about the selection and training of the 18 soldiers who made it through to the Army's new Counter Terrorist Tactical Assault Group - CTTAG.

A small reference to the group in Defence Force publications praised the group's commitment and said in some cases sacrifices were made to be part of the team.

It can be surmised that the sacrifice is probably slightly less than a soldier would make in getting into the SAS, the Army's elite unit whose exceedingly high standards led to the creation of the second tier CTTAG in the first place.

The Weekend Herald spoke to a man who completed the nine-day SAS selection course and described it as physical and mental torture.

"Fitness is a given for all the guys that do it. This is a mind thing.

"When you go through those extremes, your body can't repair itself.

"All it concentrates on is survival and looking after the organs. Any cuts just get infected because the body has abandoned them to look after the core functions."

The man said the CTTAG force would never be put in that kind of position, and therefore did not need to be put to those extremes.

"All they need to test the CTTAG for is that someone is of an acceptable level of fitness, will do as they are told and is capable of being trained and working in a team."

It was this difference in selection that meant for a professional rift between the Blades - the full SAS members who have the winged dagger badge and Who Dares Wins motto - and the "non-badged" CTTAG who only get to wear the unit's sand-coloured beret.

"There is a feeling of backdoor entry. There is a feeling that they haven't done the hard yards.

"It has mellowed a bit now, but it is there."

He said there was less specific work in the SAS selection course "because they want to know if you have got the mind for it before they even bother to train you".

"The CTTAG is a fast-ball. They only need to do a small component of the SAS work and that's what they get." The Army gave the Weekend Herald a statement from "Private X" about CTTAG, aimed at debunking rumours about the new unit among its staff.

Private X said rumours like "you will be treated as a second class citizen, you will just be the inner cordon, and you will be shipped back to Battalion and called up when they need you" were made by those making poor excuses for not attempting the CTTAG selection course and were plainly untrue.

"What you can expect is a training intensity of about 90 per cent of realism.

"During the CTTAG assessment you will be pushed, both physically and mentally. However, it is designed to test, not break, the applicant and therefore should not be seen as daunting."

He said that during training "you will do things you have only seen in the movies, and a lot you haven't... "

He ended by saying: "To all those thinking of putting their hand up and trying out I can promise you it is a lifestyle change you will not regret. I haven't."

How they measure

* Nine days.
* First day grind of physical extremes.
* Three days of being dropped in wilderness and racing against clock to checkpoints.
* Notorious day five of marching continuously for 20 hours through swamp or sand dunes carrying a rifle, a pack and a 20-litre jerry can.
* Heavy pack work for eight of the nine days. More individual work in wilderness.
* On last day, walk non-stop for 60km but must do it within 20 hours.
* Fed once a day, no more than four hours' sleep.
* Testing for individual strength of mind.
* Those who pass can be selected for eight-month training course.

* Four days
* Intense first "killer" day of physical testing.
* Phobia testing: jumping off a boat, abseiling off a tower.
* Basic shooting and weapon handling.
* Initiative testing to look at team dynamics and identify leaders and loners.
* Less pack work.
* Those who pass selected for four month training course.

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