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Photo: Fitri Mahad

Life Lessons From My NS Stint In The Singapore Police Force

When the average person thinks of National Service (NS), the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) come to mind. This is no doubt due to the “Ah Boys to Men” / “Ah Girls Go Army” franchise that has made its mark as a household name. Come to think of it, there seems to be less entertainment featuring the Singapore Police Force (SPF) or Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), save for some local dramas.

Like most men boys, I started on the island of Tekong. Thinking I was just an average person who would be posted to one of the camps on the mainland, I underwent Basic Military Training (BMT) in the midst of COVID-19. It was the typical recoot journey, that is, until I received my posting order during my block leave: I was posted to the SPF.


Life lesson #1: Adapting to change

Having experienced certain aspects of army training during my National Cadet Corps days, I had a small head start. The extra knowledge paid off well during BMT. I was familiar, if not proficient, in some of the basics. Aside from experiencing homesickness while on Tekong, everything else was pretty smooth sailing.

I did not have that advantage in the SPF’s Officer Cadet Course. While its commands and regimen are not entirely different, the change still proved challenging. Having swapped green for blue, it took me longer to adapt than I’d like to admit.

On top of the rigorous physical training, we had to learn about the law. This helped me to develop my mental strength as well.


Life lesson #2: Overcoming personal fears

If there is one thing that I feared the most as a kid, it was swimming. I hated deep water. I did everything in my power to avoid swimming, for fear of drowning.

That all changed when we had swimming lessons (with COVID-19 safe management measures in place). The swimming classes were designed for two distinct groups: those who had no prior experience and those who did (spoiler alert: I was in the former).

I got through the classes just fine. It was the final assessment that seemed a nightmare: we had to swim from one end of the swimming pool to the other – over the deep end. Whenever I looked down to the deep water below, it incited panic within me, and I would abandon all control of my swimming form.

Several of my squad-mates and I were given extra classes to overcome this fear. We were told to swim down into the deep and surface, and to get used to floating in the deep water.

While my fear of drowning was very real, the coaches and instructors standing by assured us that it was safe (and it was).

What ensued was an epic training montage of me beating Aquaman in an underwater race. Just kidding. Instead, I got desensitised to the “deep” and gained control of my fear of the deep water.

During the final assessment, I still had to look down and into the deep end but I focused on my technique. My trick was to trust in the swimming technique and that it will always keep me afloat as long as I commit to it. (I am no expert swimmer – this is just a personal lesson I learnt!)

Sure enough, I calmed down, allowed the fear to settle and finished the course.

I suppose that when we are faced with certain challenges, we may give in to fear. The lesson – “keep calm and be rational” – is by no means an easy one to execute.

Life lesson #3: Appreciating our frontliners

During my second year of NS, I did a two-week attachment at a Neighbourhood Police Centre. This saw me tagging along with SPF regular officers and assisting them either in the station or when responding to cases on the ground.

To give credit where it’s due, our officers are extremely professional at their job. The ones I tagged along with handled disputes proficiently but also had an empathetic side and listened attentively to those in emotional distress.

What I respected the most about our officers was how they were able to handle one call and move on to the next, while constantly keeping up their A game throughout the shift.

It’s easy for anyone to be a backseat driver and make comments about how Police officers should act. It is just as easy to overlook their commitment to maintaining a high level of professionalism every day.

I can’t imagine what it was like for these officers during the peak of COVID-19.

This article is for the ones on the ground, those who wake up in the wee hours of the day and ceaselessly patrol the darkest hours of the night. This one is for the frontliners.

While my experiences are uniquely mine, the lessons are not.

If you are about to enter NS or are currently serving, I hope there are some things you can take away from it, regardless of your vocation.

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