Sunday, August 1, 2010
Behind the scenes: National Day Parade 2010 Mobile Column
The Singapore Army soldiers you see above have the lives of some 900 Mobile Column participants and the safety of millions of dollars worth of defence and security equipment literally in their hands.
These 15 tankees from the 1st Company, 48th Singapore Armoured Regiment (48 SAR) are the secret behind the tight formations that thrilled spectators who have seen the 210-vehicle Mobile Column drivepast during National Day Parade rehearsals over the past few weekends.
They cue drivers and vehicle commanders on their road speed and help get the formations aligned as the war machines rumble towards City Hall. Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team vehicles, some weighing as much as 60 tonnes, drive in close order with vehicles driving side by side within touching distance. Drivers following behind are trained to keep just enough space between vehicles to execute a safe emergency stop.
For an Army which can observe, hunt and kill its opponents day and night using a battle management system which allows secure voice, data and video communications in realtime, having its soldiers use plywood signs to signal one another seems a quaint step back to pre-computer days.
It's reassuring that the SAF hasn't over-invented simple processes. The signboard party is backed by a team which monitor's the Mobile Column's progress using stopwatches, paper timesheets and the good old Mark 1 eyeball.
Flash the wrong sign - say "Speed Up" when you mean "Slow Down" - and one could cause a vehicle pile up on national television. A late alert could result in a yawning gap in the 2-kilometre long vehicle column and mess up the NDP timesheet.
The responsibilities that rest with 1st Company 48 SAR are tremendous. The stakes are high. And thus far, public recognition has been zero.
At each NDP rehearsal, Second Lieutenant David Wong, 21, and his men gather their hand-made signs and plant themselves at strategic locations along the drivepast route.
As the heavy metal approaches, 1st COY will signal the drivers and vehicle commanders using yellow signs with extra large, block letters.
Is xxxxx MID coming along too fast? Up comes the "Slow Down" sign, held with outstretched arms high above the head and the driver should ease off on his speed.
It takes about 15 minutes for the 2-km Mobile Column to pass City Hall. This quarter of an hour demands the highest concentration and coordination between the men from 1st COY. No toilet breaks, no SMS-ing girlfriends, no daydreaming about ORD, no idle chit chat.
Every sign they need must be within arm's reach. The sign must be flashed the right way up, at the correct moment, and to the correct driver/vehicle commander.
The payoff - if signals are flashed and complied with - is a tight, picture perfect Mobile Column formation.
Once done, men from 1st COY pack up, tuck their precious signs under their arms and file silently out of the Padang as yet another NDP rehearsal unfolds. Most spectators will not notice the line of men as they move along St Andrew's Road, stride purposefully across the War Memorial Park to catch their ride back to the vehicle form-up point.
And while the Mobile Column personnel soak up cheers from spectators and trigger a blizzard of camera flashes, hardly anyone notices the anonymous signboard party making its exit. They don't even get to watch the fireworks.
The tankees from 1st COY work behind the scenes and away from the limelight, but they do feel a sense of achievement when the show thrills spectators.
Catch their handiwork in action on the NDP 2010 live webcast.
Behind the scenes Part 2: The Mobile Column Traffic Marshals.
Posted by David Boey at 1:08 PM