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Gen Z Speaks: Women's boot camp is a sanitised version of NS life, but I gained a deeper appreciation for those who serve

We were tasked to "fall in" outside the Maju Camp cookhouse at 6.30am. But with just two minutes shy of our deadline, I knew my section of women and I would not make it in time.

TODAY journalist Loraine Lee participate in the Combat Buddy Aid acitivity during the Women’s Boot Camp on Feb 11, 2023.

TODAY journalist Loraine Lee participate in the Combat Buddy Aid acitivity during the Women’s Boot Camp on Feb 11, 2023.

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We were tasked to "fall in" outside the Maju Camp cookhouse at 6.30am. But with just two minutes shy of our deadline, I knew my section of women and I would not make it in time.

I had already folded my bedsheets, packed my helmet in a bag, and filled up my water bottle. Yet, my section mates were still getting ready.

I’ve heard nightmarish stories from my male counterparts about being punished for lacking punctuality during their basic military training phase in their National Service (NS) days.

As one friend told me, the whole section would be sent upstairs to the dormitory, then ordered to report in again, along with a not-inconsequential number of push-ups as a punishment for being late.

So when we finally left our room at 6.32am, I had a sense of impending doom. But in the name of camaraderie, I figured I might as well be late too and suffer the penalty that would surely come.

But when our commanders told us not rush in case we trip and fall, then ushered us to the cookhouse for our breakfast, I was greatly surprised that we were let off the hook.

I was one of 31 participants at this year’s Women’s Boot Camp — a two-day experience at Maju Camp in Clementi which gives women a chance to taste of NS life, albeit a toned-down version.

Organised by the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (Accord) and supported by the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps, this year’s camp was targeted at youth.

Most participants were aged 18 to 20, having voluntarily signed up through their respective junior colleges and polytechnics.

All had various reasons to be there, such as wanting a taster of the NS experience because they were interested to join the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Volunteer Corps, or just to understand what their male counterparts go through in their late teens.

Me? I had been asked by my editors to take part in it, and I was quite intrigued by the idea. After all, who wouldn’t pounce on the opportunity to shoot a rifle?

The caveat was that I had to spend a night in Maju Camp, which was quite an intimidating trade-off.

It's no open secret that the physical training during NS can be gruelling, which troubled me as I’m also extremely unathletic.

That fact sunk in when I realised that during the standard obstacle course, the ledge that we had to scale over, which was cruelly called the "low wall", was beyond my reach.

As we did not have the army boots a typical recruit would be required to wear, we could only do nine of the obstacles.

Admittedly, I failed on my first try of some obstacles. I somehow ended up facing backwards and towards my instructor when I scaled the ledge for the first time. I also utterly failed at trying to climb up the low rope.

TODAY journalist Loraine Lee learning how to use the SAR21 at the Women’s Boot Camp on Feb 12, 2023.

But another part of me did experience the thrill of being able to go through the obstacles, learning how each station serves to train NS men and regulars for different wartime scenarios.

In another training exercise, we were taught by SAF instructors how to apply tourniquets and how to evacuate a casualty safely through combat buddy aid. I gleefully brought that skill home with me, showing off my newfound skills to my exasperated mother by dragging her around our home after the camp.

My favourite part of the camp, of course, was handling the SAR21 rifle, the reason why I signed up for this camp.

For one, I never expected weapons to be this heavy, having seen people wield them with ease at the National Day Parade.

The weight of the gun with its strap around my neck weighed me down, and I wondered how people could go through the obstacle course carrying this weight, or having to endure long route marches with the rifles and field packs that can weigh as much as 20kg each.

Despite this, the most memorable part of the boot camp was the enthusiasm of the other participants, who had endless questions for the women of the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps as well as the SAF trainers.

“What happens during your period when you are out on the field,” asked one participant. “What are some things women can’t do in the army,” asked another.

I was expecting a corporate rah-rah response about how women in NS went through it exactly like other men do, or some motivational line about how women can do it too.

But their answers were refreshingly truthful, that women do experience things differently than men in the army because of practical differences.

For example, one of the obstacles in the standard obstacle course cannot be performed by females because it involves putting pressure on their uterus. During outfield trainings, I was also surprised to hear that women might need to keep their used sanitary pads before disposing of them after the exercise is over.

TODAY journalist Loraine Lee having lunch from the cookhouse during the Women’s Boot Camp at Maju Camp on Feb 11, 2023.


In preparation for the boot camp, I spoke to some friends about what NS life is like.

One told me about the time he choked while squeezing the contents of a ration pack directly in his mouth.

Another recalled how he could barely think after a gruelling route march. When asked to recite the SAF's eight core values during their "water parade", he gave an incorrect answer and ended up having to do push-ups.

Truth be told, what I went through during the weekend was a sanitised version of NS.

I had a spoon to eat my rations and didn't need to wolf down a meal by squeezing food out of a bag. I also somehow could get away with my bad jokes with my commanders during the water parade, such as when they asked us to drink "beyond the point of thirst".

In fact, I was expecting a lot more colourful language to be used in my two-day NS experience. I think I was the only person spewing vulgarities at the camp.

Nevertheless, I read some comments from netizens who thought that participants of the Women's Boot Camp got it too easy, describing the camp as an “offence to NS” that would incite women to “think NS is so easy”.

This, I find, is unwarranted.

The participants had joined the camp as volunteers to actively try to experience what many male Singaporeans go through, and their willingness and enthusiasm deserve applause, not dismissal.

TODAY journalist Loraine Lee (third from right) poses for a photo with her section mates during the Women’s Boot Camp on Feb 12, 2023.

As camp organiser Joanna Portilla said, it is easy to take peace time for granted. It is also just as easy to stay ignorant about what NS men and regulars do on a daily basis to keep our country safe.

Going through the boot camp made me truly understand that NS isn't easy. And the trainers and volunteers were there constantly reminding us of how much more regulars would have to do on a daily basis.

I finally understood why my male friends would constantly go on about their NS experiences, because the two years they spent serving the country was a common ground to bond with others.

Despite the bootcamp being only two days long, I can somewhat understand the lingo and inside jokes, although I still get confused by the numerous acronyms used.

I learnt new figurative language about how I can’t run as fast as my trainer’s grandparents, for example.

Beyond gaining a better appreciation of the men and women protecting our nation, I left the camp with a body ache and an army assault bag, a memento of my time there.

I hope more women would get the opportunity to attend a camp like this. And if the Singapore Police Force or Singapore Civil Defence Force organises something similar, I hope I’ll get to attend it.



Loraine Lee is a journalist with TODAY.

Related topics

women's boot camp Singapore Armed Forces

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