From NSFs to the nation's elite divers

Defence and Foreign Affairs GPC members tour Naval Diving Unit's facility

Dr Maliki speaking to NDU cadets. Behind him are Defence and Foreign Affairs GPC members Teo Ho Pin and Mr Nair (partially hidden), who is the committee's chairman.
Dr Maliki speaking to NDU cadets. Behind him are Defence and Foreign Affairs GPC members Teo Ho Pin and Mr Nair (partially hidden), who is the committee's chairman. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

He started out unable to swim, but nine months into his training at the Naval Diving Unit (NDU), Corporal Muhd Syahmi Sahmad, 21, was making high-level dives as part of its Clearance Diving Group.

"I wanted to be part of the elite force and wanted to challenge myself," said Cpl Syahmi, whose duties include keeping the waters around the naval bases free from mines and obstacles, and disposing of live munitions found on the seabed.

He is part of some 150 full-time national servicemen who pass out as elite divers in each NDU batch, which starts with about 450 cadets.

Members of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, led by chairman Vikram Nair, and its Resource Panel, toured the NDU facility at Sembawang Camp yesterday.

The visit was hosted by Senior Minister of State for Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman and the Naval Operations Department head, Rear-Admiral Timothy Lo. It included an overview of the NDU's capabilities and a display of its underwater capabilities in a live pool demonstration. There was also a briefing on the rigorous selection process and divers' training roadmap, as well as the NDU's operational deployment.

Visitors also toured the Naval Hyperbaric Centre, a comprehensive on-site support of pressurised chambers used to treat diving injuries.

Speaking to reporters later, Mr Nair said he was heartened that while NDU cadets go through realistic and tough training, strong measures are taken to ensure safety.

"When they're doing even more high-risk training, you can have ratios of 3:1 of trainees to instructors, so that's a very close eye kept on what's going on. And I understand that their safety record is also very good, and there have been no reported accidents in the course of NDU training."

He also said it was interesting to see how Singapore was using technology to improve defence training. "And I think that's going to be critical for our armed forces in the future, given our falling manpower, our need to maintain defence is the same," he said. "I think technology is the only solution to fill that gap."

For Cpl Syahmi, his experience as an elite frogman has left a lasting impression. Although he has completed his NSF duties, he has chosen to extend his service with the NDU until he starts university in August.

"I chose to stay on because I enjoyed the experience... I've learnt that every problem will come to an end if you endure. And I think that's a very valuable lesson that will bring you far in life," he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2017, with the headline From NSFs to the nation's elite divers. Subscribe