Forward, march!

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10 Dec 2020 | OPS & TRAINING

Forward, march!

Get an inside peek of scenes from Pulau Tekong as recruits take on their final route march before graduating as soldiers of the Singapore Armed Forces.

// STORY Thrina Tham

// PHOTOS Chua Soon Lye

On 3 Dec, more than 3,000 recruits set foot on their 24km route march, marking the end of their Basic Military Training (BMT).

The march, typically held from Changi to Marina Bay since 2010, is now conducted back on Pulau Tekong as part of measures against COVID-19.

Despite heavy showers that began in the late afternoon, the march began without delay. It is a culmination of nine weeks of training on basic soldiering skills - that has gone on with strict safe management measures, in the midst of the pandemic.

3 DEC, 5.30PM

At the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC), recruits receive their admin brief at their company lines before making their way to the starting point of the march.

As part of safe distancing measures, the five BMTC Schools are split into their 18 companies as they take off in small waves. Although each School will not be completing their march together, morale is high at the platoon level.

"I'm excited to end off this BMT journey with my platoon mates and sections mates. Our sergeants and sirs will be marching with us, so it’s our final milestone together in BMT," said Recruit (REC) Sharven Raaj, 20, before his march.

After receiving an admin brief, female recruits from Raven Company's Platoon 4 make their way from their company line to the starting point of the march. The recruits are masked at all times until they begin warming up just before the march.
Armed with their rifles, field packs and a head full of cheers to keep them going through the night, recruits set out from Tekong Parade Square to make their way into the jungle.

3 DEC, 7PM

Smaller waves mean that the conduct of the route march is held over a longer period of time. The first tranche sets off at 5.30pm while the last moves out about three hours later.

Despite these measures, training standards are no less stringent. Before their final 24km, the young recruits would have completed five other route marches, starting progressively from 4km.

At the parade square, commanders give their Company pep talks, reminding recruits to look out for each other in their final march with their section mates.

Apache Company recruits doing their warm-up exercises before their march. They are among the last wave of recruits to begin.
"1, 2, 3, 4, stretch." A recruit leads his company in shoulder and back stretches and they count together with gusto as they gear up for their march.
Night has fallen as the last wave of recruits head to the starting point before setting off for their route march.

3 DEC, 9PM

The route around Tekong island is dotted with five rest points to give recruits a break every 4km.

Recruits are almost halfway through their march as they reach their 8km rest point, in a dark open field deep into the north-western tip of Tekong.

They have made it through the hardest parts - the first 8km passed through pitch-black jungle and muddy terrain. All that is left is for them to press on.

The recruits reaching their rest point in a dark field at the north-western tip of Tekong, about 8km away from their starting point at BMTC.
Recruits hydrating with a water parade. They are also given snacks such as chocolate bars to refuel at their rest point.
Although family and friends are not present to cheer on recruits (such as when the march takes place on Singapore mainland), their presence is felt through encouraging messages played at two rest points along the march.

4 DEC, 1.30AM

The recruits have been marching for almost eight hours by the time they reach their rest point at Rocky Hill Camp.

A 30-minute break helps to keep their morale high as they rest their weary feet and refuel with isotonic drinks and light snacks. Encouragement videos from family and commanders are also played at the 8km and 20km rest points to motivate them.

"My strategy to push through the 24-click is to really focus on talking to friends, on the environment and not on my tiredness," said REC Tashi Yeow, 18.

"My section mates definitely act as a big part of my motivation because we've been through a lot together... I think it's really great that we can end (the journey) on a high note," he added.

A company cheers together after they receive their cold drinks at their 20km rest point.
Rested and refuelled, recruits move out of their rest point at Rocky Hill Camp, in the final push to the finish.

4 DEC, 3AM

Spirits are high as the recruits march back into Ladang Camp with the end point in sight. They relish their last moments with their batch mates, whom they have gone through a tough nine weeks with.

Excitement takes over fatigue as the recruits return to Ladang Camp to finish off their march.
Back at Tekong Parade Square, recruits cool down with stretches before preparing for their graduation parade.

4 DEC, 4AM

Although friends and family are not there to cheer them on, the parade square hums with anticipation as the recruits form up for their graduation parade.

Commanding Officer of BMT School 3, Lieutenant Colonel Mohd Nizam Bin Yahya (right), giving out the "Company Best Recruit" award to REC Redden. Each graduation ceremony is held at Company-level, instead of as an entire cohort.

"It's definitely a relief that we made it through (the 24km). No one fell out, so I'm happy that our whole platoon finished strong," said REC Ethan Peter Redden, 19, who received the "Company Best Recruit" award in Raven Company.

On bidding goodbye to his batchmates, he added: "It's going to be a tough one because we've seen each other almost every day now. But I think the relationship is not going to die.

"We'll try to make time to see each other on weekends because these are special bonds you make here."

Recruits reciting the SAF pledge. With no guests, the graduation parade takes place in the wee hours of 4 Dec.
POP loh! Recruits toss their jockey caps skywards to mark their graduation from BMT.

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