Butt Party* Fall In: 50 Years of SAF

Even if the last time any of our military units saw battle was before 1965 (Konfrontasi – 1SIR), I now realise been wrongly telling people that we don’t have a martial tradition.

I think half a century of SAF makes it a tradition. Some of the operations the SAF have undertaken may not necessarily have been military in purpose, but I’m proud to remember my unit, the 46th Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment, receiving its regimental colours in 1990 as recognition for its role, in 1986, in search and rescue operations during the Hotel New World disaster.

There’ve been missions since, like Ops Flying Eagle, that demonstrate the great capability of our Armed Forces.

It’s been seven years since I attended my last ICT, and twenty six since I first enlisted, and I think my Army mates through the years at 46SAR and 433SAR would agree that the memories we’ve amassed will remain as fresh as ever.

I’m proud to have served in the most formidable Armed Forces in the region – and salute our service personnel past and present on this special SAF Day.

Sungei Gedong Camp, 1990: 297 Days to ROD, as it was known then. We spent so much time in camp, and we were asked to 'decorate' our bunks - We, HQ platoon, Attila Combat Team, decided to name ours "The Coconut Grove".
Sungei Gedong Camp, 1990: 297 Days to ROD, as it was known then. We spent so much time in camp, so we were asked to ‘decorate’ our bunks – We, HQ platoon, Attila Combat Team, decided to name ours “The Coconut Grove”.
This was our accommodation at Khao Meng Camp in Kanchanaburi Thailand, October 1989. We had several mishaps, including one fatality, during this our first overseas training exercise. I remember it like it was yesterday.
This was our accommodation at Khao Meng Camp in Kanchanaburi Thailand, October 1989. We had several mishaps, including one fatality, during this our first overseas training exercise. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Near the end of our NSF stint, we were 'rewarded' with Exercise Starlight, and had a lot more fun in Taiwan.
Near the end of our NSF stint, we were ‘rewarded’ with Exercise Starlight, and had a lot more fun in Taiwan.
August 1990 - local training was still challenging even if we knew Area D inside out. Training grounds were always so crowded with different Army units crisscrossing each other. In Area D alone, I bumped into my brother, serving in 35SCE and a year my junior, at least three times during our NSF days.
August 1990 – local training was still challenging even if we knew Area D inside out. Training grounds were always so crowded with different Army units crisscrossing each other. In Area D alone, I bumped into my brother, serving in 35SCE and a year my junior, at least three times during our NSF days.
As the company's bikey, I  was also the OC's MG Gunner. The CVC helmet is a communications device - there's a toggle that switches between intercom (within the combat vehicle's crew) and company/battalion radio frequency network. We sometimes accidentally jammed the network by leaving the transmit toggle on. The other ingenious thing we did was to black tape our Walkmen earphones to the microphones - and piped in music through our fighting vehicles!
August 1990: As the company’s bikey, I was also the OC’s MG Gunner. The CVC helmet is a communications device – there’s a toggle that switches between intercom (within the combat vehicle’s crew) and company/battalion radio frequency network. We sometimes accidentally jammed the network by leaving the transmit toggle on. The other ingenious thing we did was to black tape our Walkmen earphones to the microphones – and piped in music through our fighting vehicles!
August 1990: Our driver, among what must now look like antiquated equipment, including a GPS that was the size of a field pack, and which returned a set of numbers which still had to be tallied against  Map Grid References.
1990: Our driver, among what must now look like antiquated equipment, including a GPS that was the size of a field pack, and which returned a set of numbers which still had to be tallied against Map Grid References.
Rockhampton Airport, October 2005: Griping about budget airlines? Beat this: We got off the plane, waited for them to open the cargo door, and then picked up our bags directly from the aircraft.
Rockhampton Airport, October 2005: Griping about budget airlines? Beat this: We got off the plane, waited for them to open the cargo door, and then picked up our bags directly from the aircraft.
Shoal water Bay, Queensland, 2005: Happy NSMan - all smiles before the long haul of a week-long exercise. I deferred from reservist/NS for 8 years, and when I returned, I got posted to 433SAR, a batch of soldiers six years younger than me. Made fast friends nonetheless.
Shoal water Bay, Queensland, 2005: Happy NSMan – all smiles before the long haul of a week-long exercise. I deferred from reservist/NS for 8 years, and when I returned, I got posted to 433SAR, a batch of soldiers six years younger than me. Made fast friends nonetheless.
2008: The last In-Camp before being mothballed into Mindef Reserve.
2008: The last In-Camp before being mothballed into Mindef Reserve.

*A ‘butt’ is the end of a firing range, usually made from mounds of earth, to stop the flight of bullets from going beyond the range. When I was in NS, some ranges did not have automated targets, and soldiers took turns holding up wooden targets at the butt. Each group was called a ‘butt party’, and the ‘butt party IC’ would yell ‘butt party fall in!’, when it was his group’s turn to walk to the butt to hold up targets.

SAF Day

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.

Ex Wallaby 2005 - Somewhere in Queensland
Ex Wallaby 2005 – Somewhere in Queensland
Ex Crescendo 1989 - Somewhere in Thailand
Ex Crescendo 1989 – Somewhere in Thailand

Your Grandfather’s Mother Tongue Is it?

I had great fun at the last minute pop-up Talkingcock In Parliament 3 organised by Colin, Yen Yen and others on Saturday evening. There was a great variety of speakers anyhowly hum-tumming what Mother Tongue means to us because it’s been anyhowly hum-tummed into our lives.

This is what I said:

My Hokkien mother spoke no Mandarin, was educated in ACS in Malaya, and my father taught himself English, but spoke Hainanese mostly. Although most days you couldn’t tell which he was speaking. Older Hainanese men have accents as thick as the slab of butter in your kaya toasts.

But my father spoke just enough rubbish for people in Australia to lump him together with other East Asians and he scored a job as a translator with the Japanese Olympic team in the 1956 Melbourne Games.

That did not end well. He was fired before the closing ceremony because a Japanese boxer was taken to hospital for an emergency appendectomy he didn’t need to have. He had simply tried to tell my father that he needed to lose some weight to get down to the weight class he was supposed to compete in. That’s my father. Accidental pioneer of weight loss surgery.

My mother, a slightly better English speaker, joined my father in Australia and together they lived there between 1957 and 1965. That’s a lot of time for them to pick up enough Aussie slang to scold my siblings and I with.

So my early childhood years were marked by my parents’ Aussie nicknames for me, which were all prefixed by the word “bloody”. They called me bloody fool, bloody idiot, bloody nong, once in a while, bloody bastard, before they realised the implication of what they were calling me, and retracted it and instead called me a bloody chink.

I have a five year old son and sometimes when he whines or whinges about something, my wife would tell him, “Use your words, Kai”. And he would compose himself, and make his request known in a full sentence.

My mother was slightly different with me when I was a kid. If I whined or whinged, she said, “Bloody Chinese boy cannot speak english properly issit?”

I understand now that they were scarred by their experiences Down Under, and passed on that anxiety to their kids.

So that’s my heritage. Outcastes of empire, speaking in the tongues of the former convicts of our former colonial masters. It’s a rich heritage, full of stolen riches.

So you can imagine I wasn’t surprised when I discovered just last week, that our National Heritage Board is the governing body of the Speak Good English Movement. I’m actually working on this year’s Speak Good English launch. Director of Speak Good English? Is Eck Kheng here? Movement nochet launch this year, so this event not counted hor?

Let me say that I strongly support the speak good english movement. I have one every morning. Usually after breakfast. And my family doesn’t let me bring the newspapers in with me.

Eh… It could have been worse. I could’ve demonstrated what a Speak Good English Movement sounds like.

Last week, I read about our Air Force and how they outfoxed American counterparts in war games, although I don’t believe they used the word outfoxed.

We all know that our Armed Forces have had this advantage over the years. I mean, come on lah, which other military can boast having marching commands in Malay, instructions in English, and at one time really had a platoon that spoke only Hokkien?

And they say the US got drones, we also have! How many did you see in the Young PAP video? That video? It was supposed to be a secret weapon, to be used when our enemies are making their way to invade us. We will jam their networks and the video would be transmitted to all their smartphones and tablets, so when they watch it, they’ll U-turn and go back because, wah lao, really? This is the prize? Dowan lor.

There were three bids for this defence weapon. This was one of them. The other two were of course the STB ad and the Singtel nipple ad.

“Honey, look! You know the expensive seafood dinner we had last night? We really got screwed, I’m even pregnant!”

Ten years ago, I was in a reservist In camp training – see that’s another word that’s been ingrained. 20 years after changing the term to NSman, we’re still calling it reservist. You call up some business to look for someone, and they’ll say, “oh, got reservist, won’t be back until next week”.

I think we love the word reservist because we really don’t want to be on the front line. We’re reserved. Of course, my ten year cycle has long since been completed, so I’m an even more reserved reservist.

So anyway, this was in 2004 and we were still transitioning from the old conventional ways of warfare to a post 9-11 Al Qaeda-JI doctrine. We had training to tell us that it was no longer ok to clear a room with grenades and put our weapons to full auto to finish the job. We had to look out for civilians and enemy combatants.

So part of the training package consisted of being shot at from a simulated HDB block, and being shot at from a simulated market. The second round got worse. We got grenades thrown at us by a simulated pregnant woman played by one of our own reservists on Attend B excuse heavy lifting.

We didn’t know how to react. We were tired, hungry and getting frustrated.

As we ran up one last HDB stairwell we encountered a simulated couple in close embrace, just as you would in real life, only this time it turned out to be a terrorist-hostage situation. Our training kicked in. We trained our weapons on the party and opened negotiations:

Our section commander shouted: “Terrorist har? What the fuck you want, you ninabeh cheebye motherfucker?”

The simulated terrorist replied, “er…. I want an airline ticket”

Because we are a considerate 3G army, our section commander asked him, “airline ticket? Cheebye what airline?”

The terrorist considered this quickly and shouted his preference, “Emirates!”

Something snapped in my section commander. He flicked the safety catch on his SAR-21 to full auto and opened fire, emptying his magazine of 30 rounds of blanks as he screamed. “Emirates hah? SQ not good enough for you is it? Nabeh! Limpehshootjiliaphorlisee!”

Purple Light

I do not remember rape being part of the song called Purple Light. (I never even knew the song was called Purple Light – it was always “My rifle, my buddy and me”).

Several of my peers think the words in question were added in the last 10 years or so. Shame on the commanders who thought it fit to add that in. And shame on those who think there’s nothing wrong with the lyrics.

As proud members of the Singapore Armed Forces, it is your duty and honour to defend everything this country stands for. We may be trying to figure out what it is that this country stands for, but condoning and belittling the use of rape as something you do out of spite is definitely not in our book of values. Can?

From the White Horse’s mouth

Losers of the "Make My Head Look Most Like A Watermelon" Contest pose for a picture in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland, October 2005

I was enlisted in December 1988, just as the Army was changing their combat helmets from heavy steel to high tech Dupont Kevlar, and apart from my dog tags that said I was allergic to penicillin and triple antigen vaccines, my medical docket had this mysterious ink stamp that simply said, “W.H.”

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