"Exercise Cooperation is one of the cornerstones of our strong bilateral defence ties and defence relations between our two countries," said Commander 3rd Singapore Division, Brigadier-General (BG) Frederick Choo at the opening ceremony of the exercise. Besides sharing operational experiences, one key highlight of Exercise Cooperation is the cultural exchange and deep friendships forged that took place along the way.
In Exercise Cooperation 19, troops from our 1st Commando Battalion trained alongside the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command Army's 74th Army Group. First conducted in 2009, Exercise Cooperation underscores the close and long-standing defence ties between both forces and serves to enhance the collaboration across a spectrum of operations including counter-terrorism.
In the fourth iteration of Exercise Cooperation, held between 27 Jul to 5 Aug, we saw the soldiers working seamlessly together as they trained side by side. This year's exercise included professional exchanges and component training such as rappelling, weapon handling, basic demolition and close quarter battle techniques before culminating in a simultaneous urban raid.
The exercise started with an iconic Commando Challenge where mixed teams of SAF and PLA soldiers competed against one another on who can complete a series of stations the quickest. The stations included tyre flips, sandbag lifts and kettlebell swings. The time spent together helped to set the foundation for strong friendships.
Kettlebell swing station.
As part of the bilateral exercise, a Professional Exchange was organised to allow cross sharing between the soldiers to learn and experience one another's weapons and equipment. On top of providing a hands-on feel of the Singapore Assault Rifle - 21st Century (SAR-21), our Commandos exhibited their wide array of demolition equipment and the many gadgets used in urban operations such as the Tactical Throwing Sensor and the Forward Sensor System.
A PLA soldier getting a feel of the SAR-21.
With the final mission exercise in mind, exercise participants underwent Urban Operation training (UO), brushing up on their UO and room-clearing drills, as ensuring coordination within each team was paramount. Both forces were able to share their methods of room-clearing, and exchanged tips on how they could further improve on their manoeuvres. Following the drills, the soldiers were brought to SAF's Multi-Mission Range Complex (MMRC) for Urban Operation live-firing, where soldiers practiced what they have learnt as they completed various mock-up situations. This live-firing session was an opportunity for our Commandos to enhance their effectiveness with the PLA soldiers as they work in separate groups to achieve a common objective.
Aiming to improve the interoperability of our Commandos with the PLA, the troops concluded the exercise on a high note with their final mission exercise at Murai Urban Training Facility (MUTF). The Field Training Exercise saw a task force of three teams from both armies conducting an urban raid on an enemy hideout. The objective was to simultaneously assault the building, neutralise the threat and rescue the hostages – a task easier said than done.
Our soldiers rappelling down to the third floor, before their assault.
PLA troops ready for simultaneous assault.
Our soldiers utilising a keyhole sensor to gain situation awareness before their simultaneous assault.
As part of a peacekeeping task force, troops from both forces stealthily approached the building before setting off demolition charges to force entry into the three-storey building, whilst others rappelling down from the rooftop. Forces then stormed into the building utilising room clearing tactics as well as close quarter battle techniques to neutralise threats. Shortly after, two SAF Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicles (PRV) arrived to form a protective cordon and then evacuated civilians from the building.
Our soldiers evacuating a casualty.
SAF and PLA troops exiting the SAF Peacekeeper PRV to provide cordon and security support during the exercise.
At the final mission, the troops put together different competencies that they had sharpened during their training phase to good use and practiced clear communications between both sides. The well-coordinated and precisely executed operation served as a testament to the professionalism and competence of the SAF and PLA troops. It also demonstrated our seamless cooperation with a high level of understanding, trust and camaraderie forged between both forces.
Here are some thoughts from some of our exercise participants on working with the PLA soldiers.
CPL Sam Guan Ting
CPL Sam Guan Ting, a trooper from the 1st Commando Battalion, shared that he enjoyed the exchanges with the PLA troopers, not only was he able to learn more about the PLA soldier but was able to share his own experience too.
"I think it is a wonderful and rare opportunity for us to work with a foreign nation. It was very enjoyable being able to handle their weapons and learn how they operate with their equipment. I also found it interesting to find out how life for them is as a PLA trooper while I felt honoured to be able to share our way of life as a Singaporean son."
CPL Looi Jia Chek
CPL Looi Jia Chek, a trooper, described the exercise as an unforgettable experience. Through the exercise, he understood the value of a bilateral exercise as they enhanced their interoperability and combat readiness.
"Through the training, both armies gave each other tips on how to improve various drills like the UO drills we performed. This exercise was highly beneficial to both armies, which was reflected during our final mission exercise through the clear communications and cooperation we had."
3SG Lee Keng Yong Joshua
For 3SG Lee Keng Yong Joshua, a Detachment Leader, Exercise Cooperation was as an experience he was grateful to be a part of. Besides improving the cooperation between the two armies, 3SG Joshua also saw it as a means to improve himself.
"I feel immensely blessed because it is not every day that we are given the opportunity to interact with a different battalion, let alone a foreign army. These occasions don't come by every day, exercises like these help me build my character as a person through the interaction with different people, and also allows me to understand the world from a different perspective."
"Exercise Cooperation marks a decade since the inaugural exercise in 2009, held in Guilin, China. The exercise has progressed by leaps and bounds since, keeping pace with the positive momentum of the defence relationship between Singapore and China… The increased scale of the exercise can be seen from both sides sending more troops and the lengthening of the duration of the exercise to increase the training value for our soldiers," were the words said by SAF Chief of Staff-General Staff, BG Kenneth Liow in his closing address.
For the past 10 years, Exercise Cooperation has continued to evolve while serving as a meaningful platform for professional exchanges between our troops, in highly relevant and diverse areas of counter-terrorism, infantry and chemical, biological, radiological and explosive operations. This wide spectrum of operations the exercise had covered demonstrates the close partnership and adaptability of our troops from both sides to cooperate effectively over many different security scenarios.
Watch the exercise come 'alive' in our YouTube video here!
"To be able to make friends with people from another country, and connect with them, has been the most amazing factor of Tiger Balm 2019", reflected one of the exercise participants of Exercise Tiger Balm (XTiB) 2019.
As the 40th anniversary of XTiB dawns upon us next year, the warmth shown towards each other from both sets of soldiers was evident in almost everything. From casual conversations filled with jokes and laughter to completing missions with cooperativeness and efficiency, this exercise had been a demonstration of brotherhood and relations.
This year's exercise involved around 766 personnel from the 76th Singapore Infantry Brigade (76 SIB) and 5th Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (5 SIR), and the US Army's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2-130th Infantry Battalion (2-130 IN), and 1-23 Stryker Platoon.
The exercise kicked off at Mandai Hill Camp, where Commander 6th Singapore Division (6 Div), Brigadier-General (BG) Lee Yi-Jin and Adjutant General, Hawaii National Guard, BG Arthur Joe Logan officiated the opening ceremony for XTiB.
Following the ceremony, the US troops were able to get a hands-on feel of the Singapore Assault Rifle - 21st Century (SAR-21), as well as to try out a variety of different Urban Operations Capability Enhancement (UOCE) equipment used in the Singapore Army at a static display session.
A US soldier getting a feel of the SAR-21.
Our soldiers showing the Controller Display System for the Tactical Throwing System to a US soldier.
For the US troops to get a full feel of the SAR-21, our soldiers and the US troops headed down to the Multi-Mission Range Complex (MMRC) for a live-firing session. There, the US soldiers completed a day and night shoot, guided by our soldiers who constantly gave tips on how to improve the handling of weapon and accuracy.
Our soldier guiding the US soldier on the use of SAR-21 during the live-firing session in the MMRC.
The interaction continued with our soldiers using the M4 Carbine Assault Rifle, the standard-issue rifle for the US troops. Their troops guided our soldiers in using the rifle during the day and night shoots and both sets of soldiers enjoyed exchanging helpful information and tips, as well as friendly banter about which set of soldiers achieved better results.
One of the US soldiers giving tips to our soldiers during their live shoot with the M4 Carbine Assault Rifle.
Paddles then graced the waters of Marina Bay as our soldiers and their US counterparts headed out for a session of Dragon Boating. After learning the basics of steering and paddling, two teams made up of combined SAF and US troops were formed and they rowed along the waters of the Marina Bay area, ending it off with a friendly 200-meter race. It was a fruitful day as soldiers from both countries bonded, and their laughter punctuated the air of the warm Singapore sun.
A combined Dragon Boat team of SAF and US troops after a short 200-meter race.
The following week, the US soldiers were brought to Pasir Laba Camp, where our soldiers demonstrated Basic Jungle Survival skills to them. The troops were shown how to differentiate and test a plethora of plants and berries in the jungle for edibility, as well as how to catch, kill and cook different kinds of animals native to the Singapore rainforest. They were also taught survival skills essential in the jungle, ranging from water filtration to making a fire and setting up a shelter. The experience was especially enriching to the US troops as a rainforest environment was something foreign to most of them.
One of our soldiers sharing different survival tips and tricks in the jungle with the US soldiers.
Whilst there was a healthy amount of interaction and leisure during the past two weeks, everything boiled down to the final exercise - the Summary Exercise (SUMMEX). A combined task force of our soldiers in our Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles and the US troops in their Stryker vehicles rolled into Murai Urban Training Facility (MUTF), where the sole objective was to seize control of key buildings and neutralise the opposing forces within.
Our Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles rolling into MUTF.
The air exploded with the sounds of gunfire as smoke from smoke grenades crept over the land. The camaraderie between our soldiers and the US troops was evident in how smoothly the combined task force cleared building after building, moving together, leaving no man behind.
US troops clearing the building.
As the fighting stopped, a new task was brought up: to handle a simulated explosive device found in one of the buildings in the area. For the very first time, an integrated Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team from the Singapore Army's 36th Battalion Singapore Combat Engineers and the US Army's 303rd EOD Battalion worked together and tackled the situation, with both sets of soldiers working in unison to neutralise the threat.
With the final mission concluded, XTiB 2019 had officially come to an end, and it was time to say goodbye. Commander 6 Div, BG Lee Yi-Jin, commended both sets of soldiers for their professionalism shown throughout the exercise.
We also had the opportunity to speak to a few exercise participants about their thoughts on working with the US soldiers and one of the important takeaways from a bilateral exercise like XTiB 2019 was to learn from each other.
For CPT (NS) Norazim Jukri, Deputy S4 from 76 SIB, the commitment of the US soldiers was what impressed him the most when working with them.
"In Singapore, there are people like us, NSmen, where we come back for maybe a week or two in a year to refresh and do our duties in the Army. For the Americans however, they have this thing called the National Guard, where whilst holding your normal job, you train and operate as a soldier a few times a week or month, and it requires quite a lot of commitment. Knowing that it is completely voluntary really impressed me."
CPT (NS) Norazim Jukri, Deputy S4 from 76 SIB
For SSG (NS) Wang Kangwei Marvin from Fire Support Section, 76 SIB, the key to working with the US troops lies in staying focus on the task ahead and being professional.
"I think there's no secret in working with an Army from another country. Just focus on the mission at hand, and stay focused."
SSG (NS) Wang Kangwei Marvin from Fire Support Section, 76 SIB
3SG Muhammad Rifai Akmal Bin Taufix Effendy, Section Commander, 5 SIR, shared that he enjoyed the exchange with the US soldiers. When asked about what the US soldiers might have learnt from us, 3SG Rifai says that whilst the Americans adapt well, the SAF plans well too.
"They adapt well to whatever situation they are in, but for us, we always have a set of contingency for every situation, and we always plan for whatever emergencies that may befall us."
3SG Muhammad Rifai Akmal Bin Taufix Effendy, Section Commander, 5 SIR
Despite not having the opportunity to work directly with the US troops, 3SG Muhammad Danial Bin Mazlan, Platoon Sergeant, 5 SIR, relished the opportunity given to participate in the planning behind the exercise.
"I was in taskforce planning, so I didn’t have the chance to work directly with the US troops. Despite so, the reason why I was able to focus well on my planning was partly due to my fellow team members. We also appreciated how cooperative the US soldiers were, and I'm thankful to them for that."
3SG Muhammad Danial Bin Mazlan, Platoon Sergeant, 5 SIR
As mentioned by Commander 6 Div, BG Lee Yi-Jin, in his speech during the closing ceremony, "I want to thank and congratulate all of you for a job well done, and for the soldiers, I will commend you for your professionalism shown throughout the exercise. To all our US friends, I sincerely hope you have enjoyed your time here with us."
Indeed, after the resounding success of the 39th edition of Exercise Tiger Balm this year, one can only imagine the excitement that the 40th edition of Exercise Tiger Balm will bring.
Watch the exercise come 'alive' in our Facebook video here!
Written by: REC Douglas Toh
Photography by: PTE Gerald Ng
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