PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong travelled to the jungles of Brunei yesterday to visit Singapore Armed Forces troops undergoing survival training in Temburong.
After a morning of meetings at the Asean summit in Brunei's capital Bandar Seri Begawan, Mr Lee flew by helicopter to Temburong, where he met about 60 officer cadets of the SAF's artillery formation.
They were on the fourth day of a 10-day jungle orientation training course.
Clad in a short-sleeved black polo T-shirt, he and his wife Ho Ching took an assault boat up Sungai Batu Apoi to watch four of the cadets do a river crossing with their weapons and packs.
Mr Lee, a former brigadier-general in the SAF, then chatted with the cadets, who told him that the terrain in Temburong was more undulating and thus tougher than that in Singapore's Mandai jungle.
The SAF has been using Temburong for training since 1977. Mr Lee first went there in 1982 and has visited the place every 10 years or so, the last time in 2003.
Asked about the importance of overseas training areas to the SAF, Mr Lee said Brunei "offers us something very special which we can't do in Singapore".
Soldiers gain a lot of confidence by training in Temburong because it is a challenging and physically demanding environment, he said.
"Psychologically, if you go through it, it gives you confidence that you've gone through the toughest training and you can make it," he added.
Among those undergoing jungle training was full-time national serviceman Ian Tan, 21. He said the experience of learning how to build a shelter, make tools and set animal traps for food has been "eye-opening".
After speaking to the cadets, Mr Lee said: "I think the morale is good, the commitment is there."
He said he got a lot of satisfaction from knowing that new generations of SAF servicemen were taking their training seriously and understood its value.
He also stressed the importance of safety, saying: "Every soldier is very, very precious to us and we want him to train realistically, but we must also take all the precautions we can."
Accompanying Mr Lee was Parliamentary Secretary Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, MP Low Yen Ling, Chief of Army Major-General Ravinder Singh, and other senior SAF officials.
In a statement yesterday, the Defence Ministry said defence ties between Singapore and Brunei are strong and longstanding, and include a wide range of bilateral exercises and professional exchanges.