We have been through rough times but the mere memories that we have created will forever be cherished during Brunei Phase especially the flooding incident in Litad, Tutong. Finally, this phase was over! I was all packed and ready to go to Singapore. 2 hours later and we have landed in Singapore, the Land of Lions. Before we stepped out of the airport, we were fortunate enough to observe the beautiful Water Vortex light show in Jewel Changi which illuminated the dark background of the indoors terraced forest. The warmth and caring attitude of the Singaporean MinDef (Ministry of Defence) officials were very welcoming and I was looking forward to stumbling across future surprises for this phase. Soon after, we headed to SAFTI MI (Military Institute) to settle in our bunks, where we stayed for the whole programme.
After our arrival at Changi airport last night, we woke up at 5 in the morning, feeling zombified after a sleepless night, then sluggishly prepared for the reveille that began an hour after. Though we felt like crashing back into the bed, our boiling excitement kept us up and going, as we've been anticipating for this trip.
We then had our scrumptious lunch at the CLD lounge, followed by the afternoon class and learnt about the Overview of Mindef & Singapore's Defence Policy. Head Warrant Officer & Military Expert Leadership Development Team, CWO Tae See Keong, shared his experiences as a military personnel undertaking his course in Temburong, Brunei. To my surprise, he mentioned that jungle activities in Temburong were way more challenging than in Bukit Timah, Singapore as you would not be able to see your hands in total darkness. Geared up and ready to go, we played Captain's Ball. Big-ups to Haziq and Asyraff for being beasts in court. They dived to save the ball and blocked goal shots but thankfully, there were no injuries.
The best part of the day was when after all those lethargic schedules, we had a round of mouth-watering dinner. Then we freshened up and relaxed after a quick short briefing for tomorrow's schedule. This day was truly a rollercoaster of emotions, and I was filled with tingling excitement in anticipation for tomorrow, Singapore's National Day!
The clouds were still dark in the domes of the sky as I woke for morning reveille on the third day. Our first morning physical training (PT) in Singapore started off with a run around the compounds of SAFTI Military Institute (MI). Before that, we did some dynamic stretches for my body to get up and going. Thankfully, it was just a slow-paced jog and I very much enjoyed the gentle breeze sweeping along my skin. I was then taken to the front of the parade square where the first vehicles and weapons of Singapore were situated.
Jogging gave me a rush of adrenaline and I felt more energetic than before. I headed towards the SAFTI tower, a 60 metres prominent landmark with three-sided structure which represented the tri-service of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF); Army, Navy and Air Force. Two Merdeka stone lions guarded the front of the tower and they were a symbol of courage, strength and excellence. Being told that I was about to climb the tower's stairs caught me off guard because I thought I was going to use the elevator up. Apparently, Google stated that the tower has a 265 steps stairway but I counted 256. Something must have been wrong with my counting… The 265 stairways symbolised the days an officer cadet takes to commission as an officer. Finally, I made it to the top of the tower where I got to see a breathtaking view of SAFTI MI. From a bird eye point of view, I was able to spot the Officer's Mess, SAFTI link bridge and our bunks. The glaring red Sun hit and lighted up the sky and its beauty coincidentally matched Singapore's national colour.
Later on, a value clarification session was conducted by LTC Colonel Ho Kwan Kiat. I managed to narrow down 10 personal values to 3 which were time freedom, effectiveness and personal development. These values represent who I am and without them I won't be able to survive through insurmountable challenges especially once I am enrolled in the Officer Cadet School (OCS). Following the session, I realised that I have yet to discover my hidden strengths to improve myself.
After being bloated with a scrumptious bento lunch, I was taken to the floating stadium at Marina Bay. A cute graphic tote bag filled with essential goodies was given to me. The Sun was scorching hot as I waited there for hours, sweating and taking pictures of the beautiful scenery of the city. For many of us, it was our first time attending Singapore's National Day Parade. As the Sun touches the horizon, the show started by hosts Rishi, Siti, Joakim and Sonia. The march led by commanding officer Desmond Fu, executed professionally and the patriotic energy gave me goosebumps. Their fearless faces radiated a generosity of spirit and inner light and how their character was infused with both gratitude and bravery. Flying high in the sky with loud bursts from the F-16 jet, Senior Lieutenant Colonel Lee Mei Yi, the first woman in Singapore to command a fighter squadron was seen in action on the big screen on stage. My friends and I tried to get into the video highlights by being the loudest group and managed to be in at least 3 highlights. I found it hilarious when Mr Red popped out of nowhere in one of the longest highlights. Every performance was entertaining but one that stood out the most was "Stronger Together" performed by Taufik Batisah. Untroubled and free, I sang with my heart out, dancing to the song together with my buddy, Wayne. We were also fortunate enough to take a group picture together with Sir Desmond.
Every morning, we checked our COVID-19 status to see whether we're positive or not. This morning was slightly different. I tested positive with COVID-19 on the given Antigen Rapid Test from Brunei. On the other hand, Kai Sheng also tested positive and I was in close contact with him. The two of us were brought to a nearby clinic to make a confirmation that we are negative. Surprisingly, I tested negative after two swabs but Kai Sheng was positive. Yayyy! I'm free... Because back in my head I was thinking that I would not be able to attend the closing ceremony and spend the rest of my time with my buddy and friends in Singapore. MAJ Lester sent me to the battlefield tour that I was late for. This tour gave us a glimpse of experience on what it felt like to be in the middle of a raging battlefield in an escape tunnel displayed with mannequin soldiers. Then, we went out to eat a monster portion of nasi briyani. I was in a food coma on the bus, not realising that we were on our way to the Kranji War Memorial.
As I l first stepped foot on the grounds of the Kranji War Memorial, I immediately felt a strong out-pouring of emotions. For me, the thousands of different gravestones tell a million stories that nobody can fully comprehend. From nameless gravestones to heartfelt engravings, all the soldiers were United here as heroes regardless of religion, race or gender due to their ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom. Each of them gave their life to something bigger than themselves.
This triggered my self-awareness to rethink every moment in life including my ups and downs that led me to the person I am today. I cannot imagine the grief that their loved ones faced for the sacrifice of their child. I felt that I should appreciate every tiny gift that my parents gave to raise me and to prepare myself for military life but I still have yet to completely repay their efforts fully.
One of the most heartfelt epitaph that sparked me was "You did not say good-bye you'd gone before we knew always remembered" inscribed on the gravestone of Gunner R.Ingley of the royal artillery. This epitaph signifies our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service to the nation can never be repaid and henceforth they have earned our undying gratitude. For that reason, I aspire to be an individual that influences and inspires others.
We jogged to one of the OCS wings to kick-off our morning on day 5 in Singapore. COL Alex together with other SAF personal trainers taught us the technique of flipping tyres. Technique wise, it was similar to deadlifts except that you have to bring the tyres forward. Afterward, we headed to CLD to have our life purpose and goal setting session. Using our creativity skills, we created a poster on our life purpose and then presented it to the whole class. I remember vividly that Haziq's life purpose was to be an excellent father and I totally dig it!
Lunch, Lunch, lunch - my favourite period of the day. A delectable lunch which consisted of succulent roasted chicken, potatoes with gravy and veggies. Right after lunch, all of us went to SAFTI E-Mart to get some souvenirs We then took a bus to Sentosa for iFLY where we floated like flying squirrels. We had 4 attempts to fly together with the instructor but the last attempt made my stomach drop as I flew up and down at a greater altitude. We were never tired so we went to Sentosa beach to play volleyball and have fun. After all the fun we had, we went back to SAFTI to prepare for our closing ceremony.
We woke up at 0630 hours and had a hearty breakfast, as usual. The sweet aunties of the Cookhouse prepared an array of the 'American Breakfast' essentials consisting of sausages, omelettes and baked beans. Full of energy, we then set out on a long journey over to the East side of Singapore at Changi Naval Base. I was excited as Catherine had mentioned that there was where her ship, the RSS Supreme, would be docked and that we might even get a chance to see it live! The Changi Naval Base was huge. We first stopped at the Changi Regional Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre (RHCC). Sir Liu Yongqiang, the Head Plans, provided an interactive introduction to RHCC – he allowed us to guess what their work scope was and further elaborated about their capabilities based on our answers. From my understanding, they mainly provide a coordinated assistance/ response to severe and intense multinational disasters. For example, the RHCC aids in terms of medical support and casualties evacuation.
It was an overwhelming sight to see the rows of ships being docked at the port we visited next. We had the opportunity to board one of the Republic of Singapore Ship, the RSS Steadfast. I still cannot believe how I've never stepped foot in a single ship in my entire 19 years of living but have now boarded 3 ships in just a span of 2 weeks, thanks to this program! Some of the areas we entered were the Bridge and the Combat Information Centre room. Representatives from the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) in each room gave us brief explanations on how the rooms all collectively work together to function the ship –from navigation to warfare. To our surprise, we had the chance to have a set of light refreshments with the Deputy Fleet Commander, Colonel Ng Xun Xi, and a photo taking session with him afterwards. The surprise did not stop there: they didn't allow us to leave empty-handed and gave us cute mugs with the RSN motto "WILL ABOVE ALL".
With a food coma, we made our way to UAV Command. UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a feature which is still not available in the Royal Brunei AirForce. Hence, it was interesting to gain new insights and an overview of their services. I did not know such aircrafts could fly without a human pilot manning it on board! It sounds very convenient to have UAVs assist with Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) missions. We even got to see and touch the 'Heron 1' in its actuality. Besides that, we found out that the UAV pilot that briefed us was an alumnus of the past Brunei-Singapore Defence Scholars Development Programme (BSDPSDP).
Back at SAFTI, we ate dinner, changed into comfortable clothes and prepared ourselves for a long night to finalise our closing ceremony preparations in the Officers' Mess. Tasks were already allocated beforehand so we just had to polish up the finishing touches… especially learning how to synchronize our dance moves. Despite being busy throughout the whole day, it was fun to end the night together, with a little karaoke and dance breaks, all the while thinking about how the program would officially end the following day. To make the night even more memorable, we ended it by enjoying ourselves with boxes of delicious Domino's pizza.
On the 7th day in Singapore, we started off the day with breakfast of a bento box that consisted of noodles, fishballs and a side of scrambled eggs prepared heartedly by our lovely aunties at the canteen. Most of us woke up a bit later than we're supposed to. Everyone was so tired from preparing last night for the upcoming closing ceremony in just a few hours. Despite that, we're all so eager to start off our day strong and to wrap up the closing ceremony with a bang!
We went off to the Officers Mess at around 0730 in our beautiful crimson red NDP polo to start practicing our rehearsals for the closing ceremony. Everyone was in position and we all executed our tasks successfully for the closing ceremony. No major changes were done and everyone was excited to welcome our guests for the closing ceremony prepared exclusively by the participants of the SDP programme.
At 0930, the guests arrived and we started off the closing ceremony. We first started the event with a prayer from none other than myself to start off the ceremony with blessings. Following that, we presented a short compilation of what we did so far in the past two weeks that I think a lot of the guests enjoyed. Following that, Aisyah and Elena shared their experiences on stage of all the wonderful memories we've had together. After the sharing session, we presented a short video of our visit to Kranji War Memorial and a short sharing session by Richmon and Kiru on how much that visit meant to them and what it served for the future. Furthermore, after that meaningful sharing session, we presented them a wholesome video of all the beautiful memories we shared together in the whole 2 weeks of the programme. The video was beautifully edited by none other than Liz in which she incorporated an upbeat song (Someone to you - Banners) in which we managed to sneak in a special performance coordinated by Zharfan and Cat. We presented a special dance performance in which it encompasses togetherness in all the hardships we went through in this programme and the beautiful memories we shared all together in unity. In the performance, we had a special feature of Kai Sheng rendering a melodic cover of the song in the background as we danced as he was undergoing his last few hours of isolation. Following the performance, Zharfan shared an amazing speech of his experiences in this SDP and what we gained from it despite it being his second SDP. We then followed this up with the presentation of certificates from the guests of honour to close up the whole programme before proceeding with the delicious refreshments.
After the ceremony, we freshened up and went on the MRT for the Singaporeans to bring us to a hawker centre with a variety of food options to cater to us. The Golden Mile Food Centre! I personally got the Bihun Merah while a bunch of others got interesting food I've never seen before like carrot cake, Sup Tulang Merah and Singapore's authentic chicken rice! As for drinks, I took this opportunity to try out the sugar cane which was super refreshing. At the same centre, we went upstairs to go and look through some military merch before we were surprised by the return of Kai Sheng!
After the hawker centre, we went to a multitude of places such as Haji Lane, Bugis (to have bingsu!) and lastly we were surprised that we were gonna go on the Luge in Sentosa. This was planned by the Singaporeans and it was definitely a good surprise. We went on it 3 times and every single time it was so fun. After the luge, we went to Vivocity to grab some snacks and sushi from Fairprice so that we can all enjoy at the rooftop of the mall. It was refreshing to chill after such a packed day.
Despite the fun day, it feels bittersweet to see it all ending and face our final day of the programme the following day. Nonetheless, we're all excited to see what the last day has prepared for us.
After a fulfilling R&R evening with our fellow Singaporeans, we were blessed to be able to have more rest to equip us for a packed day. As for our final meal ever in SAFTI, they have prepared a very special buffet of 'Nasi Lemak' for everyone. It was super delicious.
We then walked over to the neighbouring Singapore Discovery Centre. This was the 'surprise' activity they were trying so hard to hide from us. When we arrived there, we were brought directly into a meeting room and from the title of the slides, we knew we were going to leave this place with bruises. It's Paintball time.
They briefed us through the main purpose of paintball: make people have a sense of awareness to battle terrorism worldwide. Then they made us sign a consent form before entering the arena. When we went outside, it was a whole battlefield. We took turns becoming terrorists and anti-terrorists (whose mission was to defuse the bomb), and our opponents did not show mercy!
Nevertheless, despite being bathed in sticky paint, we still had a lot of fun. We enjoyed ourselves further with a hearty lunch prepared for us. Just as we thought we were done for the day, we were introduced with a tour guide who walked us through the doors of a very unique and captivating exhibition of World War 2. He took us through a chronology of different historical events but the story behind Liutenant Adnan Saidi's sacrifice caught my attention and I take in great honour from a brave and fallen soldier.
At last, it was time to say goodbye to SAFTI. It was an honour to step foot in SAFTI and it was a pleasant stay here. I will miss the wholesome dishes prepared for us every mealtime and even the PT we had in the mornings. So many memories were made here which I will think back to every time I visit Singapore.
Back to where it all started, we boarded the bus to Changi Airport. We went exactly to the place we first visited in the airport: the Jewel. However this time, we got the banner, and the complete crew! I wish Ms Susie was here with us to have our final group pictures together. At this place, we unfortunately had to say farewell to the chaperones. We are thankful for their kindness and for being so accommodating to us. I hope we could meet again someday. Besides that, everyone exchanged gifts with their buddies. I gave my buddy the MinDef plaque and Wayne was so kind to give me the 'Bengawan Solo' mooncakes!
After checking in our bags, we had our final dinner together at Shake Shack. We did not waste any time going around Terminal 1 and shopped. All of us went for a shopping spree!!! From Bengawan Solo to Apple products, we were pouring out cash to get gifts for our family. We then boarded the plane and safely landed in Brunei. The course came to an end but our key memories from it will certainly never fade. Until we meet again…
Written by: Richmon Lee Edward
SCRBAF Scholarship Recipient 2021
Aiman Abdullah Tee