The win marks a fitting end for the battalion, as they complete their 10-year NS cycle this year.
It was approaching the height of COVID-19 in 2020.
The soldiers of 295th Battalion, Singapore Artillery (295 SA) were overseas in an exercise.
It was their seventh In-Camp Training (ICT) and they had almost completed their live-firing exercise. The next thing they knew, Singapore had raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level to orange and they had to fly back.
Despite that, they managed to not only complete their mission, they also scored 99.14 per cent accuracy during their live-firing exercise.
"That was the highlight for our unit 'cos we did very well that year. This year, we also got almost 100 per cent marksmanship for our small arms," said the Commanding Officer of 295 SA, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (NS) Choo Joo Liang.
Winning the Best NS Artillery Unit award was thus a validation of 295 SA's operational readiness as well as high level of commitment towards National Service (NS), added the 44-year-old, who is a senior lecturer in Temasek Polytechnic.
The battalion also won the award last year.
"We spent quite a lot of effort to achieve this high training standard, so this award is a huge boost to our morale and it fostered a stronger sense of purpose in what we are doing," said LTC Choo.
Validating the unit's proficiency
That overseas live-firing exercise was also the highlight of Captain (CPT) (NS) Jitendra Singh's NS cycle.
Not only was it a validation of the unit's proficiency, it also showed that the results of their hard work and training paid off.
"The best thing about it was that, even as we did well and achieved the mission objective, safety was not compromised. This validated us as artillery gunners, as soldiers of the Singapore Artillery," said the 35-year-old fire direction officer in Headquarters (HQ) Battery.
Every soldier matters
For fellow Operationally Ready National Serviceman (NSman) 2nd Sergeant (2SG) (NS) Lim Yi Jie, he and his team are like the backbone of 295 SA.
As a logistics supervisor in HQ Battery, he takes care of the unit's basic needs – from accommodation and field kits to equipment and rations.
"Our job is to make sure that you don't need to think about us, 'cos we will make sure that everything you need is there," said the 32-year-old, who works as a real estate agent in ERA Singapore.
During the overseas exercise, there was a fairly long distance from the base camp – where all the logistical necessities and equipment were kept – to the place where the bulk of the troops were. This meant that there was plenty of running around for 2SG (NS) Lim and his team.
"Every time we did a resupply run like bringing them cold drinks or dessert, the troops were always very excited to see us. It brought up their spirits and to us, it was a sense of accomplishment," recalled 2SG (NS) Lim.
"It felt like we were the backbone structure (who) assisted the soldiers and gave them peace of mind to do their best, so that we were all able to achieve the Best NS Artillery Unit award."
Treasuring the brotherhood
Earlier this February, 295 SA conducted their stand down parade at the Marina Barrage.
The parade marks the soldiers' successful completion of ten years of the Operationally Ready NS training cycle, and their official transition into the MINDEF Reserve.
When asked what he would miss most about ICTs, Corporal (CPL) (NS) Aidil Bin Johari immediately replied: "The laughter."
"It's been 10 full years. Whenever we come back together, we are away from family and this closeness, this band of brothers, is all that we have," explained the 39-year-old gunner from Alpha Battery.
In his day job, CPL (NS) Aidil works as an aviation technician in a multinational company.
"The years may have passed and the stories may change, but every time we get together, the laughter and the bonds are the same – that's what I will miss most."
When it comes to employer support, CPT (NS) Jitendra is grateful that his bosses and colleagues allowed him to serve his ICTs with peace of mind.
"I always have an open conversation with my bosses and colleagues to keep them well-informed about my schedule and to let them know which stage of my work I'm at.
"I will also inform them in advance of my ICTs so that we can plan ahead and everything can still run smoothly and efficiently when I'm away," said the senior investment advisor at Standard Chartered Singapore.
His family also understands the purpose of NS and were always checking in to ensure that he was doing well whenever he was outfield.
"The love and support from my family have always been there, right from when I was an NSF (full-time national serviceman), and I'm very thankful for them."
Inspiring the next generation of NSmen
Even as 295 SA marks the end of their 10-year NS cycle, LTC (NS) Choo has no doubt that their positive spirit will live on.
Noting that 17 NSmen had decided to continue serving beyond their NS cycle, LTC (NS) Choo said it showed that these soldiers had experienced a positive NS journey, and demonstrated a strong commitment to defence.
"I'm confident they will continue to do their best, contribute significantly to NS as well as inculcate the positive energy and right NS values to the newer generation who will be under them."