By Centre for Fathering’s Resource Team
The first Dads for Life Camp @ Army Open House 2017 on 28 and 29 May was a trip down memory lane, as fathers relived their days as active national servicemen, and shared their memories and reactions to today’s military through a one day, one night camp in a beautiful outdoor city setting.
Camping is a time to enjoy open outdoor spaces, and to involve our children in some of the experiences we had in our youth. When the campsite is situated at the heart of the famed Singapore skyline, right at turn 22 of the Singapore F1 race circuit, with the Singapore Flyer standing guard over us – we were expecting something special.
Held in conjunction with the Army Open House 2017, 210 dads jumped at the chance to pair themselves with one child from their family. I signed up too, never expecting that we would be treated to one night and one day of surprises, adventures and thrills. It was, as Bryan Tan, CEO of Centre for Fathering-Dads for Life (CFF-DFL) described it, “intense”!
Book In, Kit Issue
In-processing for the first of the 420 campers took place smoothly. The first three “Companies” of dad-child teams set up the first tents along the water’s edge in front of the Singapore Flyer.
With plenty of time to meet and mingle, we were surprised by Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Defence & Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr Maliki Osman’s arrival on site to witness fathers and children putting the finishing touches to their tents. Dr Maliki even lent a hand as a boy struggled with securing his first tent pole.
Dr Maliki also marked his visit by joining 5 Muslim father-child pairs after the tent-pitching exercise with a breaking of the Ramadan fast.
No Lighting Up the F1 Track!
Dinner was a very realistic affair, as volunteers from each of the companies did a water and ration run. It gave many of the army simulators we would be trying the next day a good run for the money.
Our meals comprised of combat rations, but there was a sensible prohibition on lighting solid fuel on the grounds of a major Singapore tourist attraction.
The views and the weather were magnificent, and some dads stood out, the envy of their fellow campers as they had the foresight to pack gourmet burgers for themselves and their lucky little ones. The rest of us had a rather more authentic camp dinner.
Next on the programme, dad and child pairs enjoyed a military tattoo* at the Army Open House main display area, right next to our campsite. SAF’s Central Band, MDC’s acrobatic dancers and silent drill MPs, all coordinated themselves in a show that was world-class! (See video links below)
Movie under the Stars
One canteen break later, we caught a screening of the Jack Neo hit movie, Ah Boys to Men II. Younger children headed for their tents, while the rest gamely took in the outdoor movie under a cool, misty drizzle.
Long before dawn the next day, as if expecting a morning range shoot, dads began their groggy reverie, packing whatever they could from their tents in slow motion. Good thing this was not a real military situation.
A time honoured army tradition followed after tents were packed away and personal effects packed and ready for storage – awaiting orders.
Army Open House 2017
At 0830, campers began their tour of the Open House. Tanks, artillery, combat engineer vehicles and an eye-opening array of new and upgraded weapon systems were on display. Getting up and into some of the vehicles, some dads were just as wide-eyed as their children!
I was then surprised when my son pulled towards the Soldier Strong section, which suspiciously resembled a soldier “siong**” memory from the past – the SOC (Standard Obstacle Course). With an army captain tempting the boy with a balloon sword for completion, reliving my NS days had truly begun.
It was worth the sweat in the end, as he soldiered through the entire course with aplomb and I made a mental note to reward him with an isotonic drink (so I could grab one too).
Army “siong”, indeed.
As the weather started to blaze, we decided to watch other dads as they ventured out for the most popular features of the Army Open House – the Battle Rides.
Our brave campers took turns to don their safety equipment and be startled by the brisk rides on the Light Strike Vehicle (LSV) Mark II, and the Combat Engineers’ brand new M3G, a self propelled floating bridge that, when in motion, created the illusion of a crowd that was walking on water.
Fortuitously, our programme for the second day allowed maximum down time to lounge in the canteen, and let our children explore the very comprehensive Kid’s and Games Zone and technology areas where we tried out drones, tank simulators and other indoor features in the comfort of air conditioning.
It felt like POP (Passing Out Parade) all over again when at last, we all gathered to await the Minister for Social and Family Development Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, to lead us in reciting the Dad’s Promise, followed by a 3km-long Family Route March. Flags waved, morale was high, and the only difference in this route march was the time of fun bonding and taking wefies. (Watch route march video linked below).
All too soon, a night and a day had passed in this wonderful venue and impressive Army Open House, as the camp’s memories were firmly imprinted in the hearts and minds of more than 200 Dads for Life and their precious children.
Our Road Home
My 6-year old son Joel and I briefly reminisced the camp on the taxi ride home. Surprisingly, he enjoyed the dancers and musicians at the Military Tattoo the most, followed closely by the display of military troops and hardware during the Battle Displays.
Personally, it was an eye opener for me to see him so enthused with trying out the Soldier Strong obstacle course. My eyes truly opened at how we bonded at the Family Route March, where he gamely pushed himself through 3km of sometimes running ahead and falling behind, so I could photograph the shots of the participants with Minister Tan Chuan-Jin along the way.
We truly made precious, lasting memories this camp, and I can only look forward to experiencing something like it with my second son, Joshua, someday soon.
*Military tattoo: a military performance of music, dance and general armed forces display of excellence.
**Siong – army speak for “physically exhausting”.
MINDEF’s recording of the actual military tattoo that our campers watched on our first night. https://www.facebook.com/oursingaporearmy/videos/10155196541276063/
Minister Tan Chuan-Jin posted his own video of the Family Route March here: https://www.facebook.com/TanChuanJin1/videos/1465727110136726/
About the Author: Jeremy Yip is a writer, outdoorsman and husband to Sharlene. The couple have 3 boys, Joel (6), Joshua (3) and newborn Joseph. He is still carrying aches and pains from the water party on the first night of camp