Tuesday 30 June 2015

NDP 2015: Mobile column back with more variety

Veteran at front of convoy as NDP highlight celebrates past and present
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

A CONVOY of 177 war vehicles will rumble past the Padang this Aug 9 as the mobile column returns after five years.

Twenty-six types of vehicles are making their debut at National Day Parade (NDP) 2015, making the line-up the most diverse.

These include a combat ambulance, an armoured engineer vehicle used primarily for clearing mines or demolishing wire obstacles, as well as an upgraded version of a battle tank.

Also unveiled for the first time is a 22m-long specialised marine craft, which is used for the defence of bases.

Other vehicles that will be on parade include Home Team vehicles such as a combined platform ladder.

NDP 2015, which celebrates Singapore's 50th year of independence, will have a touch of nostalgia, said Major Cai Dexian, chairman of the mobile column.

"This year's mobile column will hark back to mobile columns of the past, all the way back to the original mobile column in 1969, where it's a grand, formal and precise display of military capabilities and military precision," he said.

To pay tribute to the pioneers, a retired colonel who took part in the first mobile column in 1969 will be among those leading the convoy.

Maj Cai said the significance of the mobile column was "not the vehicles themselves, but what they represent, and they represent a commitment to defence".

The 2km-long convoy will take about 15 minutes to drive past the Padang, the main venue of the parade. A section of the mobile column will also roll through the Marina Bay area.

The theme of this year's mobile column is strength, said Maj Cai, and stories of strength will be shared by the men and women behind the vehicles.

Lieutenant Celestia Tan, 25, will be the first female commander of an armoured engineer vehicle. "I'm really thrilled to be part of a milestone event... as well as to be on a tank that will be showcased for the first time," she said.

Rehearsals started last month. Seven have been held at Tuas or the Padang so far, with another five to be held at the Padang. Some 900 personnel are involved as vehicle crew members, and more than 300 are in charge of traffic control and area management.

Sergeant Mohd Raihan Mohd Haroun, 32, a fire-and-rescue specialist in the Singapore Civil Defence Force, is driving a compressed air foam pump ladder.

He said: "The mobile column looks simple, like you are just driving off. But the precision and discipline required to do the formation require training and long hours are put in for rehearsals."

Long hours notwithstanding, Lt Tan is looking forward to appearing at this year's NDP.

She said: "Part of what contributed to my desire to join the armed forces was that I watched the NDP as a kid and it's grand and magnificent.

"To be part of the parade, it's really a childhood dream come true."

He was in first mobile column in 1969
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

TANKS were test driven around a golf course to ensure their stability in the lead-up to the first mobile column at the National Day Parade (NDP) in 1969, recalled retired Colonel Goh Lye Choon.

"By the time 18 tanks went through, the course was beyond recognition," he said.

But the "top priority" at that time was national security and not sports, he noted.

Now 74, he took part in the mobile columns in 1969 and 1972.

This year, he will be aboard a main battle tank for his third appearance in the vehicle procession. The tank is one of the 177 military and Home Team vehicles on display at NDP 2015.

Back in 1969, there were just 18 tanks, crewed by 36 men.

But to the army veteran, who retired in 1993, the 1969 display was a significant showcase of what Singapore could do.

"We needed to show strength... to show that we were capable of defending Singapore," he said.

"Singapore at that time was a bit unstable, we were not sure how we were going to survive. But with the 18 tanks, we demonstrated to Singapore the confidence and strength of our defence."

He was a platoon commander during the Confrontation, a period of hostility between Malaysia and Indonesia from 1963 to 1966. Singapore was part of Malaysia from 1963 to 1965.

He recalled the preparations for the mobile column.

"We had only 11/2 months to prepare for NDP and we had to put rubber pads on the tracks, so we didn't damage the roads."

While he retired more than two decades back, he keeps up with new developments by building tank models and learning about them.

The father of three and grandfather of four exercises daily to stay healthy.

This Aug 9, he will don his old army uniform as a member of the pioneer generation.

He is grateful to be invited to take part in this year's mobile column.

"It's a privilege... It was unexpected for me, but I was very delighted. I'm very happy that I can be useful to this generation."

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