The Greatest Adventure Of All

Why National Service turned out to be the biggest adventure in our writer’s life.

By Alywin Chew      30 August 2021

I would like to think that I’ve done many things in life that can be considered pretty adventurous.

I’ve eaten worms, lamb testicles and a whole bunch of other things most people would not normally ingest. I’ve gone snorkelling with manta rays. I’ve jumped off a platform with nothing but a bungee cord strapped to my feet. I’ve been battered by altitude sickness while ascending to Everest Base Camp and lived to tell the tale. I’ve gotten married.

But do you know what I would consider to be the greatest adventure of my life?

National Service.

And just like most adventures, National Service came with its share of enlightening discoveries.

One discovery about tenacity came during the overseas training stint in Australia.

I never knew I could hold my poop for five straight days (I refused to use the porta-loos).

Come to think of it, I think I became a porta-loo.

There were also times when life in NS was about preventing discoveries. Take for instance the time when I sneaked my Nokia 8250 into Pulau Tekong and had to conceal the device in the suspended ceiling.

All was fine and dandy until the sergeants announced that everyone was going to be inspected right before we booked out.

At this moment, I became the living definition of ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s proverb “necessity is the mother of invention”.

But I suppose the appropriate proverb in this scenario would be “Prickly is the road to my salvation”.

That’s right. I pried open my Prickly Heat powder can and shoved the phone into it. I was not caught. But I was also not able to use the phone after this incident.

Nokia really should’ve made powder-proof phones.

Receiving my posting was another discovery I’ll never forget. I still remember asking my platoon commander, “Sir, so armoured infantry is like infantry but I get to sit in an air-conditioned vehicle, yes?”

He gave me a wry smile and nodded. I pumped my fists. I soon learned he was lying.

Armoured infantry was and still is not a cushy vocation. Imagine being an infantry trooper but with all the baggage of an armoured vehicle.

But being in a formation which operates by the motto “Swift and Decisive” and where you get to learn to operate an armoured vehicle does come with its perks.

I remember being particularly proficient in parking during my driving test. After all, if you can park a 12-tonne armoured vehicle, you can park anything.

“Wah, your parking quite steady, ah,” my driving instructor used to say.

“You see, I’m from Armour. Swift and decisive!” I replied.

I wonder if my peers in the Guards formation would line up outside Singapore Pools and recite their motto too.

What is the Guards motto? Ready to Strike.

The situational test that I had to undergo during Basic Military Training – which is without doubt the most memorable experience in my NS life – was also themed on discovery.

In this case, it was the discovery that NS can at times be a wonderful fantasy where you can let your imagination run wild.

I still remember being dumbfounded when the invigilator pointed at my buddy Daniel and yelled, “Man down! Sniper!”

“Huh? Sniper? Where?” I said, scratching my head.

“Somewhere out there lah, you bodoh! So how now? What are you going to do?” he scoffed.

“Sir, we weren’t taught how to deal with snipers during training.”

“Use your brain, recruit! Create a smoke screen and evacuate your teammate!”


“Throw a smoke grenade!”

“But we don’t have smoke grenades.”


My puzzled teammates and I threw our imaginary smoke grenades and fired imaginary bullets at the imaginary location of the imaginary sniper.

“Okay, what are you waiting for? Put Daniel on the stretcher and get a move on!” yelled the invigilator. “He’s going to bleed to death at the rate you’re going!”

“It’s okay, sir. He’s fine,” I replied.

“What do you mean he’s fine?”

“Daniel’s imaginary bulletproof vest caught the bullet!”

LOL Mondays is an ongoing series of slice-of-life stories from freelance writer and NSman Alywin Chew. Look out for the humorous tales which will be posted every first Monday of the month, to help you drive away your Monday blues!

Share your NS memories with us at magnsman@sph.com.sg!