For almost every boy, it must have crossed their mind at some point of time to be in uniform and to lead. For every Singaporean boy, he would have that opportunity when he gets enlisted into National Service (NS) but for a small percentage of that entire cohort, only the best gets to lead.
Not everyone waits or gets the opportunity to be enlisted though: girls don't get that 'call-up' and some boys decide early on that they want to be that person who leads, the one whom everyone calls 'Sir'. If a career in the army as an officer is what you are looking for, this is for you.
We will explore the life of the one who is responsible to train future leaders, the Officer Cadet School (OCS) Instructor.
Your life as an OCS instructor
The first thing you need to know about this job is that you report to work at 9am on a Monday and you leave at 5pm on a Friday. Let me reiterate that again in case it's not clear: it's not reporting in to work daily at 9am and knocking off at 5pm. No, it's not.
It's reporting in for the whole week because you are effectively on duty 24 hours a day, 5 days a week.
As an OCS instructor, you are responsible for shaping future leaders of not just the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), but also possibly, Singapore. You play an important role towards the development of these future officers; the guidance and mentoring you provide them determine how they progress in their career as well.
Being an instructor taking charge of a platoon*, safety is always a concern. As much as there has been a lot of flak about safety issues in the media, there is a high emphasis on safety and there is always a process and structure to work with to minimise any unwarranted incidences.
*A platoon of cadets consist of 42 men.
Daily schedule of an OCS instructor
Your day as an OCS instructor begins as early as 7:30am daily, unless you decide to join your cadets for morning exercise, it would be at 6am*. This is when you will be conducting your first lesson of the day which could be a theory or fitness lesson.
Schedules in the OCS run exactly like those in a school where you have to follow the timetable with each period lasting for an hour. So, when you don't have lessons, you prepare yourself for the next lesson or you prepare your proposals for vetting of commanders' approval. Examples of such proposals or better known as Approval of Planning (AOP) are outfield camps and live firing. The AOP takes between 1-3 days for a simple one from start to approval or weeks for a more complicated plan that requires more coordination work.
Despite these programmes being conducted frequently, they still need to be approved before every single one is conducted to confirm that all areas are covered, from logistics to safety.
*Married personnel are not required to stay in camp. Non-married personnel are allocated bunks in the Officers' Accomodation.
The grind of PREPARATION
Life as an OCS instructor means doing a lot of preparations—preparing administration instruction, safety plans, conducting stores, safety stores, logistics and vehicles, meals allocation and liasing with different agencies within the SAF. This is on top of preparing for a conducting brief to make certain that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities twice; once for instructors and another for cadets. All of these take up a big chunk of your time.
OCS instructors also go beyond their job scope to prepare cue cards to ensure instructors* are clear of the objectives, intent and deliverables.
*Depending on the type of activity being conducted, usually these instructors are also OCS instructors but on certain occasions it could include other specialised personnel (demolition, artillery, tanks, etc).
Your responsibilities as an OCS instructor
It begins with The Officers' Creed:
I am an Officer of the Singapore Armed Forces.
My duty is to lead, to excel and to overcome.
I lead my men by example.
I answer for their training, morale and discipline.
I must excel in everything I do.
I serve with pride, honour and integrity.
I will overcome adversity with courage, fortitude and determination.
I dedicate my life to Singapore.
As an OCS instructor, you are in-charge of up to 14 officer cadets who become your babies for the next 9 months where you will mentor, guide and mould them to be "fit, confident and competent" soldiers, officers, leaders & gentlemen.
You will lead and train them in leadership skills, organisational learning tools, operational orders, force preparation, various weapon system, section level drills, platoon maneuver, navigational skills, jungle confidence course (for those serving in the ARMY) as well as learn how to be a conducting officer, safety officer and where you fit into the Singapore's Armed Forces "15-step Battle Procedure". These were also the same training that you would have undergone as an officer cadet.
As there is a heavy emphasis on values such as leadership, professionalism, fighting spirit, teamwork, ethics, self discipline and innovation. You are expected to lead by example and to display such values for your cadets to learn and emulate.
For the cadets, some of the exciting highlights of being in OCS are the leadership fieldcamp, jungle confidence course (JCC), live firing of different weapon systems and the opportunity to go on board various military vehicles and platforms such as Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) and helicopters!
As an OCS instructor, having undergone such training and exercises several times before, your task is to guide, coach & assist them to be able to discover the lessons to be learnt rather than spoon-feeding them. You will serve as knowledge banks for the cadets to question & to understand the application of the knowledge that the cadets can access in the information portal used in SAF called the LEARNet.
As these are merely information, the crucial insights can only come from you, the instructor. This would then mean that you must constantly exercise due diligence to fill in the gaps of their knowledge. As things in the SAF are dynamic & changes occur frequently, you cannot afford to assume that everything is status quo. The mantra from the Higher Command would be to never be complacent for the cadets' training standards, discipline & safety of the cadets.
As an OCS instructor, you do need to love the challenge for planning and understand that every single activity is a different challenge which requires constant due diligence.
Besides teaching or working behind the desk, you also need to continuously maintain your physical and combat fitness. You are always expected to be at least as strong as the average cadet*. This means that you need to put aside time to train on your own.
*The average cadet needs to get a Silver for their Individual Proficiency Physical Test (IPPT) and be able to carry a combat load of between 15-20kg.
Upholding standards in OCS
Standards are high in OCS and Cadets have to meet those standards before he/she can be commissioned as an officer. As an OCS instructor, your job would include counselling underperforming cadets and even informing them that they have to be placed Out Of Course (OOC).
Other than clearly lacking in performance such as failing administrative tasks & severely lacking in leadership, planning & mission execution abilities, cadets can be placed OOC when they are caught cheating, lying or stealing. Basically, displaying a lack of integrity is a matter serious enough deserving of such an action.
Performing up to mark would result in the cadet passing the course and being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. The Commissioning Parade, which is ranked the 3rd most important parade in Singapore, behind the National Day Parade and SAF Day Parade, is perhaps the proudest moment not only for the loved one of the newly commissioned officer but also for yourself, as their instructor.
At that moment, you know that the hard work, dedication, guidance and mentoring that you have given to the cadets has prepared them enough to take on the heavy responsibility of being a leader not just in the SAF but in their future endeavours.
That is how significant the role you play, as an OCS instructor, in the development & grooming of those under you.
Career progression beyond an OCS instructor
An OCS instructor is only one of many appointments that you will have the opportunity to be exposed to as an officer. Other appointments that you may have could include command roles or staff roles. And if you haven't managed to guessed it yet, OCS instructor is an instructional role.
Being in a regimental, uniformed organisation, it is easy to track and determine how far you can progress up the ranks. The desired pathway for an officer is to serve his/her tenure for a year before disrupting his/her service to further his/her studies. On return, the officer will serve at Brigade Headquarters (HQ) as a staff officer or as a Basic Military Training Company (BMTC) Officer-in-Charge (OC) or as a OCS Platoon Commander (PC) where he/she will undergo company tactics course. The next phase will be to take over as 2nd In-Charge (IC) of a company as an understudy to the OC for a year before taking over command as the OC.
Exemplary and high flying officers primed to be future Commanding Officer (CO), will go to Command Staff College to further their knowledge.
Appointments for officers
Newly commissioned officers can be posted for either instructional roles, command Roles or staff roles.
Instructional roles are either as OCS instructors or Basic Military Training Company (BMTC) Platoon Commanders (PC). Command roles would be as Operational unit PC and Staff Roles are Deputy to Manpower Officer (S1 Branch), Intelligence Officer (S2), Training and Operations Officer (S3) or Logistics Officer (S4).
Most regulars will take on command role as the staff roles are mostly NSFs. As an officer, you would stay for 1 year in that role before going back to OCS as an instructor or become a staff officer in brigade headquarters (HQ).
Suitability as an OCS instructor
This job can be quite mundane and you may end up spending a lot of time waiting. Mundane because your commander will most likely task the same person to conduct the same activity for every batch. When this happens, you may get complacent and thus, your challenge is to not be complacent.
You spend a lot of time waiting because in a day of 12 periods, you may end up only teaching for 1 or 2 periods, or none at all. When this happens, you may begin to question your purpose of being physically present in camp. Unfortunately, you don't get to go anywhere but remain in camp and this is where you learn to find activities to fill up those gaps of time.
For those who aspire to be OCS instructors, you must be able to assimilate well with the culture of each wing. There may be tendencies where you may be unhappy but you just learn to deal with it. Like for instance, you see an overweight instructor but refuses to do anything about it despite being cautioned and reprimanded by superiors. Receiving a verbal warning may result in a poor performance appraisal while a warning letter could mean that your bonus for the next two years is gone.
This job will also require you to be away from your loved ones at long stretches especially when you have to go on overseas training stints but thankfully, you don't stay in the same appointment for more than a few years as you will be rotated around.
So, if you are prepared to lead the life of an officer and bring honour to your family by serving the nation and training our next generation of leaders, this may just be right for you.