02 January 2019

Diving into the Thick of Action

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By Hadi Hafidz (Photos: Public Affairs Department)


The calmness of the sea concealed the turbulence of the current beneath. Despite th unknown dangers of the deep blue sea, a team of heavily armed masked men in diving suits prepared to dive towards a vessel. Their mission – to rescue hostages on board a vessel which had been hijacked by terrorists as part of a simulated hostage rescue exercise. Such, is a scenario that our Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) Assault Divers from the Singapore Police Force (SPF) are specially trained to handle!


As the unit with the highest level of tactical armed response capabilities in the SPF, STAR operators are called upon to deal with armed criminal situations and hostage rescue operations not only on land, but also at sea. In this issue of Police Life, we get an exclusive interview with one of the STAR operators who let us in on his motivations and challenges of being a STAR Assault Diver. Known only as Senior Staff Sergeant (SSSgt) ‘I’, this STAR operator has since served in the unit for the past eight years.




(Photo Credit: Mr Dominique Andre)


During his National Service (NS), SSSgt ‘I’ first came across the STAR unit through some articles. As he read about their past missions, his interest in this unit started to grow. He was further intrigued by their capabilities after watching some of their tactical demonstration videos, which mirrored scenes from action movies. Like any hot-blooded youth, he wanted to be just like them. Immediately after his NS, SSSgt ‘I’ signed on with the SPF, with the aim of becoming a STAR operator!


After completing the eight-month STAR Main Course, which all STAR applicants have to undergo before being certified as a STAR operator, SSSgt ‘I’, along with other new STAR operators, went through the Basic Air Diving course (BADC) and Basic Oxygen Diving course (BODC) for another two months. Contrary to the name of the courses, these were no ‘basic’ diving courses. A large part of the courses required them to dive and execute challenging tactical tasks underwater, which sometimes could stretch up to an hour!


“An hour feels much longer when you are manoeuvring underwater. With 40kg on your back while diving against the underwater current, it was immensely challenging to complete the tasks,” SSSgt ‘I’ recalled.


It was during the diving courses when SSSgt ‘I’ found out that shortlisted candidates would also need to go through the highly rigorous two-week Assault Diving Course (ADC), and only those who managed to complete it could become an assault diver.




After overcoming one challenge after another, SSSgt ‘I’ realised that the training was much tougher than he could imagine. But knowing that he was getting closer to achieving his goal motivated him to push on, in the hope that he would be shortlisted for the ADC.


“At the end of the BODC, we had to carry out surface finning for two kilometres. The session was arduous as it was akin to doing a backstroke in full gear, without the hand movements. It also felt like the finishing line was never near. But when we finally completed the task, we felt a great sense of accomplishment as we have become physically and mentally stronger,” said SSSgt ‘I’.


Short-lived Joy



SSSgt ‘I’ was eventually selected for the ADC which would train him to integrate the tactical diving skills with the core skills of a STAR operator. The joy, however, was shortlived, as he soon realised that the toughness of the BADC and BODC was nothing compared to the ADC.


SSSgt ‘I’ never knew that his physical and mental limits could be stretched that far! One of the toughest training was diving in the open sea. It was immensely strenuous. Even advanced swimmers were struggling tremendously due to the undercurrent. The training did not stop there. Diving was only the start of a series of intense training sessions. At times, he even found it strenuous to climb back onto the vessel.


“I initially had problems climbing onto the vessel using the caving ladder with the 40kg of load on my back. Every step up the ladder was difficult and even during instances where I barely managed to complete the climb, I would be too gassed out for the rest of the exercise,” recalled SSSgt ‘I’.


With the help from seniors and countless hours of practice, SSSgt ‘I’ persevered through a series of highly strenuous diving-related training and finally completed the course and was certified as a STAR Assault Diver.


No Finishing Line


(Photo Credit: Mr Dominique Andre)


Even though it appears that SSSgt ‘I’ had crossed the ‘finishing line’ at the end of the course, the work did not end there. One of the key factors that could affect the effectiveness of the STAR unit is the fitness level of each STAR operator. Therefore, it is imperative for every STAR operator to be in tip top fitness level. To do that, SSSgt ‘I’ shared that he maintains a rigorous training regime to upkeep his fitness, ranging from regular 10-kilometre runs to weight trainings.


An incident which epitomises the need to be always well-prepared as a STAR Assault Diver took place a few months ago. A team of STAR assault divers were activated along with their fellow STAR operators to arrest a group of suspected gunmen on land. As with every operation, teamwork was key to accomplishing the mission. Both sea and land operators coordinated and executed their tactical plans seamlessly, leaving the suspects with no time to react. Swiftly taken to the ground in cuffs, the suspects were then escorted away before members of the public could decipher what was happening before them.


The Pillar of Strength



Having served in the unit for the past eight years, SSSgt ‘I’ shared that having strong family support is one of his pillars of strength. “Although my wife understands the risks involved in my line of work, I know that she wants me to go for my missions in a clear state of mind. As a result, she will always try to conceal her worries and fears whenever I tell her that I have been activated for a mission. She never fails to encourage me and I am thankful to have her constant support,” shared SSSgt ‘I’.


Life as a STAR Assault Diver is a test of one’s physical and mental resilience as it takes a great deal to endure and overcome the tormenting circumstances on land and sea. Be it rain or shine, our STAR Assault Divers are always ready to provide the highest level of tactical armed response when called upon to safeguard Singapore’s every day!


*This article is the second part of a three piece profile feature of our STAR officers in celebration of the 25th anniversary of STAR unit.


The first part of the three piece feature on the STAR operators and the STAR Main Course can be found on the previous issue of Police Life magazine.


For SPF officers who aspire to be part of the STAR family, the STAR unit will be recruiting officers for the 20th batch of the STAR unit from November 2018 to January 2019.


For members of the public who are interested to apply directly to the STAR unit, do visit our Singapore Police Force’s Facebook page to sign up for the STAR selection course.

Last Updated on 02 January 2019