33 years ago, I enlisted for National Service, a requirement for all Singapore boys. 33 years later, I was bound for Pulau Tekong once more. This time, to accompany my eldest son, David, for his enlistment.
No commando jetty. No RPL. No bumboats. Instead, it was a shuttle from Pasir Ris Bus Interchange to the SAF Changi Ferry Terminal where we boarded a ferry together with other enlistees and their loved ones.
Everything looked and felt different but it didn’t stop the memories from flooding back.
What to me was Infantry Training Depot (ITD) is today Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC). Next to a little old wooden jetty is today a well laid out ferry terminal. Hearing so much of how BMT is much easier these days, it did feel as if we arrived at Club Med Tekong – haha!
Upon arrival, the boys went off for their briefing and the rest of us were taken for our “PR” orientation and tour. We were shown a typical company line, section bunks, and assured that our sons would be very well taken care of.
At times, my mind would wander off to how it was for me as a recruit in Tekong; and later, as a platoon commander when I was posted back to ITD. Looking at the officers and section commanders, I couldn’t help thinking, “They look so young!” That must have been how I looked then too! And we moved and talked as if we knew so much about combat and warfare.
Remembering my army days did cause me to wonder how my son would fare in this new environment. As a homeschooler, this would be David’s very first exposure to different people of different backgrounds, culture, faiths, values and language. Other than youth or children’s camps, he has never been away from home for such a long stretch of time. I began to miss him already.
Later, we assembled in the auditorium for the Commanding Officer’s address – more assurance that our sons would be well looked after. I think the most important slide for all was the one that showed the Book Out Date after confinement, and the Graduation Ceremony.
What followed was the sampling of a cookhouse meal. Gone are the days of metal trays, half-cooked rice, rubber-band bee hoon and a measly piece of meat or fish. Our plates were stacked with a generous helping of rice, a huge piece of chicken leg/thigh, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, soup with mango jelly for dessert.
All too soon, the announcement came for the boys to “fall-in” at the parade square. We said our goodbyes as David joined his new-found company mates. Soon after, they marched, er, walked off, to be transported to their company line.
I know that it is usually the mothers who cry when they see their baby boys enlist for National Service. Well, I must admit that there were times I felt rather emotional that afternoon, realising how time had just flown by. One day, David was born. And in a flash – 18 years – we were releasing him into the next phase of his life. Then again, it also seemed like just yesterday when I was charging up Botak Hill, running down 300m range, digging a trench through the night, and singing silly songs on our runs.
33 years ago, in my Temasek Green No. 4. Can’t wait to see David when he books out, for the first time after confinement, in his pixelated camouflage uniform.
Serene’s Point-of-View: When NS Comes A-Calling: Our Family’s Experience