"If you want to challenge yourself, you should give OCS (Officer Cadet School) a shot."
These were the words of 2nd Lieutenant (2LT) Emir Ilyas Bin Elham's older brother, who also served his National Service (NS) as an Infantry officer. His brother, Lieutenant (NS) Edly Irsyad Bin Elham, – who was later posted back to the Basic Military Training (BMT) Centre as a Staff Officer – is the oldest of the three siblings in the family, and had been 2LT Emir's role model since young.
However, entering OCS seemed a far-off dream to 2LT Emir at the start of his BMT. He weighed 80kg, and believed that he stood little chance of becoming an Officer having joined the Physical Training Phase (PTP) of BMT.
The eight-week PTP aims to raise the physical and combat fitness of recruits who failed to attain a minimum of 61 points for the Pre-enlistee Individual Physical Proficiency Test.
Inspired by the stories of his brother's NS leadership journey, 2LT Emir became set on aiming for OCS during BMT, where he had gained a deep appreciation for the importance of fitness.
"I knew that training would only become tougher in OCS if I managed to get in. Hence, I took it upon myself to become fitter, to better adapt to the tougher training conditions down the road."
Adapting to changes during the pandemic
However, nothing was normal for 2LT Emir because COVID-19 struck during his BMT.
With his BMT hit by a one-month suspension due to the circuit breaker period, recruits in his batch were instructed to spend the month at home improving their fitness and developing their basic soldiering skills with the help of home-based instructional material.
Like many of his peers, 2LT Emir did not cut himself any slack during the one-month suspension.
"The circuit breaker gave me the opportunity to make changes to my lifestyle and to put into practice the fitness exercises I learnt during BMT before it was suspended.
"For example, I went the extra mile to go for runs and also completed additional Physical Training. I wanted to prove to my Commanders, my family and to myself that I could take charge of my health and fitness."
The 20-year-old's efforts paid off. He shed 13kg by the end of BMT and also qualified for OCS.
Developing skills & confidence
Fitness, however, was only half of the story. Upon entering OCS, 2LT Emir faced new challenges – he had to learn how to lead his men and strengthen his people skills.
"Especially when the platoon's morale is low, you need to understand what can keep the men under you going," he explained.
"Our lowest point in OCS was during an outfield exercise that was supposed to be conducted overseas, but was held at Pulau Tekong instead due to COVID-19. That particular exercise was tough as it comprised back-to-back missions."
2LT Emir also recalled how his platoon's energy level plunged after they were informed that their training would be extended by another day.
"But that was also the turning point for us, as we realised that another day of training would not make a difference, considering the effort we had (already) put in over the past five days. I told my fellow platoon-mates that we could do it, and convinced them to pull through the last day."
OCS also helped 2LT Emir to muster his confidence, especially when doing presentations to others. "I remember how nervous I was when we had to present our mission plans to our Platoon Instructors in OCS. They would then decide whether to give us the green light to implement these plans.
"I took the opportunity to proactively seek feedback from my peers through practice sessions so that they could help me improve my presentation skills. After much practice, I finally gained the confidence to present in front of a crowd and my men."
While 2LT Emir is currently unsure about whether to sign on as an Army Regular, he is certain about one thing: the need to step up and lead his men for the remainder of his NS stint.
"OCS made me realise that it is only through leading by example and by taking the first step that others will follow. This takeaway will be important in my future role as a Platoon Commander."