SINGAPORE - Before his Basic Military Training started, Third Sergeant (3SG) Mohamed Akif Mohamed Salim had a plan for national service: To coast through his two years as a regular soldier.
But he decided against it after meeting his sergeants.
"Seeing how they work and how close they are to one another... I decided I wanted to have that," said the 21-year-old.
3SG Akif joined the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) as an air defence systems specialist in September last year, operating radar systems used to detect aircraft.
"If I had (stuck to my original plan), NS would seem longer than two years. I wanted to try to get enjoyment from it," he said.
On Friday (Feb 23), the newly minted 3SG was awarded one of 24 coveted Golden Bayonets at the 34th Specialist Cadet Graduation Parade.
The Golden Bayonet is awarded to top specialist cadet graduands from each vocation.
A total of 1,128 cadets graduated on Friday as specialists of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Of the cadets, 1,023 were from the Singapore Army, 70 from the Republic of Singapore Navy and 35 from the RSAF.
The ceremony, held at Pasir Laba Camp and reviewed by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, Dr Koh Poh Koon, marked the end of the 22-week Specialist Cadet Course.
The course trains cadets to develop leadership and combat skills.
Upon graduation, specialists may be posted to units where they head six men.
Said Dr Koh in his speech: "(The) spirit of constant adaptation and improvement is critical as new threats continue to confront us. The current security situation in the world remains tense…
"If ever called into action, it is essential that you discharge your duties with the professionalism and discipline that your training has taught you. Your leadership is pivotal in such times of crisis."
3SG Ong Jia Hui had a slightly different push factor - it was her brother, who was a combat engineer in the explosive ordnance demolitions unit, who convinced her to sign on with the army.
"(Because of the army), he's not only been more mature but also a more responsible man," said the 21-year-old.
As the only woman in the armour infantry unit, 3SG Ong found it hard to deal with the physical strain.
"Most of the guys could handle the heavy arms easily while I struggled with cocking the weapons, which weighed about 30kg," she said.
She also failed the standard obstacle course many times due to a lack of arm strength.
But with extra training from her Specialist Cadet School (SCS) commander, coupled with her own sheer willpower, she finally cleared it.
"SCS has shown me that I can actually do what I think I can't do. It has also trained my mental and physical toughness to take on challenges and overcome them."