I got a call from the SCDF on Dec 29 at about 1115 am saying that I am to be activated to help in a mission to rescue the tsunami victims. I am to be told if when I will go later.
At 12:30 pm, I get a call from SCDF HQ saying that I am activated and am to report to SCDF HQ at 1330. Wow! I am actually overwhelmed by this. Never expected to be called up for anything.
I managed to buy a little bit more time and was told to report by 1430 hrs at the DART base at Ubi. I get there on time with my uniform and a backpack. I get two jabs – one for tetanus and the other for typhoid. I then get whisked away into a three tonner and off to Paya Lebar Air Base for a flight out to Banda Aceh, Sumatra on a RSAF Hercules C-130.
What was completely amazing for me was that all of this was very quick and very sudden. I send an email to SCDF commissioner asking about Singapore’s response to this and what was being done. His reply was that the DART commander was in Jakarta and was checking to see what can be done. Next I know, I am activated! Did I volunteer because I asked a question? I guess I did. I have no regrets in volunteering – people have died and there are people needing help.
Anyway, the C-130 (RSAF plane ID 734), gets us out of Singapore but only to Medan. Apparently they have no clearance to land in Banda Aceh. Hmm. Banda Aceh is where people need help and we cannot go there directly and it is already 3 days since the tsunami!
We had to stay the night in Medan and with the assistance of the Singapore embassy’s military attache, Col Yee, we got into Hotel Nikko.
The 23 of us were in two-to-a-room and spent the night sleeping in comfort for we will be in the field for the next 14 days as part of our deployment.
The next morning, we were told that there will be 3 c-130s out of Singapore that will bring us to BA. We got to the airport in Medan Polonia in good time but had to wait, and wait, and wait with no plane in sight. It was frustrating sitting next to the apron waiting – but the men were cheerful and psyched.
The funny thing about the airport was that when we had to check in into it, we were assisted by the councellor at the Singapore Embasssy, Major Mehar Singh. He said that we can get into the airport via the VIP channel – which is a seperate building from the domestic terminal. But when we got there, the official there was griping about he loosing family members in BA and some other stuff and just plain refused to let us through. We had to then walk back to the domestic terminal and go through. Fortunately, here we faced no issue and go through in minutes. In retrospect, it made no difference to us for we were never go till hours later anyway.
The plan to BA got changed at least 3 times. We will go. No we will will stay another night. No we will go. This yo-yoing was rather annoying, but expected anyway, considering how this is a chaotic situation we are facing.
Anyway, the plane finally arrives at about 6 pm or so, but we have to move to the military apron – way across from the civilian side. Another round of waiting and finally we get to the right apron and load up the SCDF 3-tonner with our supplies, water and 23 of us and off we go to BA.
I spoke to the c-130 pilots as to why they were late. Apparently, it was because they went straight to BA because they had some SAF personnel and after than turned back to pick us up. The problem apprently was attributed to air congestion. Fair enough.
We finally land at BA’s Sultan Iskandar Muda Airport at about midnight or so and set up sleeping quarters at the end of the tarmac. Finaly, the rescue is to happen!
[Yes, i am posting this via an SCDF/SAF *internet* link on the ground in BA]