I Am An Air Force Officer
Something that surprises many people around me as I’m studying in the United Kingdom now is that I’ve served in the armed forces for about 2 years.
Yes, that is true. I am a Republic of Singapore Air Force officer.
In this post, I will share my experiences from my National Service (NS).
National Service In Singapore
A few years after Singapore became independent, our government felt that there was a need to build a military force to defend ourselves. Hence, an act was passed for conscription.
All male Singaporean citizens and second-generation permanent residents are required to serve in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for about 2 years.
Basic Military Training
The first phase of my National Service was a 9-week Basic Military Training (BMT) in an offshore island, called Pulau Tekong.
There, we learnt basic soldiering skills such as tactical movements, rifle handling, grenade throwing, marching and uniform preparation. It was helpful that I was in the National Cadet Corps in my high school before I entered the armed forces. During that time, I learnt many of required basic military knowledge.
The most memorable experience during these 9 weeks was the 4-day field camp. It’s not like a summer or school camp. It was tough. 4 years have passed since the field camp and I can still vividly remember what happened.
It rained every day and night during the camp, so our uniforms were never dry. To make it worse, we were almost covered entirely with mud throughout the 4 days.
We had to dig our individual shell scrape, set up basha tent in buddy system, learn and practice outfield skills, take turns to stay awake at night to guard our “territory” and so on.
One day, when we were having lunch, we were “attacked” by enemies. The instructors called this “The Hell Strike”. Smoke grenades were thrown, blank rounds were fired. I can never forget those 4 days.
Physical fitness was also emphasised during this period. There were a lot of running, push ups, pull ups and jumping. Pull ups were always our starter before each meal — 3 times a day. In fact, it remained as my starter for almost every meal throughout my National Service.
Fortunately, I had been training as a sprint canoeist and triathlete before enlistment. So I could cope with all of the physical training and enjoyed some incentives such as additional cash reward for obtaining the Gold standard for the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).
The final challenge for this phase was a 24km route march to the Singapore Floating Platform where we had our Passing Out Parade (POP).
Officer Cadet School
The next phase of my military training was a 9-month course at the Officer Cadet School (OCS). In recognition of my performance during my Basic Military Training, I had the honour to undergo the Officer Cadet Course.
During this period, I was transferred to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to be trained as an Air Warfare Officer, specifically a Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) Officer. We were given leadership training and held leadership appointments to hone our skills.
The main part of these 9 months was spent on specialising in an air defence weapon. The entire cohort of GBAD officer cadets were allocated to different weapon systems. For me, it was the I-HAWK System (Improved Homing All the Way Killer). Doesn’t it sound badass?
As officers, we have to know every aspect of the system which includes a Fire Control Post (FCP), a High Power Illumination Radar (HPI) and 2 missile launchers. As it is a very technical weapon, there were a lot of lessons on the system. (Fun fact: Each missile is 600kg!)
Apart from theory lessons, we had many hands-on training with the equipment to learn how to operate them. Most of the hands-on training were in the Fire Control Post where we control the radar and the launchers. Using simulator, we were trained on how to track hostile aircrafts and how to take them down with our missiles.
We also learnt how to deploy the entire system to maximise our air defence coverage.
Physical training never stopped. Pull ups remained as starter each breakfast, lunch and dinner. In a day, each of us would do almost a hundred pull ups.
We stayed in the squadron during the weekdays and could only return home on weekends. On some weekends, we were confined for additional training. It was tough but it also fostered a strong sense of camaraderie among the 18 of us in this weapon course.
Near the end of the course, we had the RSAF Combined Graduation Ceremony where we were awarded our officer ceremonial sword — the one that I’m holding in the first photo at the start of this post ☺
I was also honoured to receive the Sword of Merit, which is awarded to the top 10 percent of officer cadet in the entire cohort, along with the Best Trainee and Best Knowledge awards in my I-HAWK course.
After 9 months, the day which all of us had been looking forward to arrived — The Commissioning Parade. It marks the end of our officer cadet course and the beginning of our journey as newly commissioned officers of the Singapore Armed Forces.
Guardians Of The Skies
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
The remaining 11 months of my National Service could be best summed up by the quote above. My squadron does 24/7 operations to watch the skies, especially at night. We protect the Singapore skies so that Singaporeans can sleep soundly at night.
Soldiers in the squadron are involved in the operations on a rotational basis to ensure that everyone gets sufficient rest to stay vigilant during our shifts. It was strenuous on the body because personnels on duty have to stay awake and alert at night.
Furthermore, personnels off duty are assigned with standby duties, where they could be activated anytime of the day to help out with the operations.
As part of the Island Air Defence System, we all play a critical role in guard the Singapore air space. Our system is the second line of air defence for Singapore, after the fighters. Air defence became especially important post 9/11.
As our Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen said in his reflection, ADOC — Protecting Our Skies:
9/11 in New York City was a dramatic, life-changing event. Pictures of the jets crashing into the twin towers and these colossal skyscrapers collapsing into a plume of debris flashed on screens over the world. The images were seared into our memories, etched deeper with individual stories of lives lost and families torn apart. Our view of the world changed overnight, especially so for those responsible to keep our skies safe. Civilian planes that we would normally associate with the “romance of travel” became potential weapons of mass destruction.
The daily operations weren’t easy. There are no days off; not even during public holidays (bank holidays). Many of our body clocks were messed up because of staying up at night. We had to sacrifice time with our family and friends, even during festive days.
However, we all know that it is necessary and it is a great honour to do it.
(A huge thank you to the soldiers currently doing the operations to defend us!)
2 Years Of Memories
No amount of words would do justice to the experience I had during my National Service. This post only scratched the surface of my experience in the armed forces, but I hope that it has given you a glimpse into my 2 years as a soldier.
2 years of blood, sweat and tears.
I would never forget these 2 years of my life.
Thank you to all my course mates who went through the tough times with me. Thank you to my family, girlfriend and friends for their understanding and encouragement which supported me throughout the 2 years.
If you are interested in my squadron and our weapon system, here are 2 videos that briefly explain what we do: