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. 


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.


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.


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.”


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.”

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.


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”

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.


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.”


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.”

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.


“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.”


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.”


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.”


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.

Close Up Uncategorized

Getting physical

Keeping fit is all in a day’s work for 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).


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.


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.


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.

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