SISPEC. Advanced Section Leader Course. I found the group photo of the course and I finally manage to remember the dates for the courses.
If you remember the previous post, SISPEC was tough. I am not sure of how it is today, but it was tough then. It was supposed to be tough. Yet I had no qualms about it. Unlike BMT where I hated it very much. If you look at the group photos, I actually smiled. It was tough and stressful but, it was different. It had good memories. And I shall write them down before I forget them.
Like I said before, I have slowly forgotten many things. Unfortunately I have to avoid sharing some things even though they were memorable and I still remember them. They were mostly the treatment and punishment we got. Meet me and I will share them to you in person.
18th December 2000.
The start of ASLC. As a number of us from BSLC were posted out, the number of trainees in this course were relatively smaller. Also mean, it's harder for you to escape the "tekan". I realise now that it was also very short. About 12 weeks. But, so many things happened within these 12 weeks and I had a hard time remembering and squeezing them all in this post. I have to split ASLC into 2 blog posts then.
By now, I have acclimatised to the life in SISPEC. Training got more intense. I realise they were trying to squeeze as many things as possible within these 12 weeks, including 3 weeks of training in Taiwan. So for this post, I will share about the training in Singapore. The Taiwan trip will be in the next post. That too, there were 2 phases in Singapore. 1 in Tekong and another phase at Pasir Laba Camp.
I have never done this before. I never got the chance to do all these things. I was super excited! Until.... I got to the top of the tower.
It was actually a simple rappel down the slope. It wasn't a 90 degree wall, but being up there for the first time, it was only natural to feel worried and shikes! The harness was uncomfortable at the crotch really. The free size gloves didn't help either. As I was lowering myself down the edge of the top deck, the gloves started slipping off my small hands. I braked and asked my PC who was despatching me down, for help. He just squinted his small eyes at me and shouted at me to go on.
"But my glove sir......"
(unexplainable moment) and the next thing, I have already reached the ground with my gloves halfway up my hand. I basically rappelled with my fingers. That was scary yet fun and I volunteered to run up again for another round. Yup. This was what I meant. It was tough yet enjoyable.
We had to learn and try this infantry river crossing exercise. There wasn't easy access to internet then but I think I saw pictures of it so I could expect what it would be like. You can google it to see how it looks like.
So basically we would have to attach a rope across the river and the whole unit would then cross the river by tugging along the rope. There were SOPs that we had to learn like, the security team, the swimmers, the knots, the waterproofing of equipment preparation, etc etc. It took place at the Pulau Tekong reservoir. You can view the place on Google Earth too. I remember the whole platoon sitting in front of Warrant Sim while he was giving us lectures about the whole procedure. It was in the early afternoon. We were all so tired and sleepy. Everyone including myself were just nodding off. He told the whole platoon to get up and fill our helmets with water from the reservoir. He made us stand in a line by the water and did our punishment (unexplainable moment) and then put on our helmets. To be honest, the water that splashed from our helmets when we put them on, didn't really freshen us up. I think most of us actually still fall asleep somehow after that. But that punishment was memorable. We had a good laugh when we went back to our bunks that night.
Fighting In Build Up Areas. We were all looking forward for this one. Finally gunfights in a building. Finally counter-strike! Counter Strike was a popular video game at that time. We went to a small "town" at the end of Tekong Highway in the east called "Ayer Samak". There are some buildings there that looked like old shophouses. I wondered if they were really abandoned shophouses or made just for army training. It was cool to play fighting in buildings for a change. One thing I found out now is that, all FIBUA training now requires the soldiers to put on ear-plugs. It wasn't a requirement then. The gunshots and thunder flash (flashbang in COD mobile) were so loud but we loved it. The adrenaline rush were fun in this one.
Another round of topography exercise in Tekong. In BSLC I was with Paul. This time I had another buddy, Dzulkifly, because Paul was posted out. Same thing, we had to look for checkpoints the whole day and evening with the last checkpoint being at the top of Rocky Hill just behind the SISPEC camp. This time around, the exercise was interesting.
Ok let me tell you. There is this part of Pulau Tekong that is "out of bounds". It is called Kampung Unum, on the northern tip of the island. Why was it out of bounds, we had no idea.
It was about 11am. Dzul and I just reached a checkpoint somewhere around the north-east part of the island. Our next check point was at the north-west part of the island. To play safe, there were a lot of roads in Tekong that we can use as guides. Well they weren't exactly tarmac roads. More like dirt tracks. There was this track that goes across the island on the northern side called the "Northern Axis". We could use it as a guide to get to the north-western part of the island. If we were lazy, we can just walk along the track and quickly hide in the vegetation if we hear any vehicles. We were not allowed to walk along the tracks actually. We didn't feel safe also as we believe there would be instructors planted on different parts of the tracks to spot us. No way were we going to break the rules. Our weekend bookouts were precious. So what did we do? We walked in the jungle, BESIDE the track. Always keeping the track in sight.
But, to follow this track, it would bring us a longer route. Dzul and I decided to bash through the jungle and take a more direct route. There were foot tracks that we could use too and the jungle wasn't that thick. The thing is, a direct route means, we would have to bash through Kampung Unum. Hmmm... was it a risk? Yeah we took it. It was a bright sunny day and there were footpaths anyway. If we got lost or anything, we can just track back along the path and look for the "Northern Axis" as we would be walking parallel to it.
We walked along a very clear path. Wide enough for a man to walk. Through the jungles. It was our lucky day. And then the path brought us into a clearing. It was like a helipad and it was circular. It wasn't so big. Maybe about 2 basketball courts. The path goes into the clearing and we walked across the open patch. At the end of the patch, we were blocked by palm trees with sharp thorns. We tried bashing through it but they were too sharp and tough. So Dzul and I decided to walk back across the clearing to the path we came from, to look for another route. And then, we realised, we couldn't find the path we came from. We walked around the circular clearing looking for the path. We had our bearings and directions all recorded so we knew where we had to look. Plus the clearing wasn't big. The path was at the east of the clearing. But we couldn't find it. Imagine walking around a circular grass patch the size of 2 basketball courts surrounded by thick thorny palm trees. It was cool because there weren't any of those palm trees when we reached the clearing from the east. But now, the palm trees surrounded the whole clearing.
We kept on circling. We couldn't find any path. We couldn't get out of that clearing because it was surrounded by the palm trees. We were puzzled but we continued searching. We stopped for combat ration lunch. We continued searching. We were there for hours. I remember it was lunch time and we were there until about 4 plus. We just went around and around looking for a path.
And then somehow at around 4 plus, we saw a path out of the clearing heading west. The path was as clear as day and was not blocked by any palm tree. Wide enough for 2 men to walk. No way we could have missed it for 4 hours. We didn't think anything about it. It was more of a... "aaaah found it!" and we walked to the west where we found more clearings, more paths. As we walked, the tracks turned into cemented paths, which was quite surprising. Then we saw ruins of a village. Buildings with walls intact but without roofs. We could see through the houses. Bed frames, cupboards, sewing machines, slippers and all. We just found it cool and walked. In my mind was, "if I only I have a camera with me." We walked until we found our checkpoint on the north-west. A walk that was supposed to be 2 hours shorter as compared to using the Northern Axis, turned out to be a 5 hour walk. It was frustrating but we didn't think much about it. Only when we reached back the bunk that night did we talk about it. How could we be stuck in the clearing for 4 hours? How could we not see the path for 4 hours when it was there, so wide, so clear? It was a mystery to us and we just slept it off.
This was another interesting experience. It was a "defence exercise" where we were supposed to defend an area from enemy attacks. We were suppose to be there for 5 days 4 nights. Unlike the field camp in BMT, this one was more "tactical". The highlight of this exercise was, we all had to dig a trench in pairs. My partner was Chua Koon Ann.
The trenches were set along the perimeter of the area that we were suppose to defend, facing outwards. This was the first time we had to dig a trench. It was suppose to be about 2 metres long and about 1.6 metres deep. If we stand inside the trench, it should be about neck height and only our heads and guns will be above ground. Some instructors told us, everytime there is an Exercise Nutcracker, SISPEC will indent (order) rain. And yes, it rained throughout the 4 days, only stopping intermittently. Instead of digging into the ground, we had to dig into the mud. Everytime our trench looked like there was some progress in terms of depth, the rain would wash the mud back down the hole or the trench simply collapsed and we would have to dig again.
One thing I could not forget, one side of my trench had holes in them. At first I freaked out. I was worried. But I had to think of my weekend bookout and continued digging only to see more holes. They were clean holes like a network of tunnels and they were all in perfect patterns. I could just assume they were tunnels made by snakes. It creeped us out. But after a day, we didn't see any snakes and we made peace with it. In fact, when we had to dig at night, we even placed candles in the holes to illuminate our trench. It was quite a pretty sight.
When the exercise ended, we were quite sad to fill our trench up. Our 3 room hdb flat for 4 nights.
PASIR LABA CAMP
We had a moment at Pasir Laba camp. The old run down camp. Not the new one that you can see now. It was an abandoned camp. We were there for maybe 2 or 3 weeks. I cannot remember. We were there because our next few exercises would need us to be on the mainland. You have no idea how excited we were to be back on the mainland. Finally, we had things called "Nights Off". We can go out of camp after dinner and be back by 10pm. We didn't have much. I think maybe once a week. But it was good enough. A few extra hours per week off from camp. It was heaven.
We had a chance to sleep for a few nights at the old Basic Combat Training Camp (BCTC). It was a good experience staying at an old camp and feel how BMT was like many years back.
Fighting On Fortified Objectives (FOFO). I heard that this concept is not in use anymore. What happens here is that, remember Nutcracker? There is a hill near Pasir Laba called FOFO hill. The hill has trenches made in it. Supposedly, the enemy are in this trench, defending this hill, just like how we defended the area in Exercise Nutcracker. But Singapore being Singapore, the trenches were all cemented and had a series of trenches that were interconnected. The objective of our training here was to learn how to capture this hill with the enemy inside the trenches.
The trenches were big. We all called it 5 room flats, compared to our 3 room flats. The paths were wide enough for 1.5 men. Meaning, if one person stayed flat at the sides of the trench paths, another man can squeeze through beside him. Funny thing about this exercise is, we would attack in lines, like ants as we made our way along the narrow paths. And if the in front person got "shot", he would have to lie flat on the ground on his stomach and the rest of the platoon would have to continue running pass him. We learnt how to step on them safely and jumped over them quickly.
In other exercises, any of us would love to be shot and declared as a casualty so that we can rest by the side, assuming that we are "dead". But in this exercise, no one wanted to die, because if he dies, the rest of us would have to step on his back as we run across him. That was funny. We were all laughing at the people we stepped on and those who got stepped would go "aaah aaah aiyohhh! expletives expletives". I think the instructors had fun declaring people as casualty because of this. I'm still laughing as I typed these.
STANDARD OBSTACLE COURSE
You remember I was a weak runner right? Yes, I had trouble passing my SOC. I couldn't meet the timing. But here at Pasir Laba, everyone who failed, would pass. Because 700 metres run before the course were all downhill. The obstacles were smaller. The wall was lower. The "Monkey Bars" were so low, I could walk and act as if I was hanging on to them. We all passed. Everyone thought that it was funny. But it was all good. We all passed. The commanders told us, "if at Pasir Laba also you all cannot pass, just go and be (unmentionable words). Hahaha.
There is a chamber here for us to train in "Chemical Warfare". It is basically a room filled with tear gas. We would be in chemical warfare suit with gas masks on and play in the room. The suit was hot, but it was ok to us. What we didn't know then was, the tear gas not only would sting our eyes, but also on skin if we perspire. So the instructors made us perspire in there. Made us do physical exercises, jumps, jogs, runs, etc.
We went into the chamber with our section of 8 men. After we were done with the exercises, we were told to stand in a straight line facing the door out. We stood in our bed order. So basically bed 1 in front, bed 8 the last man. We were told to sound off our rank, name and ic number, one man at a time. The door would be opened. The man can run out of the chamber. Door closed. 2nd man to say out the same thing and run out. One at a time. Sounds easy.
And then the instructors told us all to remove our masks. We are going to do this with our masks off. The stings started to settle in. Good luck to the number 8 man! I was number 5 or 6, I couldn't remember.
Number one got out. Door closed. Number 2 man shouted out his rank, name and IC number. Door opened. Run out. Door closed. The remaining men were already enduring the sting on our face, eyes and neck. And then, this one guy.......
"Corporal Tan Boon Tee! IC number... S7.....7....S79....."
The rest: "faster la Boon Tee!!!!"
Boon Tee: "S...... S...... eh what is my IC number ah???
We all groaned and told him to hurry up. He got more stressed. It was painful but it was funny. When he finally got his number right, he ran out of the door. Since we were there longer than expected because of him, the door didn't close anymore and the instructor told us to shout out our rank, name and IC number together and run out together. We ran out gasping for air and crouched all over the place, waiting for the stings to ease. The moment we were all ok, we gave Boon Tee a good bashing. While laughing, of course.
The finale of our training exercise here in SISPEC while in Singapore. I think it was a 5 days 4 nights exercise. It's always maximum 5 days. Monday to Friday. We still get to book out on Saturdays.
Exercise Grandslam is a a platoon level mission exercise. Meaning, the platoon would be given military missions for that one week. Attacking enemy objectives (hills mostly. sometimes buildings), defending an area from enemy attacks, ambush missions, scouting missions, quick attack missions, security patrol missions, you know all those army stuff. It was fun if it wasn't tiring. You're practically awake throughout the 5 days except for a few hours shut eyes here and there when you're not on "duty". No showers, maybe 1 change of uniform, combat ration meals. Things like that. I thought Grandslam would be the real finale. I really hoped that it would be the finale. Though I expected and it came true, that this mission exercises would be my life for the next 17 years.
One night as I trudged down the jungle path on the first night of Grandslam, we passed by a building. It was a cool thing to actually see a civilian building while being in a mission. After so long in Tekong, the sight of a civilian building was a sight to behold. It was night and the building's rooms were dark. But its area was lit, the building was lit and the corridors were lit. The shape of the building was a giant horseshoe and it looked exactly like my polytechnic. It was a blatant architectural rip off I tell you. But yeah, at that time, my eyes were wide open as I walked past it, wondering what the hell am I doing here while looking at a building that looked like the school that I have just graduated from. I still remember the view. It was a..... wow plus sigh moment. I walked on, leaving the building behind me together with my army mates. All tired and trudging.
But definitely a highlight of Grandslam was the helicopter ride. I believe it was the first time for almost all of us. It was the first time for me. I savoured that moment because I never thought I would ride a helicopter again. In the pitch dark of Pasir Laba jungle, we boarded a "Super Puma" helicopter. I heard that the Super Puma is not in use anymore. As the helicopter lifted off in the night accompanied by the deafening sound of the rotor blades above us, I saw Singapore below me. The lights, the sea, the buildings, the roads, the vehicles. They were all there below me but I wasn't able to be with them. I felt like a soldier. I can see my country. But my country cannot see me. And then the helicopter flew into the jungles of Singapore's army training area. A whole area out of bounds for every civilian unless you're a soldier. A whole area to the west of the island. I have to tell you this. It is beautiful. Both day and night. The jungles, the hills, the lakes and rivers. It's beautiful. I always wish to go there again some day with a camera. But I guess, I can only have the images of the scenery in my mind.
There was also one mission where we had to "attack" a place called "Cow Hill". We had no idea where it was. I was just sleeping in the lorry (Back then it was a 3 tonner truck. Now they are all replaced with a bigger 5 tonner truck.) and didn't bother where it would bring me. Upon alighting, I was surprised. We alighted by the roadside at some block of flats. I cannot remember the exact block but it started with the number 6. So it was 6 something something, in Woodlands. The area is all built up now. At that time, that block faced a forested area and we quickly ran into the forest. A short walk later we arrived and "attacked" Cow Hill. From on top of the hill, I could see the whole of Woodlands and Marsiling with JB in the background. It was really an awesome sight. Again, looking at civilian buildings but not able to be there made me feel heavy. Much later I found out where we were actually was. The hill is beside the SLE in between Woodlands Avenue 2 Exit and BKE exit.
As Grandslam ended, so did our ASLC training in Singapore. After that, we were to embark on a 3 week training exercise in Taiwan, also called exercise "Starlight".
There were other wonderful memories I had in SISPEC.
One of it was when I had to do Company Orderly Sergeant (COS) duty during Chinese New Year holidays. COS means the sergeant in charge of your company's administration. You had to man the company phone for 24 hours, check the premises, go for canteen duty. It's like a mish-mash of being the security guard cum receptionist cum school prefect. There will always be one person doing the duty every day.
So when everyone left Tekong for Chinese New Year, the non-Chinese would have to do COS duties. Me included for one of the day. Just me alone at the quiet SISPEC Alpha building for 24 hours. It was peaceful and quite a cool experience. When another person took over my duty at 7am the next day, I could book out and enjoy the remainder of the holidays.
The interesting thing was, the whole island was almost isolated. I had to walk from SISPEC to Tekong Ferry Terminal. There was no transport. If you read my previous post, you would know how far the walk is from SISPEC to BMTC. As I slowly walked, I saw a pick-up truck with Indian foreign workers. I guess they were building contractors. With no shame, I hailed them and asked if I could hitch hike to the ferry terminal and they welcomed me on board. That was cool right? So I got myself a free ride. As I reached BMTC, I saw my childhood friend, Alfian, walking to the terminal too. I shouted out, "Yan!!". We had a good laugh. He was doing his BMT and was marching towards the terminal. Sorry I couldn't ask him to board the pick-up truck with me.
Another interesting experience was, the trees behind Alpha company building were rambutan trees. They were just there. Rows of them. Just trees. Somehow, as our time there was ending, the trees bore fruits. Bright red rambutans on all trees. It was an exciting sight. Even more exciting was, all of us went to pluck the rambutans. We had a fun time plucking them and eating them together with our instructors and our commanders.
I told you. SISPEC was tough. We were treated like dogs. Yet we appreciated every single moment of it. We grew to become soldiers. We became tougher, stronger, braver yet we never forget to have fun and appreciate life.
Next up would be the highlight of ASLC.
Taiwan. Here I come.
Categories : The Army Series
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