786 SIR steps up to win Best NS Infantry UnitTalk to the winners of one of this year's Best NS Infantry/Guards Units - 786th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (786 SIR) - and one word comes up often: commitment.
// Story by Benita Teo
// Photos courtesy of MINDEF
Talk to the winners of one of this year's Best NS Infantry/Guards Units - 786th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (786 SIR) - and one word comes up often: commitment.
"Every time my company and detachment goes out for training, I can see that everyone is giving their best. Everyone is pushing themselves just as hard as they used to in our National Service (NS) days," said 3rd Sergeant (3SG) (NS) Linus Ong, a Mortar Detachment Commander.
"As NSmen (Operationally Ready National Servicemen), it can be a challenge to put in the same amount of effort and commitment that we could when we were NSFs (Full-time National Servicemen), because we now have many commitments outside.
"But (my company and unit) still have that discipline, drive and hunger to excel," said the 28-year-old.
I've got your back
This commitment was evident when 3SG (NS) Ong and his teammate, Corporal (CPL) (NS) Muhammad Nasri Bin Kaswadi, stepped up to lead the mortar detachment during the unit's In-camp Training (ICT) in September 2019. The In-charge (IC) and 2IC were unable to attend due to personal reasons.
That ICT, the battalion's fourth cycle, coincided with their Army Training Evaluation Centre (ATEC) Stage 1 evaluation.
The ICT came at an inconvenient time, to say the least - CPL (NS) Nasri's wife had just given birth to their first child weeks before. CPL (NS) Nasri is a layer man who helps set the correct firing angle of the mortar.
Knowing that his unit would be shorthanded without him, he explained to her that he needed to go ahead with the training. Fortunately, she was supportive. When their daughter fell sick during his ICT, his unit gave him time off to care for her before returning to camp.
As for 3SG (NS) Ong, an English language tutor, the period coincided with the Primary School Leaving Examinations. After training, he spent his time on the phone working with his students to help them prepare for the exams.
Despite these challenges, the NSmen were glad they pressed on. Their efforts paid off as the battalion successfully achieved Readiness Condition (REDCON) 1 - the highest possible grade - for their ATEC Stage 1 evaluation.
We are REDCON 1!
3SG (NS) Ong is grateful that the men put their faith in him and CPL (NS) Nasri: "Things were different, but they came together and pressed ahead. Instead of (becoming discouraged and) slackening, we pushed harder. We showed that even when the odds were against us, we could adjust and put in more effort."
Their Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (NS) Teo Kai Siang, attested to the strong bond among the soldiers, whom he had known since the unit transitioned from active to operationally ready.
"The men are always ready to go the extra mile for each other, even if it means taking on more and committing time outside of the ICT," said the 37-year-old. He is the Director of Asia Pacific Programmes at Collins Aerospace.
This strong brotherhood has helped the battalion clinch its first Best Unit title, a win they all agreed was a pleasant surprise.
"Winning the Best Unit Competition is an overwhelming feeling. During ICT, we went through a lot (after the original commanders were unable to attend). We worked as a team to achieve REDCON 1. I'm really proud of the teamwork our detachment and mortar platoon has shown," said CPL (NS) Nasri. The 29-year-old is an interior designer.
3SG (NS) Ong agreed: "This ICT felt like we were completing a jigsaw puzzle - the past three ICTs, we had been getting ready (refreshing our skills from NS), and everything fell into place here.
"We were prepared (for contingencies, but) everything went very smoothly and safely. Knowing that we had carried out all our safety checks also gave us the confidence to push ourselves towards excellence."
Sense of purpose
LTC (NS) Teo highlighted another quality that brought the battalion victory: professionalism. He explained that preparation work for their ICT started some seven months earlier, with meetings to design the training such that it would be progressive and allow the soldiers enough time to rest and reflect on the learning points.
"We believe that being qualified is not the same as being proficient, so we need time to train and achieve the proficiency we demand. There are no secrets or shortcuts. Professionalism and safety are two very important values that we hold ourselves to."
Even though the infantrymen are riding on the high of their win, they will unfortunately be missing their ICT this year as training has been deferred due to the COVID-19 situation. However, there is no questioning their strong spirit and bond.
"I was disappointed as I only get to see my platoonmates once a year. But it's okay; we still text or call to find out how everyone is doing. We also support each other whenever someone needs help. We bring the brotherhood outside of army too," said CPL (NS) Nasri.
3SG (NS) Ong agreed: "Morale isn't very much affected. We understand that these are unique times.
"As much as we want to go back for ICT - especially after winning and there is a bigger drive to say, 'Hey, let's try to win it again this year!' - we understand that safety is always paramount. There will always be another opportunity for us to try again."