Ms Goh Si Ying dreamt of being a pilot after she started assembling model aeroplanes as a little girl. Her grandmother bought the only child toys to keep her company, and she immediately latched on to toy planes and all things aerospace.
But friends later poured cold water on her dreams, telling her that, as a female, she would never make it big in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
She might have the last laugh yet.
The 18-year-old was yesterday awarded the SAF Merit Scholarship (SMS) alongside 19 other servicemen at a ceremony at the Istana.
She said she draws inspiration from Brigadier-General Gan Siow Huang, also an SMS recipient, who became the first woman to attain this SAF rank earlier this month.
While Ms Goh, now an Officer Cadet Trainee (OCT), has decided not to become a pilot, she is involved in air defence as a Ground-Based Air Defence air warfare officer.
"Air defence is very important in a small country like Singapore," said Ms Goh, who intends to study Psychology at King's College in London.
At yesterday's event, a total of 43 SAF and Ministry of Defence scholarships were given out. Ten received the SAF Scholarship, formerly known as the SAF Overseas Scholarship and second only to the President's Scholarship in prestige, and 13 others were awarded the Defence Merit Scholarship.
At the event, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen noted that the number of scholarship winners was higher than usual this year, as there were many more quality applications.
Calling it a good trend, he said "it indicates that there is a continuing desire in our young to serve our nation through the SAF".
Asserting the importance of capable leaders, he said: "The military is inherently an ideal ground to test and groom leaders. Just think about it, you have to win the respect of men and women you lead before they will charge for you."
Midshipman Aloysius Oh, 19, an SAF Scholarship recipient and Naval Officer, said one of the reasons he joined the SAF was to be an inspiration to his younger sister, as his mother is a single parent.
"I think what she looks out for is a fatherly figure, and I hope to play that role by being a role model for her and giving the best in everything I do," he said.
He intends to study Psychology at the University College of London (UCL), and believes an education in psychology will help him to better understand and communicate with his fellow servicemen.
Army OCT Jeremiah Choo, 19, turned down a Public Service Commission teaching scholarship to take up the SAF Scholarship. He will read Mathematics with Economics at UCL.
He said his parents, both teachers, had inspired him to give back by influencing others, and he hopes he can make a difference by teaching life skills.
Commenting on some of the challenges that the SAF faces, he said he hopes to combat the shortage of manpower created by the declining birth rate by getting involved in recruitment. "I'd like to reach out to different groups of people, such as students and females," he said.