Officer cadet training redesigned, continues amid COVID-19

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11 May 2020 | OPS & TRAINING

Officer cadet training redesigned, continues amid COVID-19

Officer Cadet School (OCS) goes on with stringent health measures to ensure the training of the SAF's next-generation leaders.

// Report by Thrina Tham

// Photos by Chua Soon Lye

At SAFTI Military Institute, about 700 officer cadets continue to train to become the next generation of Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) leaders.

Their Officer Cadet Course however, is quite different from the batches before them. Amidst the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) outbreak, overseas training has been cancelled and courses such as the Jungle Confidence Course (JCC) and Close Combat Training have been deferred.

Instead, cadets go through a revised training to earn their 2nd Lieutenant rank epaulettes.

Officer Cadets going through their urban operations live firing at the Murai Urban Training Facility. As part of safe distancing measures, the cadets have been training within their own platoons.

"We've tried to redesign our training in order to replicate the training standards that we expect our officer cadets to achieve," said Commander OCS, Colonel (COL) Edwin Goh.

"That includes making sure that training standards, the capabilities and competencies of each cadet, and the assessment of each cadet do not change," said COL Goh to media on 11 May.

For example, while the JCC was deferred, cadets were still taught survival skills such as building a makeshift shelter and collecting water. And instead of going overseas, they were put to the test during a one-week exercise at Pulau Tekong.

Recalling the exercise, Officer Cadet (OCT) Songkiat Ow Shiyuan said: "The intensity was really great - there were back-to-back missions and we didn't have much sleep. This was all to train our resilience and what we have learned in the professional term."

OCT Songkiat going through theory lessons in his bunk. The cadets went through a revised one-week exercise locally as they were unable to go overseas for training.

The 22-year-old added that he was not disheartened to miss out on a larger-scale exercise, saying: "Everyone has learnt that...(it's) what you learn and get from the experience that really makes you an officer."

While training continues, OCS has put in place heightened COVID-19 measures such as conducting training at a platoon size of no more than 40.

The training school has also issued a bottle of hand sanitizer to each cadet, as part of reminding them not to share personal belongings and utensils.

The cadets observe safe distancing while making their way to their bunks. Fixed routes have also been marked out throughout the school buildings to ensure that there is no mixing between platoons.

Certain training, such a theory lesson on weapons, has been switched to Home-Based Learning for cadets to go through at home instead of in their bunks.

The cadets are still required to return to OCS to complete their weapon handling and firing.

COL Goh says that cadets still need to train in OCS to pick up skills such as leadership and teamwork.

"Unfortunately, Home-Based Learning is unable to cover the entire experience and broad skillsets that are required (of the cadets). That includes things like leadership...team dynamics, (and) field training in terms of their individual field craft," explained COL Goh.

"That's one of the key reasons we need to continue to train, in order to generate the leadership for each of the respective units within the SAF."

Ensuring safe distancing during training also means being more deliberate in planning, said Assistant Platoon Commander at OCS, Lieutenant Mohamed Haiqal Bin Mohamed Zainal.

For example, the 24-year-old had to conduct a recent Urban Operations live firing in three waves. "Even though it can be tiring...we understand that we have to do this.

"Some things have done to be done in a certain manner so that training standards and morale are not compromised during this difficult time."

He added: "As future commanders-to-be, they have to understand the importance of continuity in the training, in order for them to go out there and lead soldiers in the respective units."

SAF’s strict emphasis on safety allows the cadets to train without worrying about the COVID-19 disease, said OCT Vebeshun.

OCT Hariharan Vebeshun said that his parents, while initially worried, understood the need for him to continue training to build up his competencies.

"I assured them that a lot of strict measures are in place. The SAF takes safety very seriously so that we can really focus on our training without worrying about COVID-19," said the 22-year-old.

While such measures also mean that the cadets will not get a traditional commissioning parade when they graduate, that does not discourage OCT Vebeshun. OCS is still in the midst of planning a revised ceremony for the cadets.

"Our (commissioning) will be a different experience, but I'm sure our friends and family will still be proud of us," said OCT Vebeshun.

"After nine months in OCS, the commissioning parade just a part of (the whole experience). We will still carry it (the lessons we've learnt during our training) with us when we go on to our units."

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