SINGAPORE - It was a weekend unlike any other for Madam Patsy Chong.
She got to fire a SAR 21 rifle, tackle the standard obstacle course, go on a short route march and spend the night in a military bunk.
The 61-year-old was among 103 women who "booked in" to Maju Camp in Clementi last Saturday (Sept 1) for a women's boot camp to experience what national service (NS) is like.
The overnight camp, which saw more than 1,000 applicants vying for about 100 places, was organised by the Ang Mo Kio Women's Executive Committee. It was an initiative by the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (Accord).
Each person pays $55 to join the camp.
Madam Chong was one of the oldest participants. But age and health - she is undergoing treatment for breast cancer - were no deterrent for the mother of four.
"I'm very glad that I came. I can see that this is very challenging work," said Madam Chong, a freelance enrichment teacher, who is also an active dragon boater.
She signed up for the camp on her own. "Even though I have three boys who have been to NS, they did not tell me much about what they do in camp," she said.
Her favourite activity: firing the SAR 21 rifle. "It's heavy, and in order to shoot your enemy, your accuracy, judgement and focus all need to be there," she said.
For two days, the women got a glimpse of what NS life is like. They were taught how to evacuate injured platoon mates and how to manoeuvre the standard obstacle course, and went on a short route march. They also ate and slept like a recruit - having meals at the cookhouse and spending the night in military bunks.
The first day began at 10am and ended only at 11pm. The next day started early at 6am.
The youngest participant was 13 years old and the oldest was 64. The average age was 29.
Some signed up with friends and family members, although a few came alone.
Athi Ramesh Athirah, 13, was encouraged by her father, who is a member of the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps, to join the camp.
"He asked if I was interested because I had already told him I didn't want a desk job and wanted to be a regular," said the Secondary 1 student from Raffles Girls School.
Ms Joanna Portilla, chairman of Ang Mo Kio Women's Executive Committee, said the committee hopes to organise similar events in the future. Due to the overwhelming response for the camp, the organiser had to hold a ballot.
"Women form the backbone of support especially when their husbands, sons or brothers go for in-camp training or are being enlisted," she said.
Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman, who is co-chairman of Accord, joined in a dialogue with the participants.
"I'm happy that many of you come from different walks of life, different vocations, different professions and what bonds us together is this strong desire to know more of what we can do to support NS," he told them.
Some said they booked out of the camp on Sunday with a better appreciation of the demands of NS.
Balloon sculptor and event organiser Brenda Eng joined the camp with her mother, sister and aunt. The 31-year-old said: "We come from a female-dominated family. So now if my cousin brings home a boyfriend who is in the army... I'll tell my cousin if he needs to go back and serve, please go back and serve.
She added: "Don't tell him to join our family gatherings because he might be super tired."