This blog has been on a hiatus for a few months now, and it is not without reason. Since July last year, I have been training to become a Naval Officer under Officer Cadet School (OCS). It is a program where I only get the weekends off (typically my free time is from Saturday afternoon till Sunday night, about 36 hours every week). On top of that, we are not allowed to leave the country throughout the duration of this course. After over 11 long months, the end is finally in sight;
I’ll be commissioning (graduating) in less than a month. I have been through quite a bit and some of my friends constantly ask me “So what do you guys do every day in the military/navy?” And when I tell them that my main job here is to study, the surprised look on their face never fail to appear. So in this post I’ll just tell my journey in OCS. First, I’ll answer some FAQ.
1) What is a Naval Officer?
Navies has ships. Ships require people to operate them. And these people work in a system. Naval officers are like the HODs in the corporate world. We are required to lead a team to work towards mission success. Think Captain Philips (Although he is in the merchant navy i.e. non-military navy) or Lieutenant Alex Hopper from the movie Battleships. They help run the ship.
2) What do Naval Officers do?
Well just like any manager, to lead, you first need proficiency in that field. There are a few aspects that ships need to pay attention to in order to accomplish its mission. I broadly categorise them into 3: Navigation, Warfighting and Engineering. In OCS, we study mostly navigation and a little bit of warfighting.
It is the bread and butter of survival of a ship. To perform safe navigation of a vessel, you just have to do 2 things: Avoid rocks/land, and avoid other ships. It is not as easy as it looks as unlike driving on the road, there is no physical demarcation of traffic lanes, so you have to rely on visual and radar systems to determine your location. And avoiding other ships is not that easy either. You cannot just slam the wheel and get out of the way. Friction is less effective in water, so you have to determine whether you might crash into another ship by using radar, compass etc. There is a over-1000-page manual just on navigation, called the BR45. It is not that easy.
Yeah as a military we have to fight. As a navy we fight with ships. Looking at historic naval battles like the Battle of Trafalgar, tactics are indeed important. To formulate these tactics, you have to know your battlefield, just like in FPS games. And again, in the sea, it is much more difficult since the tell-tales of boundaries cannot be visualised clearly.
3) Officer Cadet School
Naval Officers from all over the world have to attend a school. In most countries, the programmes/school they attend is a Naval Academy e.g. Annapolis in USA. And these naval academies’ programmes are 4-5 years long. On top of graduating as a naval officer, the also get a university degree. So these naval academies double up as a training institute for naval officers and a university. Only a few countries do not have these naval academy-style, like Singapore and Brunei. Our university education is separate from our military training, and hence our training lasts less than a year.
Okay I hope that cleared up some confusion and abolish the mentality that military=down and dirty, all muscles. Hahaha I would like to highlight some my experiences in OCS. The course is split into 3 terms, Basic Naval Term (BNT), Sea Training Term (STT) and Advanced Naval Term (ANT).
1) Basic Naval Term
The main objective of this term is to assimilate us into the navy. Daily schedules include waking up at 5:30, then breakfast. Class usually starts at 8, and goes all the way until evening or even night to 10pm depending on the schedule, only breaking for meals and a short shower time before night class. This goes from Monday to Friday, and then sometimes on Saturday we have a half-day programme of either lesson, test or physical training. On some weeks, we were lucky to be able to leave the camp on Friday night (It is a privilege not an entitlement, as my instructors like to say).
One activity I would like to highlight is a simulation of naval battle. We spend a few days (and nights) planning for it. And then try to execute our plan. We go to the channel between Pulau Ubin and Mainland Singapore and use sea boats and try to accomplish our mission. Only after this exercise, I learnt the crucial importance of planning.
Anything can go wrong (And Murphy’s Law is strong supporter for this possibility)
2) Sea Training Term
The bulk of this term is spent on Singapore’s largest naval platform, the Landing Ship Tank, touring the region. We spent our time on board the ship developing our naval proficiency and leadership skills. We closed up at various stations e.g. learning how to command a ship, operate the radar, analyse the systems in the engine room. Regarding leadership ability, we a few of us were appointed to be the ICs to plan some events that we have on board ships.
This term also included going alongside three different ports: Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, Busan in S. Korea, and Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. We had the chance to interact with the foreign officers. But Korea has the most fulfilling experiences. We manage to visit the Republic of Korea Naval Academy (RKNA) and chat with the cadets there. We shared a meal at their naval academy whilst sharing our experiences. Their problems are largely similar with ours. Lack of sleep, fierce instructors, and the craving to leave camp but you’re stuck. It was a very satisfying experience. After six long weeks out at sea, I managed to meet my parents again.
3) Advanced Training Term
ANT is like a continuity of BNT. More practice in navigation. This time it is more practical than theory. We take a boat out and navigate through the Singapore Strait, and understood how all that knowledge we learnt in the classroom actually translated to the safe navigation of a real passage.
ANT has just ended for me. The next 3 weeks will be spent practicing for the commissioning parade on 26 June. Finally, after all those months, it’s just a little bit more. Praise the Lord.