BACK TO MAINLAND!
Hello mainland! I am back! I was so happy to be back on the mainland that I didn't mind at all to be posted to 3rd Guards. Whatever. Wherever. As long as I'm back. Tekong was depressing. Well at least Tekong has mobile coverage now and the recruits there can bring their handphones. So you see, it should be much better now. And you see why I am writing this series? Because it is so much different now and what we went through then, would just be a myth if we are to tell these experiences to anyone now and in the future.
Circa March 2001. Bedok Camp 2. Home of the 3rd Battalion Singapore Guards. About 80 of us who have just graduated from School of Infantry Specialist (SISPEC) 17th Advanced Section Leader Course (ASLC), stepped foot into the camp. It was spanking new. We would be attached to the 10th Mono intake of recruits who were at that time undergoing their Basic Military Training. Once they complete their BMT, we would also complete or Guards Conversion Course and will be assigned as their leaders. See, it was all planned and set up. Anyway, the camp was spanking new. The previous batch, ie. the 9th Mono Intake started their service in Kranji Camp. Halfway through their service, they shifted to Bedok Camp. When they completed their service, 10th Mono took over. So the camp would most probably be about only a year old. Compared to old army camps that you can imagine, this place is like a heaven to stay for the next 1 year 9 months. With new blocks, beds, toilets, facilities, etc. The guys from 3rd SIR across the field could only watch in envy.
We were then separated into 4 groups of about 20 persons each group which were called “syndicates”. They had fancy names then. A “syndicate” means a group or section. The trainers were called “cadre”s. I was grouped in syndicate 3.
Our Guards Conversion Course would last 4 weeks. There is an online video series if you google Guards Conversion Course. It is not exactly what we went through but it was somewhat similar. So maybe you can have a look at the videos. As for me, I only have diminishing memories in my head as we didn't have digital cameras then. Interesting thing about our course then was, it was the first time for the formation to experiment a “Gentlemen's Course”. Supposedly they were going to treat us trainees as “gentlemen” instead of the usual dreaded “tekan” course. Well, after SISPEC, I guess this was a nice change and welcome. Maybe this Guards Conversion Course (GCC) won't be so torturous after all.
There were a number of requirements for us to complete in order to graduate from this course. If I'm not wrong, they were
10km run within 50 minutes.
Helicopter, tower and cliff rappel.
2km Coastal Swim
Guards Assault Course
For administrative or logistical reasons, we would not complete the coastal swim during the course but we would do it later in the year together with our men from 10th mono intake.
We were welcomed by HQ company sergeant major, Staff Sergeant Saygar. He had this distinctive way of walking and talking. Numerous badges on his uniform. A commando and a guardsman. Cool character. We all had a kick of imitating him and apparently I was the only person who could imitate him as close as possible.
As mentioned, we would be there for 4 weeks. It was still a 5 and a half day work week then, meaning we would book out on Saturdays and book in every Sunday evenings. Even though I could only see civilisation for 1 and a half days a week, at least we were on mainland. A public bus stop just outside the gates.
Staff Saygar said that, not only would this be a “Gentlemen's Course” (his favourite phrase was “all of you are all commanders level”) we could also come to camp in bermudas and sandals. That was kind of cool. Polo T, bermudas and sandals to book in. Unlike other army camps in Singapore. We were also told to bring sporty shades for training. Bedok camp was by the sea so to us, it kind of had the beach camp vibes. A few days later, they even set up a small “shop” with retailers from ASICS and Oakley to sell us running shoes and sport shades at a heavily discounted price. Yeah it was kind of cool.
10 KILOMETRES RUN
So 1st requirement. To complete a 10 kilometres run within 50 minutes. We went through a number of running training before we had to go through this test. As Bedok Camp was just beside East Coast Park, our running training was held there. So if you were there at that time, you would see these boys, running bare bodied in running shorts, Asics shoes and Oakley shades. Either running at our own pace or as a large group. Quite a cool image. Not only it was for the image, but it actually brought the soldiers' morale up. We had pride in our training and of course none of us would want to look like weaklings running in public. I still hate running though.
Anyway me and a couple of others could never meet the timing of 50 minutes. Tried as hard as we might, I just couldn't clock below 50 minutes. My buddy, Nurizam, even piggy backed me for hundreds of metres just so I can catch my breath while gaining ground but I still could not make it. I think my fastest time was 50 minutes 20 seconds. Irritating I know. Yes for the whole of my full time NS life, I never gotten below 50 minutes. In a sense, I failed the commanders test of 50 minutes but I completed the course as Guardsman because the time set for the other soldiers was 60 minutes. So because of this, I served my vocation in a Guards unit but I only got my khaki beret and shoulder guards tab a year later after the unit turned operational.
I was looking forward for this. What made me excited to be in the Guards unit is that I will get opportunities to do rappeling. One of the officers said that Guards units are either seaborne or airborne and it depends on your intake. Luckily for us, ours was the airborne intake. The next batch will be the seaborne intake. I'd rather be in a helicopter than on the RPL in the sea.
In GCC we were trained in 3 situations of rappeling. One was tower rappel where we already tried in SISPEC. But here we learnt different styles (we called it stunts). There was the normal tower rappel meaning we go down the tower backwards facing the wall, there was the Australian rappel where we would go down face first. There was also the inverted rappel where we go down head first.
The other was the cliff rappel which had the normal rappel and Australian rappel. Additional stunts were the hasty rappeling. It is the kind where we didn't have carabiner to coil our ropes. It was just ourselves and a rope and we go down the cliff sideways. We also had a buddy rappel where we piggy back a buddy (as if they are casualties) and we rappel down with him. The cliff rappel lessons were done on this cliff in Changi.
During my first hasty rappel attempt, which was scary as we didn't have a carabiner to coil our ropes, I kind of panicked and lost my footing and posture. I held on to the rope for my dear life midway down the cliff and was hanging there facing the cliff with my feet dangling downwards. I didn't know what to do. Our Regimental Sergeant Major, Warrant Siva, shouted from below asking me to get my posture right and be brave. But I kept hanging there. He laughed via the loud hailer and kept shouting, “Faster get your footing la! You want to hang there for how long?! Macam cicak la!!” I finally got my footing and rappeled down. He laughed when I was at the bottom, saying I looked like a cicak (gecko). From that day onwards until the end of my NS days, he called me Anwar Cicak Man. This was in 2001. Way before the CicakMan movie in 2006 that was acted by Saiful Apek. Coincidentally a doppelganger.
Last one was the most exciting. A heli rappel. We would rappel down a Super Puma helicopter in groups of 4. Go google “Guards Heli Rappel” and you would see what I mean. The helicopter would hover 90 feet in the air as the ropes were only 100 feet long. 100 feet up in a helicopter at Sembawang Air Base, I could see my block of flats before rappeling down.
Web logs of art activities on a regular basis (hope).