Looks impressive, but it is tough work

Reporter Lim Yi Han (in white in right tank) talking to tank commander Jon Lee aboard the Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank. The column had stopped on Nicoll Highway to wait for the go-ahead while en route to the Padang.
Reporter Lim Yi Han (in white in right tank) talking to tank commander Jon Lee aboard the Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank. The column had stopped on Nicoll Highway to wait for the go-ahead while en route to the Padang.PHOTO: MIKE LEE FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

IT WAS no smooth ride.

Despite weeks of rehearsals, soldiers still had to contend with curve balls that threw a spanner in the works during a test run last Saturday.

I was given a spot in a Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank as part of the mobile column that will appear at the National Day Parade 2015.

I stood in the position of the loader, whose job is to pull rounds from the ammunition compartment and load them into the main gun.

Along with my tank commander, Third Sergeant Jon Lee, we set off from Kallang, thundered down Nicoll Highway, but got stuck outside Suntec City mall for half an hour waiting for our turn to proceed.

Meanwhile, over a military headset, I heard that brake lights for one of the tanks were not functioning normally, so a back-up tank was activated.

As we waited in the blistering heat for the green light, I could feel perspiration rolling down my cheeks. But 3SG Lee was a picture of calm. Just before we moved on, the soldiers did a gun salute and did so repeatedly to perfect the manoeuvre.

While their actions appeared flawless to me, they were told to do it again and again to ensure a seamless motion.

As we waited, a crowd formed and started snapping pictures. Some waved enthusiastically at the soldiers.

At that moment, I felt immensely proud to be Singaporean.

I used to think that the mobile column looked effortless - just men and women standing in impressive military vehicles - but I now know it is more than that.

Even mounting the 3m-tall war machine was not easy for me. The soldiers did it with agility, but I needed help as I had never been on one.

What are the "raw materials" needed for the smooth running of the mobile column?

As I found out, it takes dedication, a lot of practice and coordination, and contingency plans when hiccups arise.

LIM YI HAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2015, with the headline 'Looks impressive, but it is tough work'. Print Edition | Subscribe