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