The siren sounded, sending over a dozen men running out onto the airstrip.
All geared up in their flight suits with helmets in hand, the crew dashed into their respective helicopters, and Sembawang Air Base soon droned with the familiar whir of their rotors.
Three minutes later, the first aircraft left the ground to perform its mission.
It was only a drill, but the exercise, part of the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) Air Warrior Challenge (AWC) yesterday, was taken seriously by those who participated.
"Exercises like these help give us a sense of realism in preparing for scenarios when they happen," said Third Sergeant and full-time national serviceman Goh Zhe-Wen, 20.
Sgt Goh was one of 97 participants in an annual competition that pits the skills of helicopter squadrons against one another.
The participants, who are from the 120, 123, 125, 126 and 127 squadrons based at Sembawang Air Base, were a mix of army regulars and NSFs.
They went through several challenges that test their ability to maintain their aircraft and complete missions.
The tasks ranged from towing a grounded helicopter between two cones to winching a mock survivor to safety.
Sgt Goh, who specialises in operating on board Super Puma helicopters, extended his national service by four-and-a-half months in order to take part in the challenge, which he is doing for the first time. He said his passion for saving lives led him to spend additional time in the army.
He recalled the first time he responded to an emergency in March last year.
Then, he and his crew rescued a man suffering from a heat injury off the coast of Singapore.
"If we had not arrived in time, his condition could have worsened and he could have died," Sgt Goh said, declining to elaborate further on the incident.
"I'm glad that I was one of those who got activated that day. The operation really resonated with our training and mission," he added.
For this year's challenge, Sgt Goh was tasked with being winched down from a helicopter in order to save another man, who acted as a casualty.
"I felt like I did it well and without any hiccups. I hope my performance can help win the challenge for my squadron."
Colonel Teoh Chun Ping, chairman of the AWC's organising committee, said the aim of the competition is to raise the operational standards of the participants.
"It is competitive, but it is healthy competition among friends and we take it in good spirits," he said.
The winners of the challenge will be announced next week after the results have been tabulated.
This article was first published on February 4, 2015.
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