New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS) – Who Dares Wins

The New Zealand Special Air Service, abbreviated as NZSAS Regiment, was formed on 7 July 1955 and is the special forces unit of the New Zealand Army, closely modelled on the British Special Air Service (SAS) and known for their sandy-coloured berets and black-ops gear. It traces its origins to the Second World War and the famous Long Range Desert Group that New Zealanders served with.

The New Zealand SAS is considered one of New Zealand’s three strategic military assets. A strategic asset can be targeted in such a way as to achieve victory, not just for the battle but the war.

It was in 1955 that the New Zealand government authorised the creation of a special forces unit to deploy with the British SAS, and from 1956 through to the 1970s, they were deployed in Thailand, South Vietnam, Borneo and Malaya – to fight and gather intelligence about the communist guerrilla insurgency there.

The New Zealand SAS has since been deployed in many of the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

‘Who Dares Wins’ is the motto of the New Zealand SAS. Operational experience, professionalism and the unrelenting pursuit of excellence are hallmarks of every New Zealand SAS soldier.

New Zealand SAS Regiment has four leading roles: Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Combating Terrorism, Direct Action and Support and Influence.

It can take months, if not years, to create some of the planet’s most elite fighting forces.

Traditionally only military personnel from either the regular or reserve component of the New Zealand Defence Force have been able to join the New Zealand SAS. However, entry is now open to civilian applicants as New Zealand SAS has become an official trade specialisation with the New Zealand Army.

Candidates can look forward to nine months of vigorous special forces training, live firing inside ‘killing’ houses, learning advanced battlefield trauma life support, weapons training, demolitions, evasive driving, and anti-ambush vehicle drills.

Selection is a gruelling ten days process. Food is limited; sleep is almost non-existent. It begins with two days of pre-selection. Candidates must complete the New Zealand Defense Forces fitness test with SAS standards. And then the nightmare begins. And it won’t cease for the next eight days. Exercises range from individual land navigation to team activities. One of the latter, called “von Tempksy,” has candidates march for 24 hours in a straight line carrying their 80 pounds rucks and 20 litter jerrycans; that means through whatever hellish land feature the instructors have planned (sand dunes, thick vegetation, bogs). Selection culminates with a 38-mile ruck march carrying around 100 pounds of gear.

The New Zealand SAS has six squadrons – the total number of operators is thought to be close to 100 personnel per squadron. However, just like any conventional soldier or special forces unit, there are dozens of support personnel behind the scenes who enable soldiers to get across the line.

Each unit within the squadrons specialises in everything from counterterrorism to jungle warfare and mountain warfare.

All those who have died on active duty have their name engraved on the war memorial at the New Zealand SAS Regimental Headquarters in Papakura.

Bill Henry ‘Willie’ Apiata, Victoria Cross, is a former corporal in the New Zealand Special Air Service. He is the first, and so far only, recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand – which was instituted in 1999 to replace the British Victoria Cross.

He earned the award for rescuing a wounded comrade while under enemy fire in Afghanistan in 2004.

Speaking with the New Zealand Herald in 2018, Special Operations Component Commander Colonel Rob Gillard said:

“Special operations forces, of which the New Zealand SAS is a component of, provide the government with options to deploy in any number of contacts and mission types that are beyond the normal capabilities of a conventional force.”

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