my national service story – and why green goes well with everything (part 1)

i’ve planned this for a while – my National Service post. i’m not doing it closer to the date, nor after I ORD mainly because I’ll be running the Standard Chartered Marathon and I want to thank everyone while I’m still enlisted.


i started my national service as the archetype “Wayang King” – I’ll admit that. I walked onto the epic parade square , jaw squared to face the next two months thinking whatever training I had from Scouts would prepare me for what was to happen. i remember getting the slot of paper saying “Company : K” and feeling my heart sink a little as I recalled the advice of my seniors “If you get N or K , you’re dead” .

there wasn’t much time for things to sink in. we were pushed towards the SAF pledge, and a loud appraisal of the “With My Life” caveat, in front of my parents. i remember walking away from them, telling myself I have to make them proud. it’s one of my key motivations in what I do – making sure my parents see their efforts in raising me weren’t wasted; that I was reaching, punching, fighting.

the next two months went by slowly. it’s by far the slowest two months I ever experienced. coupled with having the fiercest Encik on the island, and some of the craziest sergeants known to BMTC that year, my section was quickly forced to pull things through fast.

my fitness was god-awful. listen guys, whatever your parents or friends tell you, don’t binge before you go into army. it will destroy any possibility of an easy life in army.

i had pulled my MCL before coming into BMT, making running and jumping an absolute horror. i wasn’t at my peak exactly when I  should be. but i was still focussed on making sure we got things done – at all expenses. and that’s where things took a turn for the worst. putting my fitness aside, i think in retrospect i had made for a healthy candidate for command school. but when my fitness was clearly lacking, i had bouts of overcompensation , and rubbed off wrongly on a lot of people because I was fighting to prove my worth. i need to apologise for that. i was wrong, and was hard to get along with.

nevertheless, i remember my BMT section with amazing pride – there were a lot of tacit plans made and late night conversations that made me miss home a bit less. i remember the first time i came home, my mom bawled at how much i  had changed. my dad fed me like a king , and my sister was amazingly cushy with me. my brother was normal , but he was 16, he hid his emotions well.

every week back home was a precious airlock in time and space. it was as if things back in camp didn’t matter and i could focus on being myself. but time passed by too fast. without even thinking about it, i would be back in camp. and the week would roll.

there’s so much more i could write about BMT – in fact I think I did a post on it immediately after. hmm… here it is!

but this is a thanksgiving post so let me thank the following:

LTA Jeremy, my PC. It’s tough being a BMT PC, and there’s probably very little time to help every individual but you tried and I can appreciate that.

2SG Han Wen, 3SG Martien, 3SG Kit –  Our Specs. Man, this was my first exposure to the WOSPEC Corp and you shaped my leadership style from then on. tough love . there was a lot of things we learnt NOT to do as well, but I think we took a lot more things that we SHOULD do.

2SG Michael, 2SG Anson, 3SG Ali – I had a lot of fun with you guys , even as a recruit. When life becomes too killer, having specs who can poke some fun into anything makes things a lot better to handle. I was glad to be part of that.

And of course my amazing amazing section –  Zhen Qun, Yilong, Wei Xiong, Tenny, Phang (man’s man this guy) , Yun Han, Ming Zuo, Yi Hong, Chris, Tong Wei, Hanaffi, Sitoe, Wei Cong. Lots of amazing shit happened – good stuff. Thanks for bearing with me haha.

There was of course the platoon mates as well – the people that made the days interesting. Matthias, Shaun, Tyn Long, Brian, Timbo (my first friend on the Island) , Kian Chong, Joel , Wee Ern, Jason, Ronald, Jielong, Andrew, Lipkoon and the rest of the platoon.

BMT was where I made mistakes and learnt from them.


After BMT, I went out for my vacation trip to Hong Kong and got the posting to CBR PNR in my hotel room. I inferred two things – I thought I was going to by in CyberPioneer (the media arm) and I knew I wasn’t going to command school. The latter point was coming – I had failed my BMT and couldn’t get in no matter what. The former was slightly exciting till I decided to use Google . That’s where I discovered that not only was I to be a “Man” but I was going to be wearing gas masks, working in high-risk environments and earning a $200 bonus. My parents immediately over-reacted and asked if I could revocate. They asked these kind of questions a few times in my whole army career.

I went in with an open-mind but a sunken heart. Seletar Camp had renovated 90% of the compound. My unit was in the un-renovated 10%. It was really a mental battle – having to stay motivated for the duration of the Pioneer Course, our 2 months of acclimatization into the operational requirements and technical backlog to be a Pioneer.

there was a big part of me that just wanted to do well enough to have a comfortable life, but a bigger part of me also wanted to be true to myself. my platoon mates were all over the place, and in fact they were some of the best bunk-mates I’ve ever had. when you’re a pioneer, you have a high level of self-respect . you know that despite having commanders, you still own what you do and therefore take pride in that. we worked hard, and came back to rest hard.

the course was a killer cos of my OC, one of the people I came to respect greatly over time. he had a no-holds barred approach, and was ruthless in his expectations. but he also ensured we had pride in what we did. so it was “those” kind of trainings that made us graduate with a strong sense of belonging to the seemingly lackluster compound we had. we gave our own color to the area.

life became a lot better this time – we could book in in civilian clothes, we had more flexibility in what we did. i had admin time for once (kestrel never gave us  the privilege). and the pay was amazingly better.

i graduated at the top of the cohort, giving me the blessed opportunity to go over to SCS. it was one of those flip moments because I learnt so much more about leadership as a Man than I think I ever did in my whole army career. i knew the impact of bad leadership, the frustrations of the men under your charge, and how to push people to the overall objectives from the ground. and this knowledge was only going to grow.

CBRD Pioneer Course was where I learnt I had it in me, and could grow.

this time , I’d like to thank my OC , CPT Alex,  2IC, CPT Shawn and CSM, 3WO Kelvin for running things. In the Unit, the make and break is really up to the command team and the direction they choose. This made it.

My PC, LTA Su Weijie – I realise all my PCs were about to ORD once I come in… but anyway, you were committed and cool. Things had to make sense, things had to matter and that made it easier for us.

My Specs- PS 1SG Francis, Ming Han, Zhen Jie, Ian, Chuan Heng, Kelvin, Nicholas,  the whole crew was really a unique bunch to be led under but it was a different experience being led to work together, rather than being led to move on fecklessly . Chuan Heng and Kelvin (my section’s personal Sec Coms) were particularly inspiring – I took a lot of contrast to my BMT Specs from them, and combined the best of both worlds for my own experience.

My batch-mates, and the people I truly truly wish I didn’t have to leave but did – thanks for making the best damn experience I had in a platoon. Justin, Sanjev, Arshvyn, Antarcus, Nicholas, Jerry, Bryan, Yi Cheng, Mon Thu, Shi Yang, Paul,  Yong Hao, Zhong Hao, Wen Xiang, YuHao, Darryl. I’m glad I still got to talk to you guys when I was in camp. Thanks for not making it weird.


This is Part 1 – Part 2 will cover my Command School journey, NDP and my Unit life. I may have a Part 3, but there’s a lot I did while in army I realise. I’m glad I got to share the experience with so many people.



3 thoughts on “my national service story – and why green goes well with everything (part 1)

  1. bouts of insanity – my thanksgiving post this year (part 1) – Love, Dream, Imagine

  2. bouts of insanity – part 1 – Love, Dream, Imagine

  3. to die is to live – my thanksgiving post of the year (part 2) – Love, Dream, Imagine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s