“I Volunteer!” – Interview with an SAF Volunteer Corps Soldier


Every Singaporean knows that we are a conscripted nation. Giving up 2-2¬Ĺ years of your life to train full-time as a soldier is no small sacrifice. So it comes as no surprise that there are still some who try ways and means to¬†evade their National Service (NS).

However, there are some who actually come forward of their own free will to don the smart 4, run the Standard Obstacle Course (SOC) and go outfield.

They are the soldiers of the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps (SAFVC) – and they consist of permanent residents and women who want to give back to a country that has kept them safe.

 

A Quick Look at What the SAF Volunteer Corps Is

Singapore has in fact had volunteer soldiers way back in her pre-independence years during the 1950s. But with the introduction of National Service enlistment in 1965, the then-Volunteer Battalion declined and eventually held its final parade in 1984.

It was only in 2014 that SAF once again opened its doors to volunteer soldiers. In that first intake, some 200+ men and women formed the very first intake of trainees. Here’s an infographic from MINDEF that gives a good snapshot of what they went through:

 

We were curious about what the experience was like for for these men, as well as their motivations for signing up. So we caught up with Calven Bland, who joined the SAFVC in 2016 and completed his training to become an Auxillary Security Trooper.

Calven is a New Zealander by birth, and has been a Singaporean PR since 2012. He is a Business Development Manager at McConnell Dowell South East Asia Pte Ltd, but also hails from a family with a rich history of military experience.

 

 

Interview with SAF Volunteer Corps Soldier, Calven Bland

 

Miniature Stories: Let’s start our introduction with your family and background in military. We heard that you, your family and even your extended relatives have served in some capacity in the New Zealand military. Could you tell us a little about that?

 

Calven: I served in the NZ Army as a Movement Operator in the Royal New Zealand Corps of Transport (RNZCT).

My brother served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) as a Navigator on C-130’s. And on my dad’s side, he and one brother served as Infantrymen in the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (RNZIR) and the other brother was in the RNZAF. My grandfather was a member of the RNZAF as well.

On my mum’s side, we have so many uncles and cousin who served in the Fiji Military Forces and overseas in the British Army.

 

Calven’s early days in the NZ Army

 

Miniature Stories: So after serving in your home country’s military, why did you choose to do so again in Singapore with the SAFVC?

 

Calven: I loved my time in uniform. Military life, discipline and the comradeship with the men is something I still wanted in my life.

Basically, my main reasons for joining the SAF Volunteer Corps were threefold:
A. To give something back to the community in which I live.¬†It’s about investing time and effort into something you believe in.
B. To experience the SAF personally and have that connection with my Singaporean friends who have served. It’s like a boys’ club!
C. To become aware of the armed forces environment my son will be expected to serve in.
My son will have to serve NS when he grows up, and it’s important to me that his dad had gone through something similar, even if the SAFVC is not exactly the same as NS. I want to be able to inspire him to have a greater appreciation of the SAF.

 

A family shot of Calven with wife and son

 

 

Miniature Stories: What was your training like in the SAFVC?

 

Calven: For me as an old soldier in my 40s, it was a lot of fun – long days, short nights, cramming info in shortened time periods. There was a lot of rushing from A to B, and I had to get to grips with commands in Malay. I guess these are all the normal things one experiences in the Army – discipline, a sense of urgency, dress & Bearing, filling in forms, health & safety first and looking after your Buddy and your section.

They also instilled the principle of ‘other before self’ as well as¬†unit integrity.

Couple all that with marching, drills (weapons drill, small unit section drills), shell scrapes and the BOC on Tekong… all the usual stuff!

 

 

Miniature Stories: We’re sure that many Singaporeans would be curious about this – how was training in the SAF VC compared to training in the New Zealand Army (in terms of difficulty, etc)?

 

Calven: (Laughs) Great question. It was way different. But mainly because of the time lapse between trainings. There was a span of 24 years between doing my recruit course in NZ in 1992 and doing my SAFVC Recruit course in 2016.

In 1992 I found it physically easy and psychologically hard, whereas in 2016 it was the polar opposite – physically a challenge but psychologically quite easy, as I knew the drill and the expectations required. It was almost like I knew what was coming next so I could prepare myself and my section for it.

When you take the surprise element out of things, the shock factor is lessened. Adding to that, the understanding of why the army wants things done a certain way gives you rationale and acceptance.

At the end of the day, a 45 year old looks at things with more maturity than a 21 year old.

The one thing that stood out is the safety and care the SAF and their trainers show to the recruits. And the method of instruction was very effective. There was less yelling and more active encouragement. This was very impressive and a far cry from what I experienced 24 years ago.

 

Calven at the completion of his training, with Commander SAFVC Colonel (COL) Mike Tan

 

Miniature Stories:¬†We’re guessing that not all your team mates in the SAFVC had the military background or exposure that you did. So how did those guys take to the training?

 

Calven: I am sure some struggled with various parts of the training. But at the end of the day, we were all volunteers who wanted to be there and were committed to being there and giving 100%.

That mental affirmation of what you are doing goes a long way to ensuring you push any negative or short term pain/discomfort aside for the greater goal of being part of the team and achieving the standard of proficiency required of you.

I certainly took it upon myself to help my section and others in any areas I was confident in, and they in turn helped me in areas I was not so strong.

Teamwork makes the dreamwork.

 

 

Miniature Stories: As a Caucasian in the SAF, did you have any problems assimilating into the culture?

 

Calven: None at all, I have a lot of Singaporean friends and my wife is Singaporean so after living here for 12 years, I don’t think I feel culture shock any more.

 

Miniature Stories: What were your most memorable experiences from your time in the SAFVC?

 

Calven: I scored a perfect 32/32 on the range. For me, that is a thing to be proud of, because being proficient with a weapon is paramount to being a soldier.

Other than that, it was meaningful getting to know more people in my community. And seeing the various reasons people wanted to serve, was another great insight.

The best part of it all was being presented my unit patch by my wife and son. That was pretty special.

 

Calven’s son places his SAFVC Formation Patch

 

Miniature Stories: Any funny incidents?

 

Calven: Too many to list out! However I had to chuckle at my first meal back home after training. It was Roast Chicken! I didn’t have the heart to tell my wife I had eaten chicken literally every day for lunch and dinner whilst in camp!

 

Calven’s SAFVC awards – a fine mark of achievement of his training

 

Thank you, Calven, for taking the time to share your experiences as an SAFVC soldier! Our thanks to you also, and to the good men and women of the SAFVC as well, for voluntarily doing your part in strengthening our country’s military defence!

(Cover photo source)


 

We may not have any figurines of the SAFVC… *yet*… but we do have a good range of SAF Soldiers to choose from. Check them out here.