2 am and the rain is falling
Here we are at the crossroads once again
You're telling me you're so confused
You can't make up your mind
Is this meant to be
You're asking me
That song by "Trademark" filled the air constantly. It was the song of the moment. Not because I like it. You have to understand, back then we didn't have spotify or smartphones. We didn't even have an mp3 player. We had cassette players, walkmans and discmans. But they used up a lot of battery. So what we had then were small transistor radios. I had one, so small, it fits my pocket. A transistor radio as small as a zippo lighter. It was cool. It used a small battery and lasted quite long. That being said, it means, we couldn't choose our songs. We had to listen to the radio and this annoying song kept hogging the air almost all the time.
It was the song that was on the radio as I took the ferry back to Pulau Tekong. Actually almost all the time I booked in, the radio was playing that song. But this time it was different. I was going back to Tekong after a 1 week block leave. A full complete 1 week. I forgot the date already now. I believe it was a 9th of October 2000. Definitely a Monday. I told my girlfriend then, I would be in Tekong just to take my posting results and I would be back on the ferry to get off the island in no time. I remember that very clearly.
The whole lot of us gathered in front of Mohawk Company in our platoon level. The sergeants counted our strength (the army term for checking attendance) and announced our postings. Verbally. One at a time. It was suspense-fully nail-biting kind of moment. They called out the names according to our platoon, section and bed order. Meaning, the 1st person to hear his posting result was the guy from platoon 1 section 1 bed 1.
Faizal Khan was in platoon 1 section 1. His posting was, National Service Civil Defence Officer. He was so happy. He kept shouting, "yes! yes!!". It is basically like the police force I mentioned in the last post. You got to go back to the mainland and do things that are more practical in real life. He got to go back to the mainland, off from the army and be an officer for the Civil Defence Force. Basically, his army days was over. You can never get any other better vocation than that other than the NS Police Inspector.
Then to platoon 2. Shaufi section 1. School of Infantry Specialist (SISPEC). Shucks.
Sergeant Khir, "Private Anwar Hadi Bin Ramli.... SISPEC."
My heart sank. My first thought was my girlfriend. I told her I would leave this island. I was extremely sad. Very extremely terribly sad.
Wan Cing Cong was posted to Officer Cadet School (OCS). That's at Jurong.
"All form up in your posting order. Those going to SISPEC, fall in behind the company line!"
I said goodbye to Wan Cing Cong. He was happy. I was very sad. Apparently a number of us were posted to SISPEC because I remember we had to fall in together and it was about a platoon size. When everyone of us were accounted for, we walked. When everyone else walked to the ferry terminal to go back to the mainland, we walked, from Mohawk Company BMTC School 2, to SISPEC, 2.9km away, deeper into Pulau Tekong. Where from BMTC we could see the sea and the Singapore mainland across it, we would walk to a camp called SISPEC further inland, surrounded by forests, away from the sea. Can you imagine how depressing that was? And we walked, with our duffel bag (aka ali baba bag) slung across our shoulders. Yes, our duffel bags then didn't have wheels.
School of Infantry Specialist.
The Specialist Cadet School (abbreviation: SCS), formerly the School of Infantry Specialists (SISPEC), is the military training centre for specialists (NCO-equivalents) in the Singapore Army. The school is situated in Pasir Laba Camp (PLC) in the western part of Singapore. From 1999/2000 to 2006, it was located at Rocky Hill Camp on Pulau Tekong while its new premise was undergoing construction.
In 2010, SISPEC was renamed to Specialist Cadet School (SCS) to reflect the wider scope of the school, as it no longer provides Specialist training only for Infantry units.
Instead of going back to the mainland, I would be stuck back in Pulau Tekong for at least 11 weeks. We were going to embark on a course called Basic Section Leader Course (BSLC) for about 11 weeks. After that we will be given posting results again. Either we would be posted to another unit or to continue going through phase 2 of the course called Advanced Section Leader Course (ASLC). By this time, I was just expecting the worse. I didn't want to expect to be posted out after 11 weeks. I mentally prep myself that I would be there for the whole of 22 weeks (5 months), on Pulau Tekong. That was the worst case scenario.
ROCKY HILL CAMP
After that 2.9km walk which felt like forever, we reached "Rocky Hill Camp" where SISPEC was located. Right in the middle of the forest. The whole camp was literally surrounded by forest. I was posted to Alpha Company. The camp building looks much older than the spanking new buildings at BMTC. I heard that this camp is an abandoned camp. It had almost no mobile reception. No M1, no Starhub. Only 1 bar of Singtel if you sit near the door of the bunk. Same for radios too. Almost no radio waves. Our transistor radio would only work if we place it near the door and adjust its antenna to perfection. But there was never perfect reception. The building look like an old HDB block in Queenstown. Long, with a lift and staircase in the middle of the building and staircase at the end of the building. I googled and can not find a picture of it, but it looked something like this.
Alpha company, Platoon 2 Section 3 Bed 8. This time around there were only 3 platoons per company, 3 sections per platoon, 10 men per section. Our course was called the 17th BSLC. Meaning the 17th batch of SISPEC trainees. Only 2 companies for this 17th batch. Alpha and Bravo company. Shaufi was posted to Bravo company.
As I entered my new home for the next 5 months, I felt very sad. I hated the idea of staying on the island. I didn't like to make new friends. But the friends turned out ok because all of us felt the same. We all had to go through it. We didn't have any choices. Except for 1 guy. His name is Tan Boon Tee. He was the only person in my bunk who was an army "regular". Which means he signed up to be in the army as a career. The rest of us were NS boys. Me in bed 8 means I was assigned a buddy who was in bed 7. His name is Paul. I found a familiar person in my bunk. Bed 6. His name is Dzulkifly. Cool spelling I know. You will read quite a lot about him in the upcoming posts. Dzul worked part time at the Library Supply Centre at Changi South. I was there for my internship. That's where I knew him. Apparently he was from the same polytechnic as I was but I never saw him in school.
The bunks were decent. It looked old but it felt real. It looked comfortable. Like they know we were going to stay there for long. There was a small partition in between every bed. We not only had a locker, but also a bookshelf with army books. They would be our textbooks for our BSLC course. The toilets were clean. I was slightly happy when I saw the shower cubicles had doors, unlike those in BMTC.
Our section commanders were 3rd sergeants. Obviously they were NSFs just like us. But our platoon sergeants, unlike in BMT, were staff and master sergeants. Our Platoon commanders, Officer commander and Commanding officers were Warrant officers. They were all army regulars. They were much older than us. They were in their 30s and 40s. Darn I tell you, they looked damn fierce. So fierce, I feared looking at them in the eyes. Because unlike the Mohawk instructors, these sergeants and warrant officers were the real deal.
I couldn't remember who said this, because I was too afraid and sad to look. But I heard this,
"I hope you have enjoyed your BMT. BMT is just the start. BMT is your honeymoon period in the army. It's all over now. You all jolly well wake up from your honeymoon idea. This is SISPEC. This is not OCS. In OCS you will be treated as gentlemen. Here you will be treated like dogs. When this course ends, you will be as fierce and as hungry as dogs. Your men jolly well be afraid of you."
The guy who said this, didn't scream or shout like the Mohawk instructors. He spoke in a cool stern manner, very much like a mafia godfather. He was damn right. I was afraid of him. Until now I don't know who said those words.
Honestly, I don't remember much about BSLC. I am just going to share whatever I can remember. Really it's not much. Maybe because I was too sad to remember those moments. It was just days and weeks that passed by. We still get to book out every Saturday, so it was pretty much the same as in BMT. But since we were a "rank up" in terms of training, we got to take the earlier ferry out of Tekong every Saturdays before the BMT recruits, like maybe 12 or 1pm. We got to book in later too, like 10pm instead of 8pm. There would be a bus to take us to and from Tekong Ferry Terminal. A cool thing was, we didn't have to go to Pasir Ris Bus Interchange anymore. We can just report and leave from SAF ferry terminal at Changi. That means more time to spend with girlfriends for most of us.
I remember there were a lot of shouting and screaming and barking orders. Very regimental. The physical training were tougher. The punishments harsher. So harsh, I cannot even blog about them. Same thing, you can meet me and ask in person.
We had a lot of section training. Those army movement and firefight training. How to move in the jungle. How to walk on the tracks. How to react to gunshots, artillery fire, ambush, etc. How to do fire and movement and attack the enemy. All the strategies, plannings and contingencies. It was fun to be honest, but it was too tough to feel fun because most of the time we were tired or afraid. We also had to take turns to be the leader of our section, platoon and company. We would be given arm bands that says, "Section Commander", Platoon Warrant Officer (PWO) and Company Warrant Officer (CWO). Everyone would be given a chance to don something. It was responsibility but it was also scary. We were all scared to screw up.
The staff / master sergeants and warrant officers were scary. They were damn fierce. But I really have to say this. Unlike in BMT, we respected them. Every time an instructor in BMT were to shout, I felt like punching his face. But here, every time they shouted at us, we looked down. We felt bad for letting them down. That was how much we respected them. I grew to like and cared for them rather than being disgusted of them. That's how great leaders they were. In BMT, when I had trouble running (I was a weak runner, remember?) the instructors would just scream from a distance and punish me later. Here in SISPEC, when I was falling behind from the rest of the group while running, my Platoon Commander, Warrant Sim, who also ran with us, would fall back and push me physically and mentally. He would pull my hand or push me from behind. He would scold me things like,
"I am older than you!! I can run faster than you!! I am fitter than you!! Are you not ashamed? Huh? You tak malu is it? You better run! How are you going to be a leader if you cannot push your men? You not malu is it? Your men stronger and fitter than you? Hurry up! You won't die!"
That was a real leader I tell you. I was 20 years old. There were a number of us struggling too. It wasn't just me. But this man. He was in his early 40s and he ran up to the front of the platoon and asked us to keep up to his pace. He ran to the back of the platoon to push the strugglers up. And then he ran back to the front. He would do this many many times. Front and back and front and back barking orders laced with encouragement. He was a real leader. Warrant Sim is still my hero until today.
Remember I told you how excited I was to “play” with the M16? In SISPEC, we got to learn and use more weapons. It was super cool to me. We had the M203, a grenade launcher fixed to the M16. A “bazooka” called the Light Anti-tank Weapon (LAW) and the Section Automatic Weapon (SAW). These are the generic weapons to an infantry section. I don’t think I am allowed to talk about them but you can google about them. The LAW is not in use anymore now and has been replaced with a slightly bigger version called the “Matador”. I don’t remember if we fired live rounds using these weapons during BSLC but I definitely remember firing them later in my army life. We also learnt to use other explosives or what they called “charges” such as the “claymore mine”, the “C4” and one more I cannot remember. It was a “DIY” charge using sandbags, gunpowder and strips of sandbags placed in a jerry can. You can google these too.
Just like in BMT, we had to march from point to point. And whenever we marched, we were required to sing army songs. There was a particular song we had to learn here. It was the school song. The SISPEC song. Now that SISPEC is called SCS, I don’t think this song is in use anymore. The lyrics are as follows:
School of Infantry Specialists here we come
Soldiers of every creed and race
Soldiers to Specialists we will become
Leaders of six men to set the pace
SISPEC warriors, we are the warriors
SISPEC warriors with pride we will lead
Fearlessly we lead with pride
We train hard full of might
Trained to lead by day and night
We will strive for greater heights
I was humming as I typed this. I can remember the song, the tune and the lyrics still.
One thing I remember about this song is that, the melody used a lot of flat notes. The chords were in minor. Thus the song was very sombre yet silently strong. It has the feeling of an army of Orcs marching in units in Warcraft. I remember a sergeant, I forgot his name, teaching us the song. Since it was in flat notes, he had problems singing it and he got all of us confused. Every time he repeated, it would sound different and out of tune. After a while he gave up, laughed and let us hear a recording of the song in the AV room. Even until we graduated, many of us couldn’t get the tune right. If you meet me, I can sing and play the song on garageband for you.
And so, we were told to sing the SISPEC song first before any song every time we march. It was compulsory. SISPEC song first. Here’s the funny part. Alpha company was just across the cookhouse. Whenever we were going for meals, we would fall in at the parade square just at the doorstep of the company building, and then march to the cookhouse. It was like a few steps away. So when the PWO gave command for us to march off:
“Platoon 2! Dari kanan cepat jalan!”
Platoon 2 would shout out,
“Left right left right left right….. Alpha! Left right Alpha! Left right Alpha! School of Infantry Specia…..”
Platoon, “Check 1 Bang!”
Hahahahahaha! That was funny! We would always laugh every time. We didn’t even get to finish the first line and we would already stop at the cookhouse. As time goes by, we became more comfortable and daring, we would fall in further into the parade square and even nearer to the cookhouse. The song would even get shorter. And we would laugh. The sergeants laughed too and sometimes they would call us back and fall in further so that we could sing slightly more. It was funny to us, that we didn’t mind doing it again. Sometimes, for the fun of it, we would march around the parade square and finish the song before we stop at the cookhouse.
The last thing about BSLC that was memorable to me was “Navigation Studies”. We learnt to read topography maps. I love maps since I was a boy so I particularly loved this lesson. I was so good at it that it would decide one of my vocation later in my army life.
So we learnt how to read topography maps, use the compass, learnt how to confirm ground, check direction using “mils”, read Mean Grid Reference (MGR), gauge distance using our steps (73 paces = 100 metres), gauging distance using your thumb (a full grown man would be the height of your thumbnail when you extend your arm if he is 100 metres away), navigating using the stars (the north star and the Orion belt). Cool right?
After learning all these, we were paired with our buddies. Me and Paul, like the other pairs, were randomly despatched to different parts of Pulau Tekong. With the knowledge learnt, we had to hone the skills. We had to look for checkpoints all over the island with the last checkpoint being SISPEC camp site itself. That was the first time I was left to fend for myself in the jungles of Pulau Tekong, theoretically alone. I mean I had Paul with me but it was quite a nervous experience. Navigating through the unfamiliar jungles of Pulau Tekong, relying on our map, compass and pacing steps. It was cool. When night fell, I was a bit worried. In the dark, in Pulau Tekong jungle for the first time in your life is no joke man. It was just me and Paul. What if there were wild animals or we got stung or bitten. I didn’t care about ghosts honestly. I was more worried about animals. But let me tell you, the nights in Tekong were actually beautiful. The skies were clear as there were minimal light pollution. The stars were visible. There were types of plants where the roots glow in the dark in white purplish colours. I also got to see swarms of fireflies. It was beautiful. Only when I got home and shared these with my father did he say that fireflies are attracted to carcasses and dead bodies. So if you see fireflies, there would be a carcass nearby or a cemetery. Thanks. Anyway, none of us got lost and we all reached Alpha company safely at about 2300hrs.
11 weeks passed, that was pretty much all that I can remember about BSLC. It was way tougher than BMT. And yes we were treated like dogs. But unlike BMT, we had pride. All the punishments and scoldings and beatings and torture and tekan, we took them all with pride. It was tough, but we didn’t feel any hatred to our commanders. Because they were real leaders and we looked up to them.
As 17th BSLC came to a close, some of us got posted out to other units. As I said before, I didn’t expect myself to be posted out. I was right. I was posted to stay in SISPEC to attend the 17th Advanced Section Leader Course (ASLC). Meaning I would continue my stay at SISPEC Alpha Company Pulau Tekong. A few of us got posted out. About 1/3 of us. Paul was posted to the Air Force to be an Anti Aircraft Gunner. I never saw him again.
17th BSLC. All of us were promoted to Corporals. There was no block leave. The week after, we started ASLC straightaway and that’s when more memorable events happened.
Corporal Anwar Hadi Bin Ramli, reporting for 17th ASLC sir!
Categories : The Army Series
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