How NS made me conquer my fearsIf an average boy like me could emerge as a confident soldier, then so can you.
// Story CPL (NS) Soh Wei Ern
// Photos Amos Chew & courtesy of 1 Gds
Growing up, I have always been afraid of heights. Standing at a place of great height would induce anxiety and even tears.
I thought that clearing the Balancing Beam and Apex Ladder stations in the SOC (Standard Obstacle Course) would be the most of my worries during NS (National Service).
Imagine the butterflies in my stomach when I found out that I was to be a Guardsman – who is trained to be proficient in heli-rapelling – during my National Service (NS)?
My heart sank when I found that I would have to rappel from a helicopter hovering 80ft in the air using rope and harness. So how did I do it?
I will share four factors that helped me overcome my fear of heights.
1. My training was safe and deliberate. This instilled the confidence in me that if I trust my training and follow instructions it will be safe and smooth, and I will finish it well.
2. My commanders were encouraging and comforting me each time I felt anxious, or had a mini-panic attack. Some even did it (the training activity) together with me.
3. I had good buddies and friends who helped me along the way.
4. I came up with this framework to overcome my fears.
First, I will breathe to calm myself down. Next, I will articulate my fears. For example, I am afraid of falling from heights. But, more than that, deep down I'm someone who is afraid of failure.
Next, I will rationalise in my head why I will be safe and not get injured. Then, I will visualise the whole sequence of events as vividly as I can. I will also visualise, at the points where I'm most afraid, how I will overcome my fears.
So, why am I telling you – the pre-enlistee who will enter NS soon – all this? My point is: NS will be uncomfortable, NS will push you. But if you embrace it, you will emerge stronger, more confident and a better person.
Here's my NS journey: some parts of it ugly, some parts of it embarrassing, but I wouldn't give up these experiences for anything.
Stress of BMT
During my first week of confinement, I was very afraid of getting scolded and punished. Although my commanders treated us well, they were still firm and strict when it came to upholding standards.
It was during my first stand by bed by my sergeants and platoon commander that I broke down crying. I guess the fear and stress got to me. My sergeant was quick to comfort and encourage me.
He assured me that he was not going to scold or punish me. He helped me calm down by doing combat breathing (a type of breathing technique to reduce stress) with me.
I shared with him my fears that I was feeling overwhelmed. I don't like to get scolded and I could not do many push-ups.
He encouraged me by saying that he, too, was in the PTP (Physical Training Phase) batch and that it's okay, we can train up our strength and fitness. My section mates were also there to remind me that we are all in this together, and will help and take care of one another.
From that incident, I've gained the confidence that I'm in safe and good hands with my commanders, and I can focus better on my training and goals.
Letting go & learning to adapt
I had trouble adapting to army life, got stressed out and angry easily. This would lead me to lash out at my section mates or throw a tantrum, and meant that I wasn't well-liked by my peers.
Thankfully, I had the help of two close friends who felt bad for me and reached out to help me cope with the demands of army life and my anger issues.
One of them always encouraged me to calm down, relax, laugh, control my anger and treat people well. I could always talk to him about anything. He always made me laugh when I needed it. The second friend listened to me, comforted me, and actually influenced me to change my behaviour.
These two friends helped me to survive BMT (Basic Military Training) and learn to have better working relationships with my section mates in unit life and to flourish in my NS journey.
During BMT, I had Justin Low as my BMT buddy. He was the one who told me about my anger issues and how my BMT section mates did not like me because of it. He befriended me when no one else would. He journeyed with me and inspired me to change to be a better person.
Facing up to my inadequacies
During my weapons training, I was slower than my peers in being proficient with the SAR21. I was also very afraid of firing the weapon.
I was afraid of making a mistake which would result in either injury or serious consequences. For the same reason, I was also afraid of throwing the grenade. I initially thought of not participating in these two training sessions to avoid my fears.
But I told myself that I can't always run away from my problems and fears. I need to face them. Our commanders made sure we were proficient, comfortable and confident handling the SAR 21.
They also rehearsed with us the whole live-firing and grenade-throwing sequence. We also had a demonstration and walked the ground along with very clear briefings on the day itself.
This instilled confidence in me that if I trust my training and follow instructions, I will be safe and I will do well. I attained marksmanship for my Basic Trainfire Package and also completed my live grenade-throwing training.
In unit life in 1st Battalion Singapore Guards, I'm trained in the SAW (Section Automatic Weapon) and GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun).
A confident Guardsman
I can say with confidence that, with the ongoing safe and deliberate steps my commander takes to prepare us, even a scared soldier like me can become a confident and proficient soldier.
By the way, I cleared my heli-rappelling training and am a Guardsman now.
I'm proud of how far I've come in my NS journey, and have even taken part in pre-NS talks where I share my experience and tips on adjusting to life in BMT and NS. Just remember: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.