6 things you should really know about Naval Divers & this thing called 'Hell Week'

Here are some things <em>The Straits Times</em> didn't manage to put down in words.

Belmont Lay | July 28, 2014, 05:01 AM

The Straits Times on July 26, 2014, ran a super in-depth report and produced two exposé videos (here and here) on the once publicity-shy Naval Divers of Singapore.

Not only did they talk about the type of training that naval divers go through, they directed the spotlight on the fabled Hell Week -- which is officially called "Team Building Week" to sound more palatable -- something that has never been done before.

Overnight, the Naval Diving Unit and its 40th batch of trainees suddenly became quite the media sensation.

Regardless, to add on to this eye-opening media coverage without violating the Official Secrets Act, here are 6 things I can tell you about Naval Divers and this highly-publicised thing called Hell Week, having previously graduated as the 22nd batch of combat divers:

1. Trainees drop out for all kinds of reasons because most aren't superhuman

In the ST report and in one of the videos, there was this claim that is supposed to emphasise just how tough the diver course is with its 75 to 80 percent dropout rate:

As garang as this claim or fact sounds, the truth is that trainees drop out for all kinds of reasons other than because the training is too physically demanding.

For example, some will fail the selection at the earliest stage because they lack psycho-motor skills, such as being useless at coordinating left hand and right leg movements.

Then there was this case where one trainee had to drop out during Basic Military Training because he dislocated his shoulder while PUTTING ON HIS FIELD PACK.

That's the equivalent of sneezing and spraining your back.

Then there's this other guy who kept getting a fever for no apparent reason. And he wasn't even eating his toothpaste to induce it.

As funny as these instances are, they are not meant to belittle the diver trainees who failed. This just shows that everyone who made it through the first phase of selection is more human than you and I think.

Divers, most of the NSFs (Full-time National Servicemen) anyways, are just normal people who are made to confront and do very abnormal things.

2. The verbal heckling was legendary

Although the ST report and videos are rooted in fact, that doesn't mean they are not sanitised.

If you listen very carefully to the videos, you don't even hear any cussing.

That's not very accurate and reflective of NS life in general, let alone naval diver training.

I am not sure about now, perhaps times have changed, but during my time about 10 years ago, the naval diver instructors go to extraordinary lengths to tell everybody how f&@ked up we were.

As you can watch from the video showing the breakout scene of Hell Week:

These are usually the times when everyone is most psyched up and intense and the instructors will be getting into everybody's faces yelling stock phrases, such as: "All of you are pussies!"

But strangely, the heckling really added to the belief that divers are a special breed of men.

3. The aftermath of Hell Week is the real hell

One major aspect of Hell Week that is absolutely not glorious at all and which ST did not mention: The aftermath is a painful process too.

After going through one week of this:

And this:

And this:

The road to recovery is unforgettable.

Five days of sleep deprivation does wonders to your body. Over the next few days of recovery, you will automatically find yourself falling asleep anytime and at any place once you stay still.

Bathing hurts the most due to the number of abrasions all over the body.

Trainees will suffer from foot rot, water retention in their legs, banged up knees, severe abrasion in their inner thigh area, shoulders, under the arms, nipples, top of their heads and even have severe bouts of diarrhoea -- to expel all the unwanted fluids that have seeped into their system.

One common injury Hell Weekers face is feeling one or both sides of their hips weakened. This is most likely due to constantly lifting up and putting down the boat and using the hip to support the weight.

Feet are typically known to swell two sizes. Mine went from a size 8.5 to 11. And a bunch of toenails fall off.

4. The smell during Hell Week is unforgettable

If only you could smell what Hell Week is like besides reading, watching and hearing about it. It is a sensory overload experience.

Why? Because there is piss everywhere.

Trainees are soaked to the bone during most of the five days of Hell Week.

This means they are cold. And when they are cold, they will want to piss.

And when they are sleep-deprived and feel like they need to unload their bladders, well, they will.

Boots are urine-soaked and occasionally filled with mud.

And the worst thing to happen is when someone has diarrhoea. Which happens. That means there is probably shit lingering somewhere.

Like in the boat full of iced water, for example.

5. Chow time on the fourth night of Hell Week is an emotional affair

Having spent the four days and nights awake and having their bodies take the beating of their lives, the last supper before the morning where Hell Week is supposed to end is an emotional affair.

Usually, by this time, there is a lot of crying in the cookhouse. Grown men who can take a lot in life are reduced to just staring at their congee and weeping.

Quite a sight.

But it's hilarious when you watch it on video again.


6. Most naval divers, if not all, hate the idea of Jack Neo's naval diver movie


There is no way he can make a movie to encapsulate the pain and suffering that divers undergo and yet not make it look farcical utilising the Ah Boys To Men cast.

No, just no.