Life in the SAS
Sydney, NSW: Pan Macmillan, 2021
Paperback 368pp RRP $35.00
Reviewer: Kevan Sanderson, August 2022
Survivor: Life in the SAS is the author’s story of his life in the army and his transition to civilian life. Wales wanted to be a soldier from early childhood. In his book he provides a record of his war experience and the struggles he endured attempting to come back from that experience. The author was committed to a military career, joined the cadets at school then chose the elite path, through ADFA and RMC Duntroon, to become an infantry officer. Finally, Wales passed SAS selection and served four tours in Afghanistan during a ten-year army career.
By his own admission Mark was ill-prepared for the trauma of prolonged exposure to a dirty conflict. He believed he knew enough to survive war but was proven wrong and discovered his limits.
When he left the Army in 2010, Mark struggled to adapt to civilian life, enrolling in postgraduate management training before trying several different jobs and starting his own clothing company. His book describes his failures to ‘fit in’, until he realised he was in trouble dealing with post-traumatic stress. He describes the difficulty of accepting a problem exists as the hardest step to recovery, and his message is that rebuilding your life after hitting rock bottom isn’t easy. Recovery takes time, effort and patience and trauma must be confronted head-on; counter-attacked if you like.
The author only briefly touches on the politics and management of the conflict and the recent controversial revelations about the behaviour of SAS personnel in Afghanistan. He acknowledges that over the four years of his involvement he observed creep in psychological damage, morality, and the culture of the SAS. He is critical of the way the war was being directed at the highest levels claiming that higher echelons clearly understood it was being lost but continued to reinforce failure. He exhorts that ADF leadership be held accountable for failures in Special Operations forces.
Survivor is more of memoir than an autobiography - providing a good and easy read and therein lies the books weakness. The blurb on the book’s rear cover poses the question ‘How do you rebuild your life when you have hit rock bottom?’ The problem is that the details of Mark Wales’ struggles in the Army, the war and in life are so lightly treated this reader didn’t realise he had hit rock bottom. After reading I couldn’t escape feeling this book is intended as a glossy companion to one of the authors speaking engagements designed to enhance his brand as TV personality and corporate speaker.
Several other current volumes about Special Force operations emphasize negative aspects and may be seen to be ‘piling on’. Overall, I would recommend reading Survivor, if only to get an alternative view.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.