Singapore's largest offshore island, Pulau Tekong, is where many recruits are introduced to military life. However, there is more to the island than meets the eye.
Pulau Tekong first appeared in the Franklin and Jackson's 1828 map as Po. Tukang. Tukang means merchant - the island used to serve as a trading station for Pulau Ubin and the state of Johor. Tekong means an obstacle, and this could have been because the island blocks the mouth of Johor River.
Found off Singapore's northeastern coast, Pulau Tekong is actually nearer to Johor, Malaysia than to the Singapore main island.
The Pulau Tekong we know today originally comprised two islands. The 24.4 sq km Pulau Tekong, known as Pulau Tekong Besar in Malay, meaning Big Tekong Island, and the 0.89 sq km Pulau Tekong Kechil, Malay for Small Tekong Island. The two were merged in the mid-1990s.
In the 1940s, the 17th Dogra Regiment and the Sphinx Battery were stationed on Pulau Tekong as part of the Changi Fire Command, a series of gun defences covering a possible Japanese approach from the east during World War II. Their legacy lives on with the Dogra and Sphinx bridges on the island.
Historically, Pulau Tekong was occupied by mainly Malays and a few Teochews and Hakkas, with the population peaking at nearly 8,000 in the 1980s. Most were farmers, fishermen, and shop owners selling sundry goods.
Today, Pulau Tekong is used exclusively as a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training base, and is home to the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC). BMTC consists of two camps - Ladang and Rocky Hill - and 28 companies to train newly conscripted recruits.
Though Pulau Tekong is no longer inhabited by civilians, the memory of kampong life lives on as training areas such as Permatang, Selabin, and Sanyongkong were named after the villages that used to be on the island.
On 29 May 1990, national servicemen spotted three Asian elephants which had apparently swum 1.5km across the Straits of Johor to the island. A joint effort by the Singapore Zoo and Malaysian Wildlife Department eventually recaptured the elephants and they were relocated back to the forests of Johor by 10 Jun.
On 18 Mar 2004, Pulau Tekong was the hiding place for one Malaysian and two Indonesian armed robbers who fled there from Johor on a motorised boat. After an intensive three-day manhunt by the SAF and Singapore Police Force, all three were caught and charged with illegal entry and possession of firearms.
Pulau Tekong is home to one of Singapore's two hot springs. Located in the northern area known as Unum, it features warm water and a boardwalk with a Pulau Tekong Hot Spring sign.
Innovation has always been at the heart of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). Here's a look at some of this year's winning PRIDE (PRoductivity and Innovation in Daily Efforts) projects.
In a small country like Singapore where natural resources are lacking, most would agree that people are her greatest asset. Similarly, for a small defence force like the SAF, people are also its top resource.
To promote a culture of organisational excellence, innovation and productivity across MINDEF and the SAF, the MINDEF PRIDE movement was introduced in 1981. Since then, countless innovative ideas have been dreamt up and put into practice, improving efficiency, reducing the effort required and creating greater operational capacity.
Elaborating on MINDEF/SAF's PRIDE vision at the MINDEF PRIDE Day 2015 on 2 Sep, then-2nd Minister for Defence Lui Tuck Yew said: Our vision of Smart Defence is to apply new technologies so that we as an organisation work smarter, and our people's work lives are improved. At the individual level, work life in MINDEF and the SAF can be made more seamless through smart technologies. All these are in line with the national vision of Singapore as a Smart Nation.
Themed Smart Nation, Smart Defence, this year's MINDEF PRIDE Day was held at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, where 187 awards were presented to individuals, groups and units in recognition of their innovative ideas. Collectively, these innovations helped save the organisation $141.8 million.
Here's a look at some of the award-winning projects.
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen reaffirmed Singapore's close and longstanding ties with Indonesia during his visit to Jakarta on 28 and 29 Sep.
During his trip, Dr Ng met Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs General (GEN) (Rtd) Luhut Pandjaitan and Indonesian Defence Minister GEN (Rtd) Ryamizard Ryacudu. Dr Ng said that the meetings went well, and elaborated that mutual respect and regard for each other's sovereignty and well-being were the fundamentals of the two countries' long-term relationship.
From Singapore's point of view, or the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) point of view...we did not disregard Indonesia's sovereignty at any instance, whether it was with respect to the Flight Information Region (FIR) or with respect to the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) training, or with respect to the haze, said Dr Ng to reporters after his meetings with the Indonesian ministers.
With reference to recent reports on the management of the FIR above the Riau Islands, Dr Ng said he clarified with the Indonesian ministers that Singapore's control of the FIR was not an issue of sovereignty, but one of efficiency and safety. An FIR is a specific airspace in which flight information and alert services are provided by the country in control of it.
Regarding the RSAF's training in the South China Sea, Dr Ng said that the training was compliant with international agreements, in particular, the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea.
The haze situation was also raised during the meetings and Dr Ng expressed his appreciation towards Indonesian President Joko Widodo and GEN (Rtd) Luhut for taking a personal interest in dealing with the problem.
I was assured by the motivation (of the Indonesian authorities) of trying to deal with the haze… they are determined to deal with the situation of the haze because the health of Indonesians is being affected, he said.
Dr Ng added that the Indonesian government was now looking at prevention measures, a move which he agreed with. He also lauded GEN (Rtd) Luhut's willingness to consider working with Non-Governmental Organisations as it was a signal that Indonesia was willing to receive assistance from external agencies. Dr Ng believed that Indonesia would be in a better solution to develop quicker solutions for the haze issue with the assistance of other countries, as the haze affected the region.
As for the SAF's offer of assistance to fight the forest fires in Indonesia, Dr Ng said that it was still on the table, and that the SAF is always open to considering offering more help.
Since the 1970s, Singapore and Indonesia have shared a strong and longstanding defence relationship and both defence ministers frequently interact at bilateral and multilateral events, such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM).
MAJ Jeremy Koh, 32
Super Puma pilot, 126 SQN
It is easy to stereotype Major (MAJ) Jeremy Koh as someone who has it all - the dashing pilot with a beautiful family.
But the 32-year-old has his share of challenges too. I usually get home late from work, so I try to be efficient - to focus and prioritise my tasks so that I can have that family time.
A typical day starts early in the morning with operation briefs and pre-flight checks, followed by flying (sometimes up to four hours, depending on the mission), then back on the ground to do some paperwork and answer e-mail, said MAJ Koh.
In the chase to be efficient, he brought his boxing hobby into the home. I got the equipment so that it's easy to exercise while I'm home, said the father of one. He counts five in his family - him and his wife Tracie, one-year-old daughter Katelyn and two dogs.
His other love - soccer - has been abandoned. As we get older, it gets harder to get everyone out for a game. For me, hobbies are secondary - there are always standby duties (for work) and family to think of first.
Weekends are spent at his grandparents' house with his wife and daughter. If we're not there then you'll find us at dessert places. Especially (those with) ice cream.
When asked who in the family has a sweet tooth, MAJ Koh said: I think it's me. But my wife got me hooked in the first place!
For over 20 years, the annual Army Charity Drive has been raising funds to help the less fortunate under the care of the Community Chest (ComChest).
In recognition of its long-standing support, ComChest presented the Army with the prestigious Pinnacle Award at a ceremony on 25 Sep.
This is the highest honour given by ComChest, the fund-raising arm of the National Council of Social Services.
Organisations or individuals who received the 20-year Outstanding Awards in the previous year are eligible for the Pinnacle Awards, if they continue their substantial contributions.
The Army did so by raising $200,000for ComChest's beneficiariesduring the 2014 Army Charity Drive.
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Toh Poh Cheng, Head of Military Expert Personnel Centre, received the Pinnacle Award on behalf of the Army from the President of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, at the ceremony held at the Capitol Theatre.
The Army also won the Special Events Gold Awardfor raising a significant amount through its Army Charity Drive.
What motivates us is the spirit of giving. Our servicemen and women -- Regulars and Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) - care for the less fortunate, said LTC Toh.
She added that the Army Charity Drive was also a way to inculcate in the younger generations the spirit of giving. NSFs were involved in the planning, and learned about how they could give back to society, and continue to do so after they finish NS.
At the ceremony, a total of 418 awards were presented to corporate and individual donors to acknowledge their contributions to ComChest. Of these, 147 were presented to Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units and departments.
Notably, the SAF Band received the 15-Year Outstanding SHARE Award as well as the Platinum SHARE Award.
The SHARE awards recognise organisations whose employees make monthly donation through the SHARE programme. These awards - Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze - are given, depending on the organisation’s participation rate and contribution.
The Outstanding SHARE Award is given to organisations that have maintained their employees' participation rate at a high level for consecutive years.
A reason for the SAF Band's long-standing support is that its musicians are aware of the less fortunate in society, having performed at various public fund-raising events.
Musicians are compassionate people. We encourage everyone to contribute when they can (because) a little effort by everyone goes a long way, said Military Expert 4 (ME4) Johnson Lee, Director of Music.
Similarly, for Headquarters Paya Lebar Air Base (HQ PLAB), the recipient of the Gold SHARE Award, many of its personnel volunteer at old folks' homes, and understand the plight of the elderly, so they give generously.
Said Commander PLAB, Colonel (COL) Ong Kai Sin: Our people are very forthcoming in helping the community. They not only give donations, but also actively participate in community work. We are proud to have played our part in giving back to society.
For the Naval Diving Unit’s Special Warfare Group which received the Platinum SHARE Award, giving to charity is another way to give back to the nation.
Said Commanding Officer LTC Kong Eu Yen: Over the years, leaders in the unit have consistently emphasised the importance of giving back to society at the individual level.
Contributing a part of our income for charitable causes that lift our society as a whole is one way that the men and women in the unit give back to the nation.
As protectors of our nation, we want to play our part in building a civic-minded society.
A total of 1155 Specialist Cadets (SCTs) stood on parade in their ceremonial Number 1 uniform at Pasir Laba Camp on 22 Sep, for the 24th Specialist Cadet Graduation Parade.
Reviewed by Chief of Defence Force, Major-General (MG) Perry Lim, the graduation parade marked the completion of the 22-week Specialist Cadet Course (SCC), where SCTs trained under rigorous and realistic conditions to develop leadership and combat skills.
Addressing the new specialists at the parade, MG Lim spoke about the newfound responsibility that they would have to undertake, saying: Soon, you will be entrusted with the lives of your fellow soldiers, sailors, and airmen in your respective units. Do not take this responsibility lightly.
Start by putting your hearts and minds to all that you do, MG Lim said. As a specialist and a leader, you must give nothing short of your best. Your soldiers, sailors, and airmen will look to you to uphold the qualities espoused in the Specialist creed. You will be in a position not only to train them, but also to guide and mentor them.
For SCT Muhamad Zuhaily Bin Hamran, an Armour section commander and Silver Bayonet recipient, he had experienced this first-hand, as he himself was inspired to excel by his sergeants during Basic Military Training. They (my sergeants) are the ones who are closer to us, said SCT Zuhaily. That kind of inspired me to be a specialist because I want to forge closer bonds with my men, and I want to work with them on the ground.
SCT Zuhaily believed that the SCC had equipped him with the necessary skills and knowledge needed to lead and command his men. However, it was not without its fair share of challenges. My seven-day-and-six-night field camp … was the longest time that I had been out in the field, he recalled. It was physically and mentally draining … but throughout the camp, I learnt a very important lesson, and that was teamwork and camaraderie.
Throughout my long field camp I had my section mates and platoon mates to cheer me on and motivate me, and that was the best part about this challenging training.
SCT Amanda Thea Tan Hui Xian from the Infantry formation also faced challenges in the SCC. She said: During the 32km route march as part of the Combat Skills Badge (course), I had some difficulties as I had shin splints and back cramps. It was really painful, but I told myself: if so many people can do it, why can't I?
Added the Silver Bayonet recipient who was inspired by her brother and cousin – both regulars in the Singapore Armed Forces - to sign on: If I (as a female) didn't give up, then I thought the others would be less prone to giving up.
“However, I couldn’t have done it without the motivation of my course mates.”
This inspirational duo scaled Mount Damavand in Iran to raise funds for children with cancer.
After a successful 220km charity trek through a Himalayan mountain range last year, 2nd Sergeant (2SG) (NS) Ashok Kumar and 3SG (NS) Ashik Ashokan now add Asia's highest volcano to their list of conquests.
In June this year, they reached the 5,610m-high summit of Mount Damavand without the help of a guide or porter, raising about $80,000 for the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF).
(We used) climbing a difficult mountain…as a metaphor to represent the daily struggles of children with cancer, explained 3SG (NS) Ashik, a final-year undergraduate.
The climb was extremely tough. Temperatures were harsh, hitting 40 degrees Celsius at the bottom of the mountain and minus 5 degrees Celsius at the summit.
3SG (NS) Ashik suffered three hairline fractures on his right arm from a fall, and his eyes were inflamed from dusty volcanic soil. In the end, my injuries will heal. But what remains from my journey is a sense of fulfilment, a symbol of hope for the children at CCF, he said.
The duo, who were schoolmates in junior college, started planning for the climb right after completing their trek in Nepal's Annapurna Circuit last year.
They chose Mount Damavand because one of the world's greatest mountaineers, Reinhold Messner, failed in his attempt to summit it in 1970. This was the man who had reached the top of Mount Everest without oxygen. The duo couldn’t resist trying to do one better than him.
At about 4,200m into their climb, the pair had a scare. They were expecting to find a running trail of water from melted snow, but didn’t. With only four litres of drinking water left, they were unlikely to last for another two days. To find water, we had to trek to the other side of the mountain, but that would drain (too much) energy, recalled 2SG (NS) Ashok, a business studies graduate.
Former Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General (LG) (NS) Ng Chee Meng speaks to PIONEER on what it's like leaving the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) after 29 years.
Saying goodbye was evidently difficult for the top man in Singapore's military. Without the SAF, I would not have been the person I am today, said the 47-year-old who joined the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) as a fighter pilot in 1986.
Growing up in a middle-class family with four other boys, LG (NS) Ng said he would not have had the means to afford an overseas education if not for the SAF. He graduated from the prestigious United States Air Force Academy, and was the second man from the RSAF in the history of the SAF to be made Chief of Defence Force.
There are very few places in the world that will allow a boy from a middle-class family to have these opportunities to succeed, said the father of two.
My drive to serve comes from wanting to give back to our country and our people, he added.
Fulfilling a childhood dream
His eyes lit up when he spoke about his first solo flight on a Cessna 172K after completing his O-levels.
I was in JC 1…taking an aircraft to the sky with no one beside me, the then-Junior Flying Club member recalled. It was my first step in fulfilling a childhood dream (to become a fighter pilot).
His first 10 years in the RSAF were some of the most memorable times of LG (NS) Ng's career. He described himself as a brash and young pilot who loved being in the thick of action.
In his early days, the hotshot pilot recalled flying combat air patrols in his F-5 fighter jet in response to possible threats, putting himself in the frontline to protect Singapore's skies.
As he rose through the ranks, it dawned upon him that he could no longer stick to his youthful ideals, and ambitions to be a fighter pilot.
It was time to really seriously look at how to give back in terms of policy-making, and (use) the ground experiences that I had garnered to be the most effective commander that I could be.
LG (NS) Ng helmed key command and staff roles that included Commanding Officer of 144 Squadron which operates the F-5 aircraft; Commander Changi Air Base; Director Joint Operations; and Chief of Air Force.
After taking over the top job in the SAF in 2013, LG (NS) Ng volunteered for the Combat Skills Badge (CSB) and Basic Diving courses. Training alongside servicemen half his age, the ace pilot wanted to understand his men and women in the Army and Navy, and lead by example. You cannot lead if you do not understand what your people go through, he explained.
When asked what he considers his greatest achievement, LG (NS) Ng humbly declined to answer, simply saying: I did what I was supposed to do, what a responsible officer would do.
SAF: Cornerstone of country's success
LG (NS) Ng is proud of the SAF and its world-class people. The country's remarkable economic progress, he said, was made possible because of the stability provided by the SAF's servicemen and women.
Although the SAF has never been tested in an all-out war, LG (NS) Ng said the fact that Singapore has enjoyed peace for 50 years is a testament of its abilities to enhance Singapore's peace and security.
Detractors should understand that the ultimate strategy is to win without fighting, he said, quoting renowned Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu.
The full force of the SAF - including its citizen soldiers - when marshalled, renders it a formidable opponent, he said. Any hostile country would think twice or thrice about threatening us.
He noted that the SAF is in a very strong position today, not just because of its high-tech military arsenal, but also the dedication of its people and the strong support from the public.
This was what he witnessed during the state funeral of Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. I saw my officers and men doing their part beyond the call of duty, and ordinary Singaporeans giving them strength through their encouragement and support, he recalled. This is the binding strength of Singapore.
Quoting the late Mr Zubir Said, the composer of Singapore's National Anthem, LG (NS) Ng urged all SAF servicemen and women to continue to uphold the sky of the land where you live.
Uphold the standards that we have forged over the last 50 years. Train our people tough, but fairly and safely, so that when we are called into operations, wherever or whenever, we are ready... We do this for Singapore, for Singaporeans.
Who says watching TV is a waste of time?
Certainly not Temasek Junior College (TJC) Year One student Soh Su Min. As a matter of fact, she turned a TV serial plotline into a medal-winning idea.
I was watching a Japanese drama and the lead character of the show was a physics genius. (I got the idea from something) he demonstrated on the show, said the 17-year-old.
Together with her teammates, Desmond Chye and Nicholas Cristian Fernando, she created a model of the Gauss rifle, a gun that fires steel ball-bearings without the use of gunpowder or explosives. Using a series of magnets and the transference of kinetic energy, a gentle tap can speed up the movement of the ball-bearing towards its target.
On top of being more environmentally-friendly since it does not require explosives, the magnetic gun could potentially be used by soldiers and policemen during training or to slow down an assailant.
This mechanism, if used correctly, is non-lethal, she explained. Soldiers might not be able to use it (in a war situation). But if it's for shooting to incapacitate, such as in the case of policemen, this can be used. (It could be useful) for training as well.
This simple and yet ingenious machine won their team the Silver medal in Category C (for Secondary School and Integrated Programme years five to six, Junior Colleges and Institutes of Technical Education) at the Amazing Science-X Challenge (ASXC).
The team from TJC was one of 125 that had participated in this year's ASXC. Organised by DSO National Laboratories (DSO), the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Science, and Science Centre Singapore (SCS), the ASXC saw students from Primary School to tertiary institutions designing and building exhibits that explained particular science phenomena.
This is the first time, since its inception in 2009, that the ASXC has seen gold medalists in all its four categories. The gold medal is only given to exhibits that satisfy all the judging criteria and display qualities such as clarity and creativity.
Speaking at the prize presentation ceremony at the SCS on 18 Sep, SCS Chairman Tan Yen Yen attested to the high level of quality in the ideas and exhibits presented.
Over the years, we have seen an increase in the number of teams participating in ASXC. This, coupled with the impressive quality and creativity that we see, has also made us recognise and award medals - Gold, Silver and Bronze - without placing a limit … on the number of awards.
Another team that found real-life applications for scientific concepts is NUS High School’s Invictus. The trio of Year Four students, comprising Felicia Tai Ying Fei, Lim Kia Teng and Daren Tan Jun Heng, became fascinated with the Rochester Cloak after coming across an article online. Their interest was further piqued when they discovered that the phenomenon, which takes advantage of the bending of light as it passes through convex lenses to conceal objects from the viewer's line of sight, could be seen in day-to-day tasks.
Said Kia Teng: The phenomenon of cloaking is new to us. It's an application of what we learnt in physics about how convex lenses work. We also discovered the applications of cloaking, which are used in surgeries and traffic.
The team was pleased to take home the Gold medal in Category B (for Secondary School and Integrated Programme years one to four) of the competition, especially first-time participant Daren. Kia Teng and Felicia had previously won Silver in the same category.
This is the first time I'm joining and we won the gold, so I'm very excited, he said.
For 11-year-old Sanjaay Babu, his winning idea came closer to home: My elder brother had done (a similar) experiment in school. He gave me the idea for my experiment.
To demonstrate the concept of eddy currents, Sanjaay and his teammates, Patrick Francis and Zenden Tan from Riverside Primary School, wanted to stop a spinning metallic disk attached to an electrical current with a magnet. Sanjaay improved on his brother's experiment by replacing the compact disk (CD) he used with a round disk made of aluminum foil. This allowed them to stop the disk more quickly.
Despite having conflicting schedules, the Primary Five students learnt to cooperate by taking charge of different aspects of the project while supporting each other in their respective roles.
Although we had split up the work, it was still a team effort, said Sanjaay.
This idea started in November 2011 and we actually wanted to do a big-scale photo exhibition. Along the way, we changed it to a series of books, said local renowned photographer Tay Kay Chin.
Together with three other local photographers – Darren Soh, Ernest Goh and Leonard Goh - he embarked on TwentyFifteen.sg. The initiative featured the works of 22 photographers in 20 photobooks, each comprising 15 images.
Explaining the reason behind the project, Mr Tay said: When you have photographers who have lived here and care for Singapore beyond photography, what you will get is something very personal and real. If a foreign photographer is flown in for two weeks (to do a project on Singapore), he or she is not going to find the kind of stories that we do.
With a start-up fund of $12,000 from friends, the four photographers decided on a pay-it-forward scheme in which sales of the first book would fund the printing of the second book, and so on.
Capturing the old
With that, the first book was launched in August 2013. Titled For My Son by Mr Soh, the book consisted of photos of soon-to-be demolished local buildings that held special memories for Darren and his wife, and was specially compiled for their three-year-old.
A lot of things are disappearing; a lot of HDB flats and old places are getting demolished, explained the 39-year-old. If you look at the buildings in the book, about half don't exist anymore. How would we remember these old buildings if we don't photograph them properly?
Remembering the brave
For Mr Tay, his book Made in Singapore was fifth in the series and it documented the journey of Mr Salim Javed, a foreign worker from Bangladesh who conceived his child in Singapore. Mr Tay first met him in 2009 when the latter was the site supervisor of the former's house renovation. The two became fast friends and he even attended Mr Javed's wedding in Bangladesh.
I always wondered why these people have to leave their loved ones back at home to work in Singapore, said the 50-year-old.
I made the effort to know them, tell their story and tell Singaporeans not to be snobbish. They are braver than us and are willing to make the sacrifice.
In other books, local photographer Lim Wei Xiang documented the Singapore coastline through a series of photos, while DEFU by Sam Chin and Samuel He captured images of the industrial estate of Defu and its sunset industries before change takes over.
Starting conversations and getting to know people did not come naturally and Mr Tay was grateful that his time in National Service (NS) shaped his experience in doing so.
I grew up quite sheltered so NS was when I met all kinds of people. This taught me how to break the ice with my photography subjects.
For Mr Soh, the best memories of his NS days were the people he served with, and how it taught him to make the best out of every situation. I think that if there's one takeaway from NS, it's that you find out who your friends really are when you're most tired, both mentally and physically.
It has been a long two-year journey but Mr Tay is not ruling out the possibility of a future project. I'm sure when Singapore turns 60, we'll get excited again!
As Mr Soh put it, TwentyFifteen.sg is also a way of leaving a blueprint. Maybe at Singapore's 100th anniversary, somebody will look back and remember that there was this bunch of crazy people who did this book project, and read the stories behind the projects.
The final book will be printed later this year, but the project does not end there. An exhibition showcasing selected photos is currently held at the Esplanade and will run till 3 Jan next year.
I stare at the sea in the distance. The sun is high, the sky is blue and there is a cool breeze.
A seemingly idyllic scene, except for the fact that I am clinging onto a safety cord for dear life, stuck halfway in a rope bridge obstacle 20m in the air.
My arm muscles are burning and my legs, like jelly. I melodramatically wonder if blood is trickling down my hands. How on earth did I get myself into this situation? Oh right. I volunteered.
Making my way to the top
Earlier in the morning at Hendon Camp, I had been raring to conquer the HCC. After all, I didn't have a fear of heights.
Easy lah, I thought, congratulating myself for picking this task. Boy, did I turn out to be wrong.
As its name implies, the HCC is meant to build up the confidence and coordination skills of trainees in manoeuvring calmly through various obstacles at height.
It is part of the Commandos' training syllabus, and comprises eight obstacles. Unfortunately, due to heavy rain in the morning, I only had time to try five.
In hindsight, that was the best luck I had all day.
On the wire
The first three obstacles were relatively simple to clear. After climbing up a ladder, I had to cross the Double Tension Wire Bridge.
This meant stepping onto two thin steel cables and making my way across while holding onto the safety cord and the cable above.
Resisting the almost overwhelming urge to look down is key. Even though I don’t suffer from acrophobia, a quick glance down triggered instant anxiety.
After reaching the other side, it was time to run or, in my case, slowly climb up the Diagonal Steps. Think a truncated Apex Ladder in the Standard Obstacle Course, except higher. Much higher.
This is pretty easy - you can just let go of the safety cord and walk up normally, said the HCC instructor.
Sadly, I wasn't brave enough. Afraid that my foot might slip through the gaps between the rungs, I ignored his advice and carefully ascended the steps with one hand firmly on the safety cord.
A long way down
Next up was the Balancing Log, where I walked across an open passageway between two towers.
This was a breeze to complete, albeit slightly terrifying if you start musing about the fact that there were no railings at the sides and nothing (besides the safety cord) to keep you from falling.
Of course, nothing much is likely to happen unless you somehow trip or fail to walk in a straight line.
We then had to rappel down the tower. Wah lao, this isn't even one of the official HCC obstacles! I thought indignantly. Making a smooth, controlled descent was much harder than the Commandos made it look - I couldn't quite brace my legs against the steep wall properly, and my feet slid awkwardly against the wall while I clutched the main rope.
Never was I happier to feel my feet touch the ground.
The worst, however, was yet to come.
Erm, you go first! I exclaimed, waving one of the trainees ahead.
The Double Rope Bridge stretched 30m from one tower platform to another across a wide water canal. At a height of about 20m, it is one of the highest obstacles in the course.
While the guys could grip the top rope in the palm of their hands comfortably, I was just too short. Even though my arms were fully extended, I was barely hanging onto the rope by my fingers.
Thus began the most uncomfortable sideways shuffle of my life. The wire rope cut painfully into my flesh, and I soon realised the folly of not wearing gloves.
Gritting my teeth, I tried my best to ignore the pain and continue moving slowly and steadily. As I approached the halfway point, the ropes became even further apart and it got harder and harder to hold on. Exhausted, I let go of the rope.
Despite the haze, some 5,500 Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) and their families turned up for the first SAFRA Celebration Run Ride event in high spirits.
At the five-kilometre start point on the causeway to Sentosa Island, both young and old were raring to go. There was also a 1.5km route for families. After the healthy start to the day, participants got to enjoy unlimited rides at the Universal Studios Singapore (USS) theme park.
With both routes meandering through the theme park, familiar local cultural icons such as Samsui women and Kompang performers greeted participants of the 5km route.
It was pretty fun to have people cheering us on along the route, said Corporal (CPL) (NS) Li Shaowen, who took his mother, Mdm Sally Neo, to the event and completed the 5km route.
Though they (the organisers) advised us to walk instead of run, my mother and I decided to run anyway since the weather looked alright to us, said the 28-year-old who served his National Service in the Singapore Armed Forces Military Working Dogs Unit.
I'll definitely take part again! added Mdm Neo, 54, who works in a company dealing in car accessories. It was also her first visit to USS.
Organised by SAFRA and the Families for Life Council, the event aimed to bring families together and bond over a day of fun.
Said Brigadier-General (NS) Tung Yui Fai, Vice President of SAFRA and Director National Service Affairs: This event is among a string of activities and special promotions that SAFRA has rolled out this year to show our appreciation for NSmen and create more opportunities for them to bond and make lasting memories with their families and loved ones.
It was a good walk with the entire family and it’s good to have such events, said CPL (NS) Chow Kit Weng, 36, who took his family along the 1.5km route. He is an interior designer by profession.
It was also the couple's seventh wedding anniversary, and they decided to celebrate it with at the event with their five-year-old daughter, Carine. When asked if she had enjoyed herself, her reply was a shy Yes! accompanied by a grin.
Chief of Defence Force Major-General Perry Lim flagged-off the 1.5km route after running the 5km route. Also at the event was Mr Ching Wei Hong, Chairman of the Families for Life Council.
Working alongside SAFRA, we hope to inspire even more NSmen – fathers and their children – to regularly set aside time to bond (as families), said Mr Ching.
SAFRA members who signed up for, but could not attend, the event due to the hazy conditions can still enjoy admission to USS until 31 Oct. For more details, visit the official SAFRA site at www.safra.sg.