By the time you read this, I will be deep in some unknown jungle in an undisclosed location. There’s no need to panic. I am safe for the most part, except for the millions of Commando mosquitoes, unseen venomous snakes lurking in the undergrowth, incessant heat and plethora of plants that I may be allergic to. This is the highlight of my NSmen commitment – the overseas training exercise.
Like most adult men in Singapore, reservist is a conspicuous part of my life. Once a year, I get called up to spend time with friends who used to look half their size and run twice as fast. We catch up on each other’s lives, find out who got married, has a new kid, bought a new car, upgraded to a condo or finally MR-ed. (MR stands for Military Reserve, which is sweet emancipation after you complete the mandatory number of training cycles).
The stories change a little year after year but the characters stay the same for the most part. There’s always that blur sotong who can never figure out which training shed to be at, the super experienced ‘Chao Keng’ King (Literally translates to Smelly Pretend, also known as slacker) who knows just how many days MC to take and the ‘garang’ soldier who smiles through the toughest training.
This December marks the high point of all these years of training, when we actually put our skills to the test in unknown terrain, far from civilization. The last time my cousin went for an overseas training like this, he was bitten by a spider on his face. His cheek swelled to the point that his nose disappeared. It reappeared after a few days thankfully. Unlike my cousin, I hope to return with extremely uninteresting stories to tell of my time there.
Doing our part for military defence does not always mean roughing it out in the jungle. Working silently behind the scenes, our Defence Technology Community has been pioneering innovations in weapons, combat armour and support systems for our Armed Forces. Marking its 50th anniversary, President Tony Tan launched a commemorative book series titled “Engineering Singapore’s Defence – The Early Days” at the exhibition in Marina Bay Sands.
Straight out a sci-fi movie, this self-driving vehicle can respond quickly to threats, providing visual intelligence without troop deployment.
One particular display that stood out is the Rapidly Deployable Maritime Container (RDMC) by the Navy Medical Service. It’s basically a self-contained operating theatre that you can load onto a ship and send to areas where medical infrastructure is not easily accessible. The Republic of Singapore Navy deployed the RDMC in 2015 and performed 31 surgeries for Indonesian villagers living in the different Indonesian islands, as part of the humanitarian assistance program Operation Surya Bhaskara Jaya.
The fully equipped interior of the RDMC
These defence science innovations have led to many other civil uses in other areas. For instance, the Underground Ammunition Facility (UAF) paved the way for similar underground storage at the Jurong Rock Caverns. Housed at the decommissioned Mandai Quarry, excavations for the UAF began in 1999, with over 5,500 blasts to clear away granite that is 6 times stronger than concrete. Drawing from the learnings from our defence science community, the Jurong Town Corporation built the Jurong Rock Caverns which now provides storage of liquid hydrocarbons 150m below ground level on Jurong Island.
How solid is the rock below our little red dot?
Besides middle-aged men in steamy jungles and defence scientists in laboratories, fellow Singaporeans from all walks of life have also been called up to do their part to keep Singapore secure as part of the SGSecure movement.
With global terrorism on the rise and ISIS listing Singapore as a target, the threat of an attack is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. The Home Team has expanded CCTV surveillance, stepped up emergency response measures and increased ground patrols at key areas. But when terror strikes, the community’s response is critically important in preserving lives and maintaining order. There have been large scale exercises across the island with simulated attacks and a sustained outreach campaign with banners and posters at void decks. So when it actually does happen, we will defy our attackers and prove that we cannot be broken.
And that’s how I’m facing this long training in the some distant jungle. I will return unbroken and hopefully unbitten. Until 2017, from all of us here at OSU, have a Merry Christmas.