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Here's what I've been reflecting on now that i'm nearing the end of my reservist journey IMAGE: PIONEER

7 Cycles In: What I Would Tell My 20-Year-Old NSF Self, Now That I'm A 30-Year-Old NSman

Ah, the fleeting nature of youth. It only feels like yesterday when I was an impressionable young man, bursting with energy and chasing dreams like there was no tomorrow. In a blink of an eye, I’ve hit 30 and just finished my 7th army reservist cycle.

After the mandatory two years of full-time National Service, Singaporean men join the ranks of Operationally Ready National Servicemen. They form the bedrock of our country’s conscript army. I covered a lot of ground discussing my experiences during the halfway mark of my reservist journey, but now that I'm inching closer towards my ROD (Run Out Date), it’s a good time to take stock and look back. If had a chance to sit my 20-year-old self down and shoot the breeze with him, here are some nuggets of wisdom I would share about National Service.

Nothing prepares you for #adulting like the army

NS teaches you mental resilience like no other, sharpening not just your mind but emotions as well. How else would I have soldiered on through the tough training and remained steady in the face of adversity? This is such a crucial skill set especially when you’re navigating through life's challenges.

As a commander, I was also placed in a leadership role, learning how to motivate and manage people in the most trying situations. And let me tell you, those skills come in handy whether you're trying to climb the corporate world or just trying to keep your household in order. Going back for my ICT (In-Camp Training) every year just reaffirms those beliefs.

We get to do some pretty cool things in the SAF

Let’s be honest here - where else in your civilian life will you get the chance to learn and operate different weapons, ride tanks, and even fly in a Chinook helicopter? It's like stepping into a real-life action movie. No amount of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare can replicate the experience.

It was definitely a surreal moment when I held my SAR-21 rifle for the first time as a youngster. Even with the different vocations people get assigned to, it’s like a refreshing change of pace from my daily office environment, a chance to step outside my comfort zones and embrace the army routine.

I definitely have a greater appreciation for sleeping outfield, storming through conwired-wrapped buildings or opening the hatch of my Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV). Now if only those ICV seats could be a little less cramped.

Army friendships and camaraderie last a lifetime 

Going through hard training with your fellow soldiers creates an incomparable bond. 

Perhaps the closest thing you can compare to is if you were an athlete sharing a locker room with teammates. Especially when your normal life revolves around work and family, you might not have time set aside to catch up with your bros.

But everytime time when I reunite with my fellow commanders, it feels like a homecoming. It’s heartening to see my friends evolve to become fathers or career high-flyers, knowing where we came from.

Getting paid to train and keep fit is a blessing, not a chore 

Yes, waking up at 5.30am to do 5BX (Army Basic Exercises), which have since been replaced by the PX (Prehabilitation Exercises), was a slog.

I used to dread army training and the countless IPPT tests during my 2 years of NS, but little did I know I was becoming the fittest version of myself.

What would I give to have that freedom as a busy working professional? Imagine getting paid to train and keep fit. I sure took that for granted.

These days, I’ll have to make time to exercise or pay a monthly gym membership to gain access to the type of equipment I need. 

That is on top of the long working hours and #adulting responsibilities that all of us contend with. By the time I'm home I'm just dead tired, so motivating myself to exercise takes a lot of resilience… which I wouldn’t have without the SAF.

Fighting for your country hits different when you have someone to fight for

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from my reservist journey at this stage of my life is truly understanding and appreciating the "why" of serving NS.

Granted, I can’t compare myself to a number of my comrades who are either married or fathers. They’re the ones making the yearly sacrifice and taking time away to fulfill their duties. 

But as I move on to the next stage of adulthood and settle down in the future, the importance of having a safe and secure country for my future kids to grow up weighs heavily on my mind.

Seeing the wars in Ukraine and the instability of the Middle East, my heart goes out to those people who are trying to raise a family in such challenging situations. Hence, why our peace can never be taken for granted.

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