Three guys, three different units, but one common aspiration: to make the best out of their two years in their Full-time National Service (NS). We spoke to them to find out more about their contributions during NS, what motivates them and the advice they have for those who are enlisting or have just started their NS journey.
Coming back home to serve - 2SG (NS) Joash Boey
2SG (NS) Joash Boey with his aunt.
2SG (NS) Joash Boey was studying in Australia for the past nine years, spending his primary and secondary education years there, before he returned to serve his Full-time NS after receiving the enlistment letter. He recalled feeling nervous yet excited when he first received the letter to return to serve. "I had already adapted to the Australian culture and was worried that I wouldn't get used to living in Singapore. For a start, I had to re-learn Singlish (chuckles) as well as adapt to the military environment and the many cultures that Singapore has."
However, it turned out that Joash's worries were uncalled for as he soon realised that his Basic Military Training (BMT) and Specialist Cadet School (SCS) days formed one of his best memories of NS.
"I was obese then, and went through five months of BMT. During then, I lost 19kg and was the fittest I've ever been! Having had the experience of living in the jungle, digging shell-scrapes, as well as going through the tough and challenging exercises moulded me into someone with a stronger heart, mind and body. In SCS, I was also given the opportunity to participate in major exercises and even earned the Golden Bayonet. My BMT and SCS journeys are experiences that I will cherish for life for they have created lifelong friendships and memories."
After SCS, Joash was posted to 10th Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (10 C4I) Battalion as a Platoon Sergeant (PS). And this, he mentioned, is one of the biggest highlights of his NS.
"Being a PS in my unit, I performed the role of a detachment commander where we had to support homeland security operations. I was privileged to be deployed to support various operations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits, Trump-Kim Summit and National Day Parade. It always brings me a sense of pride, knowing that I am able to serve our nation in my own ways."
Besides taking part in operations, Joash was also involved in developing a training programme to increase efficiency and effectiveness of training procedures in the unit. "I was a senior trainer in my company as well and took part in working on a training programme that enhanced the learning process for newly posted-in soldiers and made it easier for them to apply to their training and operations." For his hard work, Joash was awarded the Signal Formation's Letter of Commendation and NSF of the Year award.
2SG (NS) Joash Boey being awarded the Signal Formation's NSF of the Year award by Commander Signal Institute, COL Chua Eng Khim.
Reflecting back, he shared that the award was only possible with the help of many individuals who had an impact on his NS journey. "There are many who have supported and guided me. Besides my Officer Commanding, Company Sergeant Major and Platoon Second-In-Charge, my batch mates were the ones who made the most impact in my NS. Even under tough and stressful situations, we worked through it together and without them, I don't think I would have made it this far."
Having spent a fruitful two years in NS, we asked Joash for some words of advice he has for fellow soldiers who are currently serving, and this is what he has to say:
"At the end of the day, we are serving two years so we might as well give our best. Step out of your comfort zone, maintain a positive attitude towards any tasks and believe that you can achieve anything so long you give it your all. Being a soldier is tough, but it will be all worth it in the end."
Contributing to NS in his own ways - CPL Raphael Yee Jun-Kai
CPL Raphael Yee
CPL Raphael Yee was posted to 4th Singapore Armoured Brigade as an Administrative Support Assistant and was assisting the brigade in their day to day operations. Despite being a non-combat role, he gradually learnt that he is able to contribute to NS in his own ways.
"When I was first posted to Armour as a non-combatant, I felt that I don't deserve the formation patch nor the black beret as I was not out in the field with them. However, when my commanders knew that I was able to code, I started embarking on an app development project and realised I was able to contribute in my own ways too."
Together with other members in the app development team, Raphael managed to successfully code and eventually, the Hand Over Take Over (HOTO) app was completed.
The app is a digitalised checklist used during the HOTO of Armoured vehicles and has shortened the duration to perform the process of HOTO to 18 mins, down from an hour previously. Besides being more efficient, the app also has added features such as pictures to aid operators in identifying the specific features within the checklist, enhancing their work efficacy.
When first approached to assist in the project, Raphael was thrilled and conducted many interviews with the guys on the ground to understand their pain points. "When I was approached to help code the app, I wanted to make sure that the app I've helped to create is useful right down to the last man on the ground. Therefore, I talked to many operators and got feedback from them for the design of the app interface."
With a digital interface, the app is also able to create databases for data storage, allowing for faster information archival and retrieval when required. "Previously, HOTO used to be time consuming with many paper documentation required. Now, with a database, searching for information is easier and more efficient," Raphael shared.
Looking back on his NS journey thus far, Raphael is glad that he has been given an opportunity to contribute to the formation and hopes that his work will remain useful for fellow soldiers in the future. "I am very fortunate to be given the opportunity to be part of this app creation as it has allowed me to contribute to the formation with my own capabilities. I hope that one day, when I become a father and my son gets posted to Armour, he will be using this app to enhance his work process too."
Fighting till the end with his buddies - CFC Hairyl Muhaimin Bin Abdul Rahim
CFC Hairyl Muhaimin Bin Abdul Rahim
CFC Hairyl could have collected his pink NRIC next month, and ORD together with most of his buddies who enlisted with him. However, he chose to extend his service for another four months till December to complete the Army Training Evaluation Centre (ATEC) Stage 2 evaluation with his fellow soldiers in 4th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (4 SIR). "I started my training journey with my fellow soldiers in 4 SIR, and even went for overseas exercises with them. I extended my service so I can fight alongside them and go through ATEC evaluation together."
Hairyl's NS journey was not as smooth-sailing as he envisioned it to be. Before enlisting, he wanted to contribute his best to NS as a combatant. However, he was posted to be a storeman. "I was initially disappointed about my posting and wanted to be given the opportunity to be a combatant instead. I enjoy sports a lot and love leading an active lifestyle. When I enlisted, I hoped to be able to enjoy what I do and serve my country at the same time." Dismayed, he did not give up and continued to strive to serve as a combatant. Eventually, he joined the mono intake for 4 SIR as an Infantry trooper.
Since then, he has been through many exercises and one of his most memorable experiences was taking part in an overseas exercise with his unit. "During the exercise, I had the opportunity to fly in a helicopter - something that I've never been through before. This is definitely something I will remember for a long time."
Through his NS experiences, one biggest takeaway he has is discipline. "I used to lack discipline, and just do things my way. However, NS has moulded me to take discipline seriously. I also learnt that people will take you more seriously when you respect them."
Another thing he cherishes from NS is also the brotherhood forged over time. "The brotherhood we've formed here is a huge part of my life now. Everything we do, whether training or eating, we always do it together. No one is left alone and we are very close to each other. I really will miss this camaraderie I have with my fellow soldiers."
Looking back on his NS journey, Hairyl has a word of advice for soldiers who are going to enlist soon.
"Like many, NS used to be a phase that I have to undergo - two years of tough training. However, these two years really changed me, in a good way. It has helped shaped my character and made me a better person. BMT is really the most memorable experience you will ever have. You will never forget the time spent together and the training you went through. If you ever thought of giving up, remember that your buddies are going through the same experience as you and together, you will be able to do it."
Written by: LCP Gordon Goh
Photography by: LCP Teo Hao Yu
What started as a team of six with the mission of keeping their nation safe from bomb threats transformed into a 50-year-old world-class Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit constantly contributing to Singapore's security through both local and overseas operations. The EOD unit, also known as the 36th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers (36 SCE), performs the critical role to respond to any explosive ordnance, and performs security sweeps for key national events like the National Day Parade (NDP).
The EOD story began with the impending departure of the British Army, post-independence. Then, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) needed to address our operational gaps in a critical domain – to neutralise EOD and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threats. However, setting up the unit was not an easy task. The unit started with six pioneers, four of whom were still officer cadets then! All six of them were sent to the 443rd British Ammunition Depot in Kranji Camp to be trained in field clearance operations, and on the 16th June 1969, they set up what was then known as the SAF Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU). From then, a journey of operational excellence, courage and professionalism, began.
Field Clearance Course conducted in 1967, with then-OCT Balwant Singh and then-OCT Wong Kum Kay (2nd and 4th from left respectively).
The work began almost immediately. On their inauguration day, the unit received their first mission – three-inch mortar bombs were found in Queenstown. The team was deployed quickly and disposed the bombs safely. However, the work did not stop there. In the first six months after the unit's formation, they were activated 86 times to deal with both war relics and IEDs. Despite a tough beginning, the pioneers persevered and overcame the challenges they faced. This resilience eventually laid the foundation on which the unit stands today.
First Overseas Activation
In 1978, at the height of the conflict between Bangladesh and Pakistan, the unit undertook its first overseas mission at the request of Bangladesh. There was a need to dispose a 500lbs aerial bomb armed and fuzed with a tail pistol. The team comprising three members, including then-Commanding Officer (CO), CPT Wong Kum Kay, LTA Govindasamy, and 2WO John Williams, was formed and tasked with this mission. Since then, the unit has supported both local and overseas operations.
Other than being the national responder for all EOD and IED threats, 36 SCE has also played a unique role in our nation's urban development. Many of the EOD veterans have been involved in the operations as we cleared or reclaimed land, or dug underground to build the infrastructure that shaped the Singapore we know today. One notable project was the East Coast Park Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) Clearance Project. Being one of the largest operations that the unit has conducted till date, the clearance project stretched over a period of more than three months in 1989 and the unit cleared an area spanning 12km by 400m. Different types of UXOs were uncovered, including small arms ammunition, rockets and aerial bombs, and over 55,000 ordnances were found and disposed.
EOD teams posing with the rows of protective works prepared for the disposal.
Celebrating the past, looking towards the future
Fast forward to 28 Jun 2019, 36 SCE celebrated their unit's Golden Jubilee at Nee Soon Camp, Home of the EOD Engineers. Members of the 36 SCE, past and present, gathered together to commemorate its 50th birthday with a parade. We had an opportunity to speak to the founding pioneers and other servicemen from EOD to hear their stories!
CPT (Ret) Wong Kum Kay, Ex-CO (1977 – 1979)
CPT(Ret) Wong Kum Kay is one of the first six pioneers who were sent to the 443rd British Ammunition Depot in Kranji Camp to be trained in field clearance operations. Before CPT (Ret) Wong became the CO, he was working with his team to deal with EOD and IED threats. He shared that the most challenging times were during the 1960s to 1970s where the Malayan Communist Party Bombing Campaign and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) letter bombs posed great threats to the safety of Singaporeans.
Aftermath of a blast at Still Road during the Malayan Communist Party Bombing Campaign.
"I remember we had a lot of letter bombs from the PLO at that time. They were also sending bombs overseas from Singapore. Our main priority then was to make sure we neutralised the situation and that no one was hurt in the process." he shared.
In 1977, CPT (Ret) Wong was then tasked a clearance project named Project Changi 5/77, where the unit issued operation orders and briefings to the Platoon Commanders for the field clearance of UXOs at Changi Air Base. Due to the hazards posed by mechanical excavators, the excavation had to be done manually. In just a week, 355 ordnance and 2900 ammunition rounds were found.
CPT (Ret) Wong when he was CO of 36 SCE.
For 1WO (Ret) Ramachandran Nair, another pioneer of 36 SCE, his journey started when he applied for the Bomb Disposal Course in Dec 1976. Witnessing how the unit has grown over the years, he shared that there were many technological advances which have increased the effectiveness of the unit. Despite the changes, the only one constant was the heart of the soldiers, which remain ever vigilant and ready for any situation.
1WO (Ret) Ramachandran Nair, Ex-Regimental Sergeant Major (1994 – 1995)
Looking back, 1WO Nair shared with us how he disposed a war relic during one of his many activations in service. "In 1986, I was activated for a bomb call. I was on duty and was activated to respond to a war relic activation at Changi. On arrival at site, I carried out my reconnaissance and concluded that the relic was a six-inch shell with a Point Initiating Base Detonating fuze intact. After assessment, I decided to blow the relic on site. A pit of six metres deep was dug, the ordnance placed inside and covered with sandbags. After the detonation, I inspected the pit to confirm that it was destroyed."
1WO (Ret) R. Nair attending to an UXO.
Reflecting on the unit's milestone, 3WO Victor Er, currently serving as Platoon Warrant Officer, Platoon 2, reflected that the strong ties built within the unit is what contributed to its success for so many years.
"The EOD community is like a family. We have built strong trust in each other and are always willing to help one another in our tasks. Every one of us strongly believes in passing down our knowledge to the next generation. It is this never-ending journey of learning that allows us to succeed in every mission we are given."
3WO Victor Er, Platoon Warrant Officer, Platoon 2
For MSG Shawn Chiang, an EOD Commander, joining the unit fulfilled a childhood dream he always had after witnessing how interesting his father's military career in 36 SCE was. When asked about how he felt when he learnt that his son followed in his footsteps, MAJ (Ret) Chiang Kip Tuck, who had served in the unit back in the 1980s, shared that he "felt extremely proud".
Upon reflecting on his experiences in the unit thus far, MSG Chiang finds that his first UXO disposal to be one filled with excitement and anxiety. "At that time, it was my first encounter with an UXO. During then, I was nervous and excited at the same time. However, with the training that prepared me beforehand, I managed to keep calm and assisted my team commander in successfully disposing the UXO. It was indeed a memorable experience for me."
MSG Shawn Chiang (left) an EOD Commander together with his father, MAJ (Ret) Chiang Kip Tuck (right) who served in 36 SCE in the 1980s.
An NSmen of 28 years, 3WO (NS) Pock Hong Peng continues to serve his national duty with pride, completing each task and mission effectively and efficiently, with the self-added responsibility of motivating younger generations of NSmen.
"It always feels rewarding if I can still contribute to Singapore in any given capacity. When I don on my uniform to report for national duty and/or In-Camp Training, I feel a strong sense of duty to do my part in defending Singapore. I also hope to set a good example and inspire my kids (a 7-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter), as well as the younger generations of NS EOD commanders."
3WO (NS) Pock Hong Peng
From handling simple UXO to responding to a full spectrum of EOD and IED threats, 36 SCE has came a long way over the past 50 years. The unit has successfully responded to more than 3,500 EOD and IED activations, staying operationally ready since Day 1. The Army would like to thank every member of the 36 SCE, past and present, for their commitment and sacrifices. We are also confident that commanders and men of 36 SCE will continue to uphold these high standards, and safeguard the security of Singapore and the safety of Singaporeans for many years to come.
Written by: LCP Gershwin Lim
Photography by: CPL Isaac Benjamin Ong
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