I was not aware of the double CCA policy in ACS(I) pre-enrolment – and as soon as I did, I knew that my life was about to undergo massive changes. I was never particularly active in my CCA in Primary school, and now I had to contend with two. Foolishly, I followed the advice of certain anonymous seniors, which was to join the St. John Ambulance Brigade (SJAB), since it was the most lax of all the options. Big mistake. As a member of the SJAB in Year One, I spent my first year in school contending with seniors who were still eager to enforce punishments upon us. This was an integral part of many Uniformed Groups (UGs) back then. Every Friday, we were subject to a 3.5 hour reign of terror, where we had to think thrice before saying or doing anything, lest we be slapped with the dreaded punishment – pushups. It was a harsh and grueling first year to undergo, and I found myself always trying to be excused from any parades.
Sounds scary? Well, it was. Uniformed Groups (UGs) have come a very long way in ACS (I). I joined the school at a very crucial point in ACSian history, which was the immediate year after Dr Ong left. As a result, I was able to personally experience the evolution of the UG system in ACS (I), from what it was like under Dr Ong, to what it is now, under Mr Hodge. What used to be a CCA with a sharp focus on discipline and terror had now metamorphosed into one which places more emphasis on building camaraderie and discipline between fellow cadets. Of course, I won’t forget to answer your most urgent question at this point in time – Yes, the pushups have been abolished, but other alternatives, while less harsh, still exist.
Naturally, with the lack of an incentive to keep on your toes throughout the parades, it has been tougher to foster discipline. This might not necessarily be a detriment to the system. The deviation from punishments as the core of a UG shifts the focus of the CCA onto the participating cadets, especially the juniors. What your seniors will be trying to do is to instill discipline into each and every one of you in a less aggressive manner, and it is up to all of you to accept what they teach you.
That being said, how much you benefit from a UG is completely dependent on how willing you are to participate and inculcate new teachings into your mind. Your teacher-officers and seniors could be trying to teach you how to conduct yourselves, and all you need to do is to skip the CCA, or shut your mind off, for you to guarantee the next few years’ worth of Fridays (or Saturdays, for the Boy’s Brigade) a waste of your time. Many people still hold onto the misconception that UGs are a place where you get tortured and berated by a bunch of sadistic seniors, which seems to be a legacy left behind by the old system. It really isn’t, and although time to time you might feel that your UG is still harsh, try to recall the true nature and motivations behind the CCA.
Understanding what you are doing and why you are doing something in a UG was how I transformed myself from a UG-detesting brat into much more of a scholar, officer, and gentleman (Although, I am not fully there yet, for the best is yet to be). I was fortunate enough to receive the guidance of one of my seniors. During the moments in Year One where I could no longer tolerate being in SJAB, he would consistently motivate me, and also made me understand why I was even participating in this UG. Under his influence, I was able to make the most out of my time in SJAB, and even managed to win a number of trophies for our school. Until now, I still am an active member of the SJAB, and I still enjoy my time there.
Alright, it’s now time for more practical knowledge.
First things first – there is absolutely no need for you to have any prior experience regarding the UG before you can join, as every UG will teach you everything they offer from scratch. You need not know basic first aid before joining SJAB, neither do you need to know how to camp and tie knots before joining Scouts. However, having prior experience in certain UGs could make you a preferential candidate for acceptance into the UG. As far as I know, being a member of the Scouts in Primary school would almost guarantee you a place in the ACS (I) Scouts corps.
Secondly, the UG parades will all be on Friday, with the exception of the Boys’ Brigade, which has their parades held on Saturdays. Each parade will be approximately 2 to 3 hours long, with durations varying from UG to UG. Generally, every parade will begin with a fall-in, where attendance is taken, before the corps is dispersed to different venues to carry out the activities for the day. The core activity of each and every UG would be foot drills, and they will usually be accompanied by another activity specific to them. For example, SJAB would have first aid lessons, whilst the Scouts would be learning camping and cooking. Before you make your UG selection, try your very best to inquire into each and every one of their activities and choose the one that interests you the most – it really improves the UG experience. The parade will end off with a dismissal parade and you’ll then be free to revel in the freedom granted by the weekend. Also, do keep in mind that every UG has their own special day whereby they will be participating in the morning assembly as a contingent, in front of the entire school.
Thirdly, certain UGs will open up opportunities for you to be active in many school events. SJAB cadets will frequently find themselves in the position of being a first aider on duty during many sporting events, such the annual Cross-Country event, as well as the Swim Meet. In fact, some of you might recall SJAB members stationed discreetly near your activity areas during the orientation programme. NPCC cadets might be granted opportunities to be road marshals during the Cross Country event, where they would be directing the runners onto the right paths. Do remember to consider these when making your decisions.
Fourthly, certain UGs can be a 6 year commitment, instead of the conventional 4 years. The most prominent examples would be the Venture Scouts and the Boy’s Brigade, as they still do have activities constantly throughout their time in IB. For other UGs such as SJAB, it is still possible to be a member when in the IB programme, but your position as a senior would be more managerial, so don’t expect to be participating in any parades. If you are part of the IP programme, or intend to join the IP programme from the Express stream, it is perfectly fine to leave your UG after your 4 years of commitment, and join another CCA in the IB programme.
Finally, as you might have guessed from my earlier mention of trophies, each UG will have their own specific competitions which they can participate in. Personally, I participated in the First Aid Competitions which are unique to SJAB, and I found the experience to be extremely beneficial – not only did I learn many advanced first aid skills, I also found new friends amongst my team members. Whilst being part of any competition team would consume more of your time, I would recommend joining them, even if just for a trial session. These competitions would also work wonders for fulfilling your CAS requirements, so that’s an added bonus.
Just like how my senior was an inspirational guide to me, I hope that through this article, I have in turn inspired some of you in a similar fashion. To sum up everything that I have said, UGs are compulsory to join so as to better help you become a scholar, officer, and gentleman – try to make the most out of your time in it. For all you know, you might miss your UG days in the future, and I know that I definitely will, once I graduate from the school. Take your time, slowly think through your choices, and make an informed decision about your UG choice. Even if you don’t get into your ideal UG, rise up to the challenge and try to maximise your experience there. So, look forward, and take the first step of your UG journey in ACS (I). Cheers!
Hartono Santoso Ong (6.03) is from the graduating batch of 2016. He is a Senior Staff Sergeant in the St. John Ambulance Brigade.