When 2nd Lieutenant (2LT) Steve Chia enlisted for National Service (NS) and started Basic Military Training (BMT) last January, he had a lot on his mind. While his friends were all enlisting into the normal or enhanced BMT batches, he had been assigned to join BMT for obese recruits.
The 20-year-old had been an avid sportsman and was part of the Dragon Boat team in Nanyang Junior College. Unfortunately, the stress of the A-Levels led to unhealthy eating habits, and he began putting on weight.
"I didn't know what to expect in obese BMT. I was also afraid of judgement, because I didn't know how people would perceive me as an obese recruit," he explained.
He set a goal for himself: lose as much weight as possible, and get back his fitness. Luckily, he met with like-minded peers who were as determined as he was in getting into shape. They would train together, even during self-regulated sessions, and cheer each other on through difficult times.
It paid off. He lost 15kg at the end of BMT and eventually scored Gold in his Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT). He also made it to Officer Cadet School (OCS), and did well enough to earn the Sword of Merit award.
He reflected on his time in BMT: "I was fortunate to have a group of highly motivated friends who wanted to excel (and were determined to lose weight). All that helped me to be able to make it to OCS.
Finding meaning in serving
As a first-generation Singaporean, 2LT Chia knew little about NS when he first enlisted, much less about OCS and what it entailed. His father was from Malaysia and his mother was from China.
He credits his father, a military enthusiast, for piquing his interest in the military life. However, he realised it was up to himself to discover the meaning behind his duty as a soldier.
He explained: "During BMT, we had National Education and C2D (Commitment to Defence) lessons. But I didn't understand the full picture of our purpose (in serving NS).
"It was only in OCS, when we worked on realistic mission profiles, that I understood why there was a need to serve. We are here to defend our nation because no one else will do it for us. Now as I end my OCS journey, I find that, to me, it's about being able to defend what I love and cherish."
The current crisis in Ukraine also shaped his perspective: "It's important that we respect every nation's sovereignty, and that's what we are here to do – to defend our own sovereignty.
"In times like these, we appreciate our roles as NSFs (Full-time National Servicemen) even more. We look around us and recognise that this is what we have to protect."
Stronger as a team
Even though 2LT Chia did not get a "head start" to NS like most of his peers – in the form of stories and tips from fathers, uncles and grandfathers, he is grateful that his parents show him their fullest support in their own ways.
Besides sending him to and from training, they also show an interest in what he does and always have a listening ear ready.
He is most thankful for the friends he has made on his NS journey. When he first came to OCS, he felt awkward and uncomfortable as he didn't know anyone. But he soon realised that everyone there was facing the same struggle. This common purpose helped them to bond.
He said: "With them by my side, I could push myself further. I was doing it for myself and for them at the same time. Being an infantry officer cadet also taught me a lot about the importance of camaraderie."
He recounted his first exercise in OCS, which was one of the toughest trainings he had to endure. After several nights with little sleep, his platoon was sent on yet another mission.
"It was very strenuous for all of us. But what allowed us to overcome this tough journey was us sticking together as a platoon."
To pre-enlistees who are facing the same struggles that he had, he has this message for them: "Believe in yourself… There are times when you will need to step up, and that's when you will learn more about yourself and acquire new skills.
"The support system in BMT is very strong. The commanders are supportive as well. Soon you'll start to feel more comfortable and motivated. So, don't worry because it is going to be OK."