Becoming soldiers: First field campIt's a rite of passage that all new recruits in Basic Military Training (BMT) must go through in their journey to becoming full-fledged soldiers in the Singapore Armed Forces.
Story by Benita Teo / Photos by PIONEER photographers
Field camp takes the young soldiers away from all the comforts they are used to and gives them their first taste of living and fighting in the jungle.
PIONEER joined the recruits of Basic Military Training Centre's Leopard Company on their first field camp from 23 to 26 Apr.
Before the start of their four-day field camp, the recruits gather at the company line to pack their field packs. Under the supervision of their platoon sergeants, they make sure they have all their essential items packed – from tools to ready-to-eat meals to changes of uniform. [Photo above courtesy of BMTC]
The recruits work closely together to pitch their bashas, which involves tying a toggle rope between two trees (pictured above), laying the waterproof sheet over the line to create a tent canopy, and then securing the sheet to the ground with comms cords and wooden pegs (pictured below).
Fire and Movement (pictured below) is an important aspect of the recruits' Individual Field Craft (IFC) capabilities. Working in threes, they learn how to advance towards and retreat from a target or objective, while making use of the available vegetation to conceal themselves.
They also get to practise their leadership skills as each one gets the chance to be the In-charge (IC) and lead the trio in the mission.
Recruit (REC) Aasish Mamidi, 18, found the IFC training to be more challenging than he expected. "Not only is it tiring, you also have to remember all the commands that you have to give while running and proning in the grass or taking cover behind the trees.
"But it's also a chance for me to exercise my leadership skills and build on my teamwork and team spirit."
Warfighting is not only about action and movement; at times it's necessary to quieten down and observe one's surroundings.
Here, they train their ears to locate enemy fire by paying close attention to the sound of gunshots to determine the direction of the gunfire – all this while lying prone amid the heavy forest vegetation.
Stealth stalker: A soldier lies in wait among the bushes. The recruits must conceal themselves carefully while listening out for enemy fire or observing their surroundings, as part of their IFC training.
Lunch time! The soldiers enjoy a short respite from the sun and training to tuck into some field camp staples – combat rations.
"The combat rations were surprisingly quite nice and I enjoyed them. The meals are different from cookhouse food, which is usually rice and a chicken dish. It's also very convenient to eat and won't cause a mess, compared to fresh rations," said REC Ethan Ha, 18, who was eating combat rations for the first time.
Ask any recruit, and they are likely to agree that shellscrape digging is one of the toughest parts of the field camp.
It's not just physically demanding, there's also the mental pressure of completing the 240cm-by-60cm hole within a two-hour window. Perfecting this skill is crucial because the shellscrape provides protection during a live firing.
REC Muhammad Hashri Bin Hassan, 23, said: "You need to be both mentally prepared and physically fit when digging your shellscrape. And because this is the fasting month, it's especially tiring for those of us who are fasting."
However, he was motivated to push through by his buddy: "I was struggling at first because the soil I was on was very dry and difficult to dig into. But then I saw that my buddy, who had the same type of soil, was making more progress than me, so I pushed myself to keep up with him."
After three grueling days out in the field, the recruits get a much-needed serotonin boost when they receive letters from their parents and loved ones.
"I was very touched to receive the letter from home. After the hardships and struggles I faced in BMT and PTP (Physical Training Phase), I was moved to know that my family is behind me even though they are not here with me.
"I was already emotional when I saw the letters, and reading the words (written by my family) just softened my heart," REC Ha (pictured above, second from right) said.
REC Imran Ahmad Khan (pictured above, background, centre) received an extra-large "letter" – a special storybook from his mother! "My Mum shows her love through books, that's how she's marked every one of my milestones," the 19-year-old explained with a smile.
Night begins to fall, but it's still not yet time for the recruits to rest. Two by two, they carry out sentry duties, patrolling the camp site to keep away "intruders".
The field camp culminates in the Group Battle Course (GBC), where all the soldiering skills that the recruits have learnt are put to the test.
Ahead of the GBC, Company Officer Commanding Master Warrant Officer Wee Peng Choon (pictured above, centre, standing) visits the troops to offer words of encouragement and cheer them on.
A recruit taking aim and firing at a target hidden behind the vegetation. During the GBC, the troops fire blanks at the targets they contact.
Although physically strenuous, the GBC is an important part of his journey as a soldier, said REC Aasish (pictured above). "The Group Battle Course has opened my eyes to what military life will be like and how we will be training in jungles and forests."
A recruit simulating throwing a grenade at a target during the GBC.
A recruit making a run to take cover behind a tree. With the sound of gunfire ringing through the forest, there is no time to waste!
REC Hashri (pictured above), who was the platoon's Safety Advocate for the day, reflected on his GBC experience: "As Battle Group IC, you have a lot of responsibilities. You have to protect your teammates, and you need to know where the 'enemy' is. Whenever the enemy moves, you have to be aware and stay on top of it.
"But I enjoyed taking on the role of IC. I learnt more about myself, which is important because in the jungle you're sometimes on your own, and you need to know how to take care of yourself."