From wedding to anti-piracy mission

Third Warrant Officer Lee Jia Yan (far left) coaching Third Sergeant Keno Chan in an armoured engineer vehicle at Sungei Gedong Camp. When the 32-year-old 3WO Lee enlisted almost 10 years ago, there were only two other women on basic military training. In
Third Warrant Officer Lee Jia Yan (far left) coaching Third Sergeant Keno Chan in an armoured engineer vehicle at Sungei Gedong Camp. When the 32-year-old 3WO Lee enlisted almost 10 years ago, there were only two other women on basic military training. In this year's January intake, 74 women enlisted.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Officer spent 4 months overseas barely a week after getting married; more women joining armed forces now

A week after getting married, most people would likely be on their honeymoon, and not in the Gulf of Aden fighting pirates.

But Major Siswi Herlini, 31, is not most people. In 2010, barely seven days after she took her vows, she joined a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) mission overseas.

As an assistant operations officer, she helped launch helicopters for surveillance work for four months and stood ready to help merchant ships in distress.

Her husband, a former navy man, was supportive of her job then as he is now, she said.

She spoke to The Straits Times by phone in a recent interview to mark International Women's Day yesterday.

She said: "It was very exciting because we would receive mayday calls from merchant vessels and we would go investigate.

"Pirates planning to attack would usually abort their plans after seeing our helicopters and ships."

Now the commanding officer of the patrol vessel RSS Resilience, she is one of about 1,500 uniformed women in the SAF.

The number of women in the SAF has grown over the years.

When Third Warrant Officer (3WO) Lee Jia Yan, 32, enlisted almost 10 years ago, there were only two other women on basic military training. But this year's January intake saw 74 women enlist.

Both women cited a dislike for desk-bound jobs as a reason for joining the SAF.

3WO Lee said: "At the end of my third year in polytechnic, there was this internship that affirmed that I was not suitable for a desk-bound job, and I wanted adventure."

She is now an armoured engineer trainer and, last year, drove a tank as part of the National Day Parade celebrations.

Both women noted that the SAF is doing more to accommodate servicewomen as more of them join.

Maj Siswi gave birth to her son about a year ago and was given the choice of a shore-based post allowing her to go home every day, or a ship post. Changi Naval Base was also recently provided with a breastfeeding room.

3WO Lee is married with no children. She appreciates that the SAF has seen the need for different-sized gear for women and has since extended its range of S, M and L sizes to include XS.

Both women said that while a servicewoman's life is tough, it is one they have never regretted.

3WO Lee remembers a tough warfighter course, in which she struggled in the final 32km march with an extra 20kg load.

"My coursemates didn't look down on me as a female but helped and motivated me... It's not something the outside world can offer."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'From wedding to anti-piracy mission'. Print Edition | Subscribe