Friday, October 15, 2010

VOC: A new acronym 3rd Gen SAF soldiers will learn to respect

Changes to the Singapore Army's obstacle course have to be matched by a mindset change by soldiers before they tackle the new test of their combat fitness.

In the past, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) warfighters trained to leave their rivals behind whenever they raced through the Standard Obstacle Course (SOC).

With the new obstacle course, every soldier trains to watch out for one another. The watchword is to leave no one behind.

The Singapore Army explained why it revamped the decades-old SOC when it hosted defence enthusiasts to a live-fire experience at Nee Soon Camp on Thursday afternoon.

Colonel Lawrence Teh said the Army revamped the SOC with feedback from Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel, drawing key points from officers, warrant officers and specialists (WOSpecs) who had served operational deployments overseas.

The result is a set of 12 obstacles (seven of them new) that form a Vocational Obstacle Course (VOC).

COL Teh said: "The obstacles mimic the operational environment and soldiers will learn to clear these as a team. You carry with you your organic weapons like the SAW, MATADOR (Manportable Anti-Tank Anti-DoOR, a single-shot, shoulder fired anti-armour/bunker buster) and operate and clear the VOC at a team level."

The VOC's man-made obstructions and impediments to movement blend the most physically demanding aspects of the dreaded SOC (first introduced in 1967) with challenges that Singapore's soldiers may face in an urban battlespace. The obstacle course built for the 21st century soldier has one more obstacle compared to the SOC's 11 stations, which begins with a 50m run, the 11 obstacles and a final 600m run to the finish line.

These include vaulting through windows, leaping across stormwater culverts and crawling through the tight confines of underground drain pipes.

The course is designed to mirror three phase in a combat mission:
1. Movement to objective: On leaving the line of departure, the combat team must move speedily and with tactical cohesion.
2. Fighting in the area of operations: This is the obstacle course area which pits the team against obstructions they may face in their projected AO.
3. Post mission phase: This phase forces the team to practise resupply and casualty evacuation.

According to the Singapore Army, the VOC is more than a collection of Fear Factor-type challenges.

A major change entails having the soldiers clear the course with team members they will fight with. For example, signallers who operate in a minimum team of x-number of signallers will clear the VOC together with their man-packed signal sets.

An infantry section of seven soldiers will meet the obstacles with their support weapons like the pair of MATADORs every Singapore Army section is minimally equipped with.

COL Teh said that by clearing the VOC as a team, soldiers will know the strengths and weaknesses of their team members.

To the Operationally Ready National Servicemen who attended the briefing, the benefits of the new VOC became obvious once the rationale was explained.

In the past, each soldier worked to beat the clock.

With the VOC, timings still matter. But a key takeaway for combat teams is learning how best to compensate for their team's weaknesses while exploiting their strengths.

It's a nod to the axiom that forewarned is forearmed. The VOC exposes physical limitations of every soldier - who is afraid of confined spaces, the ones afraid of heights, the agile ones who can leap across ditches in a single bound - before the first shot is fired in anger.

The VOC means that the glory board which feted combat fitness may prove less relevant in coming years. As soldiers work as a team, it is clear that the combat team is only as strong as its weakest member.

An infantry section with fine physical specimens may find itself held up by a single soldier who, damned by claustrophobia, takes longer than usual to crawl through the tunnel.

Singapore Army commanders must take this in their stride. It's far better to learn about the strengths and limits of one's team on a peacetime obstacle course then finding out these facts of life belatedly, under time pressure and under enemy fire.

Come what may, section commanders must find a way to motivate their team members to perform as ordered as the VOC isn't done until the last soldier crosses the line.

COL Teh said: "During operations, if you are  true to your leadership qualities, you will never leave your men behind."

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