PHOTO ESSAY: SINGAPORE’S ELITE COMBAT DIVERS

 

[These photos and captions are reproduced from the Straits Times]

The Navy’s combat divers, like the commandos, are among the Singapore Armed Forces’ toughest servicemen. Only the fittest are picked for a chance at this elite military vocation, and not everyone survives the rigorous training regime that pushes their physical and mental endurance to the limit. Photojournalists Alphonsus Chern and Caroline Chia tracked a batch of trainees through their six-month journey to become combat divers, watched as many dropped out along the way and had a ringside view of the toughest five days of every trainee’s life, Hell Week. 

 

In the dive pool, trainees practice their combat side stroke, a method of swimming that enables them to keep a low profile in the water.

Second Warrant Officer S. Rajendren (left) coaches trainee Anson Chew, 21, on how to retrieve a dive mask with his teeth during a drownproofing class.

A trainee plunges into the 10metre-deep section of the pool after jumping from a height of three metres. The jump is part of the Survival Swim Test.

A trainee has his dive mask and regulator ripped off his face and his air hose tied in a knot by an instructor during pool competency training. Holding his breath, he must calmly and correctly sort out his tangled gear to pass this stage.

Ernest Loh, 21, (right) takes his trousers off in the diving pool during the survival skills test. Trainees jump from a platform, then tread water for ten minutes before removing their boots and uniform. Once that is done, they inflate their trousers to keep afloat in order to pass this veto.

Trainees change out of their diving attire into their camouflage uniforms after a session in the pool.

Trainees do a rope climb as part of the Sea Circuit, one of the five "vetoes" they have to pass in order to become a combat diver. Like a water obstacle course, the Sea Circuit includes running across a beam, a 10-metre tower jump, and a swim of about 100 metres back to shore. Trainees must complete three circuits in less than 18 minutes to pass.

Trainee Jared Lim, 21, (centre) pulls himself up the rope during a Sea Circuit exercise.

Capsize drills, where trainees learn how to flip the inflatable boat using their body weight, are performed in the sea just off the Sembawang Camp.

A trainee surfaces for air during his two-kilometre sea swim, one of the five vetoes every diver must fulfill in order to pass the course.

Trainees Ganesan Tiluchivom (centre) and Andy Liam (right), both 22, return to shore after their first Jackstay Dive in the open sea, where they practised following a set of fixed ropes underwater to get a feel of the near-zero-visibility conditions.

Trainees recover a drink packet during their Jackstay dive in the open sea.

On the Sunday night before Team Building Week, trainees tape souvenirs on their cabin doors to taunt the instructors that would soon come to evict them from their bunks.

Trainees hang their legs over their boat mates' shoulders as they do chain push-ups on the field during Team Building Week.

Instructors increase the challenge of the Boat PT session by making the trainees to carry two, or even three, stacked boats during Team Building Week.

Trainees raise their water bottles as they cheer before a water break. Those who have lost their bottles in the confusion lift jerry cans to perform this ritual.

Punishments come in all forms during Team Building Week. Here, one group of trainees do push ups, while another group holds up a truck tyres to test their endurance.

Having just endured a round of physical training, the men are sprayed down with a hose to remove mud and dirt from their uniforms before entering the cook house for a meal.

Trainee Kevin Liew, 21, struggles to lift the legs of the man in front of him, in addition to his own weight, during a gruelling session of chain push ups on the beach.

Trainee Eden Kang, 24, hollers as he endures the blast from a water hose whilst lifting an inflatable boat during a Boat PT session.

Trainees run with their inflatable boat- small on their heads, as part of boat PT during Team Building Week.

During Team Building Week, trainees get hosed down before each meal, to ensure that any dirt or mud is washed off them before they head to the cook house for meals.

In one of the evolutions, trainees had to row their boats out to a buoy and back again. The exercise was made more challenging when they were not allowed to use their wooden oars, but had to paddle with their hands instead.

A trainee covers himself in mud during a Boat PT session.

Boat Toss is one of several drills done during boat PT. Here, trainees toss their boats as high up as they can during Team Building Week.

As the sun rises on the third day of Team Building Week, trainees paddle their boats several kilometres to a coastal training area for a Situation Test that will earmark those with the potential to attend command school.

Trainees work under different scenarios during a Situation Test towards the end of their Team Building week. After days without sleep, many trainees found it difficult to stay awake.

Stripped to their tights and wet from a quick shower, trainees shiver in the breeze as they wait their turn for a daily hygiene inspection by medics.

Throughout the five days of Hell Week, trainees get just four hours of proper sleep time. Here, they are lined up in rows for one such sleep session.

Trainees huddle together for warmth as they are showered with water from a hose during night training in Team Building Week.

Under the watchful eyes of the instructors, trainees endure their first "Cold Treatment" evolution, where they are submerged in 14-degree water for a minute or so.

Third Warrant Officer Steve Ng, 35, persuades a regular trainee to quit the class by ringing the brass bell, while his fellow trainees shout at him not to do so, during one particularly intense session of physical training.

These trainees were made to write in the prone position to keep them awake. The essay-writing evolution took place on the fourth night of Team Building Week, when most trainees were barely able to stay awake after having had only four hours of sleep throughout.

Machine guns and flares go off around the parade square as the sodden and sand-covered trainees raise their wooden paddles to celebrate the end of Team Building Week on Friday morning.

Hunched under the weight of their rucksacks, victorious trainees slowly make their way back to their cabins for a compulsory rest after a medical check-up at the end of Team Building Week.

Trainee Teoh Boon Siew, 22, awaits medical attention after Team Building Week as he rests his feet, which appear to be affected by a fungal infection.

Second Warrant Officer Ho Boon Kee congratulates trainees of the 40th Combat Diver Course at the end of Team Building Week.

Dressed in their combat attire and scuba gear, frogmen of the 40th Combat Diving Course parade in the four-metre dive pool during their graduation ceremony.

Trainees are all smiles for the camera at the end of their Combat Diver Course graduation, where they are allowed to wear the Professional Diver badge with a dark blue backing for the first time.

 

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