Categories
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.”

Like our stories? Subscribe to Frontline Digital newsletters to get your bi-weekly dose of new stories.

Categories
Close Up Featured

Celebrating 25 years of service to the nation

DAC (NS) Mohammad Nurizham Shah Bin Abdullah reflects on how the Singapore Police Force has evolved and what keeps him going in his service.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA

PHOTOS: DAC (NS) MOHAMMAD NURIZHAM SHAH BIN ABDULLAH

A quarter of a century: That’s how long DAC (NS) Mohammad Nurizham Shah Bin Abdullah has served in the Singapore Police Force (SPF) — first in Jurong Police Division and now as the NS Commander of the Public Transport Security Command (TransCom). During his time in TransCom, he has seen countless NSmen step up to serve their country as well, with the unit holding one of the highest numbers of NSmen within the SPF.

“As a NS-Heavy Unit, comprising about 80% full-time NS officers, this unique proportion means that TransCom is well-placed to showcase the values which NSmen can bring to the Force,” explained DAC (NS) Shah, 48. “In some ways, the National Service officers run the entire operation,” he added. The regulars play a supervisory role, while most of the NS officers are deployed for foot patrol and is a common sight at Singapore’s public transport networks, from MRT stations to bus interchanges.

There are also other vocations for the NSmen in TransCom. A handful of them are deployed in the TransCom’s Provost division, which maintains discipline among officers. Some of them serve as trainers within TransCom, equipping fellow men with self-defence and security knowledge. There is also a team that provides administrative support to ensure operations run smoothly, as well as a Community Policing Unit which works closely with members of the public to ensure the success of initiatives such as the Riders-on-Watch (ROW) that taps on commuters to deter and detect crimes.

FINDING THE GOOD

Taken before the Covid-19 outbreak, DAC (NS) Shah is briefing his team during a National Day deployment in August 2019.

Regardless of vocation, DAC (NS) Shah has a simple mantra for his men in maximising their time during their in-camp training (ICT): Positivity. “I look at ICT as a way of looking to improve ourselves,” he said. “It would be a shame if people booked in and just switched their minds off because there’s so much to gain from ICT. Coming back for In-Camp Training also remind my officers of their obligation towards national defence and protecting essential service that serves the community.”

Top of the list is physical fitness. He added that being active in NS has helped him maintain his fitness through the years. “My siblings are around my age, but I’ve seen them grow much more … sideways,” he laughed. “Seeing my men in their late 20s and 30s give it their all during physical training inspires me to do the same. I’m glad that I can still run, even though I’m pushing 50.”

Another often overlooked perk of being an active NSman is career growth. “When you come back for ICT, it’s like a big networking mixer. You’ll be able to cross paths with people from many industries and that can help your career,” explained DAC (NS) Shah, who works in the telecommunications sector.

There’s also the benefit of bonding with the men that you’ve grown up with. “ICT is marked by division competitions, which can be a fun way to show off your talents, be it in shooting, running or even dragon boating.” DAC (NS) Shah recalled how one of his men, who was not very athletic, stood up to proudly represent his unit in a darts competition. “He volunteered because he wanted to give back to his unit and that was heart-warming.”

GROWTH AND GAINS

DAC (NS) Shah (left) with his late parents during his Officer Cadet Graduation Dinner in 1996.

DAC (NS) Shah is a valuable repository of the Force’s history and heritage. Take for example the evolution of the weapons and arms that police officers carry. DAC (NS) Shah candidly shared why each iteration was better than the last. “When I started 25 years ago, officers were issued with a Smith & Wesson revolver, which was changed to the Taurus M85 revolver in 2002.”

He recalled this switch was welcomed by officers because of the laser pointer that came with the Taurus M85, ensuring a more accurate shot. And last year, the standard-issue weapon was changed to a Glock 19 Gen 5 pistol, which can carry up to three times more rounds than its predecessor. It also came with a safety mechanism that prevents accidental discharge.

Changes were also made to the rusty batons that police carried. In 2001, the metallic T-baton was introduced to replace the previous metal baton. The metallic T-baton was then replaced by a lightweight extendable baton in 2019. Apart from improvement to equipment, he also witnessed the transformation of TransCom to deal with the changing operating landscape, expansion of transport network, and competing demand for resources. This includes operationalisation of TransCom Woodlands sub-base in 2019 and the implementation of new initiatives such as empowering NSmen to take on more leadership roles in leading anti-crime rounds and community engagement with ROW volunteers.

Importantly, changes to the Force’s hardware have been accompanied by changes to its software. “Today’s police officers are much more skilled at engaging members of the public. This is especially true for TransCom officers, as we are regularly on the ground and in public spaces. It’s an encouraging sign as we value our partnership with the public.”

Like our stories? Subscribe to Frontline Digital Newsletters to get your bi-weekly dose of new content!

Categories
Close Up Featured

Sharing vital signs – and saving lives – in real-time

Captain (Dr) (NS) Lee You Jun from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) draws on his interest in science and tech to help in cases of serious medical emergencies.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA

PHOTOS: CPT (DR) (NS) LEE YOU JUN

A patient has just had a heart attack and is being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Paramedics monitor her situation in the ambulance, while the Emergency Room (ER) team at the hospital concurrently prepares the equipment and medication needed to save her life. Such real-time coordination is possible, thanks to advances in technology that have ushered in platforms like the Operational Medical Networks Informatics Integrator (OMNII).

OMNII was developed through a multi-agency partnership that included SCDF, Ministry of Health, and Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA). One of the SCDF personnel involved in the initiative was CPT (Dr) (NS) Lee You Jun, who completed his National Service in February 2022. 

The chance to work on the project suited CPT (Dr) (NS) Lee, because he has been deeply interested in tech from an early age. “I remember playing games on a Gameboy or a Nokia phone,” the 27-year-old shared. “It was fascinating how much information could be stored on a small device. And look how far technology has come since.” 

As a radiology resident with the National University Health System, CPT (Dr) (NS) Lee has a front-row view of the applications of these advances in the medical sector. “It’s an area where machine learning and artificial intelligence are increasingly coming into play, but because it’s medicine, there’s still a very human aspect to the work,” he explained. 

He appreciated the broad nature of radiology, which means that he could be seeing a patient suffering from a brain haemorrhage, and right after that, a child with stomach pain. “It keeps the work fresh,” he said, adding that when he finishes his residency next year, he hopes to mentor future generations of radiologists.

A CHAMPION FOR DIGITAL HEALTH

CPT (Dr) (NS) Lee also plans to continue advocating the use of technology to improve health outcomes. “It allows medical professionals to better care for patients under their charge,” he elaborated, adding that OMNII is just one way of doing this. Launched in August 2021, the platform digitalises ambulance case records and integrates them with that of hospitals’ emergency departments.

Enabling such integration was a moment of pride for CPT (Dr) (NS) Lee. But he added that it was very much a team effort, with successive full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) taking on different roles. They supported SCDF regulars, as well as personnel from different agencies, to ensure the project’s successful launch.

CPT (Dr) (NS) Lee’s role was to oversee the implementation of OMNII and collect feedback from various stakeholders to improve its processes and features. “Being trained in medicine and having a bit of technological knowledge from my personal research allowed me to bridge the two worlds and move things along,” he says.

Now that he has completed his National Service, CPT (Dr) (NS) Lee has passed the baton of improving OMNII to his successor. As a medical professional, he continues to appreciate the value it brings to our healthcare system. “I’ve seen so many cases where every second counts,” he shares. “I’m proud to know that I had a part to play in making that improvement.”

SENSIBLE ADOPTION

Technology projects should be adopted with an eyes-wide-open approach, cautioned CPT (Dr) (NS) Lee. “One misconception is that technology only brings about positive changes to organisations. Ill-advised or poorly rationalised applications of technology can in fact create more problems than solutions, serve little purpose in helping our work, and waste resources,” he said.

“It’s important to always consider the potential issues that come with technology, and other alternatives when implementing any technology-related project. We need to address these, and make sure that we are taking a step forward with technology on our side. Only then can we bring about positive change to our organisations and society with technology.”

MOVING WITH TECH

Technology continues to be a part of CPT (Dr) (Ns) Lee’s life, both at work and in his personal life. He shared why science matters:

  • Solid outcomes: “While the inertia and barrier to technology adoption may be high, the returns in the long run are also high.”
  • Relevancy: “Integrating technology into our work and lives would help us to stay relevant in the future in this fast-evolving technological climate.”

Like our stories? Subscribe to Frontline Digital newsletters to get your bi-weekly dose of updates on new stories!

Categories
Close Up Featured

Championing the environment — and his NS commitments

Here’s how the Singapore Police Force’s DAC (NS) Mulyadi Ahmad upholds his responsibility to the nation’s security and sustainability.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA

PHOTOS: DAC (NS) MULYADI AHMAD

By day, DAC (NS) Mulyadi Ahmad oversees the environmental public health operations of the western region of Singapore, in his capacity as a Deputy Director of the National Environment Agency. “This entails a range of environmental matters, from littering and smoking   enforcement to sanitation and environmental hygiene,” explains the 46-year-old.

His duty as an environmental champion doesn’t stop at the end of a workday: It also continues at home, where he is the “environmentalist-in-chief”. “I want to remind my five children, aged five to 20, about the importance of sustainability,” he says. “Through my work, I am keenly aware of the growing waste problem we have and how our landfills will eventually run out of capacity. All of us must play our part — and I want my kids to play theirs.”

SMALL STEPS TO A GREENER FUTURE

To instil this responsibility, he limits the number of times that the family can use food delivery apps. The rising popularity of such apps during the COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately flooded our landfills, incinerators and even oceans with more plastic containers, utensils and bags.

“I’m not always successful in discouraging the use of disposables, but at least the kids think about their actions,” he admits. “Whenever I can, I’ll just go to the coffeeshop with my reusable containers to buy food for the whole family, so we can cut down on waste together.”

But sometimes, DAC (NS) Mulyadi knows that the use of disposable plastics is inevitable. One of his family’s beloved pastimes is dining at hawker centres together, with the East Coast Lagoon Food Village being their favourite. “When you go there, the stallholders give you styrofoam plates and utensils, even when you’re eating there. What can you do?”

The pandemic, he adds, has helped his family overcome the dilemma. “Because we’re a household of seven, we haven’t been able to dine out for a few months since safe distancing measures were heightened.”

MAKING ECO-FRIENDLINESS A HABIT

Contaminated recycling bins are another cause for concern for DAC (NS) Mulyadi. He still feels helpless when he brings down the family’s recycling bag down to the recycling bin, only to find that it has been contaminated by non-recyclables like food waste. Never one to give up, he feels that one should continue to try to educate and influence the people around them.

DAC (NS) Mulyadi is proud that his children have embraced the values of sustainability, but he admits that they still sometimes need a nudge from him. “To them, it may seem easier to just throw away the plastic drink bottle but after I remind them about the right thing to do — which is to clean and recycle it — they do it. It’s about constantly reminding those around us and making eco-friendliness a habit.”

MAINTAINING STANDARDS

DAC (NS) Mulyadi is the NS Commander of the Airport Police Division where he oversees 1,300 Police NSMen.

Another cause that DAC (NS) Mulyadi feels strongly about is National Service. As the NS Commander of the Airport Police Division, he oversees the operations, deployment and welfare of 1,300 Police NSMen (PNSMen) under his charge. Together, they upkeep aviation security and safeguard Changi Airport’s reputation as a safe and secure travel hub. “It has been a quiet two years because of the pandemic, but that also poses a unique challenge: How do you keep the men warmed up and on their feet? We cannot let standards slip because of a dip in passenger movements.”

To tackle this, DAC (NS) Mulyadi and his team engage in regular recalls, sometimes as often as once a week, to keep his men on their toes. But he also balances the need for operational readiness with respect for his men’s careers and personal lives. “NS is a commitment, but it’s not their only one,” he acknowledges. “These men are pilots, business owners, physical trainers — they each have their own commitments and we must respect those as well.

The solution, he says, is to lead by example and adds that on some days leading up to a recall, NS commanders like himself can end their days at 11pm. “Everybody puts in the effort to achieve our common goal.” And when he ends a particularly gruelling day or work week, he turns to his loved ones to get recharged. “We don’t have to go out to enjoy each other’s company,” says DAC (NS) Mulyadi, whose latest pastime is watching Korean movies and dramas on Netflix with his family. “At the end of the day, it’s the company that matters.”

HIS GREATEST CHEERLEADER

Back in 2013, when DAC (NS) Mulyadi was offered the appointment of NS Deputy Commander in the Airport Police Division, he initially hesitated to take up the appointment because of family commitments. But his wife, Mdm Nur Aini, encouraged him to accept it, saying: “If you are the one selected and if your service is needed by the nation, you should take the opportunity to contribute.”

Like our stories? Subscribe to Frontline Digital newsletters to get your bi-weekly dose of updates on new stories!

Categories
Close Up

Becoming a family man

CPT (NS) Muhd Saufi bin Abdul Rashid on marriage and starting a family of his own helped him view life from a fresh perspective.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA

PHOTOS: CPT (NS) MUHD SAUFI BIN ABDUL RASHID

 

For many, the year-end season is a period to slow down and spend time with family and friends. However, CPT (NS) Muhd Saufi bin Abdul Rashid’s work in the medical technologies sector brought him to Switzerland in December 2021 for a month, away from his wife and their three-year-old son. “I missed my family! What’s worse, my son kept asking my wife ‘Where is daddy?’ and why I wasn’t home yet,” shares the 32-year-old.

For those who know CPT (NS) Saufi from his national service days, this might sound like an out-of-character statement, because he never expected to be a family man.

After all, he describes himself as being the “joker” of the Special Rescue Unit, where he was a platoon commander during his fulltime NS stint. Despite his rank, he was always ready to cheer up those around him with a joke — if the time and situation allowed for it, of course. “I didn’t think this would change,” he reflects.

A FRESH PERSPECTIVE ON LIFE

CPT (NS) Saufi says that his parents' lifelong encouragement helped him keep faith in his abilities.

But change he did, after meeting his wife of five years and having their first child three years ago. “They completely transformed my perspective on life. I realised I had to get serious about things, such as getting a house, doing well in my career and being the best version of me. I wasn’t living for myself anymore; I had a family to care for and who depend on me.”

Fortunately, it was an effortless transition. That’s because CPT (NS) Saufi had “lived singlehood to the fullest”. Any sport you name, he is likely to have played it, be it badminton or archery tag. “I also took part in various cultural activities, like dikir barat (a style of Malay choral singing) and even lion dance,” he says.

With so many endeavours under his belt, it’s no wonder CPT (NS) Saufi is happy to give as much time as he has to his family. He tells Frontline that he hopes his brood will grow in the coming year. “Ideally, I’ll want two more children to complete the set,” he quips.

COMMITTED AND CARING

CPT (NS) Saufi (left) was a platoon commander in the SCDF's Special Rescue Unit during his fulltime NS stint (This photo was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic).

CPT (NS) Saufi’s commitment to his family’s wellbeing is clear as he discusses his return to Singapore from Switzerland in early January. To protect his young one from COVID-19, he opted to stay at his parents’ house for seven days upon his return, even though he had tested negative for the virus. “My son is too young to be vaccinated so I wanted to make sure he doesn’t suffer needlessly, in case the virus manifested after I came back,” he explains.

“I did not video call him often when I was away because of the seven-hour time difference between Singapore and Switzerland. So it was quite a big sacrifice to have to be away from him for another week,” says CPT (NS) Saufi. Still, he was determined to do “what’s right for (his) family”.

As someone who had received great support from his parents throughout his life, CPT (NS) Saufi understands the strength of family bonds. Crucially, they encouraged him to forge his own path, motivating him to complete his Normal (Technical) education, enter the Institute of Technical Education and later, a polytechnic.

CPT (NS) Saufi went on to become an officer in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). “Their encouragement reminded me that it’s not about how far others say you can go; what’s more important is how far you want to go. I owe so much to them,” he says with gratitude.

CPT (NS) Saufi’s striving for excellence continues to this day, both at work and in his role as an Officer Commanding (OC) of the 31 Rescue Battalion. For his strong and inspirational leadership, he was presented with the NSman of the Year Award in 2021. He cherishes this honour, but true to form, credits those around him for his success. “I am who I am because of them.”

FINDING BALANCE

Like many young parents, CPT (NS) Saufi knows what it feels like to balance commitments to family, work and National Service. He currently works in the medical technologies industry, where he pulls 12-hour shifts.

“After a long day, I look forward to going home and spending time playing with my son and chatting with my wife,” he says. CPT (NS) Saufi works a four-day week, giving him just enough time to also visit his parents, in-laws and, crucially, himself as well. “Sundays are my ‘do-nothing’ days, where my wife and I just watch Netflix or relax.”

Categories
Close Up

Having the right attitude

DSP (NS) Mohamad Syaifudin bin Ahmad Ismail takes his health seriously, having witnessed first-hand the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. 

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA
PHOTOS: DSP (NS) MOHAMAD SYAIFUDIN BIN AHMAD ISMAIL

Even at 36 years of age, DSP (NS) Mohamad Syaifudin bin Ahmad Ismail is an example of a highly disciplined individual.

“Early in my life, I had seen the effects of a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle,” he tells Frontline.

At the age of 11, he saw his father suffer a heart attack. Ten years later, he watched his mother battle cancer. Fortunately, both DSP (NS) Syaifudin’s parents beat their ailments and continue to lead healthy lives today. “As a kid, I didn’t automatically link these to poor diet and lack of exercise. But at university where I studied Physical Education and Sports Science, I decided to make a change,” he reflects.

Well-built and toned, the NS Commanding Officer (CO) of Training, Training Command (TRACOM), clocks at least five sessions a week at the gym and complements his physical regimen with a strict diet: Five half-boiled eggs and a cup of oatmeal every morning, followed by grilled chicken breast or salmon with a large serving of roasted vegetables for lunch and dinner. “I do indulge on weekends,” says DSP (NS) Syaifudin, who is the recipient of the SPF NSman (PNSman) of the Year award in 2021.

ADAPTING TO A NEW WAY OF STAYING FIT

Since then, DSP (NS) Syaifudin has been leading a healthy lifestyle but has adjusted certain routines to fit his changing life situation. One of the most significant changes is something we all go through –   ageing. “I love to play football. In my 20s, I could play with teenagers, but these days, it would place a great strain on my body,” says the Physical Education (PE) teacher who teaches at a local educational institution.

In fact, DSP (NS) Syaifudin has sustained three knee surgeries in recent years, all while playing football. “After the latest incident, I decided to call it quits. It was difficult at first because I was obsessed with the game growing up. But it’s something I had to do if I wanted to stay active in other ways.”

This included working out at the gym and going on walks with his family. “Both my wife and I are PE teachers, so we are eager to instil a love for physical activity in our children,” says the father of three, aged six years, five years and four months old. Despite being together for nearly two decades, the couple is passionate about keeping their romance alive. “We do this by going for bike rides and trail walks together, as well as enjoying a quiet meal in each other’s company whenever we can.”

DSP (NS) Syaifudin and his wife are keen to instil a love for physical activity in their children.

DRIVEN TO NURTURE

Such moments of respite are welcome after long days in school, where DSP (NS) Syaifudin is also the Head of Discipline. He reveals that the past two years have been challenging for educators like himself. “PE lessons and co-curricular activities have been adapted so that students can participate safely in small groups, depending on the prevailing safe management measures,” he shares. “Before the pandemic, I would also speak at morning assembly at least once a week, reminding my students of the importance of self-discipline and inculcating good values and habits. But since we can’t gather in large groups anymore, this is now done virtually. More work has to go into continually engaging the students at this time.”

Still, DSP (NS) Syaifudin remains passionate about his work because he enjoys mentoring and interacting with people, both young and old. It’s something that his NS role also allows for. “Most of my batchmates have already completed their NS obligations, but I’m still at it, 13 ICT cycles later,” he says. “I am grateful for this chance to serve and groom the next generation of NSmen and I’ll continue giving it my all while I still can.”

WINNING WAYS

Over the years, DSP (NS) Syaifudin has Received numerous awards and accolades, including:

  • Seven consecutive gold awards for his IPPT (from 2015 to 2021)
  • Director PNS Commendation Award in 2017 for his work organising the HomeTeamNS REAL® Run in conjunction with NS50
  • PNSman of the Year 2021

“I’m very grateful for the positive affirmation from my NS Commander, PNSmen PO, fellow PNSmen and regular officers from the TRACOM, where I serve,” he says. “I could not have done it without the strong support of my wife and family and my school leaders and colleagues.”

Categories
Close Up

Braving the storm

Learning to make the most of the hand that life has dealt him, SGT (1) Muhammad Hairul Anwar Bin Rahmat found purpose in sailing.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA
PHOTOS: SGT (1) MUHAMMAD HAIRUL ANWAR BIN RAHMAT

SGT (1) Muhammad Hairul Anwar Bin Rahmat enrolled for National Service in February 2020. While he had studied marine engineering as a polytechnic student and served an internship as a crew member on a vessel from late-2018 to mid-2019, the thought of returning to sea when he started NS had been furthest from his mind.

This was due to a tragic loss while he was serving his internship.  

“While I was at sea then (in 2018 and 2019), a close relative passed away. I wasn’t able to make it back for the funeral. And this really affected me. After my stint ended, I decided that I would no longer pursue a life at sea.”

BACK ON THE HIGH SEAS

SGT (1) Hairul and his teammates are a close-knit group, having gone through Basic Rescue Training just as Singapore entered its circuit breaker.

Life however, had a different plan for SGT (1) Hairul. Shortly after enlisting into the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), he was posted to the Marine Division, West Coast Marine Fire Station (Station 81). As SGT(1) Hairul’s role involved marine firefighting and rescue, he had little choice but to head out at sea again.

This time, he found even greater meaning from sailing. Earlier this year, SGT (1) Hairul’s team received a call for medical assistance from an anchored vessel in the southwest of Singapore. “The adrenaline kept us going as we set out to rescue the crew member, who had fallen off a ladder and was immobilised,” he said.

As the team suspected that the crew member had a spinal injury, they were extra careful while transferring him from the anchored vessel to the SCDF’s Rapid Response Fire Vessel (RFV). “Everything that I had trained for was put to use. I’m glad that we successfully conveyed him to shore and, subsequently, to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.”

DISCOVERING HIS PURPOSE

Training sessions include the national servicemen donning full fireproof suits as they learn to tackle various scenarios.

The experience validated all the months of training he had undergone. “The physical parts were manageable but the real challenge was the scenario training,” he recalled. During these sessions, trainees don full fireproof suits, with boots that weigh up to three kilograms, and work through various scenarios. Each session can last a few hours and give SCDF trainees a taste of the situations they are trained to work in.

Unlike previous batches, SGT (1) Hairul and his teammates did not just have to grapple with the rigours of training; they also had to deal with training during the early days of a pandemic. (He began his service in February 2020, just as the world was seeing a growing number of COVID-19 cases.) “This was even before the virus had a name! But we knew something major was happening,” he recalled.

Needless to say, during his Basic Rescue Training (BRT), Singapore went into a circuit breaker to curb the rapid growth in infections. While the rest of the country shut down, training inside the Civil Defence Academy continued with proper safety protocols and procedures. Many lessons were conducted virtually and the health of recruits was closely monitored. “It was a surreal experience, but we knew training had to go on. We are frontliners and the country needs us,” said SGT (1) Hairul. This motivated him to push harder in his training, even the parts of the training in which he found challenging.

When asked about the greatest lesson he’s learnt over the past two years, he was quick to answer, “Things always happen for a reason. You may not always know why, but just make the most out of these experiences.” SGT (1) Hairul is determined to make the most of his National Service (NS), given that his Operationally Ready Date (ORD) is fast approaching.

He confessed that he is dreading the date a little as he has grown very close to his unit. “I spend so much time with these people; sometimes even more than with my own family. We eat together, sleep together and train together. They have been my rock through this experience and I will definitely miss them.”

Not one to be down for too long, he is already planning activities to fill up the final months of his National Service. “We’re quite an active bunch so maybe we’ll attempt the Coast-to-Coast Trail. Hopefully, we’ll be able to play football soon as well.”

The Coast-to-Coast Trail is a 36 km trail that runs across Singapore, linking Jurong Lake Gardens in the west, to Coney Island Park in the north-east.

When the time comes to say goodbye, SGT (1) Hairul is confident that he will have no regrets. He will also have his sights set on his next milestone: A marine engineering degree from Nanyang Technological University (NTU). “I want to show others that they don’t have to doubt themselves. Here I am at 26, pursuing my degree. I’m a living proof that you can do anything you set your mind to.”

LOOKING TO 2022

In the coming year, SGT (1) Hairul hopes to complete a marathon, preferably with his mates from his unit. He is training hard for it, clocking regular runs through the park connectors around his Choa Chu Kang home. “I also want to shore up my marine engineering knowledge before I start school and maybe even gain some onshore experience.”

Categories
Close Up

Being there for them

DAC (NS) Mohammad Nurizham Shah Bin Abdullah isn’t just a father figure to his own children — he’s also one to ex-offenders integrating back into society.

TEXT Keenan Pereira

Throughout his 22 years of National Service, DAC (NS) Mohammad Nurizham Shah Bin Abdullah has helped to put a number of offenders behind bars. The 48-year-old started his service in Jurong Police Division before being transferred to the Public Transport Security Command (TransCom), where he is now NS Commander. “Our men have arrested people for various offences, from drug-related crimes to outrage of modesty,” he says.

But DAC (NS) Shah’s interactions with those who run afoul of the law do not stop there. Since 2020, the father of four has been an active volunteer at the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), where he is paired with inmates six months before their release. Support at this point of the prison sentence is crucial, as it can make all the difference to the inmate’s success in rebuilding his/her life upon release.

UNLOCKING THE SECOND ‘PRISON’

Support comes in many forms. Sometimes, it could be as simple as teaching inmates how to use a smartphone. “Some have been in prison for so long that they aren’t aware of the tech advances we’ve had in the past two decades,” says DAC (NS) Shah, who works in telecommunications. “Then there are ex-inmates who call me because they don’t know how to deal with conflict at the workplace, and I guide them through the situation. With appropriate life skills, they would be able to hold a job and leave their old ways.”

Volunteers like DAC (NS) Shah also act as father figures to some of these inmates, whose own families have often lost faith in them. “When they don’t have family support and love, they may fall back into bad company and the prison cycle repeats itself,” he explains.

To break such a vicious cycle, DAC (NS) Shah works closely with SPS to engage the inmates and forge lasting friendships with them. “You have to gain their trust before you can step in to advise and guide them,” he says. To date, DAC (NS) Shah has mentored seven ex-inmates and he is proud to share that none have gone back to their old ways.

The learning isn’t just one-way — DAC (NS) Shah has also gained a lot from the stories and struggles of the inmates. “As you hear about what they have gone through, you realise the importance of family and feel grateful for your blessings. Many times, these folks are just lost and need guidance. And as they turn over a new leaf, their greatest motivation is really to regain the trust that their families once had in them.”

It’s a lesson DAC (NS) Shah brings home to his children, aged 18, 16, 15 and eight. “I want them to grow up with the right values. So, I remind them that it’s not just about academic success, but also the difference you make in people’s lives. I am very encouraged that my oldest girl is now volunteering by tutoring underprivileged children. It goes to show how we can influence our children to be better.”

KEEPING AN ACTIVE MIND AND BODY

Besides the importance of giving back, DAC (NS) Shah encourages his children to be active and healthy. In this regard too, he leads by example. “One of our favourite hobbies is cycling. My older kids and I will cycle from Woodlands to Changi Village, where we will meet my wife, my youngest child and our domestic helper for a good meal.”

These moments of levity are especially precious these days, as DAC (NS) Shah does not have to travel for work. Before the pandemic, he would fly around the continent to oversee his company’s overseas telecom operations. “It is a blessing in disguise. I am very grateful to be able to spend so much time with my family these days.”

“There are some who come out of prison and have nowhere and no one to turn to. I want to be there to help them so that the journey out doesn’t feel so lonely.”

Categories
Close Up

From pain to passion

Putting off that run yet again? Serial marathoner and passionate cyclist WO(2) Bennett Koong has some simple advice for you.

TEXT: ROY SIM
PHOTOS: BENNETT KOONG

“Just do it” isn’t just the tagline of Nike. It’s also the mantra that got WO(2) Bennett Koong, 36, into the habit of running, which he picked up a few years ago. “I was inspired by my sister. She’s two years younger than me but quite a hardcore runner. Sometimes, she goes for a run even before the family wakes up and only returns when we’re in the middle of breakfast.”

WO(2) Koong wanted to join her but often found himself feeling lazy or lethargic. He admits: “Let’s be honest, it’s comfortable to sleep in and not exercise.”

OFF THE COUCH AND ON THE RUN

WO(2) Koong (middle, behind red Power Ranger) participated in the 2011 Standard Chartered Marathon with his colleagues.

But his sister’s determination to keep fit rubbed off on him and soon, he too was pounding the pavement at Bedok Reservoir.

He started with weekly 5 km runs before progressing to 10 km, 15 km and eventually finishing half-marathons (21 km) and then full marathons (42 km). “You just need to get over the inertia and start,” he advises. “Once it becomes a routine, it’s more likely to stick.”

It also helps to find out what motivates you to exercise. WO(2) Koong, who works as a retail manager, shares that each run is a chance to reset his mind and clear his head. “That’s why I don’t bring my phone or listen to music. Instead, I use my runs as a time to reflect on the day’s events,” he says.

Keeping fit also helps him in his NS role as the CSM of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF)’s 105C MRTSC. Here, he ensures his division’s operations and in-camp trainings run smoothly. “I encourage my unit mates to run as well. They could see a difference in their stamina and were motivated to run even more. It’s the same satisfaction I got during my full-time NS, helping obese recruits pass their IPPT.” The key, he stresses, is consistency. “Bit by bit, you will get fitter and stronger.”

NEW PURSUITS

What started as a weekly way of keeping fit quickly turned into a passion. “I became addicted to running and would progressively increase my distance. Then I started heading overseas for marathons, going to places like Hong Kong and Putrajaya, Malaysia.”

The experience of marathoning in the Special Administrative Region is one of WO(2) Koong’s favourites, as he recalls the entire city coming out in support of the runners. “It was the longest water stop I’ve ever seen,” he says, adding that it stretched for about 200m.

WO(2) Koong’s passion for running hasn’t gone unnoticed: earlier this year, he was invited to join the REAL® Run Committee. In this role, he works with a team of like-minded NSMen to create and run a fun and fulfilling REAL® Run 2021. The 25th edition is ongoing and will end on Nov 9. “It’s an iconic event and I’m glad to be able to contribute ideas to keep it fresh,” he says.

For example, this year’s edition features two new categories — the competitive Leaderboard run encourages people to clock a 5 km run on Sentosa, while the “sole-mate” run focuses on a non-competitive 5km run at Gardens by the Bay. Participants could complete both runs at their own pace, which help motivate runners to finish the 25 km REAL® Run, which is once again held virtually because of COVID-19.

This principle of keeping things fresh also applies to WO(2) Koong’s workout regimen. The avid runner has now turned his attention to cycling, which he picked up during last year’s circuit breaker period. Although he used to ride alone, he now does it with friends, making trips to East Coast Park and Changi Village. “It’s more fun when you have someone to talk to,” he reflects. “More of my friends have picked up cycling since the pandemic started. It’s true what they say: ‘COVID-19 has encouraged exercise’.”

Sailing has also been thrown to the mix, although WO(2) Koong is quick to add that can’t be enjoyed as spontaneously as running or cycling. “It’s fun, but I can only sail when I have carefully planned my schedule.”

GO AT YOUR OWN PACE

There has been much online chatter about 2.4 km timings lately. Although WO(2) Koong clocks in at a modest 12 minutes, he is comfortable with the pace. “Don’t be too bothered about how fast other people are running. Go at your own pace and work on improving that,” he suggests.

Categories
Close Up Uncategorized

Getting physical

Keeping fit is all in a day’s work for SSSGT (NS) Heiryl Ilham.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA
PHOTOS: SSSGT (NS) HEIRYL ILHAM

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl Ilham values fitness so much that for a period of time, he was downing 20 egg whites every day, just to up his daily protein intake (protein benefits the body in several ways, like helping to build lean muscle and speeding up post-exercise recovery). And without the soy sauce or pepper that many of us would add, mind you. “Just straight-up whites — 10 in the morning and 10 at night,” the 29-year-old says matter-of-factly.

His commitment to a healthy lifestyle started during his teenage years, when he would consistently fail his National Physical Fitness Award (NAPFA) test at school. “I did well for every station except my 2.4 km, which I was completing in about 15 minutes,” SSSGT (NS) Heiryl recalls.

Keen to turn this aspect of his life around, he turned to YouTube to learn more about fitness — and the rest is history. These days, he clocks in at under 10 minutes for his 2.4km runs — a result of training on the treadmill, which he finds highly effective in learning to run faster. This, combined with interval training, has helped SSSGT (NS) Heiryl shed around 27kg (he currently weighs in at a lean 62kg).

FITNESS TOGETHER

Between December 2016 and May 2017, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl Ilham set out to transform himself, losing about 27kg and going from 28 per cent body fat to 8 per cent body fat.

“Be the best that you can be”: This is a tip SSSGT (NS) Heiryl readily shares with his clients at Sport Singapore, where he is a fitness instructor. He also supports his fellow Home Team NSmen through the Virtual Fitness Training (VFT) initiative, which was launched last December.

Every Saturday, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl leads about 40 NSmen in a vigorous High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout that he designed, which comprises an energetic mix of core training, as well as upper and lower body workouts. This complements his NSman role as Officer-in-Charge (OC) Fitness at Clementi Division, where he supervises Remedial Trainings (RT) and oversees the division’s Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) training sessions. In addition, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl serves as a Police Contact Tactical Trainer and IPPT Trainer, training fellow NSmen in a modified self-defence form that combines elements from Wing Chun and judo.

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl is passionate about helping NSmen up their fitness game, especially since many of them support crucial operational work during their reservist cycles — and it’s an experience he knows well.

While on patrol during his first reservist cycle, he and his partner were alerted to an incident of public nuisance. A drunken man was causing a scene outside VivoCity and when the pair approached him, the person refused to cooperate and even tried to attack them. SSSGT (NS) Heiryl acted swiftly to pin him down and arrest him. “Anything can happen in situations like this. That is why we need to be on our best form, even as NSmen,” he shares.

FITTER TOGETHER

Fitness isn’t just an occupation for SSSGT (NS) Heiryl; it’s also a means of bonding with his wife, whom he had met when he was a trainer at a private gym. “She is just as passionate as I am about fitness. We love working out as a couple,” he says.

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl and his wife tied the knot last December. “We had a COVID-19 wedding,” he explains, referring to the smaller and more intimate nuptials that are now the norm because of the pandemic. This meant that the ceremony cost less than one-third what it normally would — money that is going towards their first home in the upcoming Tengah Forest Town development which will be ready in 2024.

For now, the couple is living at home with SSSGT (NS) Heiryl’s family, where they enjoy his mother’s  scrumptious cooking. He admits that he does not really watch what he eats and he is more concerned about when he eats. “That’s because I am very disciplined with my workouts. I may start the day with a packet of nasi lemak but I know for a fact that I will work out hard enough to burn off those calories.”

For most of us who don’t have that kind of determination, he suggests using a simple calorie tracking app to avoid eating excessively. “But there’s no need to go overboard with calculating everything that you eat. That may be too tedious and is not sustainable in the long run,” he adds.

From failing his NAPFA test as a teen to training fellow NSmen to pass their physical fitness tests and helping his fitness clients lead healthier lives, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl has come a long way on his fitness journey. Not only has he come to embody physical fitness, he’s doing his best to help others transform their lifestyles, one rep at a time.

INTERVAL MATTERS

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl is a big proponent of interval training as he has seen its benefits for many clients and himself. Here’s how to start:

  1. Warm up thoroughly
  2. Sprint for 30 seconds at 100 per cent effort
  3. Rest for 1 to 2 minutes
  4. Repeat (2) and (3) at least eight times, at least once a week

IMPORTANT: You should always consult your physician or other healthcare professional before starting this or any other fitness programme to determine if it is right for your needs.