Send-off spot where they go from boys to men

IT MAY look like an ageing, nondescript, three-storey building.

But the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) in Depot Road in Telok Blangah has become a vault of memories for the hundreds of thousands of national servicemen who have passed through its doors since 1989.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen revealed in a Facebook post earlier this week that the CMPB will move out of Depot Road to a new home on Upper Bukit Timah Road - a stone's throw away from the Defence Ministry headquarters.

It was not said when it will go or what will replace it, but news of its passing has already stirred the memories of those who registered for their mandatory stints and underwent medical and aptitude tests there.

Besides the pre-enlistment jitters, those in their late 30s and 40s also remember the emotional farewells when they reported for duty on enlistment day.

"I wasn't sad; a little frightened, but still looked forward to Basic Military Training," said 40-year-old Robin Goh, who enlisted in 1993 and now works in corporate communications.

One image etched in his mind was the moment when he and fellow enlistees were bundled into three-tonners to transport them to army camps.

"Some people struggled to climb up onto the trucks but nobody dared to laugh... It was the first scent of what army life would be."

Actuary Ernest Goh - no relation to Mr Robin Goh - was also enlisted that year. The 40-year-old combat signaller likened his experience to going to the airport.

"You check in, your parents send you off, you take one last glance at them and wave... from there on, you knew you were on your own."

Accountant Michael Lim holds not-so-fond memories of being charged and fined for skipping the Individual Physical Proficiency Test.

"I felt so helpless," said the 34-year-old. "You become so anxious because you know you did something wrong but still hope that they will not come down so hard on you."

The CMPB is still where young Singaporean men make their first contact with the Singapore Armed Forces, its commander Koh Chia Chee said - and no efforts are spared to make it a "positive and significant" encounter.

Its mission has not changed since the CMPB was set up in 1966, before moving from Kallang Camp to Tanglin - where Dempsey Hill now stands - in 1972, and then 17 years later, to Depot Road.

The Defence Ministry said that besides the new CMPB, the new Upper Bukit Timah complex will house a finance, human resource and medical hub, as well as food and beverage outlets and convenience stores.

Mr Thomas Tan, 62, has been running a noodle stall at the Depot Road Camp canteen for the last 25 years.

Despite the bells and whistles of the new location, he hopes old-timers will visit their old haunt.

He said: "Most of our regulars, especially the NS boys, know its the only place where they can get a big bowl of pork ball noodles for $2."

This article was first published on October 2, 2014.
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