SINGAPORE - When Third Sergeant Muhammed Syakir Zainol first read his enlistment letter, he had to take a second look.
After all, his three brothers had already served or were serving in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) for their national service. But there it was, in black and white, in his enlistment letter that he would be doing his national service as a commando.
"Everyone, especially my friends, were very surprised and didn't believe me. I even had to show my enlistment letter to them," recalled the 22-year-old full-time national serviceman (NSF) .
He added: "When I told my parents, they were shocked but it was a big thing for them that their son was going to be a commando."
His father, a prime mover driver at PSA Singapore, and his mother, a production operator, told him it was a good opportunity for him to shine.
And 3SG Syakir has seized the opportunity, giving his best in training and honing his leadership skills.
His efforts contributed to the operational readiness of his unit, the 1st Commando Battalion, which clinched the Singapore Armed Forces' Best Combat Unit award for the 15th consecutive year, its 32nd win. The last time another unit won the award was in 2003, when the 1st Guards battalion clinched the honour.
For 3SG Syakir, training was a real test of his mental capacity.
He cited the 72km route march as an example, noting that the commandos have to endure things like aching shoulders, abrasions or leg sprains while carrying their combat loads and battling fatigue.
"Being a commando is not only about being physically fit. It's more about mental strength. With our mental strength we could overcome anything if we set our minds to it," he said.
The SAF Best Unit competition was introduced in 1969 to recognise units which have excelled in combat readiness, operational proficiency and administrative excellence. They are assessed based on a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation process over the past year.
Lieutenant-Colonel Ng Kiang Chuan, commanding officer of the 1st Commando Battalion, does not take winning the award for granted.
He said: "There is no complacency because the soldiers who come to us are a new batch every year, so training starts all over again."
"We are always focusing and training to help the soldiers improve. At no time is there complacency."
While safety concerns arose after the death in April of a 19-year-old NSF who had suffered a heat stroke, LTC Ng maintains that the toughness of his unit's training has not been reduced.
"It doesn't change the way we train," he said.
"We continue to do high-risk training but bearing in mind that all the safety measures must be thought through and be put in place."
President Halimah Yacob and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen will present the awards to the winners at the SAF Day parade on July 1 at the Safti military institute.