SINGAPORE - Major Neo Choon Chea will be making his debut with the Red Lions on National Day this year.
He will be one of the six-person team landing near Sengkang General Hospital.
After being part of the ground coordinating party in two previous National Day Parades, the 40-year-old said he was honoured to get his turn as a parachutist this year.
The Red Lions will land in heartland grass fields near Sengkang General Hospital (SKGH) and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH), which means smaller crowds on the ground but also a different set of challenges.
This year's jump is a 1,524m plunge from a Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft, about half of the typical free-fall distance at NDP.
Back in 2018, the Red Lions jumped from a height of 3,810m.
Jumping at lower altitude reduces wind drift, and with high-rise buildings and expressways in the vicinity, the parachutists need to be very precise about where they drop, Maj Neo told the media on Friday (July 31).
It also means that the Red Lions will not be getting into their usual ring formation, as they need to deploy their parachutes soon after they jump from the aircraft.
"But this year... we will be flying with the state flag and NDP banners bearing the theme of unity," said Maj Neo, who has 350 jumps under his belt.
As part of the preparation before the jump, the parachutists do a mental rehearsal on board the aircraft. They visualise what they have to do: the leap from the C-130, open the parachute, deploy the banner and flag, and land, he added.
Besides Maj Neo, First Warrant Officer Chew Eng Seng, 45, is also participating in the NDP as a Red Lion for the first time this year. He is part of the six-person team landing near NTFGH.
One of the parachutists landing at Sengkang this year is Second Warrant Office (2WO) Shirley Ng, 42.
She is the only woman in the Red Lions and made her first parade appearance in 2014.
While she was also part of the Red Lions team in 2013, that year's jump did not happen due to poor weather.
Although the rehearsals started a month later this year in July, the parachutists have also used the parachute flight simulator to prepare prior to rehearsals on-site.
Comparing the landing experience this year to her previous jump at Marina Bay floating platform, 2WO Ng said: "In the heartland, even though it's not as rah-rah as usual... this jump is more for the front-line medical staff. It's about putting up a good show to give them moral support."
But this does not mean that it is a quiet affair for the Red Lions, she added.
"It has been a surprise that the residents over here, as we land, they are cheering for us, waving to us from their windows and balconies, so it's very heartwarming (to see)."
Maj Neo, who is married with three daughters, said that his family came to watch one of the rehearsals in mid-July.
But while having them witness his parachute feat is a nice bonus, "this jump is (really) for the country and for the front-line fighters".
"Although there is no emcee and no spectators... (the residents) put up a very lovely message for the Red Lions and we are really touched and encouraged by all these gestures," he said, referring to a banner which was put up at the open field near SKGH.
The Red Lions will be landing at open fields near SKGH and NTFGH, on Sengkang East Road and Toh Guan Road respectively, on National Day morning.