Make a marksman out of mePIONEER journalist Thrina Tham joins recruits at Basic Military Training to find out if she’s fit to handle her “husband” – the SAR 21.
// Story Thrina Tham
// Photos Chai Sian Liang
I met my practice "husband" and got to the first order of business: stripping.
Learning the ins and outs of my new partner was just the first of many steps before I could reach my ultimate aim of firing the Singapore Assault Rifle (SAR) 21.
Recruits learn the fundamental skills and maintenance of the rifle as part of their Technical Handling lessons. Under my trainer Staff Sergeant (SSG) Mohammad Azhar's guidance, stripping the rifle was straightforward.
I laid out its seven components - the magazine, receiver group, barrel group, and bolt carrier group with its cross pin, firing pin and cam pin - in under 45 seconds easily.
But when it came to assembly, I struggled to remember my three rifle checks for the safety, firing and shear mechanisms. I repeated the steps until I could pass my Technical Handling (I was pretty tired of kneeling by then!) and finally proceeded to the Individual Marksmanship Training (IMT) centre.
At the IMT, recruits practise shooting simulated rounds in a safe yet realistic environment. It was also a chance for me to practise the Immediate Action (IA) drills to take when the rifle jams up.
Unfortunately, these frustrating stoppages happened a lot more often then I liked.
"Safe. Tilt. Check."
SSG Azhar pointed out: "You have to keep your magazine from touching the ground or else your rounds may get stuck."
I nodded and tried my best not to collapse on the ground. With my elbows bent as I lay in the prone position, my short arms were barely in control of the 80.5cm-long rifle.
Luckily, the SAR 21 was designed for ease of use and despite my lack of strength, I persevered and passed the IMT.
Pulling the trigger
It was five days later when I met my actual husband: 7214.
After zeroing the weapon, I proceeded for my qualification shoot.
Recruits misfire when their posture is not right or when they can't control their breathing. My instructor, 1st Warrant Officer (1WO) Izzil, was not going to let me do any of that and watched my posture closely throughout.
"Take aim, breathe, exhale slowly, then hold your breath for a moment and squeeze the trigger," he repeated.
Despite having to hold a difficult position of having my elbows on the hard ground and the heavy rifle against my shoulder, I felt strangely calm and in control. I qualified with full marks of eight out of eight, carrying the buzz of acing my first live firing and the realisation that 1WO Izzil would make a great yoga teacher.
Things are getting serious
My performance in the actual live-firing test that followed, however, was a let-down.
Recruits are assessed at four firing positions, with four rounds at each position to give a possible full score of 16. These positions are the fox hole; unsupported prone; and squatting or kneeling at 100m; and standing at 50m.
They then repeat the same shoot at night for a best possible score of 32.
The day shoot was enough for me. The moment I took up my first position in the fox hole, I knew that something had changed between 7214 and I.
"He" felt heavier and more burdensome than before. In other words, I was getting exhausted from my day of firing.
I took longer to recover from the recoil of each shot and my tired arms were getting shaky.
By the time I reached the final 50m standing shoot, my arms were aching to drop the 4kg rifle. "Lean forward! Maintain!" came 1WO Izzil's warning.
I finished with a score of 12 out of 16.
"You did well for your shots but when it came to the fourth shot (in each position), you wanted to give up," said 1WO Izzil. "An experienced shooter continues to be focused until the last shot."
Although I was disappointed, I realised it was unrealistic for me to perform well without the physical training that the other recruits put in.
Was I born to be a marksman? No. But did I do pretty well with the comprehensive crash course I was given? Heck yes.
SSG Azhar even gave me a high-five for passing so I did not feel like a complete let-down.
As I removed my helmet and Load Bearing Vest to prepare for what I would argue was a well-deserved rest, 1WO Izzil reminded me of one last thing I had to do: "After a whole day with your rifle, how must you take care of it?
"You have to clean it!"
Catch Thrina in action here: