The unlikely soldier who became top NSF3rd Sergeant (3SG) (NS) Muhammad Fazrey bin Zainal only graduated from BMT more than a year after his enlistment. Here's how he overcame many hurdles to become one of the top NSFs of the Year.
// Story Thrina Tham
// Photos Kenneth Lin & Courtesy of 3SG (NS) Fazrey
Night has long fallen as the soldiers trek deep into the forest. The ground is muddy from a recent downpour, making each step that more arduous.
A sergeant checks up on the soldiers at the head of the column, before turning his attention to those at the rear.
Not long after, the line of soldiers comes to an abrupt halt. A commotion gathers up front. The sergeant rushes there to find a cadet lying on his back, in a daze. He had slipped and hit his head.
There was no time to lose. The sergeant - 3SG (NS) Fazrey, then a Full-time National Serviceman (NSF) - quickly stepped up to help bring the cadet back to the safety vehicle.
As the ridgeline they were trekking on was too narrow for a stretcher to be used, he took turns with Master Sergeant Javier Toh, a Regular trainer, to carry the injured cadet on their shoulders as they headed back to the start of the trek - about 1.5km away.
"Towards the end, the cadet regained some strength and we could put his arms around our shoulders as we carried on. When he was finally safely evacuated, I felt so relieved," recalled 3SG (NS) Fazrey.
The evacuation team was awarded the Commanding Officer's Coin for their efforts.
In recognition of his hard work and dedication throughout his National Service (NS), 3SG (NS) Fazrey also earned the NSF of the Year Award this November.
The 23-year-old, who completed his full-time service last November, had a rough start to NS, to say the least.
During his first Basic Military Training (BMT), he had a high fever that refused to subside and was sent to Changi General Hospital. There, he was found to have a viral infection in his left lung. He was diagnosed with pneumonia.
Soon after, 3SG (NS) Fazrey had his Physical Employment Standard (PES) status downgraded and was put Out-of-Course, before being deployed to the Army Medical Services' (AMS') Logistics branch.
There, he tried to do his best while getting his superior's support on his re-course into BMT. His spate of bad luck, however, continued - after the meeting, he fell and sprained his knee badly.
"At that point, I felt as though the whole world was against me and there was nothing I could do," said 3SG (NS) Fazrey.
But he did not let despair get the better of him.
While going through months of physiotherapy, he stayed positive thanks to his mother's care and the support of his Logistics mates. He also exercised with them to build up his fitness for his Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).
Close to a year after he was put Out-of-Course, he finally re-coursed into BMT in October 2018, and graduated in December that year.
Bettering himself and others
His perseverance and hard work paid off: 3SG (NS) Fazrey was chosen to attend Command School training and did well in the Specialist Cadet Course, where he was awarded Company Best during his foundation term.
He was posted to the Specialist and Warrant Officer Institute, where he volunteered to extend his service by four months to complete the mandatory six months of service after graduating as a specialist.
Getting to know his cadets and leading by example was an important part of 3SG (NS) Fazrey's leadership style as a Section Trainer.
"From day one, I got familiar with my cadets' fitness levels and past IPPT results," said 3SG (NS) Fazrey. He would then get his cadets to predict their future results, before asking them to aim higher.
"It's not that I wanted them to be the fittest batch, (It's more that) I wanted them to have a strong mindset," he explained.
He also interacted with the cadets regularly to build strong bonds. "When there is downtime... I'll share my past experiences and stories and they will also share theirs. Even as a trainer, I have learnt much from them."
Looking back at his NS journey so far, 3SG (NS) Fazrey said that though his entire journey was a memorable one, his BMT graduation will always be special to him.
"To be able to pass out from BMT may mean little to many, but it meant so much to me.
"To be able to look into the crowd and see my mum in the stands and say to myself, 'I did it', after all the hurdles, is a feeling I will never forget."