21 takeaways from my stint at the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps

April 23, 2019

Why did you join the SAFVC? I have been asked this question multiple times in the last few weeks. There have been so many reactions like awe, surprise, horror, disbelief and shock, when I narrate my story. So here is my story of why I spent two weeks with the SAFVC.


Singapore is home to me for many reasons. It’s here that I’ve nurtured some of the most important relationships in my life. Living and working here has made me the individual I am today. Being in Singapore has given me the freedom to create the best life I could for my family and myself.


Over the last few years we have been giving our time to a few causes locally and overseas. Applying to the SAFVC was the best way to serve a nation that I call home.


If I’m being honest then my parenthood journey was physically and emotionally challenging. Suddenly I find myself parenting a pre teen, looking to express herself. As parents we want her to learn about commitment, work ethic and persistence, while still learning to accept criticism and following directions. I can tell her a thousand times to do certain tasks or to never give up but I know that children learn best by example.


Being a mother taught me resilience and that helped me through the SAFVC journey. I was challenged repeatedly but managed to come away even stronger.


I was also very keen to understand and experience the journey of the men and women who serve in the NSF. In Singapore we hear about it all the time but we don’t really know what the day in the life of a soldier is like. Based on my two weeks experience of the Basic Training I can say that the challenges are real. This experience has given me a first hand understanding and helped me appreciate the NSF.


Here are 21 things I learnt in my two weeks with the SAFVC:

  1. Jogging is the most effective way to get from point A to point B. ‘Double quick time’ method works even when you have those extra three minutes.

  2. 5 minutes is plenty of time for lunch.

  3. Your tolerance for smells is much higher than you think. The stench of sweat is actually not that bad. You become immune to it because everyone else smells terrible too.

  4. A shower twice a day is a luxury. Correction; a shower once a day is a luxury.

  5. The magical soap sponge (a piece of sponge when wet foams with soap) will be my forever friend on every holiday from now until eternity. Just in case I end up in a jungle, by accident this time.

  6. PT (pushups to be specific) before a meal is common. It’s how you ‘earn your meal’. This one confused me because I missed the instruction when it was first meted out. PC, fyi, I was in the toilet.

  7. Mental resilience is more important than physical strength.

  8. Standing and falling asleep while doing sentry duty is inevitable. Take whatever rest you can get. Until you are woken by the loud crackle of the dry leaves, signifying someone walking towards you.

  9. Maggi mee tastes better than a five star dinner when cooked over a small fire in the jungle and shared with your section mates.

  10. After an exhausting 19 hour day in the elements, chatting with your buddy under the basha tent you erected earlier will be the best bonding experience you will ever have.

  11. Learning to strip, assemble, perform functional checks and execute Immediate Action drills (for when your rifle decides to test you by malfunctioning) with the SAR21 in 72 hours is extremely tough but achievable.

  12. Working together as a platoon and helping out others who are struggling is the only way to avoid the words ‘knock it down’ (more pushups for everyone!)

  13. Night walks are terrifying, praying helps.

  14. Give yourself a day, or two. After that the jungle latrine you dug for yourself will be a place you will long to go to.

  15. Leopard crawling with a 4kg rifle looks so cool, when someone else does it.

  16. Jogging in the heat, with the iLBV + helmet + rifle + two day old sweaty uniform and your camo cream melting down your face into your eyes, nose and mouth feels like an out of body experience.

  17. Don’t take SM Sia’s jokes so literally. There is no sparkling water with lemon to be found anywhere, except in your dreams.

  18. It will get tough and you will question why you put yourself through it multiple times. At these challenging moments, think of western Thursday at the cookhouse. You get to choose an ice cream with your meal!

  19. Live firing (for me) was exciting. The sound the rifle makes when a live shot is fired is shockingly loud. It is however similar to the experience of a ‘sutli bomb’ (a firecracker shaped like a small green grenade) exploding less than a foot away from you because you didn’t run away fast enough after igniting it.

  20. These two weeks are a crash course in learning some Malay too. Recognising drill orders meant that I saved myself from looking the fool and being the only one turning my head left when the command was to turn your head to the right. Sedia (attention), Senang Diri (stand at ease), Kanan (right), Kiri (left), Julang Senjata (high port arms), Pandang Ke Hadapan Pandang (face front), Cepat Jalan (march off).

  21. An unexpected cold can of 100Plus after a tough drill during Code Black (highest heat category) is the sweetest reward ever! Thank you Major Lim.



Here are a few other things that were huge learning lessons. I remember Major Lim saying, “You are as strong as your weakest member.” True measure of success isn’t being the strongest or the fastest, it’s learning to work as a team and ensuring that everyone grows together.


When we were dog tired our PS said; your body will always complain that it's tired, that it’s done enough. Train your mind to go further and your aching body will follow. The training and regimen was tougher than I could have imagined. I was constantly reminding myself to finish the task at hand and not worry about anything else.


The experience has left me with many invaluable lessons and an overwhelming sense of achievement. Training soldiers is a tough job. Respect the people who choose to give their time to do this everyday. Even when they are mad tough on you. It’s time away from their families and loved ones.


Here are some words of wisdom from my Section Commander Staff Zaki. “Don’t make a problem where there is none.” And “The more tired you are, the bigger you open your eyes and smile.”


Also, don’t crinkle your nose and walk away from the NS boy who reeks of sweat on the MRT. He may have just had the toughest week of his life. Show empathy.


Gender, age, cultures, experience, backgrounds, the now almost 900 strong SAFVC is the most diverse formation in the SAF. Now that the course is over, I feel an over whelming sense of loss. I miss the time spent with my section mates and my buddies. So be sure to leave your ego at the gate. Getting along with your section mates is the only way you will all pull through. Thank you! To the women I met on this journey. You will always have a special place in my heart.





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