Travelling 15,000km for ICT

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28 Feb 2023 | PEOPLE

Travelling 15,000km for ICT

Story by Teo Jing Ting // Photos by Kenneth Lin & courtesy of interviewees

English Melayu

Long-time NS buddies CPT (NS) Magnus Pang and CPT (NS) Christopher Kwan travelled all the way back from the US for their eighth ICT.

CPT (NS) Pang (left) and CPT (NS) Kwan flew in from the US for their eighth ICT. Fun fact: they touched down in Singapore just a few minutes apart!

When applying for a job in the United States (US) last year, Captain (CPT) (NS) Christopher Kwan informed his superiors that he wanted to return to Singapore for his In-Camp Training (ICT) every year.

"Everyone makes sacrifices to go down for ICT so I feel I should do the same. This was why I made an arrangement with my company right from start so that they know what to expect," said CPT (NS) Kwan, who flew in for his most recent ICT on 5 Feb. The two-week ICT was from 6 to 17 Feb.

CPT (NS) Kwan joined Applied Intuition, a start-up company based in California, US, as a software engineer last July.

During his eight ICT, he was an Officer Commanding (OC) of Bravo Company in 328th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers (328 SCE). The 32-year-old has since taken on a new appointment – the unit's S3 – after a Change of Command (COC) parade on 16 Feb.

Fellow OC and NS buddy CPT (NS) Magnus Pang also flew in from New York on 5 Feb.

The 33-year-old OC of Alpha Company in 328 SCE was posted to Cincinnati, US, for work last August. He is currently a senior analytics and insights manager at Procter & Gamble.

From officer cadets during their full-time NS days to being fellow OCs in the same battalion, both CPT (NS) Pang and CPT (NS) Kwan have known each other for more than 10 years. Find out why they are so committed to answer the call of duty year after year!

CPT (NS) Pang (last row, far right) and CPT (NS) Kwan (last row, second from right) have known each other since their officer cadet days. [courtesy of interviewee]

How long have you guys known each other?

CPT (NS) Kwan: We were in the same officer cadet course in 2010 and were posted to 30 SCE after our graduation. I went to the US for my studies after completing NS, so I didn't attend many of the gatherings after that.

But seeing everyone again when we come back for ICT was a very happy surprise. Even though we might not have spoken to one another for a long time, there is still that bond and chemistry. It's easy to make jokes, talk to one another and find out what's going on in the other's life. So I'm very thankful for that.

When in Singapore, the duo often run together with their fellow soldiers, including their Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel (NS) Desmond Fu (right), during weekends. [courtesy of interviewee]

So, what motivated you to come back for ICT even though both of you are based in the US?

CPT (NS) Pang: We have an evaluation this year and I wanted to be there with my company. I also didn't want the company to be left with a vacuum in the leadership.

There's also that camaraderie and brotherhood. We've seen one another through different key NS phases – from cadet and unit days to now being in the ICT together. To come back every year and experience all this together with the guys is something that I really look forward to.

CPT (NS) Kwan: It's the same reason – I just wanted to make sure things go smoothly for my company for this evaluation. There's also a sense of duty that was instilled in me during NS days – something that every male citizen has to uphold and be committed to.

So when I returned from the US after my studies, one of the first things I did was to find out how to get back into the NS system 'cos I was on exit permit for such a long time.

CPT (NS) Pang (far left) briefing his soldiers before moving out for their full troop exercise during their eighth ICT. [courtesy of interviewee]

This is your eighth ICT. What were your toughest moments during ICT over the years?

CPT (NS) Pang: During our first high-key in 2017, we had to carry an almost 30kg load and walk for 10km. The guys' morale was very low because they were already quite fit but it was so xiong (local slang for tough). I encouraged them and managed their expectations so that they could carry on.

For this ICT, even though they were all shagged out (local slang for tired) towards the end of their outfield, they were still in high spirits 'cos they all knew what to expect already.

CPT (NS) Kwan: Yeah, his guys are really fit! Their biceps grow bigger every year; my soldiers grow horizontally every year! (laughs)

For me, the lowest point would be four years ago when we were preparing for an evaluation. Everyone was raring to go but just as we were about to move out, it started to pour and it was CAT 1 (an SAF term for heavy rain and lightning strikes). We waited for six hours to be given clearance but it was still cancelled in the end.

Everyone was very sian (local slang for dampened spirits) 'cos all the work was done and we were still telling each other that we had to do well. I felt really bad for them.

CPT (NS) Kwan (seated, far right) discussing war gaming plans with his soldiers before an exercise during this year's ICT. [courtesy of interviewee]

What were some of the high points of your ICTs?

CPT (NS) Kwan: It would have to be this year! It's been four years since my company went outfield and, despite being very tired from training, their morale was still very high. Everyone was supporting one another and carrying each other's loads when they were tired. It was very nice and heart-warming to see that.

CPT (NS) Pang: For me, it's when my guys started to see me as a friend 'cos my soldiers were from another platoon when we were in 30 SCE. So there was a distance between them and myself initially.

But across the years, I see them slowly opening up to me. This makes me happy 'cos they finally accepted me as their commander and see me as a friend whom they can approach.

CPT (NS) Kwan (fourth from left) and CPT (NS) Pang (fourth from right) at a farewell dinner for the former, with their fellow NSmen before he left for the US last year. [courtesy of interviewee]

CPT (NS) Kwan, I heard that you guys organised special "enrichment" sessions for your soldiers during ICTs previously?

CPT (NS) Kwan: During those nights where we had to stay in, some of the commanders planned parenting, career and even fitness sessions for the soldiers. Afterwards, several of the fathers and fathers-to-be even started a group chat to share knowledge on parenting. It was heart-warming to see that sense of community across the battalion.

CPT (NS) Kwan (foreground) rehearsing for the COC parade on 16 Feb, where he took up his new appointment as S3.

Wow, that sounds quite fun! What are some of your takeaways from ICT?

CPT (NS) Kwan: A feedback I always get from my soldiers is how much they enjoy ICT because it's an opportunity to talk to and hang out with their friends. This is also one of the things that brings a smile to my face!

CPT (NS) Pang: From a company commander's point of view, if your guys are able to come together and enjoy each other's company not just because they are tasked to do a mission but because they truly want to do it, it gives you satisfaction.

I've also learnt to become a good listener and be more empathetic 'cos sometimes the guys are dealing with personal issues but keep their problems to themselves. When they do share their difficulties with me, I lend a listening ear and let them know that I'm always there for them, so at least they know that they have someone to turn to.

Despite the hectic ICT workload, both CPT (NS) Kwan (left) and CPT (NS) Pang enjoy seeing the camaraderie and brotherhood among the soldiers.

Lastly, does coming back for ICT feel like a good break?

CPT (NS) Kwan: (laughing) Not at all! Just the other day, my US colleague was asking me how things were and I told him that the amount of things to do here is way more than what I do at work.

As an OC, we're constantly managing things 'cos if we don't plan things properly, my soldiers could be going all over the place and there will be a lot of time wasted.

CPT (NS) Pang: Even when we're in the US, we have to do a lot of planning pre-ICT. Because of the time difference, we missed out a lot of messages so I'm very thankful that my Company Sergeant Major (CSM) replies on my behalf. Like when I wake up, I'll realised that all the messages have already been replied! (laughs)

CPT (NS) Kwan: So if my guys feel like the ICT has felt somewhat like a "holiday", this means I did a good job!

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