How the men of 735 Gds guarded Jurong Island amid COVID-19

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31 Jul 2020 | OPS & TRAINING

How the men of 735 Gds guarded Jurong Island amid COVID-19

// STORY Koh Eng Beng

// PHOTOS Timothy Sim & Edwin Tan

For the last two weeks, he had been away from home though his wife was seven months pregnant. Corporal First Class (CFC) (NS) Muralitharan S/O Kalaivanan, 31, was at Jurong Island conducting patrols as part of his In-Camp Training (ICT) with his unit, 735th Battalion, Singapore Guards (735 Gds).

With the ongoing pandemic, his wife was naturally concerned for his safety, but was reassured when she knew of the safety measures that had been put in place to keep the soldiers safe during their ICT. These included a pre-deployment swab test, wearing of masks, twice daily temperature-taking and social distancing.

Machine Gunner CFC (NS) Muralitharan is one of the Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) from 735 Gds who have just completed their ninth ICT from 2 to 30 Jul. About 580 of them were split into two groups, with each group going through about two weeks of training and deployment.

CFC (NS) Muralitharan feels that it is important for NSmen to continue to serve their operational ICTs amid the pandemic.

735 Gds was the first NS unit to be deployed for homeland security operations since the Circuit Breaker period. Since 31 Mar, all non operations-essential ICTs have been postponed. Only ICTs which support critical functions, such as the protection of key installations such as Jurong Island, continue to be held.

NSmen from 735 Gds conducting a patrol on Jurong Island.

Enhanced safety measures

When NSmen from 735 Gds arrived for their ICT, they had to complete a health and travel declaration.

They then went through refresher training in functional groups. They would stick with their assigned groups throughout the operations to minimise intermingling.

Where possible, lessons and briefings were conducted via video conferencing. They also had to pass a swab test before their deployment on Jurong Island.

NSmen maintaining social distance during training.

Company Sergeant Major 3rd Warrant Officer (3WO) (NS) Jacob Lim, 31, said: "In light of the current situation, not only do we have to ensure that the training requirements are met but we also need to ensure that the safe management measures are strictly adhered to."

Strong commitment

3WO (NS) Lim said the commanders initially expected resistance from the soldiers about coming back for ICT due to COVID-19. But to their surprise, there was little resistance and almost all of the men came back for their ICT.

"This gave me a very high level of confidence in my unit," he said.

"The level of response from both my soldiers, as well as their families, gave me a very strong sense of belief that as a whole nation, we can respond effectively to all situations," added 3WO (NS) Lim. He is a researcher at the Nanyang Technological University.

3WO (NS) Lim feels that the immersive judgemental live firing has helped the soldiers to prepare for their operations on Jurong Island.

Earlier this year, Commanding Officer (CO) Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (NS) Mark Chew had sent an open letter through Whatsapp, to reassure the soldiers and their families that the SAF would put in place strict safety measures during their ICT.

CFC (NS) Muralitharan said that the letter gave him peace of mind to continue with the ICT. "It (the letter) also explained our mission to my wife and she was reassured."

Maintaining readiness

To prepare for their operation on Jurong Island, the unit had gone through pre-deployment training during their ICT last year. These included search and arrest techniques as well as refresher lessons on the rules of engagement.

During this year's ICT, they went through judgmental live firing for the first time, to practise their rules of engagement. They fired live rounds at video targets to hone their weapon proficiency and reactions in hostile scenarios.

NSmen honing their reactions at a judgmental live firing session.

NS units play key roles

Since 2001, the SAF has been conducting security operations at key installations such as Jurong Island and Changi Airport to deter terror attacks. The duties are carried out by both active and NS units.

LTC (NS) Chew is heartened by the strong commitment from his soldiers in carrying out their duties amid COVID-19.

LTC (NS) Chew said that deploying NS units such as 735 Gds to take over the operations from active units from time to time helps to ensure that the SAF remains operationally ready for the long term.

"(This rotational system) helps to alleviate the workload of the active units, so that they can stand down, rejuvenate and recharge before undertaking this (duty) again," said the 39-year-old associate director of an insurance agency.

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