Learning to do an intravenous insertion (IV) at the Combat Casualty Aid Course is, hands down, one of the most intense experiences of journalist Benita Teo's life…and also the most fun she's ever had.
I sat poised, with a needle in one gloved hand and a throbbing vein held down in the other. Everything was silent, except for the voice in my head screaming, WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?
Learning to do an IV, that's what.
Setting the scene
The training shed resembled the set of a horror flick. Side-stepping the dismembered dummy forearms, I started to question myself. Was this tribute to my combat medic brother necessary, even though his IV scars do look pretty badass? I was effectively signing up to stick a potentially dangerous foreign object into another person.
Too late, I was already in too deep.
Practising on the dummy arm was easy enough; it even bled rose-coloured blood. And then it was show time.
I found you a nice vein, Military Expert (ME) 2-1 Brian Benitez, my instructor, said as he positively beamed. The owner of the vein smiled weakly.
After getting him to lie down on his back and placing the Hartmann solution bag (commonly known as the IV bag) behind his butt, I tied a tourniquet around his left arm in preparation. In an outfield situation, when there is no IV pole to hang the bag from, placing it underneath the casualty creates pressure to force the solution into the tube.
As I got ready to unwrap my venous catheter, it dawned on me that I'd forgotten something important…
This is a bit late, but I ought to ask your name first…
Oh, right. Junhe.
Now that Lieutenant (LTA) (NS) Soh Junhe and I were acquainted, I felt a little better about what I was about to do to him.
A dramatic point
After ME2-1 Benitez helped me to locate a suitable vein (again), I swabbed the area with an alcohol wipe and, finally, we were ready.
As I held the needle to his taut skin, the last thing I remembered was ME2-1 Benitez telling me: Ok, now, I need you to be… He paused, searching for the words.
Ballsy? I offered.
Yes. He looked squarely into my eyes and added: No hesitation, because the needle must go in.
Even though I was terrified, I looked at LTA (NS) Soh, who was staring stoically into the sky, and I thought to myself, If he is being brave for me, then I have to be brave for him too. I took a breath and held it.
And suddenly, the needle was in.
What followed was a blur. I vaguely recalled ME2-1 Benitez guiding my hand to move the needle in deeper. Finally, blood filled the catheter hub, signalling that the catheter was in place. ME2-1 Benitez raised his hands to give me a high-ten, but all I wanted was to pass out into his outstretched arms. I must have been white as a sheet.
Celebrations over, now came the crucial part. Very carefully, I pulled the needle out while holding on to the catheter to keep it in, and attached the Hartmann solution tube. When the fluid began flowing into the catheter, I taped it down, bandaged LTA (NS) Soh's forearm arm to secure it, and we were in business.
A second climax
Now, return the favour. Lie down! ME2-1 Benitez announced with a big grin. Obediently, I took my position.
Lying there, I finally understood how LTA (NS) Soh felt: I was blind to the proceedings and at the mercy of the needle. Furthermore, I knew that my barely-visible veins would be a problem.
I was not wrong. After feeling the initial needle prick, I heard ME2-1 Benitez affirming LTA (NS) Soh. However, as LTA (NS) Soh attempted to move the needle in, the usually amiable ME2-1 Benitez suddenly raised his voice: Look, it's swelling now! Do you know what'll happen when you remove the needle?!
Horrified, I sat up. A small bump had formed. I scrambled to speak: Oh my god, will the blood spurt out onto his face?!
No, ME2-1 Benitez deadpanned anticlimactically. Nothing will come out, because the blood has pooled underneath the skin. He was obviously having fun with us too.
Relieved, I laid back down. Turns out that LTA (NS) Soh had just made another hole in the vein, causing a hematoma (an upsized orh cheh or bruise). He plastered me up and tried again on someone else. He did better the second time around.
Cradling my little bruise, I felt quite proud of myself and the scar that I would soon have. LTA (NS) Soh must have been too, because he revealed that I was the first person to successfully IV him. His buddy back in Basic Military Training tried unsuccessfully on both his arms before giving up.
So, I was actually the best he'd ever had.
This tough-as-nails commando counsels people on the brink of despair to cope with their problems. And he does this of his own volition, charging nothing for his time and effort.
Sometimes even the best of us can do with some help; even the best of us stumble. Sometimes the person who extends that lifeline is an unlikely one.
Meet 1st Warrant Officer (1WO) Alex Quah, the commando who also happens to be a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) paracounsellor. He has helped many people cope with their problems, which range from excessive gambling to relationship issues.
Most people in the SAF who do counselling work do not pursue training beyond the week-long course conducted by the SAF Counselling Centre (SCC). Not 1WO Quah, the Plans Warrant Officer in Headquarters Commando.
He discovered his knack for counselling during the SCC course which he attended in 2007. He was encouraged to go for this course when he returned from an overseas posting. When I was overseas, I realised that there was a limit to how much I could help my soldiers. I could do better if I had more training.
During his three-year overseas appointment as Sergeant-Major, he was the de facto disciplinarian but soldiers often confided in him. My then-Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Adam, told me that I had a gift - I genuinely care for people, and that's why soldiers trusted me.
He felt that he was ready for more, so in 2008, he enrolled in a part-time programme conducted by Swinburne University, Australia for a master's degree in counselling.
The two years which followed were tough for 1WO Quah, who had to juggle duties in camp, family commitments and studies. He graduated in 2010 among the top 15 percent of his cohort.
His efforts were also commended by then-Chief Commando Officer Colonel Lam Shiu Tong, now Brigadier-General (Retired). Back then, very few Warrant Officers and Specialists would pursue Master's studies on their own.
Keeping the faith
Today, 1WO Quah volunteers his time across a few organisations and in his community. He also helps people to quit smoking by giving talks organised by the Health Promotion Board.
His focus is on helping people to recover from addiction-related issues. I don't want to see anyone being condemned just because of past mistakes, said 1WO Quah.
He recalls one case: a 20-year-old who relapsed a few times and returned to gambling.
But 1WO Quah never gave up on the young man. I believe that human beings are born wanting to do good… Sometimes we go astray and just need someone to lead us back, to help us recover.
He says that in severe cases, counselling is not enough, which is where organisations like One Hope Centre for problem gambling come in.
Everyone who attends the sessions help each other by discussing issues openly. For example, how to deal with gambling debts and ways to stay away from gambling, said 1WO Quah.
At the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Agency, he serves as a counsellor and mentor to former convicts who are battling drug addictions. In his community, he serves as a grassroots leader and helps to organise events for his estate in Jurong.
Taking it seriously
Since actively volunteering seven years ago, 1WO Quah has chalked up more than 800 hours of counselling work. He even pays a supervisor to review his case logs.
No one believes that till today, I am paying for supervision! laughed 1WO Quah. I'm still seeing my supervisor, even after graduating with my Masters in 2010. But it's necessary because it helps me to maintain and improve my counselling skills.
It can also be emotionally draining to constantly listen to the problems others face. That's one more reason why it's important to see a supervisor - it's like therapy for a counsellor!
He is a registered counsellor with the Singapore Association for Counselling, a professional body that establishes standards in training and practice. To join the association, a counsellor must have completed at least 600 hours of certified counselling work.
Weekends for 1WO Quah usually means devoting time to his voluntary work. But priority is reserved for his family, if they need him to be around.
I also make it a point for my family to eat together daily before any individual activities, said 1WO Quah, who is married and has a daughter.
At 51 years old, he is due to retire from the SAF in a few years.
People have asked me if I want to leave the Army because of the skills I have as a counsellor - I always say 'I don't think so' because I need to pay back whatever the Army has given me till today.
I don't think so much. I just feel that we need to care for each other, as human beings.
Over 80 fighter jets from two opposing camps lit up the dark skies above the Northern Territory of Australia with trails of orange flames from their jet engines. Among them were F-15SG and F-16C/D fighter jets from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
These aircraft were taking part in Exercise Pitch Black - the largest and most complex air combat exercise conducted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). This is a large force employment training which brings a large number of aircraft into the airspace all at once to play out realistic war time scenarios in day and night.
About 100 aircraft and 2,300 personnel are taking part in the ongoing exercise which started on 1 Aug and will conclude on 22 Aug. This year's biennial exercise saw new players France and United Arab Emirates joining Australia, Singapore, Thailand, United States and New Zealand.
During the exercise, the air forces conducted air-to-air combat, and air-to ground attacks against simulated threats, through day and night. They also practised airborne early warning and control, and air-to-air refuelling.
The RSAF deployed about 300 personnel, six F-15SG and eight F-16C/D fighter aircraft, a Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning (G550-AEW) aircraft, and a KC-135R air-to-air refuelling aircraft.
The vast airspace and bombing ranges in Darwin form a realistic training environment for the RSAF servicemen to sharpen their operational capabilities, said RSAF Exercise Director Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) Linus Tan.
For example, the RSAF's F-16C/D fighters successfully conducted their first live drop of the GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II laser-guided bomb during the exercise.
Having that opportunity to do suchstand-off weapon employment is critical…(it) gives the air crew and the ground crew the confidence in terms of the platform capability, said SLTC Tan.
Stand-off weapons can be launched from a sufficient distance that allows the attacker to evade defensive fire from the target area.
For pilot, Captain (CPT) Adrian Tan, the greatest takeaway was being able to operate with other aircraft such as the RAAF's F/A-18F Super Hornet.
We need to match each other's capabilities, to form up, to come up with the best game plan to achieve the objectives, said 32-year-old F-15SG pilot from 149 Squadron. It's really a good learning experience.
The ground crew also gained valuable experience working under poor visibility during night operations.
Night flying preparations can be dangerous due to poor light conditions, said Military Expert (ME) 2 -1 Bevin Gabriel, a Dedicated Crew Chief of 111 SQN which operates the G550-AEW.
(But) we have a set of crew who are well trained and professional in their job. So there is no need to worry.
This was something which Group Captain Michael Gray, the overall Exercise Director from RAAF would agree with. In an interview with cyberpioneer, he noted that Singapore had been a proven participant in the exercise series since 1990.
He said: Singapore performed very well in a whole range in all areas… They have significant capabilities in their aircraft and in their aircrew from their training. So (we are) always pleased to work with them.
I am leaving India very reassured (by) this new leadership and very energised to see how indeed we can find concrete ways that we can deepen that bilateral relationship, said Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen during his official visit to New Delhi, India, on 19 Aug, when he met the new political leadership headed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He added: Both India and Singapore feel that we can play a very positive role for regional stability whether it is in the region of South China Sea, Strait of Malacca or the Indian Ocean.
During the visit, Dr Ng met his counterpart Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley. Both were satisfied with the level of cooperation in the field of defence and agreed it would be a good time to step up defence relations between India and Singapore.
This could be achieved under the ambit of an enhanced partnership between the two countries, which will deepen the defence relationship and allow both sides to explore new areas of cooperation for mutual benefit.
Both ministers also reaffirmed their countries' warm and long-standing bilateral defence relations, and discussed defence cooperation at the bilateral and multilateral levels, including the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus and Shangri-La Dialogue. Also present at the meeting was Indian Defence Secretary Radha Krishna Mathur.
Mr Jaitley also hosted Dr Ng to a luncheon attended by senior officials such as Chairman Chief of Staff Committee and Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, Chief of the Army Staff General Dalbir Singh and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Robin K Dhowan.
As part of his visit, Dr Ng met Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Dr Ng also laid a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial and inspected a Guard of Honour parade at the Indian Ministry of Defence. India and Singapore will commemorate 50 years of diplomatic relations in 2015.
Defence interactions between the two countries include high-level visits, policy dialogues, joint military training, courses, seminars, and other professional exchanges. Bilateral defence engagements have deepened since the signing of the Defence Cooperation Agreement in 2003, as well as the Air Force and Army Bilateral Agreements in 2007 and 2008 respectively.
When Singapore's former chief transportation engineer and road safety warrior Associate Professor Gopinath Menon says that a driver training system is impressive and thorough, it is high praise indeed.
He made the comment after visiting Kaki Bukit Camp - where the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) conducts training for transport operators - and the cross-country driving circuit located in the Mandai area.
He is chairman of the Military Transport Safety Review Panel (MTSRP) which has been tasked to make recommendations to improve the SAF's transport training system.
I am impressed at the level of detail and the small things that the SAF looks into, from the number of driver hours to the simulators and the obstacle courses that the drivers have to go through. It's all very professional, said Assoc Prof Menon, who was Singapore's chief transport planner from 1991 to 2001. He added, however, that there was always room for improvement.
During the visit on 15 Aug, the panel was briefed on the SAF's driving training system. They also experienced the driver training simulators and training circuits.
The second half of the five-hour visit took the panel to Mandai Camp II, where they went through part of the SAF cross-country driving circuit.
The three-member panel comprises other industry experts: Mr Poh Key Boon, an Executive Director with Poh Tiong Choon Logistics Group, and Mr Tan Poh Chye, Vice President Safety with SBS Transit.
Said Mr Tan: There are things for us to learn from the SAF as well, and we welcome the SAF to share its expertise with us.
The panel will visit Sembawang Camp next, where the Supply and Transport Centre is located, on 26 Aug. It will be submitting its findings by end-September.
Armour training in both the classroom and the field is becoming more engaging, effective and efficient. Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing was updated on how the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Armour Formation was achieving this, when he visited the formation on 15 Aug.
Mr Chan also got an updateon the Army's training transformation, and tried out the Leopard Driving Training Simulator (LDTS) at the Armour Simulator Centre. The simulator allows soldiers to experience realistic driving training before operating the actual platform.
Speaking of the benefits of using simulators, Lieutenant (LTA) Nick Chan, an armour simulation wing instructor, said simulators enabled training to be done more realistically and safely. Soldiers can train in different scenarios and adverse conditions which cannot be replicated in field training, so that both their basic and collective skills can be honed.
During his visit, Mr Chan took part ina live firingat the SAFTI Live Firing Area, utilising the Army Live Firing Range Enhancement (ALFRE) systems. These use instrumented target systems to improve realism and training experience during live-firing exercises.
With the new systems, soldiers can fire on moving targets during local training, receive gunnery feedback which allows them to improve their skills and competencies as well as reduce time and resources spent on administrative set-up.
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Andy Quek, Head Doctrine and Training Development Branch at Headquarters Armour who is in charge of the ALFRE systems, said: The major leap we have done with ALFRE is that we are now able to do more operationally-oriented live firing, (whereas) in the past, we did more technical live firing.
At the end of his visit, Mr Chan officiated at Armour's 45th Anniversary Parade, praising the achievements of armour personnel both past and present. He said: Many years ago, you (the pioneers of armour) went where no one else had been; you took on the task when not many people even knew what to do. Your spirit defined the armour formation's foundations.
He added: You were bold, you were decisive. You dared to venture where no one else had been. You dared to establish the fighting doctrines (which) no one else had dreamt of. And step by step, you built the armour formation that we are so proud of today.
Also at the parade were Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Perry Lim, Sergeant Major of the Army Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Ng Siak Ping, and Armour veterans.
To raise a child, it takes an entire village.
Likewise, to defend a country, it takes the collective efforts of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Regular soldiers, National Servicemen (NSmen) and Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) volunteers.
Just as the SAF cannot build a strong defence without the commitment of NSmen who form the backbone of the SAF, it also cannot do it without the commitment of the general public towards National Defence.
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen said this at the MINDEF Volunteers' Dinner, held at Marina Mandarin Singapore on 14 Aug. The annual dinner recognises the contributions of some 300 volunteers serving on 41 MINDEF boards and committees. During the dinner, Dr Ng also presented certificates of appointment and re-appointment to the volunteers.
Recognising that fair and equal treatment towards all servicemen is crucial in garnering the public's support for and trust in national service, Dr Ng thanked the volunteers for lending their expertise to develop and improve on the SAF's systems and processes, saying that we co-opt expertise which we do not have, because these are critical roles that (volunteers) need to play.
The volunteers, who come from both the public and private sectors, are experts in fields such as medical, safety, financial, legal and NS management.
One expert who has been a longstanding and active MINDEF volunteer is Professor Ponnampalam Gopalakrishnakone, Emeritus Professor from the Department of Anatomy, Venom and Toxin Research Programme in the National University Health System.
As an Adjunct Principal Research Fellow at DSO's Defence Medical and Environmental Research Institute, Prof Gopalakrishnakone was part of the team that had helped to establish DSO Laboratories in the late 1980s.
Now into his 15th year as a volunteer, his research into venom and toxins has helped protect soldiers from the effects of attacks by venomous creatures during outdoor exercises - a common and potentially dangerous situation. I was very keen because this is my speciality, and it is a good place to contribute, said Prof Gopalakrishnakone of his decision to volunteer with MINDEF.
As for Chairman of Medical Board and Head and Senior Consultant from the Department of General Surgery at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Associate Professor (A/P) Kenneth Mak Seck Wai, who is a member of the SAF Emergency Medical Specialist Advisory Board and course director and instructor of Headquarters Medical Corps' (HQMC's) Advanced Trauma Life Support Course and had served as a Medical Officer during his NS days, witnessing the developments in HQMC's training facilities and programmes through the years has assured him of the SAF's desire to improve itself.
When I look at the resources and equipment that they have (now), they are equivalent to any emergency department in any hospital; the training they have in place, such as simulator training, also makes it a lot more realistic. It's a demonstration of the commitment the SAF has to making sure that its doctors, medics and healthcare staff are trained, he said.
This let him know that his efforts were in good hands, and that the systems developed by his Board would be administered appropriately. He said: We are very confident that, if ever we need (to utilise these medical processes), the systems will work and deliver, and that’s the satisfaction I get.
A/P Mak and his team have successfully implemented several changes to the SAF's medical procedures, including allowing civilian ambulances to enter camps so that soldiers may be sent swiftly to hospitals for treatment.
With the volunteers generously giving of their time and expertise to the SAF, it is important to let them know that their opinions are valued and taken seriously. And for Mr Mulyadi Ahmad, Senior Manager, Department of Public Cleanliness, National Environment Agency, this assurance is found in his Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) Recognition and Benefits for National Service Working Group.
He said of his experience: I definitely think so (that the Committee is open to members' recommendations). Minister of State Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman (who chairs the Committee) was very open to our suggestions and debate. Even though the debates could get heated at times, I found it very positive because everybody was trying to give the best recognition to our NSmen. We had a small part to play in the recommendations, and that is very rewarding.
During his speech, Dr Ng also announced the implementation of the SAF Volunteer Corps (SAFVC), which would commence its first intake next March. The SAFVC would see women, first-generation Permanent Residents and new citizens serving in the SAF.
Mrs Laura Hwang, Board Member (Immediate Past President) of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisation, was highly supportive of the new Volunteer Corps. When asked if she would encourage other women to volunteer - like she has, as a member of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence - she gave a resounding Absolutely!
As far as the work in the Army is concerned, there are so many jobs that can be done by both men and women, she explained. Suggesting that the SAF list out the various roles, open them up and encourage participation, she believed that you'll see the results, and probably be very happily surprised!
Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers can now have more realistic live firing training in an urban operations environment, with the launch of the Murai Urban Live Firing Facility (MULFAC).
Located at the Lim Chu Kang Live Firing Area, MULFAC is designed for live firing up to company level (about 100 men) and allows the SAF to execute a full urban operations mission for both light and motorised units.
This means that, for the first time, troops can bring in sniper and platform fires, such as the Terrex Remote Control Weapon System and Matador, to support them in their urban operations training.
Other advantages of the training facility include firing at external buildings from a close or far firebase, firing from one building window to another, being able to engage in close-quarters battle and using explosives as methods of entry.
Brigadier-General (BG) Chiang Hock Woon, Commander 9th Division and Chief Infantry Officer explained: We envisage that the modern battlefield is going to be fought in a heavily dense urbanised area, so the whole SAF and specifically, the Army, is transforming into an urban capable force.
So MULFAC comes in as a very useful facility to train our soldiers realistically for operations which they will be put into.
To add realism to the training, targets which switch between friend and foe are used to simulate realistic scenarios. Soldiers are put through scenarios to hone their ability to discern between enemy targets and civilians.
Comprising five two-storey buildings, two firebases (a close and a far firebase), and an After Action Review facility, MULFAC can house up to 100 soldiers at any one time. Previous live-firing facilities like the Multi-Mission Range Complex (MMRC) can accommodate only a section of soldiers or seven men.
At the launch of MULFAC on 14 Aug, Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen commented that the facility not only provided realistic training for the soldiers, it also helped to build their confidence in doing live firing in enclosed areas.
Mounting our Terrex vehicle, coming out of it, blowing up doors and getting access... gives them (soldiers) the realism.
He added that MULFAC allowed troops to take on repetitive training, which would hone their instincts and allow them to apply their rules of engagement before firing.
Before training at MULFAC, soldiers will have gone through training at the MMRC and Murai Urban Training Facility. And because of this facility, soldiers can now undergo live firing training in an urban operations environment by 50% to 60% more than what they have been put through.
This increase in frequency of training is highly beneficial to the soldiers, as there are plenty of blind angles when it comes to urban operations.
Corporal Dinesh S/O Rajendran, a Trooper from Headquarters Guards who has trained at MULFAC about four times since it began operations in October last year, said: In urban operations, you don’t know from which angle the enemy can fire at you.
As live rounds are being used, soldiers' safety is of utmost concern. The walls of the buildings are constructed with ballistic absorbing concrete (BAC), which absorbs all fired rounds to prevent backsplash. The BAC blocks are also checked every two weeks and replaced if needed.
With more than 30 video cameras in the five buildings, 2D, 3D and video playback of the battle situation is provided for both commanders and troops to enhance battlefield coordination and communication.
Said BG Chiang: For urban live firing, close coordination and precise shooting are critical components for a successful mission. This allows troops and commanders to practise command and control to minute details, so that missions can be conducted successfully and safely.
Also in the works for MULFAC is a Hand Grenade House (HGH) where troops will be able to throw live grenades into a room before storming it. This is targeted to be ready by December.
The first of its kind in the region, the HGH will allow soldiers to experience the effects, like over-pressure, of a grenade being thrown into an enclosed environment. They will be able to do this more often - up to three times during their active service, and one or two times as Operationally Ready National Servicemen, as opposed to just doing it once during their Basic Military Training.
Former Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Regular and now Operationally Ready National Serviceman (NSman), Deputy Division Commander 6th Division Brigadier-General (NS) Ishak Ismail reflects on what commitment to defending Singapore is about, after attending this year’s SAF Day Parade on 1 Jul.
I remember clearly the first time I attended the SAF Day Parade as a young lieutenant and university student. It was a powerful moment; Regulars and citizen soldiers recited the SAF Pledge in one voice to affirm their commitment to defending Singapore.
Earlier this year, Singaporeans got to know about a group of SAF veterans who had protected our home during the Konfrontasi. They were among the 1,500 Singaporeans from the pioneer generation invited by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to a garden party at the Istana, to honour their contributions to nation building. In 1964, these soldiers lost nine comrades in an ambush in South Johor, and took eight weeks of fighting to capture or kill 60 enemy soldiers.
One of these veterans was retired Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (Ret) Daljeet Singh, my commanding officer when I was a young recruit. As I listened to his story, I pondered whether our soldiers were trained to make the kind of decisions he had to make in the heat of battle. And I could see that relevant training programmes have been put in place, thanks to people like him who had shared many good lessons with the SAF.
I'm glad I had the opportunity to speak to LTC (Ret) Daljeet personally and hear his story. We need to take proactive steps, to pass these lessons from our pioneer soldiers to future generations. I am heartened to know that veterans will be appointed as Ambassadors for National Education to tell their stories. This was one of the recommendations put forth by the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS).
The veterans were Regular soldiers who had proven their worth in the battlefield. While the SAF of today is largely a citizen army, our NSmen have shown that they are ready to take up arms when called upon.
On 7 Jul 1985, when the green logo of an armed soldier flashed on our TV and cinema screens for the first time, about 10,000 NSmen turned up within six hours at their reporting centres in what was the SAF's first-ever open mobilisation exercise.
Such exercises have been conducted regularly since, and have become a way of life for our NSmen, their families and employers.
Since the first open mobilisation, the SAF has consistently achieved a high turnout in all of its mobilisation exercises. Such operational readiness can only be achieved with the resolute commitment of our NSmen.
I remember a story about a housewife who was mobilised along with her husband during an activation held in 1986 when there were no MRT, mobile phones or the Internet.
That evening, when Madam Chai Siew Goor saw the mobilisation notice flashing on her TV screen, she rushed out with her four-year-old son in tow, and took two bus rides which lasted over two hours. At the Ang Mo Kio food centre, she passed her husband Koh Poh Seng, a hawker assistant, his military uniform and boots.
Together, Mr and Mrs Koh reflected the commitment of our NSmen and their families.
Our NSmen today continue to show this strong commitment. In last year's mobilisation of 76th Singapore Infantry Brigade (76 SIB) - a brigade in my division - 3rd Sergeant (3SG) (NS) Muhammad Lutfi Bin Rahman, a Public Utilities Board staff, was on essential duty at a Pulau Tekong reservoir and could not leave immediately. A stand-in was found, and he quickly reported for mobilisation.
3SG Lutfi and his employer both showed a great sense of responsibility and support for NS.
Complaints not uncommon, but...
Of course, let's not pretend that we never hear grouses from our NSmen about the inconvenience and hardship of mobilisation exercises and In-Camp Training (ICT).
When you've worked hard and are looking forward to the weekend, a mobilisation call-up on a Saturday can spoil your plans. Then there are the hawkers, deliverymen and taxi drivers who make their living on daily earnings.
With the loss of income and businesses, naturally, there will be voices of unhappiness. Would they complain? Yes. But do they come back? The answer is also yes.
NSmen still answer the call of the nation. That's commitment.
When push comes to shove
But being operationally ready goes beyond just showing up. Our NSmen must be proficient and have the will to fight. I have seen many instances when we pushed our NSmen hard, and they performed beyond expectations.
In 2002, one of my NS battalions was part of an active Brigade for an exercise. The other battalions in the brigade were NSF battalions.
My NS battalion comprised NSmen in their late 20s, and it is usually presumed that NSmen are a little slower and less fit than their Full-time National Servicemen (NSF) counterparts.
On the last day of the exercise, an order was given for the NSmen, who were coming down a hill, to go back up and launch an attack from another direction.
It was the worst possible scenario. They had walked through the night and had gone up and down several hills by then.
I still remember their exhausted faces which screamed This is enough! So I told the battalion commander that he had to rally his soldiers.
I went up the next hill to check out the assault, without much expectation. What unfolded floored me. These NSmen charged up the hill and fought valiantly. The observers and umpires were all moved.
That was the moment I realised the human spirit can prevail. Our citizen soldiers have the will to fight. And what did they fight for? Not monetary incentive, because there was none. They fought for the people next to them - their buddies since their NSF days - and for their country.
I have always believed in the saying, there are no bad soldiers, only bad commanders.
Our NS units are effective and motivated because their commanders have a strong sense of ownership. Our NS commanders know that they themselves - not the country or the SAF - own the battalions, the companies and the platoons.
Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) (NS) James Wee, former Commanding Officer (CO) of an NS armoured battalion, was one such commander.
Even though he was based in the United Kingdom, the business consultant continued to plan his battalion's training and administration through electronic means, and would fly back to Singapore for ICTs.
Another example is LTC (NS) Chong Chan Pin, CO of an NS infantry battalion. Before the days of the IPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test Preparatory Training), he and his commanders took it upon themselves to organise training sessions for their NSmen.
The day our NS commanders say Why should I do so much?, we will have failed. Because if they don’t move, the men are not going to move.
Endeavour to do more
Our NS commanders should do more to enhance the training experience for their men. Spend time with them beyond formal training, in small groups or even one-to-one. Although I am no longer a Regular, I still meet up with young officers to share personal stories from my 29 years in service.
I used to speak to NS commanders who were about to complete their NS cycle, and ask if they would return to take part in SAF operations if Singapore was in a crisis and needed them.
Their answer is always a resounding yes. But if they have completed their NS cycle, the reality is that they would be out of touch and without a designated unit to return to train with.
So my advice for them is to continue to serve, usually in new units and in higher appointments. Many of them do that and continue their commitment to serve.
NS, now into its 47th year, has moulded generations of young men into soldiers. They have answered the call of duty, without fail, since the first open mobilisation almost 30 years ago. And before them, the veterans had laid a strong foundation for the SAF.
I am confident that in a real crisis, when the mobilisation soldier flashes on our TV screens, our NSmen will all stand ready to defend Singapore.
More than a year into his appointment as Chief of Defence Force (CDF), Lieutenant-General (LG) Ng Chee Meng shares his vision for the military force and the people under his charge.
Talk about walking the walk. When LG Ng took over the helm as Singapore's top military man in March last year, he wanted to understand better what soldiers on the ground go through.
So at 46, he relived the gruelling Combat Skills Badge (CSB) course, a rigorous test of participants' basic soldiering skills and physical and combat fitness. He also took part in a diving course with the Naval Diving Unit.
During the final 32km trek of the CSB course, LG Ng was joined by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Sergeant-Major Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Joseph Koa, then-Sergeant-Major of the Army CWO Tang Peck Oon, Air Force Command Chief Military Expert (ME) 6 Andrew Koh and Master Chief Navy ME6 Phui Peng Sim.
I saw the passion that they have for the military - these warrant officers have taught each generation of NS (National Service) boys basic soldiering skills with dedication.
The strength of the SAF lies precisely in the commitment and dedication of its people, he emphasised in an interview with local media on 26 Jun.
Making good progress
After years of development, consistent public support and government investment in the SAF, we are in a position of strength and we have the capabilities to ensure that we fulfil our mission to protect Singapore.
In the past, the Services would stand alone. Today, they come together as an integrated force and we are able to fight as a networked force.
We are progressing very well with our 3rd Generation transformation. This is a continuous process where we will invest the talent…and the resources consistently.
As CDF, I'll make sure my people are well equipped, not just currently, to do our job, but also in five to 10 years' time, so that when we send (them on) operations, they know that they carry the best equipment that we can afford them...(and that) the whole system of the SAF's fighting capabilities will be there to support them.
Ready to serve
My vision is simple. The SAF will always stand ready for Singapore, for Singaporeans.
We stand ready 24/7 (to protect Singapore)... but even in other areas, the SAF stepped forward to assist our sister agencies to ensure that our way of life is not disrupted.
In 2003 (during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS crisis), the SAF…went forward to assist our health authorities. And…last year when the haze hit Singapore, the SAF was called upon (to help). Within 24 short hours, many of our people came back and delivered over one million masks to people who needed them.
(So while) we fulfil our core mission to enhance peace and security, we also value-add in other areas where we are useful.
For almost 50 years of NS, the SAF has also contributed to nation building, (forging) a certain Singaporean identity not just among the men, but (also) the loved ones, like mothers, sisters and spouses, who have supported them.
I don't look at the younger generation (who are often more vocal and questioning) as challenges; I see great opportunities.
I was a 21-year-old before; I embrace the idealism of the younger generation. I will take on their views, but now being 46, I will (also) try to imbue in them a balance of idealism and pragmatism.
And in that philosophy of commanders coming together, whether you're senior or junior, we have the best ingredients and culture...to forge the best ideas and implement the best policies for the SAF to continue to succeed.
In my outlook as a commander, people are the biggest asset in the SAF.
Many of my counterparts have generous accolades for the SAF personnel who worked alongside them. In operations as far-flung as Afghanistan, in the Gulf of Aden, commanders would write to me to extend the deployment of our people because we bring unique capabilities. They know that the SAF can be trusted and that the SAF delivers.
From demonstrations in different exercises...(to how) we get things done in operations like the Aceh tsunami, Christchurch earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan, we have always contributed meaningfully. These are all testimonies (of how we’ve done well).
In my 30 years or so of service, I've seen many of my commanders and men...doing their utmost...for Singapore, for Singaporeans. Coming back to my origins as a Chinese High boy, I would say 饮水思源, 为国为民 (Never forget your roots, do it for your country and people). That's what we are here for.
I'm glad that the SAF has successfully…enhanced the security of Singapore in the past, and I hope on my watch we will ensure that the SAF will continue to succeed for the next 50 years.
Think being a spectator is the only way to celebrate National Day? These Singaporeans show you that there are many ways to show your love for Singapore. Find out how they do it - from organising makan parties to just simply showing love to the elderly.
There's one more year to the big Golden Jubilee bash, but the team behind Singapore's 49th birthday party is determined to make this year's celebration just as memorable for all Singaporeans. Themed Our People, Our Home, the 2014 National Day Parade (NDP) commemorates the can-do attitude and caring spirit of our people.
This year, the NDP committee is organising more activities than ever to get people actively involved. In the first-ever Junior Red Lions initiative, 18 Primary 4 and 5 students got the chance to skydive together with the Red Lions at iFly Singapore. They will also join the elite parachuting team on stage on 9 Aug. Another initiative, Skypark Share! - organised by over 20 Operationally-ready National Servicemen (NSmen) - will treat 49 children with special needs to a spectacular view of the NDP and fireworks from the Skypark at Marina Bay Sands.
Much of this year's celebrations centre around the idea of recognising Singaporeans who are united by a shared purpose to build a resilient, caring and inclusive society. The Parade and Ceremony (PC) segment, themed A Parade with a Heart, commemorates 30 years of Total Defence and celebrates the commitment of Singaporeans to defend our home.
Here are five stories of Singaporeans who celebrate the nation's birthday in their own different ways.
He has to juggle his work on top of training four times a week with the SAFRA dragon boat team. Yet Mr Don Goh volunteered to be the chairman of the team in 2013. His efforts paid off when they won the bronze medal at the Singapore Dragon Boat Festival this year.
For his achievement and volunteerism, Mr Goh received the Outstanding New Volunteer award at the 13th SAFRA Awards at SAFRA Mount Faber on 6 Aug.
He was among 111 current and former Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) who were recognised for their voluntary contributions to SAFRA, such as helping to run activities or serving in a committee.
Mr Goh, the inaugural recipient of this newly-introduced award category, was motivated to step forward because of his teammates. He leads over 70 members and plans their training programmes.
I have passion for the sport but, more importantly, what keeps me going are my teammates, whom I have trained with for many years, said Mr Goh who joined the team in 2010.
Guest of honour Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, along with Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing and Minister of State for Defence Dr Maliki Osman, gave out the awards at the ceremony.
Eleven corporate companies were also recognised for providing sponsorships and perks for SAFRA members and NSmen.
In his speech, Dr Ng noted that SAFRA started in 1972 with a temporary clubhouse, but now runs five clubhouses which serve about 345,000 members.
This growth, he said, was due to the efforts of the volunteers and contributions of corporate supporters.
Our volunteers go beyond their NS duties to commit their time and energy, said Dr Ng.
You have diverse backgrounds, you understand the needs of NSmen, and I am constantly cheered by how dedicated (our) volunteers are, he added.
One such volunteer is Colonel (COL) (NS) William Chua. At the ceremony, he received the Meritorious Silver Award, which is presented to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the club for more than two consecutive years.
Since 2001, he has held senior leadership posts in the executive management committee of various SAFRA clubs. Currently, he is the Chairman of SAFRA Tampines' executive management committee and is leading the committee in upgrading the club's sports facilities.
On why he chose to serve, the training consultancy owner said: During NS (National Service), the mess is the place where you forge bonds. I thought SAFRA is a good place to do that kind of bonding outside of camp.
As an NS commander, I feel that by volunteering, I can help to make it a better place for my NSmen to bond, added the 54 year-old who serves in an armoured brigade.