Ah, national service.
If I had to choose one word to describe the day I enlisted, it might be “surreal”.
I knew that my turn in green would come one day, but it always felt far away when I was growing up and having fun.
It remained so until my 18-year-old self found myself boarding a bus at Pasir Ris bus interchange along with other bald-headed recruits-to-be.
I distinctly remember boarding the ferry and setting foot on the famous (or should I say infamous) Pulau Tekong for the first time, with a sense of trepidation as I enlisted for Basic Military Training (BMT).
Despite the foreboding signs which were everywhere, or the sight of seasoned recruits marching about, I had no idea what I was in for.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to find out that recruits-to-be now get to have a glimpse at some of the training that a full-time national serviceman undergoes via PIONEER's new-ish series “CAMOKAKIS: Whole Lot Fall In”.
The series, which recently launched on Mediacorp’s Channel 5, features celebrities trying their hand at various challenges from the army, navy and air force.
As a now-seasoned NS man who is well acquainted with the nitty-gritty of national service, I checked out the first episode of the series, both to relive the old days and to give an honest review of how the celebrities fared.
The ferry terminal
In the first episode, hosts Paul Foster and Laanya Ezra are joined by Munah Bagharib, Tyen Rasif, Tiong Jia En as well as Joshua Tan of “Ah Boys to Men” fame.
The celebs met up at the SAF Ferry Terminal, the place where recruits go to board their Tekong-bound ferries.
Bagharib and Rasif arrived to meet a reminiscing Foster with much exuberance and joy.
Bagharib was super excited to board the ferry, hopping and cheering her way on board against a backdrop of soldiers kitted out in their military gear.
The group carried their excitement even as they set foot on Tekong’s jetty, with one of them describing the island as “quite pretty”.
Based on my experience, arriving at the SAF Ferry Terminal is, for most recruits, a somber affair.
Before you chastise me for hating happiness, I just want to say that I get the excitement.
It really does feel like going on an exciting trip to the mysterious Tekong island, especially if you are not a recruit.
I remember when I sent my older brother off for his BMT training, I was excited to go check out the island too.
To an NSF, the excitement would understandably be a little far from reality.
After spending a short-lived weekend catching up with friends and loved ones, you are now heading back for a week of routine training on Tekong.
Once you set foot on the island, you’d have to quickly fall in before marching back to your company line.
The way Ezra described it was probably more true to reality.
The place felt “rigid”, “disciplined” and “intimidating”, Ezra said, leaving you wondering what you are in for.
Love or hate NS, there probably wouldn’t be as much laughter or joy in a recruit’s weekly journey to Tekong, at least from what I remember.
Learning to handle and firing a rifle
The first challenge the celebs were put through was to learn and fire a SAR-21 (Singapore Assault Rifle 21st century), as the trainer explained in the episode.
Before they could fire the rifle at the range, they first had to pass a technical handling test.
I vaguely recall having had the chance to familiarise myself with handling the SAR-21 under the guidance of my sergeants a few times before undergoing the technical handling test.
There were many steps to remember and weapon parts that we could not lose, which made the test nerve-inducing.
It was even more stressful knowing that the rifle is not a NERF gun, but an actual, fully functional weapon.
As a recruit, there were also many opportunities to turn certain practices, like not having the finger on the trigger of the rifle, into a habit.
According to Rasif, they only had a day to “cram” all the steps and areas of the technical handling in a day.
It was not a walk in the park and Tiong’s reaction proves it:
For the celebs to take on the test as their very first task was indeed super commendable, especially for the first-timers.
At the live-firing, it was Team Paul, consisting of Foster, Bagharib and Teo versus Team Laanya, made up of Ezra, Tan and Rasif.
Live-firing was probably the most exciting yet nerve-racking experience of BMT for me.
I had played a lot of first-person shooter games growing up, and so the chance to fire a rifle made me feel like I was Captain Soap MacTavish from “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II”.
Except, live-firing was anything but a game, and it was live rounds we were dealing with.
The thought of it was enough to make my hands shake.
Bagharib was the most badass of all the celebs to be honest, hitting a whopping 15 out of 16 targets during the day live firing.
She doubled-down on her solid performance in the evening, hitting another 13 out of 16 targets under night conditions.
Across the board, all the celebs passed.
Watching them steel their nerves to conquer the simulator and live-firing was inspiring, considering they only got to Tekong not too long ago.
You think this one make-up is it?!
The funniest moment of the episode was watching the celebs put on camouflage face paint (or as is called in NS, “camo-on”).
I chuckled watching the ladies on the show tap on their extensive make-up experience.
Rasif’s method, which she described as “putting on sun-block”, took the cake:
I remember when we were first taught how to apply the paint in BMT, we were told to do so quickly and precisely, with no part of the skin left exposed.
So often the instructors would be shouting and someone would be counting down the time we had left to “camo-on”.
It would not be BMT if there were no witty comments made, and “you think this one make-up is it?” was one of them during the timed “camo-on” exercises.
So, to watch the celebs have fun with the camo face paint was undoubtedly hilarious.
All in all, I’d give their face painting a “pass”, except Foster’s during “close-quarter battle” training.
The lack of face paint around his eye sockets probably would have invited some witty comments:
At the end, the celebs were paired up for a one-on-one showdown between Team Paul and Team Laanya in a race along the “battle inoculation course”.
The course was meant as a final challenge for recruits (and the celebs), putting to the test all the essential skills that were picked up during BMT, such as close-quarter battle skills and leopard crawling.
Foster and Tan had a demonstrable advantage over their opponents, having been through NS before (for Tan, multiple times because of the “Ah Boys” movie series).
During the challenge, they egged on their course mates with enthusiasm.
Though honestly, for Foster, there was a little too much enthusiasm.
At one point, Tan also helped Tiong with her drills, causing them to break out in laughter after Tiong realised her error:
The course looks straightforward, but with a back full of gear, it can be very physically tiring.
Rasif and Bagharib made it look easy though:
Whatever it is, kudos to the celebs for making it through.
Overall, I think the celebs did well.
While recruits have around nine weeks in total to pick up weapon handling, field craft and other skills before rounding all that off with the “battle inoculation course”, the celebs managed to do it in less time than that.
It was also fun to hear some of their takes on some parts of the BMT training, especially on camouflage face paint.
However, it was a pity that they did not go through field camp – one of the key training experiences of BMT where recruits spend a few days and nights outfield.
It would have been interesting to see what the celebs thought of it.
BMT is not the only challenge the celebs take on in “CAMOKAKIS: Whole Lot Fall In”.
Throughout the 13-episode series, Foster, Ezra and their guests take on different challenges from various national service vocations.
In episode 10, the celebs help to keep our skies safe by joining the engineers at the air force to learn the nuts and bolts of maintaining an F-15 fighter jet.
In episode 11, they test their mettle and join the training of the navy’s elite Naval Diving Unit where they tackle challenges like underwater knot tying.
To see how they fared, you can watch the series on Channel 5 on Wednesdays at 8pm, or catch them on meWATCH.
Top image via meWATCH
This sponsored article made the writer relive the highs and lows of his national service years.