News: Singapore Guards build confidence with Marines during Valiant Mark
Story by Sgt. Jacob Harrer
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – It has been nearly two weeks since the start of Exercise Valiant Mark, a bilateral training event between the Singaporean Armed Forces and the U.S. Marines.
Valiant Mark allowed 3rd Battalion Singapore Guards a chance to observe and work with the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The guardsmen gained confidence as they experienced new and exciting training events and watched battle-hardened troops in action.
Many of the guards are very young, and none have combat experience. Unlike the United States military, the bulk of the Singaporean Armed Forces are comprised of conscripts. For more than 40 years, the Singaporean government mandated military service for all male citizens.
Most Singaporean men serve two years before being discharged into the reserves and returning to civilian life, said 3rd Warrant Officer Suffian Amin, who serves as a sergeant major with 3rd Bn. Singapore Guards.
“From brothers to sons, it has become a norm is Singaporean society… a right of passage,” Amin said. “You don’t own what you can’t protect. That is one fact that we have to live with in this modern day environment, with terrorism and all. If there is nobody to step up, if there’s no one to defend us, who will?”
Compulsory military service creates a unique leadership challenge for the Singapore guardsmen, Amin said.
“These boys come from all walks of life, and not all of them are born to be soldiers,” Amin said. “The challenges faced by me as a sergeant major becomes one in the form of discipline and soldier fundamentals.”
Most of the Singapore guardsmen here served only a year in the military. Because they lack experience, they rely on their commanders for orders before taking action during training, said 1st Lt. Muhammad Nazirul, a platoon commander serving with 3rd Bn. Singapore Guards. Additionally, the Singaporeans train in the jungles of Southwest Asia, where heavy cover protects the troops and allows them more time to deploy their forces.
In contrast, Camp Pendleton’s training areas consist of open terrain with large hills and very little cover or concealment. Most of the Marines in 2nd Bn, 5th .Marines fought in deserts and hills in Iraq or Afghanistan, gaining significant combat experience in the process. When the Marines started any training exercise, they are focused on their tasks and demonstrated a heightened sense of situational awareness, Nazirul said.
“A typical Marine is able to hold his ground,” Amin said. “He’s able to hold his own, him alone, without having to rely on his commander or his squad leader. That’s a good thing, and that’s where I keep telling my boys to open their eyes and open their minds and look at how the Marines fight and how they make the decision. They do split second decision-making.”
The two forces recently assaulted a town during an amphibious training exercise, Steel Knight, conducted by the 1st Marine Division. When they disembarked their vehicles, the Marines immediately took up defensive positions on a slope without waiting for instructions.
“I like the way the Marines assess the situation the moment they get out,” Nazirul said. “Marines rush straight into the assault without asking the commander for orders. To them it’s second nature, but for us we have to drill it into our soldiers because they are not exposed to this sort of terrain where everything is so open. We are used to working in jungle terrain where everything is covered and they don’t have to react so fast to an open area, which could be the enemy’s killing ground.”
The Singapore guardsmen learned to think and move quickly, culminating in a successful raid mission against a notional insurgent commander. Surprise and speed were key elements in the raid, which required quick and aggressive action to prevent the target from escaping.
The exercise was an exciting opportunity for the young soldiers to use initiative, Amin said. The raid instilled tremendous confidence in the Singapore guardsmen, which Amin encourages his troops to bring home and share with their comrades.
“I can’t put it into words… I can’t just explain in simple terms how confident they were after that mission,” Amin said. “They were bragging the whole day. Even though there was chaos, it was good and healthy. Men reacted accordingly without waiting for commanders. They were in the zone, and they were proud of it.”