SINGAPORE: Every Saturday, in the lead-up to the National Day Parade, about 170 vehicles from Singapore's uniformed forces are stationed in the "Mobile Column Village", located just off Nicoll Highway.
It's where they are prepped to make sure their 15 minutes of fame as part of the NDP’s mobile column goes without a hitch.
This Saturday (Jul 20), reporters followed three newly commissioned made-in-Singapore Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV) from Sungei Gedong Camp to the Mobile Column Village.
Here is a glimpse at the operations behind making this segment as flawless as possible.
A PRE-DAWN OPERATION
The task of transporting the Hunters begin in the cold and silence of an empty parade square at Sungei Gedong Camp in Lim Chu Kang.
At about 5am, three Hunters file out from their shed adjacent to the parade square.
Soldiers from within the hatches manoeuvre the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) first fully digitalised armoured vehicle to line up behind three low-loading lorries.
One by one, under the guidance of a vehicle commander, the Hunters mount the lorries.
Captain Charles Loh, Vehicle Commander of the Hunter AFV said: "Performing the loading and unloading is the toughest part of the task as it requires driving the vehicle with great precision.
"Working under conditions with low light also makes it more challenging."
Once secure, the Hunters begin their journey to Nicoll Highway at around 6am.
A HUNTER'S JOURNEY
The hour-long ride to Nicoll Highway starts at the dark and forested Sungei Gedong Road and Lim Chu Kang Road.
The three lorries are behemoths, dwarfing other vehicles as they make their way onto the Pan-Island Expressway.
When the slow-moving lorries make a turn, riders on motorcycles are forced to slow down while waiting for them to clear a bend. Once cleared, the motorcycles dart away.
As the Hunters cruise over Keppel Viaduct, the sky begins to brighten and change in hue. Turning into Central Boulevard, skyscrapers tower over the roads.
The Hunters ride past Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Flyer and the F1 Grandstand before dismounting the lorries to join other armoured vehicles at the Mobile Column Village.
Also parked there were SAF vehicles such as the Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank, the ASTER-30 Missile System. They will be joined by more hardware from the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Civil Defence Force.
THE MOBILE COLUMN VILLAGE
By the time the Hunters arrive at the Mobile Column Village, the area is bustling with SAF personnel in their green overalls.
They have been here since just after sunrise. Some are having breakfast and chatting with their friends before a long day of NDP rehearsal.
Many soldiers are perched on their armoured vehicles, conducting tests and doing final maintenance to make sure their vehicles are ready to be presented to the crowd at the NDP rehearsal show.
At least 1,000 people are involved in the mobile column segment alone.
They have until 8am to finish the preparations for the show. Once they are out of the Mobile Column Village, all spanners are to be kept and no more adjustments can be made.
Once given the signal, the machines begin filing out of the Mobile Column Village, beginning with the Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank which will lead the column as part of the Armours formation.
They will make their way to the edge of Republic Avenue just shy of Nicoll Highway. The remaining groups of armoured vehicles will then be queued with the help of officers doing traffic control.
Lance Corporal Sum Wen Yong, who mans a traffic control post along Republic Avenue, said controlling traffic can get tricky in places when there are no road closures.
"There are commercial operations which still go on along this road. For example, the filter road into the Mobile Column Village is also the road the amphibious DUCKtours vehicles use to enter the water."
LAST STOP BEFORE GETTING INTO FORMATION
Once lined up in a single file, the vehicles and their drivers wait for the clock to strike nine. This is when road closures at Nicoll Highway begin.
Until then, those whose vehicles are ready to move into formation take the chance to catch another break.
By now, many of the soldiers have gotten used to the routine. They have been rehearsing for the mobile column along roads in Tuas since April before joining the rest of the NDP performers at the Padang in mid-June.
They would hide from the morning sun in the shadows of their vehicles until given the signal to make the next move. Then, the helmets are back on and into the vehicles they go, ready to put on a show for the nation.
It's been 50 years since the mobile column made its debut at the Padang in 1969. To commemorate this anniversary, the mobile column will make its way through the heartlands on Aug 10 for the public have a closer look at the vehicles.
NDP spectators can also look forward to a special tribute to Merdeka Generation servicemen at the end of this year's mobile column display.