The beginning of the end is nigh.
Ah, yes. You’ve dreaded this day for at least the past eighteen years and you know your life is about to change forever. You know of everything there is to know – you’ve heard stories from your brother, your father, your uncle, and your father’s friend’s uncle’s son at new year reunions.
Your friends have given you detailed accounts that have both bored and horrified you in equal measure. And you’ve done a fair bit of research, looking up forums and surfing the web late at night, all to validate your feelings of trepidation of entering the island where (almost) no women tread.
Among all that you’ve heard, there’s one phrase that sticks: BMT sucks.
We know what it’s like – we’ve been there – and we thought you’d appreciate some (more) tips to top off what you already know.
Recruits being briefed on their in-processing matters.
1. Don’t bring anything you don’t want to bring out.
Abandon your plans of sneaking in your mini-fridge (seriously). On your last day, you will bring out whatever you’ve brought in, so it’s a good idea to plan this from the get-go.
On top of what you already have, you’ll be issued an additional 15 kilograms worth of uniforms, equipment, and peripherals that you wish you didn’t have to bring up and down the stairs. Pack light – you just need to last till your next book-out.
Do not bring in luggage. Yes, your mother told you to, but your mother was never in Tekong. The first items you can bring out are the bags you carried your necessities in. Some companies insist that you do not step off the island with anything that’s visibly non-SAF, so you’ll have to keep them in your SAF-issued Assault Packs, which incidentally, are just big enough for your lugg- Oh, wait…
2. Bring hangers.
Bring 5 – 10. Don’t be the buffoon that brings in thick, branded, IKEA-or-otherwise hangers – cheap wire hangers will do. Remember; your uniform – like you – is built to survive war. Their shoulders will not go out of shape.
You will need the hangers to hang up your uniform (duh) and to dry them after washing. On a deserted island where 16 poor chaps share one room and four bamboo poles, space is as precious as prime real estate, and almost as hard to get as a BTO outside of Punggol*.
*BTOs are Built-To-Order flats built by the Singapore government to help cater to the needs of newly-wed couples. Most BTOs are built in developing estates, such Punggol.
3. Bring rags.
Strangely enough, for a place that literally screams at people for not keeping the place clean enough, they don’t issue any rags. Bring 2 or 3.
Newspapers are also a good bonus for cleaning windows. One day’s worth will do.
Apache Company demonstrating a Close Combat Training lesson.
“You’ll get to scream too. Just into the air…”
4. Bring coins.
You will miss coke. Or whatever your poison is. At some point, you’ll get to use the vending machines on the island, and you will be thankful when you hear the ching-ling in your pockets. Bring about ten dollars’ worth of coins.
Bonus tip: If it’s your first time booking in, bring a little more coins. While the food on the island is passable, it isn’t anything special, and the lack of options will make even the grimiest of junk food seem like a distant pipe dream. That crispy McChicken you passed up a couple weeks ago? You’ll laugh at your foolishness now.
You will crave McDonalds with the intensity of an insatiable pregnant lady who wants her Häagen-Dazs, witlof salad, and gula melaka at 3.04am, and your will feel the pain in her husband’s eyes as she demands yet… another… box… of… nuggets.
The nearest McDonalds from the book-out point are at White Sands, Pasir Ris Sports Centre, and Downtown East. You’re welcome.
5. Bring underwear.
More is more. Don’t risk it.
And bring briefs, not boxers. If you don’t already know how short the standard-issue PT shorts are, now you do. Unless you lust for the attention of roughly 200 men over your sinewy, soldier-fit thighs, get back in your tighty-whities. There’s really no shame when everyone’s being made to do it with you.
6. Bring your own personal toiletries.
Distinguished guests that set foot into the world-class resort that is Tekong can expect their personal care needs to be well taken care of. Each recruit will receive no less than their own pre-packed soap, shaver, and toothbrush. Slowly, you will be eased into thinking that the island does indeed provide, until you realise that what’s really given is: a bar of soap (yuck), a gnarly disposable shaver, and a really small toothbrush.
Having your personal toiletries will go a long way in making sure you’re comfortable, and will help during cabinet inspections. Leave the unused set for your locker displays – you have your own, actually-usable ones for your creature comforts.
Oh, and don’t forget a nail clipper. Trimmed nails are a part of soldierly upkeep.
Bonus tip: Bring a small bathroom storage holder for all your toiletries. One platoon (that’s up to 64 people) shares a toilet! Don’t be that guy that fumbles for his soap and ends up being the last to shower.
“Remember; the more goes into you during outfield, the more comes out.”
7. Bring your own toilet paper.
Toilet paper gets its own section because – surprise – toilets there do not come equipped with their own toilet paper.
Which turns out to be a blessing, if you’re the assigned toilet cleaner. Chances are, you’ll want to just run the hose over the floors and walls, and you’ll be thankful that there aren’t any rolls of TP to leave sticky marks all over.
You will be given two rolls to begin with, but don’t be afraid to bring more if you think you’ll need it – you know yourself best. Always have one in your bag. You never want to be caught without any.
On the off-chance that absolutely nobody has any left at all, pop by the storeman’s office. Not only will you be literally saving your own ass, you’ll be seen as a hero by your friends who collectively forgot to bring their own toilet paper.
8. Bring a permanent marker.
And label every single thing you own.
Heck, even label the marker if you can. Every recruit is a clone of one another, down to where their Ziploc bags are purchased. Keep what little is left of your identity by distinguishing your items from others – you’ll stop losing your stuff and you won’t end up in someone else’s pants.
“That grenade’s a dud, but the fear is real. Very real.”
9. Be prepared to throw a grenade.
While not during the first few weeks, every recruit that is deemed fit for combat will eventually throw a grenade. This can be terrific or terrible news, depending on how excited you are whenever a new John Wick movie is announced.
Before actually throwing the grenade, you will be made to run up and down a steep hill. Your steps will be no less careful than a first-time tightrope walker who realises that safety nets are really just for show. Should you survive, you will come out a stronger man, knowing the importance of a good grip.
Some sergeants also think it is funny to have some real talk with you during life-and-death situations. Overheard from an actual conversation when a recruit is holding an actual grenade in his hand:
Sergeant: Are you scared?
Recruit: No, Sergeant!
Sergeant: Okay then. Why wasn’t your bunk fully cleaned?
“What’s the difference between a recruit and his rifle? One has a crosshair, the other has his hair crossed…”
10. Expect 2 – 3 hours of doing absolutely nothing every time the company is sent for a haircut.
Let’s say a company houses 200 recruits. 4 barbers will greet the recruits, all ready and eager to shave off any semblance of dignity they are left to carry on their forehead. Each barber will go through 50 heads. Assuming each head takes 3 minutes to shave, how long does it take for the recruits to remember that Tekong is only the first part of their life in the army?
If you’ve done the math, the answer is 150 minutes, or a good 2 and a half hours. Of course, sometimes there might be more or less recruits, or barbers.
Hope you brought a book.
11. Your hair isn’t short enough unless the sergeant says so.
The plan is simple: you get a nice, precise trim from your trusted family hairstylist, and book in sporting an abundant 2 cm of hair on your now-flourishing mane. Much to the envy of all your platoon mates, you’ve already gotten a neat shave outside (that doesn’t itch) and you get to skip the next scheduled haircut… or so you thought.
That is, until you realise your little speck of hair sticks out like a sore thumb when everyone else literally has none. Off you go to the island’s barber anyway. Seriously, abandon all hope of having even a trace of hair while you’re stranded on the island.
On the bright side, there are only 2 weekends a week where you get to roam the streets of Singapore cowering under a trucker hat – which actually makes people all the more curious to see what’s under.
12. Plan your haircuts.
Haircuts on the island are a sweaty and itchy affair. You will rush to the shower right after. If you’re open to forking out a little cash outside, go to the barber and ask for a clean shave. Or better yet, do it yourself – there really isn’t much that can go wrong anyway.
Else, aim to either be the first, or the last. If you’re the last, retire to your bunk and ask someone to come wake you up when they’re done – just return the favour the next time.
“Thanks to the SAF, recruits can now march happily and heartily, till their feet ache like crap the next day.”
13. Use your E-Mart credits.
Your 11B (Army Identity Card) is loaded with E-Mart credits that can be spent at any SAF-approved E-Mart. Yes, that means you can get SAF-issued items for free.
- Ziploc bags. You can never have too many. Even if you do, use them at home or anywhere else, really. These are specifically made to waterproof equipment during outfield exercises, so you can be assured of their thickness and quality.
- An extra shirt and a pair of shorts. Having an extra set means you get to skip a day of washing.
- Anything else you need for standardisation. That includes your garters, towels, etc. In fact, get an extra towel. In camp, showers quickly move on from routine to hobby, and you’ll be glad to have an extra towel. They’re thick, dry pretty quick, and are as comfortable as any you’ll find in a decent hotel – even if they’re in the worst shade of green.
- Be too quick to buy any part of your combat uniform, and that includes boots. They don’t come cheap and you might find yourself not needing them after leaving Tekong, especially if you’re sent to a unit that uses a different uniform such as the Air Force or the Navy. Even some Army units use different boot types.
- Go overboard – your credits only get topped up once during the midway point of your NS. Buy just enough to tide you through your time on the island. You never know what else you’ll need down the road.
14. Make friends with neighbouring companies.
All companies in Tekong are housed next to at least one other company. Some companies also take turns to go for high-key events such as live firings and route marches. Talk to them to find out what it’s like. What you’ve heard online or from your father might have been true, but their information might be outdated – nothing beats the account of someone who literally did it just before you.
15. Be nice to your buddy.
Everyone is assigned a buddy from day one, until the end of their time on the island. Whether you like it or not, you’ll see a lot of him. Remember how in the army, no man walks alone? Yes, buddies accompany each other even to the toilet. Many tasks in the army are designed to require teamwork, and you will have to count on him to get you through.
Be thoughtful of him. Does he usually forget his pen? Bring an extra just for him. Does he sleep through his alarms frequently? Be a brother and wake him up. One day, when you’re down and out, you might find him giving up a chunk of ice cream* just for you.
*Ice cream, even of the cheapest variety, is a highly coveted commodity in Tekong and only appears on certain days of the week. Depending on circumstances, it is not uncommon for recruits to go through weeks without seeing any.
“That day will come soon. Just not soon enough.”
It seems like you’ve made it to the end of this rant guide. Like it or not, your time in Tekong will be long, seemingly pointless, but (hopefully) entertaining.
No matter what anyone says, there’s nothing to prevent you from going through swathes of dirt, forest trails, food that’s engineered to be meh enough for you to not complain about it, cheesy motivational phrases such as “tough times don’t last, tough men do”, and mind-boggling modern army philosophy like “you think, I thought, who confirm?”
But if anything, know that while every individual’s experience is different, most come out a better person. You will meet many people; many with styles you may or may not be used to. You will come out having many more stories to tell, and much more wisdom to tap on.
Enlistment is a big milestone for any Singaporean son, and getting ready to leave behind your civilian life is no easy feat. There’s still time for you to check off your lists and make preparations before going in, so don’t worry. Take your time.
Take your time.
Photo cover from Ministry of Defence, Singapore (MINDEF).