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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."