After spending most of his life abroad, 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Arthur Chia returns to Singapore to serve his nation.
It's not called a rite of passage for nothing. Even for those who spent their whole lives in Singapore, National Service (NS) can come as a big culture shock.
Imagine what it was like for 3SG Chia, who had lived in New Zealand since he was five years old.
Before enlisting in 2018, he had little idea what to expect. The 19-year-old only had stories that his father had shared with him to gain a sense of what to expect for this next phase of his life.
"My parents are always there to encourage me," said 3SG Chia. "Even though they're in New Zealand, they call me frequently to make sure that I'm coping well with NS."
Reserved and soft-spoken, 3SG Chia initially found it difficult to connect with others.
A particular night during field camp in Basic Military Training (BMT), however, helped him to bond with his section mates.
"It was pouring that night and we huddled together under a tree," he recalled.
"We joked with one another and kept our spirits high, even though it was a low point during the exercise.
"From that experience, I gained a sense of belonging and got more used to talking with people from different walks of life. I feel that I have changed a lot and definitely for the better."
Learning to be a leader
After BMT, the next milestone for 3SG Chia was going through Specialist Cadet School (SCS).
Perhaps his toughest challenge during the 22-week course was learning to handle the responsibilities of being a leader.
"I had a lot of worries about whether I could meet my men's or even my own expectations," said 3SG Chia. "So I consulted my peers and my commanders, and they gave me insightful tips to become a better leader."
He added: "I want to make the most of my time during NS, and I've already accomplished a few things I never thought I would."
Scoring Silver for his Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) was one of these achievements, since he was enlisted into the obese batch for BMT.
"Before stepping foot on Pulau Tekong, I'd never trained for IPPT, so training was very tiring and I struggled to keep up," said 3SG Chia.
Motivation from his friends played an important part in his success: "My section mates and my buddy always looked out for me and constantly encouraged me… This pushed me to do my best because I didn't want to let them down."
3SG Chia lost 15kg in the 13 months he has spent in NS, and his fitness continues to improve.
Protecting the air base
Currently a Military Police Specialist at Tengah Air Base, 3SG Chia leads a three-man team to patrol the air base and keep an eye out for unauthorised personnel or drones.
"It took me some time to get used to a new environment but, compared to before, it was much easier to adapt to my job here, thanks to the confidence I've built over the past few months during SCS."
His shifts last about eight to 12 hours, during which he has to be attentive to minute details of personnel entering the air base, to ensure that security is not compromised.
Closer to home
"The most fulfilling part about serving NS is how I've gained a stronger sense of belonging and loyalty to Singapore," said 3SG Chia.
"While I was studying in New Zealand, the truth is that Singapore was quite far back in my mind, and I never felt I had a stake here."
Being able to witness and understand how the Singapore Armed Forces functions has made him value his time in NS more, and better understand the need to safeguard the well-being of Singapore. He said: "If we don't step up to protect our country, then who will?"
Asked what was the biggest change he felt he has undergone, 3SG Chia replied: "If I didn't come back to serve NS, I think I would still be the same old introverted self I was in New Zealand.
"NS allowed me to mature into the person I am today, and it also taught me values such as determination, which I may not have learnt if I didn't come back to serve my nation."