I cannot remember the year. Definitely in 2001 or 2002. Our unit was part of Exercise Semangat Bersatu. A joint mission with the Royal Malaysian Armed Forces. I think it lasted maybe about 2 weeks. Soldiers from Malaysia came to our camp for an exchange programme. It is an on going cooperation between SAF and RMAF. It's either they come here or soldiers from SAF will go there. So lucky for us, they came to Bedok Camp when it was our turn. We had enough overseas trips already so I really did not mind not going to another country.
Exercise Semangat Bersatu. Funnily always pronounced as “Segamat Bersatu” by some people.
About a company plus size number of soldiers came. The soldiers that came to our place were from the Johor base. At that time, there was a film called “Leftenan Adnan” (now playing on Netflix) and they used the soldiers from that base in the film. So they looked familiar. We asked them if it was true and they proudly said yes. It was a good movie to me.
So it was a simple exchange programme. They came here, settled down to stay at Bedok Camp for around 2 weeks. We started off with orientation, getting to know each other, getting to know each other's doctrine, had a mission exercise together, ended it with some cohesion where we had friendly games together and that was it. It was quite fun to be honest. At least, for the 2 weeks, we had some sort of out of the norm activities.
When they came here, we had some Malay guys selected to be liaison officers. You know, people to be attached to them, talk to them, help them settle down, share things. That kind of stuff. I wasn't selected to be one and it was ok. It would be nice but I honestly didn't want to either. One of the sergeants in my platoon, Fardlie was selected and he shared this with us during the settle down process. It was funny.
So he liaised with the soldiers to be settled down in one of the bunks. He told them about the orientation of the place, where the toilets are, where the showers are, where the smoking areas are. He told them specifically that smoking in the bunks are not allowed.
When he passed by the bunk again later, he saw them smoking. He told them not to and they obliged.
A second time he passed by the bunk, he saw them smoking again. They were soldiers of lower rank than Fardlie and he said, “I told you that you cannot smoke here.”
They apologised and said “Sorry sergeant”. But they didn't extinguish the burning cigarettes and just hid them behind their backs.
Fardlie was annoyed and then he pointed to them to the thing on the ceiling. He said, “You see that? That is a smoke detector. If it detects smoke, it will be activated, sound an alarm and it will sprinkle water all over the room.”
Immediately they extinguished their cigarettes and told each other, “Eh stop stop! The place will get wet all over.”
Fardlie left and shared this with us laughingly. There were no sprinklers in the room. There wasn't even a smoke detector. It was a circular emergency light on the ceiling which would turn on in times of a blackout. Though there were already smoke detector and sprinkler technology then, it was not installed in Bedok Camp at that time.
We then had this exchange activity where they displayed their uniforms, food rations and weapons. We displayed ours also. It was like an old school expo. We walked around to view their booths and so did they to ours. I was stationed at the GPMG booth. It was fun. It was an expo atmosphere. Like a school funfair. We could ask questions pertaining the items displayed. We could also handle and play with some of them. Now that I type this, it reminds me of the Army Open House. When this COVID is over, maybe there will be another open house in the future.
The finale of the exchange programme was an assault demonstration. My platoon was selected to do the demonstration. We had our equipment ready and used blank rounds and did a simulated assault at the camp's stadium. The guests watched from the stands.
After we finished the demonstration, the guests could come down to the field and ask us questions about our doctrine and SOP. There was nothing much to ask as the procedures were pretty much similar. They were more interested with our new SAR21 rifle. But most of the questions raised at us were, “how old are we?” The difference here was, they are regular soldiers who signed up to be soldiers while we were conscript soldiers. Some of us were 18 year olds. Most of us were in our early twenties. I was only 21 or 22. They were much older than us.
They were also bewildered by our rank structure. It would take them years to be promoted from a private to a lance corporal. Their sergeants were already in their late 30s, while the sergeants here were only 21. They asked us, how long did we take to become a sergeant? We said, our SISPEC course was 5 months. They were really bewildered. “5 months to become a sergeant? Would you be experienced enough to lead men within 5 months and at this age? Doesn't experience play a part in rank promotion? Are you mature enough to be leading your troops?” They would ask these questions and gave us scenarios in a battlefield. What would we do, what would we consider and what are our SOPs in various scenarios. I can proudly say, we all could answer the questions confidently. They were still bewildered but were convinced with our answers.
Well here is the time for them to see our combat effectiveness. Unfortunately but understandably, the soldiers were not mixed. We would still complete the missions within our own companies. I mean, we walked in the forest together towards our objectives but once the assault happens, they have their own objective to capture while we had ours.
Anyway we walked together. Just for your info, even though Singapore is small and almost everywhere is accessible by vehicles, our training include this thing called “Movement to Contact”. It means we have a starting to point to walk from until we reach the place that we are supposed to “attack”. In the army, even though some places are accessible to vehicles, the enemy would be able to detect moving vehicles from a distance, especially the sounds of helicopters or planes and such. So we would be dropped off at a starting point that is “beyond range” and walk towards our enemy. This walk would be kilometres long from at least 5 kilometres to 20kilometres. These walk usually happens in the dark of the night, usually starting at 7pm after last light, walk in the forest and reach the objective just before daybreak. That's about 12 hours of walking.
Of course there would be short breaks during the walk. When a place is deemed “safe”, we would take a short break to rest our legs and have a drink or snack. It would still be a “tactical break” where we would have friends being on guard while the other take a break and then take turns. These breaks usually last about 10 to 15 minutes. Too short for us to fall asleep. But we would doze off anyway.
But during this exercise, there were a lot of breaks during the walk. We were pleasantly surprised. The Malaysian army really value their breaks. Their breaks would be on specific times like once every hour, regardless whether the place was “safe” or not. And they did not have “tactical” breaks. They just break away and rested with snacks, food, hot drinks from their thermos. We were still required to maintain our tactical breaks though and we really enjoyed the breaks to have short naps as their breaks were longer than 15 minutes. Some even lasted an hour. Personally I understand where they were coming from. I had no complaints. I slept too.
The first assault was fun. Ok we were tired but it was fun because it was an assault on a build up area. We were bored of attacking hills and mountains. To once in a while attack a building is fun. We called it “counter strike” based on a popular computer game of the same name at that time. Similar to Call of Duty now.
After my platoon managed to overrun our building, my GPMG team was tasked to walk further down the road and secure the entry point of that area. Meaning, if the enemy would bring in reinforcement troops via the road entering that area, my team would fire at them.
As we walked towards the road via the forested area beside it, we bumped into a Malaysian section overseeing another assault in the area. As it was still very early morning and very dark in the forest vegetation, they halted us and asked us who we were. There is a standard procedure on how to “challenge” people who we meet in the dark using passwords and stuff. Once we were considered as “friendly forces” we were allowed to pass.
As I walked past them, I heard them giving instructions on their signal sets. It was cool to hear instructions in Malay. It was like in a movie. I remember this clearly,
“Bola satu kepada Bola dua. Bola satu kepada Bola 2. Berikan tembakan perlindungan kepada banguna A dan B. Saya ulangi, berikan tembakan pelindungan kepada bangunan A dan B.”
Translated : “Bravo one to Bravo two. Bravo one to Bravo two. Provide covering fire to buildings A and B. I repeat. Provide covering fire to building A and B.”
After a few days in the forest, we came back to camp to rest and have our cohesion activities. I think it was fun but I cannot remember what we did. I think we had some kind of sports day type of activities, you know those telematch races or something. I really cannot remember. I remember we had sports games though. I think some went to play basketball or tennis or something. I went to play street soccer.
Typical Singapore boys will shout out “Ours!” when the ball is out of play, regardless what race you are. The Malaysians would say “Bola kami!”. It was odd to hear but my Malay friends wondered why we never speak in Malay even though we play with Malay friends.
One interesting view that we witnessed was when they fall in at the parade square to go for Friday prayers. They would be clad in complete Baju Melayu with songkok and samping. The mosque is just across the road so it was quite a pretty and colourful sight to see especially Singaporeans do not wear a complete costume set to go for Friday prayers. Heck, most of us don't even go for Friday prayers.
All in all I think it was a fun exchange exercise. Like I said earlier, luckily for us, we did not have to travel to Malaysia for this exercise as we have enough travelling already. Next week I will share another experience where I had the opportunity to train with a visiting foreign army.
NEXT WEEK : GPMG LEADER COURSE
Categories : The Army Series
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