Saturday, January 8, 2011

National Service marches on: Basic Military Training Centre Graduation Parade: Batch No: 04/10

Infantry, Forward!: Singapore's newest citizen soldiers march onto The Float at Marina Bay, with Singapore's city skyline as the backdrop. Singapore's National Service system produces a brigade worth of soldiers every 12 weeks. 

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.

Show of support: Proud parents and friends of the trained BMTC soldiers react spontaneously as some 5,000 Privates toss their caps into the air. 

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.

High spirits: 2LT Ashley Cho (front, second from left) with his men from BMTC School 1, Cougar Company Platoon 3 pose for a group photo before the platoon disperses for its block leave.

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.


FinalFive said...

BMT - yeah, it's really something I think most guys (Pes A and B) can relate to. But for the born in 1975-1985 guys, I think we didn't have a nice MBS skyline and thoughtful commanders collecting letters from parents/loved ones. We had only the darkness of Tekong and dull brick of BMTC School 1 and 2 Parade square waiting for us. I recall that 24km march as being the most gruelling route march (white horse companies... you won't understand *cough SCORPION*). Your thighs are chafed, your thirst is unquenchable, the load of your field pack just keeps growing, and the psycho PC seems to want to fast march the last 2km. But like magic, when the crowd at the parade square gradually falls into view, the pain disappears. Backs straighten and all of us march straight and level once again. Melodramatic yes... but hey, not my words. It's what i've heard over and over again from my old BMT friends.

And everyone gets a bit sentimental knowing that well - it's the point where the Section and Platoon dissolves to their respective combat arms. I think after that the magic of the NS experience just ends. Well it depends. Every man's experience is his own.

If I do have a son, I would want him to have a chance at receiving this torch too.

Anonymous said...

Hi CJ,

Are these new PTEs all destined for command school (OCS or SISPEC)? I would think that most of these guys would be heading to the combat arms vocation training centres if they are combat fit and to the CSS-related ones if they are PES C.

While it is nice to think that these guys will understand some of the things you mention in the second half of the article, the fact is that probably a few (such the the fine posters on MilNuts) will actually make the effort to do so, while for the vast majority it would be just counting down the days to ORD. This is probably something every conscription based military has to deal with, so it's no fault of these guys who fail to see the bigger picture.

David Boey said...

Hi Anonymous at 11 Jan'11 1:58 PM,
Not all will get to attend OCS or SISPEC. I did address the rank-and-file too.

With higher education levels and expectations of young ones, the SAF is finding ways to ensure that those who cannot attain leadership positions will find NS meaningful.

re: Defence awareness. True for the majority. But I feel we underestimate the number of people who are interested (even vaguely) in the defence and security matters.

The healthy attendance figures at the Army, Navy and Air Force open days, the number of S'poreans who will cough out $20+ bucks to attend the S'pore Airshow indicate that MINDEF/SAF will have a ready audience - provided the messsaging is done well.

zjz said...


Something out of topic.

I thought I saw someone who look like you taking the MRT towards the West this morning. Just kay-po a bit, could that be you?

Anonymous said...

Yes, if i have a son definitely, i want him to serve ns no doubt. I hated army when i was enlisted in 1967 but hey its good and turn me into a man fighting spirit.Guaranteed, told all my friends get your sons into ns and turn them into men. I saw my friend's son now talking differently to me from last time although he hated the discipline but he learns and will learn more. I told him he should go through more stringent training like my time in safti, thats was in 1967 by the israeli yet i made it.