Training to be a Specialist Amid COVID-19 Measures
//Story by Gabriel Lee
//Photos by Chua Soon Lye & courtesy of Specialist Cadet School, Singapore
It was Phase 2 of Singapore's re-opening when he enlisted for National Service (NS). Two weeks into his training at the Specialist Cadet School (SCS), Singapore entered Phase 3.
Infantry Specialist 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Santhosh Kumar s/o Selvam, who graduated as a Specialist of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) on 17 May, looked back at how the COVID-19 measures were implemented throughout his training.
"Ever since we enlisted, COVID-19 regulations have always been in place. For example, we started off by training in smaller groups to prevent any possible clusters from forming."
To prevent inter-mingling, 3SG Santhosh's company – from the 47/20 Specialist Cadet Course, tried its best to minimise interactions between its two platoons. For example, by assigning the platoons to different training areas.
The measures were also extended to the cookhouse, where the Specialist Cadets (SCTs) adhered to the one-metre safe distancing rule demarcated by yellow markings on the ground.
"The wearing of a mask at all times (when not eating or drinking) was also a must and we would get reprimanded if we didn't adhere to this rule."
The SCTs also had to maintain a one-metre distance between one another when sitting together in the lecture room for pre-training briefings.
"I think it was good that the SAF had these measures in place, as I didn't want my family and friends to run the risk of getting infected by the virus when I booked out," said the 21-year-old.
Adapting to COVID-19 Measures
But the COVID-19 measures implemented also brought about some inconveniences. For example, 3SG Santhosh became breathless more easily when marching to the cookhouse with his platoon because he had to call out the marching timing with his mask on.
"We overcame this challenge by taking turns to (call) time for the platoon's marching pace. This tacit communication helped when we had to project our voices while having our masks on."
Another challenge faced was having to put on the mask after strenuous physical activity. "We were perspiring so much when we put on our masks… Your breathing is obstructed and it feels very uncomfortable."
However, 3SG Santhosh appreciated the importance of these measures amid these times: "We had to think of the bigger picture."
The two platoons were also unable to bond with each other due to minimised interaction.
"What we did was to try to maximise face-to-face interactions outside of training. For instance, we met up in small groups for lunch or supper after we booked out," recalled 3SG Santhosh.
Overcoming Personal Challenges
Besides having to overcome the inconveniences of the safe distancing measures, 3SG Santhosh also had to overcome personal challenges during training. For instance, he had a tough time adapting to the high physical fitness standards at SCS.
"After all, to lead your men, your physical fitness must be up to par. (The commanders) pushed us to do our best for the Standard Obstacle Course and the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT). We were encouraged to attain a Gold for IPPT or to hit a certain timing, for example."
To achieve this, training was conducted at a progressive pace and all of the SCTs were eventually able to meet their commanders' expectations by the end of their 22-week training.
As for coping with the transition emotionally, 3SG Santhosh pointed out that the transition was smoother as compared to Basic Military Training where he was training on another island.
"The feeling of taking the ferry and moving away from the mainland is on a completely different level emotionally. Here at SCS, at least we are closer to our own home."
Nevertheless, 3SG Santhosh would still call his family every night when he was training at SCS.
"My family is my source of support. They are the ones that keep me going, besides my section mates and my commanders who also motivated me and encouraged me to stay positive."
This was especially so during his lowest point when he first enlisted and had to leave his family.
"This was because I’m someone who is very close to my family, especially to my mother."
His feelings of homesickness were allayed after his BMT section mates shared that they were all in the same boat and that they had his back.
As for the highest point in his NS journey, 3SG Santhosh said it had to be the moment when he received the Silver Bayonet at his graduation on Monday.
The Silver Bayonet is awarded to top cadets in the Specialist Cadet Course for exemplary performance in areas such as fitness and leadership.
Highlighting with pride, the 2nd youngest of the four children said: "I feel like my hard work has paid off as I’m someone who refuses to give up.
"I thought that I was going to fall out during the intense physical training sessions, but I endured through it all. My receiving of the Silver Bayonet bears testimony to that spirit of perseverance."
Going ahead, 3SG Santosh wishes to pursue a career in the maritime industry, having graduated with a Diploma in Marine & Offshore Technology from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. "I believe that the leadership skills I picked up in SCS will prove to be useful in the future."