Pioneer SAF officers one of a kind, says PM Lee

New officers celebrating at the end of yesterday's Officer Cadet Course commissioning parade at Safti Military Institute, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. At the parade, PM Lee paid tribute to the pioneer batch, saying that he hoped t
New officers celebrating at the end of yesterday's Officer Cadet Course commissioning parade at Safti Military Institute, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. At the parade, PM Lee paid tribute to the pioneer batch, saying that he hoped their indomitable spirit "will inspire future generations".ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Singapore's first batch of army officers who volunteered to join the new Safti Military Institute 50 years ago were referred to as "handmade", as the country had no prior experience in forging an officer class.

They were selected through IQ and physical fitness tests at Jurong Town Primary School, where they were also trained with the help of Israeli advisers.

Brigadier-General (Ret) Kirpa Ram Vij, who was the first director of Safti, said yesterday: "We started from scratch, and we had 117 first- class products - no compromise."

These Safti-trained officers earned their spurs and went on to lead the earliest generations of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers and train future batches of officers. Many went on to occupy key positions in public and private life.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday paid tribute to them for their contributions and described them as "one of a kind" in a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Safti.

Lieutenant-General (Ret) Ng Jui Ping, who was in the first batch of officers, answered an advertisement in 1966 to become one of Singapore's pioneer career soldiers.

Then 17 years old, he thought life as an SAF officer would be glamourous. "Little did I know - and neither did the rest of the batch know - that we were in for a really rough time," he said.

Even today, he recalls spending whole days running up and down hills as punishment for not perfecting foot drills, and remembers being so sleep-deprived that he would doze off while standing with map and compass in hand during exercises.

But the unforgiving training forged a bond between him and other trainees in the pioneer batch of officers that endures even today.

"As individuals, it built our character, it taught us to face adversity and to overcome," said LG Ng, 67, who was formerly defence chief and became an entrepreneur after leaving the SAF.

Yesterday, LG Ng and about 70 of his batch mates were present at Safti as PM Lee unveiled a mural at the military institute to mark the jubilee anniversary of Safti and remember its earliest days.

Mr Lee, who was once a young officer cadet at Safti's Pasir Laba Camp, said he knew many of the pioneer officers personally, having served with them and under them.

He said he hoped their indomitable spirit "will inspire future generations to uphold that same spirit to lead, excel and overcome".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'Pioneer SAF officers one of a kind, says PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe