They train from 4am to 8.30pm and put up with deafening sounds from the 25-pounder howitzer. Channel NewsAsia speaks to the people being put through their paces for the Presidential Gun Salute.
SINGAPORE: For Third Warrant Officer (3WO) Wong Xiuping Angeline, being involved in this year's Presidential Gun Salute (PGS) at the National Day Parade (NDP) is a dream come true.
The 32-year-old has been gunning for a part in the segment ever since she was a new enlistee. "I wanted to participate in the PGS and that was the reason why I signed on many years ago,” she told Channel NewsAsia.
Fast-forward 11 years, and 3WO Wong will be making her mark as the first female Battery Sergeant Major (BSM) for the PGS. She will be in charge of marching in the battery - or company in layman's terms - before the Gun Positioning Officer (GPO) takes over to lead the gunners into the field of play.
3WO Wong, from the 24th Battalion Singapore Artillery, said even with two months of gruelling training, the process has so far been “fun”. “I’m not gun-trained, only radar-trained. So, we have to consult a few seniors to know the drills and read through some manuals,” she said.
Gunners waiting to take cue from the commander during the second preview of National Day Parade 2016. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
“I’m quite honoured to be able to participate in the PGS. It’s my first time participating in this segment. In previous years, I was a contingent trainer during NDP,” 3WO Wong said.
“I didn’t specifically mention it to my family, as I participate in NDP almost every year. It’s almost like a routine,” she added. “As for my friends, they know about it but all they did was to ask me for NDP tickets!”
Blank canisters being loaded before the actual PGS segment. (Photos: Xabryna Kek)
A 21-gun salute is commonly performed for the President as a military honour. In Singapore, blank canisters are loaded and fired from the ceremonial 25-pounder howitzer.
Second Sergeant (2SG) Yeo Jun Jie, who is in charge of firing the ammunition, will also participate in the PGS for the first time. “It’s my first and probably the last time as I will be operationally-ready in September this year,” he lamented.
“I was lucky … My Sergeant Major asked our battery if we wanted to volunteer so I went for it,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s one of the last high-key events I’m doing with my own battery men before we ORD so that’s quite fun.”
2SG Yeo walking with his team members to the 25-pounder. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
2SG Yeo described the long hours they have to put up with on a typical training day: “On Saturdays, we will wake up at 4am, open the garage at 4.30am and start preparing such as putting on the gun cover as protection from dust and dirt. We also hook up the guns to the Land Rovers and line them up at Khatib Camp at about 5.15am.”
Crew members attempt to adjust the 25-pounder in position. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
The gunners move off early to avoid the heavy traffic from the morning peak hour, he said. “Other units involved in the NDP also take the same routes as us, so we don’t want to have traffic congestion,” added 2SG Yeo.
Crew members adjusting the 25-pounder before the start of their training session. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
Gunners pushing the 25-pounder in alignment with the base plate. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
By 5.45am, the 30-strong contingent would have arrived at Kallang Practice Track. It is where they unload the guns and deploy them on the field, before segueing into their training session. Since Jun 25, the squad has been on a 4am to 8.30pm schedule, 2SG Yeo revealed.
A tired soldier taking a nap near Kallang Practice Track in the wee hours of the morning. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
“My fellow crew members have to high-kneel so it’s very tough on their knees. And they can’t move as it can be seen on the camera. It’s very obvious even if they move just a little bit,” said 2SG Yeo, adding that drills are continuously repeated until they are up to standard. Still, he described firing off rounds as "kind of exhilarating” as it is “really loud".
Crew members in the middle of a rehearsal for National Day Parade 2016. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
Commanders have been doing their bit to keep the troops happy. “They sacrifice a bit of money and buy snacks like doughnuts to bring up the morale of the guys,” he said.
NDP 2016 will also be the first time in five years that the PGS will be conducted on land. The segment is timed to take place when President Tony Tan Keng Yam inspects the parade contingent.
Previously, spectators could watch the gun-salute from afar when the NDP was held at the floating platform at Marina Bay. This year, however, spectators will be inside the National Stadium and will not be able to get a glimpse of it in person.
“The stadium is closed off so they are unable to see us. I guess that’s a bit of disappointment, but they can still hear and see us from the big screen,” said 2SG Yeo. “It’s still quite exciting to be on television. I’m a bit more motivated (to give it my best shot) as my friends and family are looking forward to seeing me on screen.”
All fired up. (Photos: Xabryna Kek)
3WO Wong said the contingent has shown remarkable dedication. “As the boys come from different batteries, I think it is very encouraging to see them put in a lot of hard work.
"From being clueless to being able to deploy the guns and work independently, I think that is already a 10 out of 10 score from me. I’m sure they will perform on National Day."
The Presidential Gun Salute segment is expected to commence at 7pm on National Day, Aug 9.