Reinforcement A will never forget his turn to stand before the battle-hardened veterans from Australia's most elite fighting force. His fate hinged on their judgment.

Three weeks earlier, the 25-year-old arrived at Campbell Barracks, Swanbourne, with 130 others from all three arms of the Australian Defence Force for a gruelling challenge: the Special Air Service Regiment selection course.

Over 21 days, their desire and ability to join the nation's toughest military outfit was tested. They had days without food and less than four hours sleep while striving to complete seemingly impossible tests.

Most failed. Others, injured or unable to take the psychological strain, dropped out. After a final trial, a march in rough terrain with no food for four days carrying up to 60kg, 39 remained.

But just finishing was not enough. As Reinforcement A prepared to find out if he was deemed tough enough, the man before him left, head bowed. He survived everything thrown at him but was one of the 13 soldiers the SAS judged unsuitable.

"He was completely shattered," Reinforcement A said.

"I took a breath and went in. They said I had made it. I was elated. I'm on cloud nine."

Last week, the 26 men who passed gained the status of SAS Reinforcements, one step from acceptance. But while Reinforcement A and his mates, who cannot be named for security reasons, were closer to their dream, the right to wear the coveted SAS winged dagger, it was not guaranteed.

Sgt T, an SAS veteran who has seen and survived it all, including being shot twice in combat, said those who passed faced a new challenge - the reinforcement cycle.

Over 18 months, they would be taught and tested in areas including urban combat, advanced weapons, demolitions, survival in the wilderness without supplies and skills which cannot be revealed for security reasons.

"Last year we had about 25 guys pass the course and we've only got 16 left. Until they've proved themselves and passed a number of courses, they're not in the unit," Sgt T said.

In coming months, the Reinforcements will be shipped to a secret jungle location to begin patrol and survival courses, which incorporate live fire and an exercise where they will live off the land for days.

After that, the recruits will learn how to fight in towns and buildings where they could expect close-quarter combat.

Their placement in the regiment now relies on their ability to perform and Sgt T says it always will. It is a little known fact, he says, that every SAS soldier is on a daily contract which is assessed constantly.

"It's not like once you're in, it's a job for life," he said.

The West Australian

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