The Recces

Who were these phantom soldiers?

Visit the Special Forces League website to learn more about the recces from the recces.

The recces (reconnaissance soldiers) were the elite of the South African Special Forces. They were highly trained soldiers, many times operating behind enemy lines, usually in very small teams. They could be distinguished firstly by their maroon berets with ‘compass points’ badge and the distinguishing operator’s badge (a Fairburn Sykes dagger surrounded by a laurel wreath). If he did not have this badge, more than likely he was not a recce. Recces could be ‘dropped’ by land, sea or air.


These soldiers were legendary, sometimes people didn’t even believe that they existed. Of course, this lead to many people, especially national servicemen, falsely claiming that they were recces.  National servicemen, such as myself, could not under any circumstances become recces, because one of the pre-requisites was to join the permanent force. A full time commitment was required to be considered for attempting selection. However servicemen were recruited to fulfil certain tasks and roles, but they could not go around making false claims. One of the key factors for the survival of an operator was not to make such claims. They would have to carry themselves quietly and humbly. This is strength! It also our RAT philosophy. So often the images that people conjure up of recces are completely false. They were not the macho type you imagine, but mostly down to earth people.

The recce’s training was tough and near impossible, but it produced some of the world’s finest soldiers and I’m glad that RAT was born out of such a real and authentic requirement which traditional martial arts could not fulfil.

I used to see the following poem in the bush dining hall, which has become central in developing the mindset of a RAT practitioner.

Poem for Persistence and Determination (title unknown)

Press on.
Nothing in the world
Can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not;
Nothing is more common
Than unsuccessful men
With talent.
Genius will not;
Unrewarded genius
Is almost a proverb.
Education will not;
The world is full of
Educated derelicts.
Persistence and Determination
Alone are important.


Hal Sherbeck