The last major training exercise I was part of was held in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland. On the night before the end of the exercise, (which was also an assessment known as ATEC that determines whether a combat unit is fit for operations) the communications radio in my armoured fighting vehicle crackled with a higher than usual urgency. Our vehicle commander pleaded with us to keep quiet so he could listen better.
When someone yells or screams into a radio comms, whatever message that person is trying to send is usually distorted and garbled, and because you don’t know what it is that is making the person so frantic, it tends to scare you a little.
All we could hear was frantic yelling on the radio communications – something about “No Duff”, which was code for “Not Simulated”.
We worked out that one of our tanks had overturned. And when that happens, chances of injury to the crew are likely to be high. There is a vehicle overturn drill which we practice before every exercise, but we had been on the move for over 36 hours and this had been our battalion’s final mission in the assessment. We were exhausted and car (tank) sick and more likely to slip up.
We panicked a little in our vehicle, not knowing if the crew of the tank was ok. There was a bunch of us that night who were from my original NSF unit, and who must have had flashbacks of an exercise in 1989 where one of our unit mates was killed when his vehicle overturned.
That exercise was halted, for about 12 hours, before our commanding officer explained that as operational soldiers, we had to carry on. We stayed on and trained in Thailand for the next 2 weeks.
You never forget something like that – and I remember being unable to control my trembling even when it was finally announced that the tank crew was safe because they’d just managed to duck into the compartments as it flipped over.
The other memorable moment of the exercise was when my company commander calmed everyone’s jangled nerves that night by calling over the comms: “Two-Niner to all stations Two-Niner, if your Zulu (Armoured Fighting Vehicle) drivers or commanders are tired, I will stop and let you rest! I promise you! We will finish this mission safely! …Two-Niner, out!”
To my brothers in the 46th Battalion, Singapore Armour Regiment (1989-91) and 433rd Battalion, Singapore Armour Regiment (1999-2008), I’m proud to have served alongside you. And, even as eras pass and doctrines change, here’s to every soldier, sailor and airman of the Singapore Armed Forces.
Happy SAF Day.