Deep Dive into National Service: Officer Cadet School (OCS)
This week, we are joined by LTA (NS) Ge Yiming, who has completed his two years of national service and is an incoming freshman at the NUS Law School. Yiming graduated from Hwa Chong Institution before enlisting into the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). After commissioning, Yiming served as the Platoon Commander for 3rd Company in School 4.
Command School in National Service
Life Before Command School
Tell us briefly about your NS journey before Officer Cadet School (OCS)
After completing my GCE A level, I enlisted into BMTC’s 6th Company in School 4 on the 5th of January 2019. I was part of the regular enhanced batch as opposed to the mono-intake batch.
How was your Basic Military Training (BMT) experience?
BMT was a relatively relaxing period of time in my NS journey. I had a rather simple time adapting to life in the military, learning how to follow orders from the commanders. They were nice to us while equipping us with the basic skills to survive in the army. I enjoyed spending time talking with my friends. The shared experience of field camps, graduation march, and POP fostered a tight bond among us.
What was the highlight of your BMT?
The highlight undoubtedly came during my first outfield camp. The experience pulled me far away from my comfort zone, both physically and mentally. Looking back, I am grateful for this experience as it prepared me for the many field camps that were awaiting.
What was your view of Command School during BMT?
Personally, command school presented a prestigious learning opportunity. I envisioned going through command school and challenging myself physically and mentally. I also believe it would be beneficial as it is something to work towards during the two years serving the country, keeping me motivated and occupied at the same time.
However, my path to command school was never clear to me, as there were people who performed better during different stages of the evaluation. Still, I am grateful for the opportunity.
Command School in National Service
How was your time in OCS structured?
The nine months of OCS training is structured into three main stages. The first stage is called Common Leadership Module (CLM), which lasts for two weeks. This is where we would be presented with the first white bar. The second is called Service Term (approximately two and a half months) and the third is called Professional Term (approximately six months), which is followed by the last called Joint Term (two weeks) where we would have the parade rehearsals.
How was your experience in the Common Leadership Module (CLM)?
During this time, there were not a lot of outfield camps. The activities were designed to feel more like a typical university orientation into life in OCS.
Here, I was assigned to Echo Wing. I remembered a memorable field camp where the instructors led us in an exercise, reflecting on the reason why we wanted to go through OCS.
A good amount of time was also spent in lecture theatres listening to recruitment talks, where they spoke about the ethics involved in being in OCS, and how to adjust to life in OCS, etc.
Fun fact, I completed more push-ups during CLM than during both Service and Professional Terms combined!
How was your time during Service Terms?
Moving on to Service Terms, I was transferred to Foxtrot Wing. The Terms lasted for nine weeks and I enjoyed learning more about infantry skills, section tactics, and operating various weapons, such as the Section Automated Weapon (SAW), grenade launchers, General-purpose Machine Gun (GPMG), and the M203.
The schedule was packed and we always felt as if there was never enough time to absorb the learning. We had an outfield almost every other week, as well as constant in-camp training to equip us with the skills to operate these weapons, such as doing the Technical Handling Test (THT) or conducting Live Firing.
The training mostly was conducted in Singapore in places like the Mandai area. Some of the outfield experiences were navigation exercises, attack and defence simulation, and jungle exercises.
The navigation exercises not only taught us essential skills such as relying on maps and compasses to look for checkpoints, but they were also great opportunities to build camaraderie as you navigate around with your friends and instructors.
Service Terms was also my first time suffering from a heat rash. I remembered at that time feeling horrible as it lasted a couple of days even after booking out. Eventually, I learnt to use aloe vera to subdue the rash and was fortunate to be given the advice of not using any powder on it.
How was your time during Professional Terms?
I vividly recall my time spent at Brunei’s and Taiwan’s camps.
All of us who boarded the plane to Brunei was in denial as we could not believe that we were going to face the immensely challenging weeks ahead. As we landed, I remembered perspiration streaming down from head to toes as if I were in a sauna. The combination of torrential rain and scorching sun during the days we were there was not the best, to say the least.
Our four weeks in Brunei were mostly spent performing drills such as ridge-line fighting, river crossings and others, all the while being in Full Battle Order (FBO). A lot of our training, however, could not last beyond six o’clock local time, as it was too dark outside to have any visibility.
One of the most memorable exercises was the Jungle Confidence Course. Essentially, it was a 9-day navigation exercise, in which we were given a 2-day ration worth of food, as we were expected to gather our own food in the jungle. However, as none of us was confident enough to hunt or attain our own food, we resolved to share the rations among ourselves for the entire 9 days. Surviving on a tiny amount of food while travelling with 17 kilograms of equipment on foot, even climbing a mountain (Mt. Biang), meant that I ended the trip by losing at least five kilograms.
Luckily for us, the Taiwan trip, which lasted approximately one month, was a relatively enjoyable experience. It was more mentally tiring than the Brunei trip, as we had to complete back to back missions over five days and were not allowed proper rest in between these missions, as we barely had time to prepare for the next. Nevertheless, we had the pleasure to witness the astonishing natural beauty of the Taiwanese landscape throughout our trip, whether that was during the break between the march up and down a mountain, or during our rest and relaxation (R&R) period.
Our instructors were kind enough to allow us some freedom during our R&R period to explore the city of Taipei. The food in the camp was incredible. We had fun exploring the different night markets in Taipei and my friends even had the challenge to see who can drink the most bubble tea throughout the two-day R&R.
Life After Command School
Where were you posted to after Command School?
I was posted to Tekong BMTC School 4, 3rd Company as a platoon commander (PC).
Describe the life of a Platoon Commander?
I had to undergo a one-week course to become a trainer, learning how to be a chief safety officer or conducting physical training (PT).
Typically, my day starts with having breakfast in the cookhouse. After the first PT at around 7.30am, I would start planning for the different field camps and other conducts. The planning would be done around lunchtime, by which time I would be relaxing with other commanders. The next PT conduct would begin at 4.30 pm and the day would end with me overseeing the night routine orders (RO). Overall, being a PC involves a lot of planning and coordinating with other platoon commanders. We have an acronym to follow when planning for the numerous outfield camps, which is SMARTO, which stands for signals (any devices for communication like the walkie-talkie, etc.), medical (making sure there is a medic a standby, etc.), ammunitions, rations, transport, and others.
What were some highlights during your posting?
My experience as a PC was very fulfilling. Meeting people from various backgrounds and learning about their stories was very eye-opening.
Certainly, my highlights would be incomplete without the road marches in which I was in charge. For instance, the route from East Coast Park to Marina Bay was filled with great scenery during the road march of my first batch, giving it calming energy.
Last but certainly not least, the march in Tekong which I was conducting was memorable too. The pitch-black night brought back memories of the treacherous training in Brunei. Relying on the experience of the countless hours of navigating in darkness, I managed to lead everyone safely. However, it was not without challenges either. We were met with uneven terrains and wild animals, including a python. At the same time, I had to coordinate with the conducting officers from other companies, whilst ensuring the well-being of my own recruits.
Would you have done anything differently?
My physical ability would have been ranked higher on the priority list. Certainly, I would have pushed myself to do a few more push-ups and sit-ups every day.
Was Command School the right choice in the end?
Command school was the right choice for me. Everyone takes away something different from the experience. Personally, it had toughened me physically and mentally, in a manner which surpassed my expectation back when I was a recruit in BMT.
What do you miss the most in your NS experience?
As the action-packed schedule of NS becomes a thing of the past, I start to miss the people and friends and our aimless conversations during those navigation walks.
Advice for Others
How can one foster a strong bond within their section/ platoon?
This depends heavily on the section dynamic, however, going through experiences together will help. Being there to support one another will also go a long way. One tip I could give is staying away from the phone to spend some time chilling with others would be beneficial.
How would you advise someone deliberating whether or not to go to OCS?
I would advise the individual to deliberate how the two years in NS would be spent, as well as what takeaways they wish to have at the end of the journey. If the goal is to mature as a person, OCS is arguably the best option to do so in NS. With that said, one needs to mentally prepare for the tough training ahead to overcome the challenges during OCS.