As a large banner celebrating 50 years of national service gleams under the first rays of the morning sun, cars begin to pull up outside the gates of Jurong Camp II, disgorging men in army camouflage uniforms who are booking in for their first day of in-camp training (ICT).
Some arrive in taxis; many turn up in family sedans driven by their parents or wives.
A brief farewell, a hurried unloading of duffel bags and off they go, through the gates and up the hill to their barracks, back to a life of training and regimentation.
For the 700 men of the 746th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (746SIR), this annual gathering is a routine affair.
When they enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (2SIR) for full-time national service in 2009, they were one of the first units to adopt the concept of motorised infantry in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Thanks to a fleet of Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles at their command, these men, who in the past would have had to march long distances, can now cover ground in an armoured vehicle boasting remote-control machine guns and a battlefield-management system that shows the location of friendly and enemy forces. It even allows them to communicate with their headquarters and other support units, including attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.
In September 2010, the men completed their NS and the unit became an operationally ready national service battalion, renamed as 746SIR.
Several months before the ICT, every soldier in the battalion receives an official call-up notice known as the SAF100, which invokes the familiar love-hate mix of emotions that most men harbour towards compulsory military service.
"When the SAF100 comes around, there is this feeling of apprehension," says Second Sergeant (NS) Inderpal Singh Dillon, 28, who leads a portable anti-tank missile detachment. "But when we get here, it's like riding a bike - our drills are already ingrained and we are good to go."
That sentiment of apprehension is shared by the unit's commanding officer.
"There will always be this 'book-in' feeling the night before when I know I won't be able to see my boy for the next few days," says Major (NS) Gregory Foo. "I know that my men would also be feeling the same way, but I tell them that the security of our loved ones is one important reason why we serve."
The two weeks of ICT are particularly important for the unit as it prepares for the Army Training Evaluation Centre (ATEC) Stage 1 test, a milestone test that evaluates each soldier on his basic drills and weapon proficiency, culminating in an exercise where each company is tested on its ability to attack an objective and capture it.
A route march, weapons live-firing exercise and physical fitness test round up the two-week programme, and then it is time for the men to clean their bunks, cram their gear into their black duffel bags and head home to their families.
In February 2018, the men will meet in camp again for their next ICT, and 2SG (NS) Singh Dillon is looking forward to it.
"I love all of my guys," says the Uber driver. "We stayed together, trained together and 'fought' together during our full-time NS; it's a bond that can't be broken by just a few months apart."
Since 1967, over one million men have enlisted in the SAF and Home Team for full-time NS.
Many families today have not just one, but two generations of national servicemen, just like2SG (NS) Singh Dillon's family. His younger brother is a combat engineer, his older brother is a medic in the Singapore Civil Defence Force, and his father was a regular in the SAF's armour formation.
Major (NS) Foo, 39, a civil servant, hopes his two-year-old son will follow in his footsteps.
"I want to be a role model for my boy," he adds. "I say to him: 'When you grow up, you will serve in the army, just like your daddy.'"
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2017, with the headline 'Back in camp and good to go'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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