BMT: Confinement

If you're reading this, you're probably a junior who's just about to enlist. BMT –especially confinement– is an uncertain period, and it can be pretty intimidating at times. Here are some memories/experiences and tips that I have from my own BMT, hopefully it helps you in the days leading up to your enlistment!


I. Prelude

100m range, Tekong. Basic Trainfire Package, Day 3.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a junior who’s just about to enlist. BMT –especially confinement– is an uncertain period, and it can be pretty intimidating at times. Here are some memories/experiences and tips that I have from my own BMT, hopefully it helps you in the days leading up to your enlistment!

Allow me to set the scene. The date was 5th January, 2016. Results day. I was still coming to terms with the feeling that, for the first time in 12 years, I found myself beyond that line where school ends and life begins. I was sitting. I was standing in line. Then it was over. Excitement, disappointment, and the familiar tug of profound longing at the bottom of my chest, telling me what I already knew: I’m leaving. We’re all, leaving.

I have a few fond memories of that day. Some of my classmates managed to find an open classroom that afternoon, and we snuck in, spending the time shaving each others heads. The girls joined, either in curiosity or amusement. Then it was dinner with family, for the last time in a long time. Trying to fit as many symbols of home into my backpack as I could. Notifications popped in and out of my consciousness, clawing at the peripheries of my attention. They wanted to know how I did. I replied with the kind of curt response that merits no further questioning. I didn’t want to talk about it. On a WhatsApp group, a list of things to pack. A set of timings to meet. The night welcomed with the promise of several sleepless hours; next to my bed the familiar drone of my fan.

And so begins the story of BMT. Over the barren expanse water, under the roaring of engines that shake the eastern skies, past the labyrinth of snaking highways and familiar avenues, beyond halls and classrooms bursting with laughter and voices and faces of yesteryear. The start of a new chapter.

II. What to expect and how to prepare

Bunk, Rocky Hill Camp. Confinement, Day 6. Packing field pack.

The arrival to Tekong and the subsequent departure from our parents retained a somewhat ceremonial pretence over the hurried mannerisms and the twitchy agitation of the commanders. We were whisked away from the lonely pier to the colourful pastel walls of Ladang Camp, then nervously brave bald teenagers as we were – told to remain completely stoic as we were awkwardly marched off to the buses that would take us to our more permanent residences at Rocky Hill Camp.

The way BMT works is this: it begins with a confinement of 2 weekends (so from your enlistment date you’ll only be booking out on the third Friday). During this period you’ll be taught about the fundamentals of being a soldier – from how to handle a rifle to clearing obstacle courses. You’ll live a highly regimented life in a bunk with 14-16 other guys, a sort of extended uniform group camp. If you’re interested about how much punishment you’ll have to take: it really depends on which company you get sent to, and the culture changes from year to year, so it’s really the luck of your draw. In general, you can expect to be doing lots of pushups over the shouting of commanders, and holding various positions for a lot longer than you’d expect. It’s uncomfortable, painful even, but give it time and you’ll get used to it.

Before you leave of course, you’ll probably have to do quite an extensive shopping session to get additional items to bring for a comfortable confinement week. Here is the collective wisdom of our seniors, passed down the generations:

Things to Buy:

  1. Clothes hangers (more than 5) and Clothes Pegs – You will be hanging your clothes out to dry very often and usually quite a lot (3-6) at one shot.
  2. At least 2 dehumidifiers – Put inside your cabinet to absorb excess moisture. Good to have but things will still dry really slowly if you leave it inside.
  3. Febreeze – Then again, you can always spray this on your sweaty clothing to make it smell nicer.
  4. Washing powder – You will be washing your own clothes in camp very often!
  5. Air freshener – Otherwise, your cabinet will be very smelly.
  6. Vaseline – Helps with abrasion: it can be quite annoying so it’s a good relief!
  7. Black tape – Essential item for army! Used to fix and secure many things. You’ll be given some with the rest of your army gear though, only really need to get it after your first book out. Be sure to buy 1 or 2 rolls of your platoon colour tapes also.
  8. Wet wipes (maybe 80 pieces or so)- You need this for area cleaning! Will save a lot of effort for your bunkmates and yourself. Doesn’t need to be high quality just use any cheap brand. You could always use a rag though.
  9. Muscle cream – I bought but didn’t need to use it because I recovered from the fatigue quite quickly. My bunkmates used it very often though!
  10. Additional spectacle hooks (if applicable) – You will keep losing them: first few weeks you’ll just be knocking it down very often.
  11. Snacks – When you first book-in, (if you’re lucky) it’ll be the only time they don’t check your bags so bring in whatever you wanna eat. Subsequent book-ins they might place restrictions.
  12. Portable charger (as required) – I only used one 20000mAh xiaomi charger but I heard of people that used 3! Which is quite ridiculous since you won’t be using your phone often.
  13. Extra underwear – Try and bring as many pairs of underwear as possible for confinement week so you don’t have to waste precious time at night washing and drying them! Remember that disposables are not allowed!

Typical BMT day:

0530 reveille (means wake up)
0545 fall in for temperature taking and water parade
0550 5BX
0600 breakfast
0645 area cleaning/SBA
0730 first parade
0800-1150 Period 1-4
1200 Lunch
1330-Period 5-8
1730 Dinner
1800 Night Training
2100 Last Parade
2130 Admin Time
2230 Lights Out

Likely activities for the first few days:

  • PC interview – The officer in charge of your platoon (60 pax) will interview you. Highlight any adjustment issues you have here.
  • OC opening – The officer in charge of your company (240 pax) will address you all and talk about training standards etc.
  • CSM address – Your company sergeant major “Encik” will address disciplinary issues and standards etc.
  • 5BX – 5 basic exercises. Done every morning in the army. Comprises jumping jacks, high jumper, squats, push ups and sit ups. May include a run occasionally.
  • Stand by Area/Bed/Universe – Check by your commanders on your bunks (area), with cabinet open (bed) and universe (universe).
  • Drill/Bearing Lesson – Your sergeants will teach you how to march/sing army songs/wear your uniform.
  • ST – Strength training. Involves medicine balls and Dumbbells to strengthen your body.
  • Speed Training – 30s sprint, 60s slow jog. Repeat 6 times. Will increase to 60:120 later.
  • Ability Group Run – Longer distance (3-5km) run grouped by your 2.4 time.
  • Swim – Categorisation lesson followed by aqua jogging for swimmers and basic swimming for non-swimmers.
  • BCCT – Basic close combat training. Teaches you basic hand to hand combat. Prepare to shout a lot/be aggressive here.
  • Weapon Presentation Ceremony – Rifles presented before your 1st RM by your PC in a parade in front of the BMT landmark. You will say the weapon pledge.
  • THT – Technical handling tests. How to use a SAR21, take it apart, fire it etc.

III. High Keys

Bunk, Rocky Hill Camp. Confinement, Day 10. Before SOC 4.

Other than these minor activities, there’s also what are known as “high keys”. They’re the ones that you can’t miss, and more often than not are either requirements to passing out, or play a large role in the posting that you’ll receive after BMT.

First up are Route Marches: you’ll get a taste of them before the end of confinement week. The way my platoon commander (PC) put it to us is that route marches never get less painful, you just get more used to the pain. I beg to differ, but the rhetoric is spot on. As with all things in the SAF, there’s a gradual build-up of increasing weight and distances. I distinctly remember the rebellion of every fibre of my being against movement of any sort, the first time we were expected to carry our field pack and all our gear (total ~12kg) for 6km. In cold uniform, drenched and miserable, our PC reminded us that in due time we would more than quadruple that distance. Somehow we all pull through. It’s really a mental game – during my OCS days I’ve seen girls, barely up to my shoulder, handle themselves better than some of the large guys who gym regularly. Keep your wits together, and push on.

Arguably as painful was the force preparation. It basically means collectively checking that everyone has everything they need for a movement/mission and in this case your route marches. It’s also an excuse for commanders to mess with you. You may or may not end up holding a 3kg water bag over your head because your sectionmates didn’t fill it to the brim. My advice is: know the standards and make sure that everyone follows closely. They want to see how you respond under stress too, especially if they put you as the IC, just keep yourself composed and don’t show your panic.

You’ll also have the two tests: SOC (Standard Obstacle Course) and IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test). The former consists of mobility stations followed by a 300m run down, done in standard battle order (helmet, rifle, and your integrated vest). The latter is nothing new, at least in theory. The difference is in the execution and standards. During BMT you’ll be using what’s called the ELIS system, which is some automated way of counting your push-ups and sit-ups. There are rumours and stories about how to cheat the system, but  I could never figure it out: on my first try I didn’t even do enough push ups to register a single point! Needless to say you’ll need to do well for this if you wish to enter command school. Start training early, or on weekends if you must!

There are also 2 outfields that you go through, some time in the middle of BMT. An “outfield” is exactly what the name suggests: so get used to mud and being dirty and keeping your rifle with you at all times (it’s quite a burden really). But that’s for later.

IV. Survival

7 Coy Training Shed, Rocky Hill Camp. Confinement, Day 12. Reporting Sick.

You will often hear people say that to survive BMT, keep your head low, and always stay in the middle of the pack: never too far out front, but never too far behind. That’s true, to a certain extent. Life can sometimes be easier for the mediocre, but just don’t regret your decision at the end of the day; ultimately I don’t feel it’s the most meaningful attitude to carry through your two years of NS.

I believe that the emotional side to the equation is oft neglected, stoic as guys are. BMT confinement was and remains one of my loneliest/most miserable times of last year, and that’s when I was surrounded by 30+ of my schoolmates in the same company! Do whatever it takes to keep sane: bring a sketch pad to doodle on, talk to your parents every night (if you have a luxury of time) and have a motivation. For some it’s pride, others it’s pure instinct. Whatever it is, find it, treasure it, and remember why you choose to live each day. Soon the weeks will pass.

Another common issue is contending with the fact that you’re just 18 and you’ve been conscripted into what is essentially a 9 week boot camp on how to kill and not be killed. And about the fact that you have no say in the matter. For me, I choose to work through the denial, and accept it as “just one of those things that you have to get through”. Then try to ascribe some form of meaningful outcome to it: by trying to excel at what I did, and trying to do good by others. Talk it out with your bunkmates/friends/commanders/ seniors. You might find some solace in their wisdom.

V. Conclusion

100m range, Tekong. Basic Trainfire Package, Day 3.

One year on, I’ve come to realise that my own NS experience has been fulfilling and meaningful, but there was no way I was going to see that during the long and lonely days of confinement. The journey may be painful, but here you will experience life in a way you never would have within the bubble that is ACSI. Find new people to talk to, learn more about yourself. Make this journey your own. Start strong, stay steady, and end well.

Joel Ong graduated with the class of 2016, and enlisted on 6th January, 2017. During his service, he was awarded Platoon Best Recruit, and the Sword of Merit (Signals). He is currently serving as a platoon commander in 16C4I. During his free time he enjoys drawing and pretending that he can sing. He also has a basic understanding of What AC Means.

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