From scepticism to accepted way of life

From scepticism to accepted way of life
Members of the Singapore Armed Forces in a march past during the SAF Day Parade held at Safti Military Institute on July 1.

SINGAPORE - A fortnight ago on Aug 9, thousands of Singaporeans celebrated our nation's 48th birthday.

What many may not know, however, is that August also marks the month that the first batch of 9,000 young men were enlisted for compulsory national service in 1967.

This first batch led the way.

Now, 46 years later, more than 900,000 Singaporeans have served and played their part in defending our home.

When I joined the military in 1959, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) did not exist. Even Singapore did not exist then as an independent nation.

City boys can fight too

After I was commissioned as an officer in 1961, I was in the 1st Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (1 SIR), who were all career soldiers.

In 1963, then Indonesian President Sukarno launched the Konfrontasi, or Confrontation, campaign to oppose the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, which merged Singapore, Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.

When the Confrontation broke out, we were sent to Sebatik Island south of Sabah - the northern half was under Malaysia, the southern half was under Indonesia. We were there conducting operations for about seven months. Our role was to patrol the border areas and ensure that there were no intrusions by infiltrators into Sabah.

We went there expecting to take fire, expecting to fight. We didn't have any experience then and, of course, there was some degree of apprehension that we could lose our lives.

We had a real enemy across the border, and it is only natural that any person would feel fear. We were all carrying loaded weapons and you don't carry loaded weapons unless you expect to use them.

When you go into an operational zone, you must go in with the expectation that this danger might happen. There was always this sense that we could be shot at.

But if you train your people well and motivate them well, they will fight, and fight well. We knew that it was professionally and operationally expected of us to fight.

I remember that when we first arrived, the talk within the brigade - we had a Malaysian brigade commander - was, "these Singaporeans cannot fight. They are city boys".

As it turned out, we could.

There was shooting and mortar fire, and we continued with our operations. Our soldiers performed their tasks courageously and did not turn tail and run.

Fortunately, those of us in 1 SIR didn't suffer any casualties, though our brothers from 2 SIR did in Kota Tinggi.

We executed our duties as professionals and we showed the rest that we were capable of fighting alongside the best of them.

But that was just the first battle that we had to fight.

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