He used to be a timid guy, but the leadership roles he took on in Officer Cadet School (OCS) helped him to step out of his comfort zone and become more confident.
Before entering OCS, 2nd Lieutenant (2LT) Muhammad A'qil bin Mohd Khalid was the type who kept to himself most of the time. As an introvert, he found it challenging to take charge as he lacked the confidence to speak up in front of his men.
That all changed when he was selected for OCS after completing his Basic Military Training (BMT).
Changing his mindset
When he first enlisted into National Service (NS), the 19-year-old did not understand the importance of military defence. He certainly did not have the desire to become an officer.
It was only halfway through BMT that 2LT A'qil set his mind on becoming an officer, having seen how the commanders in his company took charge and led their men.
"I began to see myself wanting to step up and to nurture the soldiers under me to be the best versions of themselves. My desire to qualify for command school was formed then," he said.
His family also encouraged him to give OCS a shot. His father, who served as a Singapore Police Force Officer in NS, told him about the importance of putting one's best feet forward.
With this newfound goal in mind, 2LT A'qil pushed himself in BMT and finally made it into OCS.
Learning to lead & overcome challenges
At OCS, he was thrust into roles which forced him to be more vocal. The first appointment the Full-time National Serviceman (NSF) was entrusted with was that of a Section Commander, where he was tasked to lead 10 soldiers.
2LT A'qil said: "That was the turning point when I stepped out of my shell and became more confident. I performed various roles, like giving orders to my men and delegating tasks, for the first time."
He was then appointed as a Wing Commander, where he had to lead over 150 cadets. "Not only did I have to work with fellow cadets, but I also had to liaise with Commanders. That experience challenged me to learn to work with people of different personalities (and seniority)."
To become a Field Engineer, 2LT A'qil had to train to be both physically fit as well as mentally resilient. A vocation within the Army's Combat Engineers Formation, the Field Engineers provide mobility, counter-mobility and survivability support to the Brigades and Divisions.
His training in OCS saw him spending long hours out in the field, carrying out fortification tasks such as hammering in pickets until they were deep into the ground. He also had to plan ahead for the number of men required for each mission, and put on his thinking cap when formulating strategies to overcome obstacles out in the field.
What helped him pull through the tough times was the support he received from his peers and instructors. His OCS coursemates, for instance, constantly looked out for him during training.
His instructors were also crucial in affirming his efforts. For example, after a mission where he was presented with his jungle hat, his instructors reminded him of the significance of leadership.
"Our instructors told us that as future leaders of the SAF, we always have to take the first step. One extra mile taken by an Officer would lead to many more miles taken by the men under him," recalled 2LT A'qil.
Family is proud of how far he has come
On 10 Dec, 2LT A'qil commissioned as an Officer at a decentralised small-scale commissioning ceremony at SAFTI Military Institute.
Unlike previous batches, the ceremony was attended by the cadets' family members in person. As part of pre-event testing protocols, all guests had to be fully vaccinated and tested negative for COVID-19.
"Family has always been a key pillar of support for me during NS. I am happy to see my family members attend my commissioning ceremony in person. They are very proud of me," said 2LT A'qil.
Going ahead, he is keeping his mind open to the prospect of signing on with the SAF as a Combat Engineer.
However, one thing is for certain: 2LT A'qil's desire to help the men under him to become better versions of themselves for the remainder of his NS stint as a Platoon Commander.
"I would like to see a similar change in my men, be it character, physical, or leadership development. In a way, I'm paying forward the lessons my instructors have imparted to me."