SAF to step up training in coming months; will continue to monitor, review Covid-19 safety measures

Recruits putting on their masks after training while observing social distancing. Basic training resumed in late May with safety measures in place. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Military training in Singapore will be progressively stepped up in the coming months, with Covid-19 safety measures firmly in place, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said on Thursday (Oct 1).

Basic training was suspended for seven weeks during the circuit breaker period earlier this year, and had resumed in late May with safety measures in place, while the Officer Cadet and Specialist Cadet schools continued operating.

In its statement, Mindef said the SAF is progressively stepping up its training tempo in the coming months, and "will continue to monitor the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and review the safe management measures in place to keep servicemen safe".

Two batches of recruits have since been trained at the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) in Pulau Tekong.

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad was at the BMTC on Thursday morning, to observe new recruits who took the oath of allegiance at a ceremony in the auditorium.

A total of 256 were enlisted at BMTC on Thursday, part of a batch of 4,000 recruits to be enlisted this quarter. Those attending sat one seat apart from each other for the ceremony.

Speaking to the media later, Mr Zaqy said: "Covid-19 pandemic or not, it's important that we maintain a high level of readiness, a high level of preparation, to ensure that the military operations and security of our nation can still be protected."

He noted that the BMTC had run smoothly amid the pandemic, while still enlisting recruits.

Mr Zaqy assured parents that coronavirus safety measures are in place, both proactive and reactive to the Covid-19 situation.

Senior Minister of State for Defence Zaqy Mohamad interacting with recruits during his visit to the Basic Military Training Centre at Pulau Tekong on Oct 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

"It's important to give parents and loved ones at home that assurance that their sons and daughters here in the SAF are well looked after, kept safe and given a peace of mind," he added.

Precautionary measures in the BMTC include temperature taking twice a day, enhanced hygiene practices and frequent disinfection of common areas.

Recruits also carry out activities at a section level, comprising 16 people, instead of the larger platoon or company level, such as for shooting practice or route marches around the island.

Meal times are also staggered to prevent overcrowding, with plastic barriers separating each recruit at the table as they consume their meals.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Hardial Singh, 58, a Platoon Commander at BMTC, said that while training has changed with new measures implemented, the standard of training has not.

He said that conducting activities in smaller groups means that it takes more time. For example, the SAR-21 rifle-handling session typically takes half a day for a company to complete, but with the new rules, it now takes a full day.

Recruits carry out activities at a section level instead of the larger platoon or company level, such as for shooting practice or route marches around the island. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

However, 1WO Singh noted that a smaller group size means that officers in charge can observe the performance of recruits more closely, such as identifying weaker shooters. This will allow them to provide these recruits with extra guidance.

Recruit Sebastian Chew, who has been training in the BMTC for two months, said that his parents were initially worried when he enlisted in July, due to the Covid-19 situation.

"I think this is quite unavoidable for all parents. But after enlisting, we were all quite assured because of the measures that are put in place," he said.

The 21-year-old added that the recruits know that any person who is unwell can report to the medical centre, without any fear of repercussions or consequences.

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