It’s not just about strength and stamina, though they are very important characteristics. Instead, mental fitness comes first. It’s what allows a person to become stronger – start with strength of mind, and the body will react positively.
Meanwhile, a strong SAS or SBS soldier is someone who doesn’t allow obstacles to stand in their way. They’re mentally tough enough to focus on the mission while not getting bogged down with the smaller details of an operation, such as an unplanned encounter with the enemy, or the inconvenience of some misleading intelligence that’s taken them into a field of IEDs. They see the bigger picture.
Focus, drive and a sense of humour are vital. Being able to laugh in the face of tragedy often helps in an otherwise awful situation. If someone loses a leg during a raid it won’t be long before people are making jokes. Thinking outside the box during missions is important too, as is humility, which can be the difference between a dispute being resolved in an occupied town and a gunfight.
Ego is a hindrance. People with too much of it tend to be a liability in war zones. They react badly under pressure. They might run into a hail of bullets in frustration when things aren’t going their way; they lash out when captured, which is the shortest route to a bullet when executions start getting dished out. A Special Forces operative understands their ego. They know it’s the mind trying to get them out of a situation quickly, when what’s actually needed is calm thinking. Instead they acknowledge their ego and focus on their objective. It’s the best technique when executing a mission.
Matthew Ollerton is the author of SAS: Who Dares Wins: Leadership Secrets from the Special Forces.