Safe distancing measures implemented at BMTC, guests not invited on enlistment day

Enlistees taking the oath of allegiance at the Basic Military Training Centre on April 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Instead of watching their newly enlisted sons take the oath of allegiance in person on Pulau Tekong, parents will have to watch this rite of passage on video.

Guests are now not invited to the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) to tour camp facilities during enlistment as the Singapore Armed Forces ramps up its safe distancing measures to combat the coronavirus.

Those enlisted into the SAF for their national service on Wednesday (April 1) experienced a different direct enlistment process as their parents had to drop them off at Selarang Camp.

Introduced in 1997, direct enlistment allowed parents to visit the camps when their sons were enlisted.

About 1,400 people are being enlisted between Tuesday and Thursday and all will have to adhere to stricter safe distancing measures during their basic military training.

For instance, they will move from place to place in a section - comprising a maximum of 16 people - instead of in a platoon, which has up to 64 recruits.

Physical training such as runs will also be done in sections, as will the SAR-21 rifle technical handling training and weapon presentation ceremonies.

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) on Tuesday (March 31) announced that the SAF will enhance its safe distancing measures, which include training in smaller groups, and deferring all in-camp training that are not essential for operations such as refresher sessions. This will last until April 30 and may be extended.

It added that activities critical for building up operational units will continue with the enhanced measures, such as direct enlistment exercises.

Enlistees sitting on alternate seats as part of safe distancing measures during lunch in the cookhouse at the Basic Military Training Centre in Pulau Tekong on April 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Lieutenant-Colonel Dennis Oh, commanding officer of Basic Military Training Centre School 1, told reporters on Wednesday that training rigour and intensity will not be compromised.

"There will be some inconvenience, but as we're a national institution, my ground commanders lead by example and we endeavour to continue to ensure a meaningful and memorable experience for all the recruits that come to BMTC."

At Selarang Camp, enlistees were asked by BMTC commanders to maintain a 1m distance apart as they streamed in to board the bus to the SAF Ferry Terminal.

Buses and ferries take on board half the usual maximum capacity as part of the new measures. For instance, a ferry from SAF Ferry Terminal to Pulau Tekong now takes 100 instead of 200 people.

Reporters observed the enlistees take the oath of allegiance in small groups of about 40 in an auditorium at BMTC, compared with between 100 and 150 usually. Enlistees stood two seats away from one another, and every alternate row was empty.

Enlistees wash their hands while practicing safe distancing before lunch in the cookhouse at the Basic Military Training Centre in Pulau Tekong on April 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Videos taken of the process will be given to the enlistees, which they can then forward to their parents.

Safe distancing was also observed at the cookhouse, where enlistees were seen queuing and having their meals at least a metre apart.

Freelance artist Jennifar Sy, 56, who dropped off her 19-year-old son at Selarang Camp on Wednesday (April 1), said she knew that she would not be allowed on Pulau Tekong as she had been informed in earlier updates that the number of guests would be reduced.

"We understand the situation, so it was okay. We just told him to take care and message us when he has the chance," she said.

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