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Featured In The Force

Lifesavers flying the flag at the Hanoi SEA Games

Two Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) NSFs who are also national athletes share how they achieved sporting glory.

TEXT AND PHOTOS: SCDF

Say hello to Corporal (NSF) Noah Lim Tian Run and Lance Corporal (NSF) Muhammad Syakir Bin Jeffry, two SCDF Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) who recently participated in the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Hanoi, Vietnam.

CPL Noah, an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) from Alexandra Fire Station, clinched the gold medal in Jiu-Jitsu, while LCP Muhammad Syakir, a firefighter from Tuas Fire Station, brought home the joint-bronze medal in Pencak Silat for Team Singapore. They share their experiences balancing life serving National Service (NS) with being national athletes.

TRAINING SMARTER, FIGHTING HARDER

CPL (NSF) Noah (left) competing against his opponent from the Philippines.

What is Jiu Jitsu? What is its main objective?

CPL Noah: A Jiu-Jitsu match is fought between two opponents and the main objective of the martial art is to make your opponent tap out using submission holds such as arm locks, leg locks and chokes. There are various types of submission locks in Jiu-Jitsu. Every submission lock must be precisely carried so your opponent does not have a chance to escape. Jiu Jitsu is not an easy martial art to master.

How long have you been practicing Jiu Jitsu and what attracted you to this martial art?

CPL Noah: I have been practicing Jiu-Jitsu for about six years. Prior to this, I was a competitive swimmer. My elder brother was already learning Jiu-Jitsu then and he would practice his submission moves on me at home [laughs].

I became fascinated by the different types of submission moves that one could master in Jiu-Jitsu. That was how I got into the martial art and dedicated myself to it.

How do you feel having won the gold medal for Singapore?

CPL Noah: I did not expect to do well in this sport, as I was up against several strong opponents in the competition. Moreover, I was unable to train as often as before after my National Service (NS) enlistment. My brother, who was more experienced than me in Jiu-Jitsu, competed in the same category and clinched a bronze medal. Knowing this and the challenges involved, I placed a lot of pressure on myself to make Singapore proud.

Were there any challenges faced during the competition?

CPL Noah: Yes, definitely! My opponents were all very strong. During my first match, I used a technique which I was confident would work against my opponent. However, he was the same size as me and physically stronger. I managed to wear him out later in the match and emerged victorious.

What is your training regime like for Jiu Jitsu after you enlisted to serve NS?

CPL Noah: Before I enlisted for NS, I would usually train three times a day for about two hours each session. I currently train during my days off. As an athlete, the key to doing well in your sport is consistency and self-discipline. This may sound simple, but with all the distractions around us, one can find it hard to stay focused. This is when we must fall back on the reason we got into the sport and what we want to achieve at the end of the day.

In what way does your involvement in Jiu Jitsu positively impact the work you are doing in SCDF as a NSF?

CPL Noah: Jiu-Jitsu helps me stay calm under pressure. This helps me strategise my moves to overcome my opponent. Likewise, in my work as an EMT, I have worked under immense pressure during emergencies where there is a need for physical and mental fitness, and most of what we do is closely scrutinised by the public. The ability to keep my composure during a stressful situation allows me to make good judgment calls to save a person’s life.

What do you plan to do after NS?

CPL Noah: I will be enrolling myself in Medical School. This would most likely affect my training schedule. I want to use the time I have now to compete in as many matches as I can before moving on to the next chapter in my life.

OVERCOMING INJURY FOR THE PRIZE

LCP Muhammad Syakir Bin Jeffry didn't let injury stop him from bagging the bronze medal at the Hanoi SEA Games.

What is Pencak Silat? What is its main objective?

LCP Muhammad Syakir: Pencak Silat is a martial art that originated in Indonesia. It involves the use of strikes, throws and grappling techniques to overcome your opponent. In general, there are two types of Silat. The competitive type, which is Pencak Silat, and Seni Silat, a form of performance art.

How do you feel about your recent SEA Games medal?

LCP (NSF) Muhammad Syakir (black and red sparring vest) in a match against his opponent from Thailand.

LCP Muhammad Syakir: This is this first SEA Games I had participated in, and it was definitely an eventful competition. About 10 weeks before the competition, I tore my left Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and my doctor advised me to refrain from competing in the SEA Games. I insisted and till the day of competition, I focused on my physiotherapy sessions to get myself back in shape. It was not until a week before the SEA Games that I could finally execute kicks and run normally.

During the semi-finals, I was competing against a Thai exponent. The Thais are one of the strongest in the region and I could feel the pressure building up within me, especially when I knew I had not fully recovered. I said to myself: “I have come this far, there is no turning back. I just have to give 100 per cent in this competition”.

I managed to overcome my opponents until the match against Indonesia, which was a close fight. Even though I lost, my coach commended my determination even though I was not in peak physical condition. His encouragement meant a lot to me.

How do you juggle your time between training for Silat and your work as a firefighter?

LCP Muhammad Syakir: Before my enlistment, I used to train five days a week, from Monday to Friday, twice per day. During my off-duty days in NS, I would hit the gym at my fire station to build my physical strength. As I have been practising Pencak Silat for 10 years, firefighting to me, is not physically demanding but a form of daily exercise to maintain my physical condition to compete in Pencak Silat.

What are your future plans?

LCP Muhammad Syakir: I have just gone for my surgery, and henceforth, will focus on my recovery. Once I have fully recovered, I aim to compete in next year’s SEA Games in Cambodia.

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Close Up

The call to serve

Three generations of SCDF NSmen, including one serving his full-time National Service, discuss what drives them to excel in the Force.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA

The harrowing images of Ukrainians crouching for safety and shelter in Kyiv’s subway stations drives home the importance of the Public Shelter and Resilience Unit within the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). The commander of this Operationally Ready National Service Unit is LTC (NS) Lee Boon Keat, who was named NSman of the Year in 2019.

LTC (NS) Lee’s team from the 2nd SCDF Division oversees the use of buildings like MRT stations to serve as public shelters in a crisis. Their work focuses on the eastern fringes of our city state, in areas such as Bedok, Mountbatten and Dakota. We ensure that the shelters provide sustainable protection for shelterees over 2 weeks. The shelters are self-sufficient, with air filtration, ventilation, and even water supply,” he explained. Getting our humble MRT stations up to the task involved numerous learnings from countries such as Switzerland and United Kingdom, which have such shelters.

A PRIVILEGE TO SERVE

LTC (NS) Lee is the regional managing director for a digital experience platform, a role he has held for five years. That, together with his family commitments (he is married with four children), might make it seem like there’s little time for his NS obligations.

The 44-year-old is however determined to balance all three roles. “As a leader at work, home and in my NS unit, I want to lead by example,” he tells Frontline. He is especially committed to NS, because as he puts it: “Being called to serve Singapore is a privilege. It’s one thing to be competing in the rat race for your own benefit, but another to give your time and energy to the greater cause of protecting your country.”

Reflecting on his two decades of service, LTC (NS) Lee naturally has several stories to share. One that he specifically remembers drives home the important role that each and every personnel in the SCDF plays, a message he would like to share in conjunction with NS55.

“It involved a rescue operation when I was attached to Changi Fire Station,” he said. “A woman was standing precariously close to the top floor of the airport carpark which is a few storeys above ground.” As a Rota Commander, he was responsible for ensuring that the woman was safely rescued. With the aid of the entire team, the rescue operation went off without a hitch, but his Section Commander suffered a cut to his face. “It goes to show how dangerous such operations can be and how determined our men are when they are deployed to assist those in need.”

LEADING BY INSPIRATION

CPT (NS) Mohammed Iqbal Bin Abdul Halil (left) strives to connect the men under his command. Photo: CPT (NS) Mohammed Iqbal Bin Abdul Halil

It may have been more than 15 years ago, but CPT (NS) Mohammed Iqbal Bin Abdul Halil still recalls the profound impact that his commander had on him. “COL Wesley Lim was the Commander of the fire station that I was posted to then and he inspired me with his leadership style,” shared CPT (NS) Iqbal, 36. “He had a very distinctive style of running the fire station and he respected all of us.”

CPT (NS) Iqbal tries to emulate that style as the current Deputy NS Commander of Bukit Batok Fire Station. “He taught me to be a good leader and I applied what I learnt  in my role,” he explained. Like COL Lim, he strives to connect with all his men on a personal level to understand their challenges. “I constantly ask them about their wellbeing and how their development can be improved.” This has led to several improvements. For example, some had found it difficult to remember all the firefighting and hazardous materials procedures before their in-camp training. To tackle this, CPT (NS) Iqbal and his team instituted a learning day, where personnel can be brought up to speed on these procedures before their deployment. “It is very meaningful and enriching to be a part of this process,” reflected CPT (NS) Iqbal, who is an executive at Resorts World Sentosa.

He is also passionate about fitness and regularly rallies his men to complete and do well for their IPPT tests. As a working adult himself, he understands the challenge of maintaining one’s fitness amid other responsibilities. He puts this experience to good use by devising programmes that champion fitness for NSmen.

His fondness for problem-solving is one reason that he has decided to take up an NS leadership position. “I enjoy being in this leadership role because I get to use my experience to shape the way we approach NS. As an NSman myself, I know how my daily life is affected by call-ups and IPPT, but I can provide valuable feedback to the unit. In some ways, I am like a bridge between the Force and my NSmen. I want to make the experience better for my NSmen so that they enjoy coming back and are reminded of our purpose in doing so.”

That purpose, he says, is to save lives. As a firefighter, CPT (NS) Iqbal has been constantly at the frontline and responding to many emergency calls. But one operation that stands out in his mind was: Being called to put out a blaze in Bukit Panjang in 2011. “We were trying to rescue 10 people from a corner unit of the block. I had to work with teams from different fire stations to help bring those people to safety. All our planning and training over the years went towards saving those people and I’m proud we did just that.”

FINDING MEANING IN HIS DUTY

CPL Kashfy Ilxilim Bin Zulkarna'in serves as an ambulance medic, responding to calls in the area around Bishan Fire Station. Photo: CPL Kashfy Ilxilim Bin Zulkarna'in

Before enlisting in 2020, CPL (NSF) Kashfy Ilxilim Bin Zulkarna’in had a perception that NS would be a waste of two years of his youth. But as he approaches his Operationally Ready Date (ORD) this November, his perception of National Service has changed dramatically. “I’ve come to appreciate the role we all play in defending and safe-guarding Singapore,” the 20-year-old remarked.

That realisation was sparked by his vocation as an ambulance medic at Bishan Fire Station, where he was posted to last year. For up to 12 hours a day, CPL Kashfy would be responding to emergency calls. These shifts begin with performing a full check of the ambulance and its equipment to ensure that the crew  is ready to attend to all emergencies happening that day. These emergencies will range from motor accidents to cases of people getting injured in Singapore’s forests and nature reserves.

Witnessing these incidents was a sobering experience for CPL Kashfy, as it made him realise how important SCDF’s Emergency Medical Services are. “There was one incident I’ll never forget,” he said. “A woman had gotten into a traffic accident and was badly injured.” The crew sprang into action to save the woman and she eventually survived. “Our lifesaving training comes in handy every day. It makes such a big difference in the lives of Singaporeans and their families, who are desperately in need of help.”

His team’s quick thinking and nimble responses were especially useful during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year. CPL Kashfy’s team was deployed to help out in other parts of Singapore including Pasir Ris and Jurong.

“Calls were coming in so frequently that we barely had time to take a breather. That kind of workload day in and day out can take a toll on you.” Still, he adds that he is glad he was able to play such an important role during a national crisis. “It is not something I would have been able to do if I had not been serving my NS.”

Now that his NS journey is coming to an end, CPL Kashfy is looking forward to his enrolment to the National University of Singapore to pursue a degree in computer engineering. There are also many years of continued service in the SCDF as an NSman. However, he is certain of one thing: “I’ll be doing something meaningful to help Singaporeans.

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In The Force

From NS to volunteerism: Continuing to serve our nation

Two of the Home Team volunteers have chosen to play a bigger role in the Home Team after completing their NS stints. Here’s why.

TEXT AND PHOTOS: Home Team Volunteer Network (HTVN)

Serving National Service (NS) under the Singapore Police Force (SPF) is a valuable opportunity for many, but would one consider serving outside of NS? Mr Muhammad Azim Bin Hamdan found his National Service (NS) stint with SPF to be so fulfilling, he signed up to be a Volunteer Special Constabulary (VSC) officer after completing his NS.

As a Full-time National Servicemen (NSF), Mr Azim served at SPF’s Protective Security Command (ProCom) as an In-Situ Reaction Team (IRT) officer. IRTs serve as quick reaction forces on the ground to neutralise armed threats. He worked closely with regular officers to patrol sensitive locations and interacted with members of the public daily.

Mr Azim says, “During NS, I learned that knowing ‘why’ is essential before performing any duties. Working alongside dedicated regulars made me realise that Police officers are humans too, with families to return home to. They shared that they have a strong sense of duty to protect their loved ones and society.”

SERVING WHILE STUDYING

Mr Muhammad Azim Bin Hamdan was a ProCom officer during his PNSF days.

After his Operationally Ready Date (ORD), Mr Azim joined as a VSC officer so he could continue contributing to the nation’s security while studying. Now an undergraduate at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), the 25-year-old is deployed as a Ground Response Force (GRF) officer. He finds his stint with the VSC challenging but fulfilling and believes volunteering helped him develop his decision-making and communication skills.

“I constantly make an effort to remind myself of ‘why’ – to help keep my loved ones and others safe before carrying out my duties as a volunteer, alongside the regular officers,” notes Mr Azim. “This mindset has helped to motivate and carry me through challenging times over my course of volunteering.”

Mr Azim encourages fellow NSFs to consider volunteering with HTVN. He believes that the basic training, skills and knowledge that NSFs received in their respective fields are transferrable and add value to their volunteer schemes.

“Go for it! If you aspire to give back to society, having a full-time job and fighting crime on the side, volunteering with the VSC or any schemes under HTVN is the perfect opportunity for you,” says Mr Azim.

READY FOR ANY EMERGENCY

Mr Ou Chun Ju volunteers as a medic and firefighter for the Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit.

Through serving NS as a medic for the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) holding the rank of SGT1, Ou Chun Ju SGT3 (V), a 32-year-old front-end web developer had learnt to save lives and work under pressure.

Mr Ou had multiple opportunities to assist ambulance crews and save patients from potentially dangerous situations during NS. This piqued his interest in emergency medical services and inspired him to sign up with the HTVN where he volunteers with the Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit (CDAU) to further develop his skills after his NS stint.

“During NS, my team and I had attended a cardiac arrest case and succeeded in saving the patient’s life,” said Mr Ou. “The patient’s family members were happy and grateful to us which made me realise how important and valuable my job and knowledge is.”

In addition to life-saving skills, which includes cardiac life support and trauma management, the 32-year-old also picked up valuable life-skills such as situation management and leadership during NS.

While volunteering as a medic on standby at SCDF’s Singapore-Global-Firefighters and Paramedics Challenge (SGFPC), Mr Ou was able to apply his skills when he was put in-charge of a first-aid station.

“I used my leadership and situation managements skills to arrange my manpower needs in the event of an influx of cases at one go,” said Mr Ou. “When I attended to the patients, I applied my trauma management skills as part of the competition.”

As a medic and firefighter volunteer for the CDAU, Mr Ou encourages new paramedic volunteers to seek help from regular staff when in doubt and to maintain a positive attitude towards learning as medical knowledge is constantly evolving.

“Any decision we make will affect the patient’s life. Not everyone gets the chance to really put their hand up and save people,” he said.

In 2020, Mr Ou also became a CDAU firefighter to gain exposure to a different field and to challenge himself. To Mr Ou, being a firefighter meant that he could step forward and save casualties head-on, in dangerous and high-pressure circumstances with high stakes.

“When there is a fire or road accident, firefighters are the ones who put in their lives, patience and skills to save the casualties,” explained Mr Ou. “As medics, we usually wait for the patient to be rescued before taking over.”

“I wanted to experience enduring high temperatures to fight fires while carrying heavy equipment to save my casualties. To me, this is a very precious opportunity as not everyone has the chance and motivation to do this,” he added. 

Find out more on how you can make a difference in your community. Volunteer with Home Team Volunteer Network today!