Saturday, January 8, 2011
National Service marches on: Basic Military Training Centre Graduation Parade: Batch No: 04/10
Nineteen-year-old Army officer, Second Lieutenant Ashley Cho, was a bench-warmer the first time citizen soldiers marched at a Graduation Parade at Marina Bay in October 2010.
This morning, it was showtime for 2LT Cho and his men from Platoon 3 of Cougar Company.
The full-time National Serviceman (NSF) and fellow instructors from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Basic Military Training Centre School 1 had reason to be proud as more than five thousand recruits marked the end of their BMT at The Float at Marina Bay.
All four BMTC schools held a combined Graduation Parade for BMT Batch 04/10 - the last batch to enlist for two years of National Service in 2010.
As the 18 Companies marched onto the Float in front of some 18,000 camera-toting loved ones and friends, Singaporeans got to see what a Singapore Army brigade-plus unit looks like in parade order.
The serried ranks of soldiers made an impressive sight, undreamt of in 1967 when the first batch of NSFs joined the fledgling SAF.
Today, Singapore's NS system trains the equivalent of a brigade-plus of soldiers every three months. This renews the SAF and adds to the pool of Singaporeans trained with military, police or civil defence skills. Since NS began in 1967, more than 700,000 Singaporeans have served in uniform.
Admittedly, every NSman walks away with different experiences - not all of them positive. But when it comes to the crunch like the deadly SARS crisis in 2003, the tsunami relief operation in 2004 or other security scares, even cynical Singaporeans know what it is that gives their tiny city state breathing space and peace of mind.
More than just a numbers game, the quality of NSFs is on the rise. More than 60 per cent hold at least a diploma or higher education and this quickens the pace at which the SAF can train its citizens in the art and science of war.
Many of these soldiers will be groomed for leadership appointments as Officers or Specialists, with rank-and-file acquiring specialised know how that allows them to fight in a net-enabled battlespace.
Better quality recruits accelerate the pace of learning. Singapore's Gen Y NSFs of today are generally comfortable and conversant with computer-aided instruction. This has allowed the SAF to roll out its so-called Learnet initiative where self-paced learning allows motivated and fast learners to develop faster.
And many NSFs do excel through basics.
This explains why the occasional stories that pop up in the Singaporean media on shirkers are so news-worthy - because these laggards are the exception rather than the norm in a NS-based Army which has had 44 years of experience to shake things into place.
It will take another four months or so to train a Specialist (i.e. Non-Commissioned Officer) and outstanding recruits will undergo nine months of training as Officer Cadets before they are commissioned as officers.
Training does not stop there. The recruits who completed their BMT this morning will need at least a year of further training as military training becomes increasingly complex and exposes them to the intricacies of the military art at company, battalion, brigade and then division-level.
By the time the soldiers are ready to return to civvie street, these warfighters will be just about ready to practice combined arms operations with the SAF's land, sea and air units.
With Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) cascading down to battalion level as eyes in the sky, today's soldiers need to understand and think of the battlespace in 3-D. Citizen soldiers must grasp operational demands such as airspace deconfliction, which clears air lanes for use by UAVs organic to Singapore Army infantry battalions and fast movers such as Republic of Singapore Air Force Apache helicopters. And while the young commanders view the battlespace as a layered cake with UAVs and RSAF warplanes operating at different flight levels, commanders must also be able to picture how the fall of shot from the Singapore Army's tube and rocket artillery will add to no-fly zones for friendly forces.
At the same time, the soldiers must watch their emcon to prevent tech-savvy hostiles from pinpointing their positions or reading their mail should the hostiles succeed in penetrating the SAF's net-enabled combat units.
Indeed, the SAF's battlespace has become more complex and the soldiers who marched off the Float this morning have much more to learn and practice.
Two years of NS barely covers the basic minimum needed to equip Singapore's citizen soldiers with the knowledge and street smarts to fight and triumph against a conventional adversary.
This is why I hold the opinion that the SAF's best-trained combat and combat service support units are not those currently in active service, but the Operationally Ready NS units that have clocked up about five years of NS in-camp training.
On a personal note, the BMTC recruits who completed their basic training this morning included several Temasek Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduates who were attached to my workplace as interns last year.
It was heart-warming to see these eager, energetic polytechnic graduates emerge as soldiers - raspy voiced from all that shouting, tanned and conspicuously stinky after a 24-km overnight route march from Changi to heart of the Lion City.
Their PC was none other than 2LT Cho from BMTC School 1; an NSF training new NSFs in an unbroken process of passing the torch that started in 1967.
Posted by David Boey at 4:37 PM