LIEUTENANT-COLONEL (NS) Kelvin Lim's first reaction when told he would be leading a missile corvette vessel fully manned by reservist servicemen was, "Is this possible?"
Two years later, the commanding officer of RSS Vigilance and his crew of mostly regulars who have left the force have clinched the inaugural Best NS Naval Unit award. Previously, the crews of such ships were made up mainly of regulars and a handful of full-time national servicemen.
It wasn't always smooth sailing for Lt-Col (NS) Lim and his men, some of whom had been civilians for up to six years since leaving the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).
Commando battalion bags Best Combat Unit award for 12th time running
THE Singapore Armed Forces' Best Combat Unit award has been won for the 12th consecutive time by the elite 1st Commando Battalion.
This is an unprecedented 29 wins in total by the elite force since the competition was first held in 1969.
However, its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Alvin Tjioe, 34, said the competition was never on the unit's main agenda.
Speaking ahead of the official announcement yesterday, he said its command team had made a deliberate decision not to talk to the soldiers about the competition during training.
Instead, commanders worked in the background to assess the progress made by the unit, allowing the men to focus on training.
Lt-Col Tjioe said there was no need for "braveheart speeches" to motivate his men. "It was not one defining moment which marked our win, it is the consistency in our performances and the effort we placed in what we did," he said.
The unit specialises in operations like reconnaissance, airborne and raid missions. Despite their dominance in the competition, the commandos are not resting on their laurels but enhancing their training methods, said Lt-Col Tjioe.
For example, they are improving the role-playing element of the enemy in training. They do this by pitting themselves against commando battalions that have finished their full-time stints for a more realistic and credible enemy.
The pressure of retaining the title may be daunting, but it is a motivating factor.
Full-time serviceman Second Sergeant Norman Ng, 20, said: "The legacy of many wins gives us a sense of background and we aim to excel to be part of the legacy."
"We were rusty when we first started, and forgot things that used to come naturally, but it did not take long to regain our confidence - (it is) like cycling," said the 38-year-old, who is chief of the social care division at the government-linked Agency for Integrated Care.
The NSmen were even able to share their experience from their RSN days with the regulars guiding them, Lt-Col (NS) Lim said.
Eighteen active and 11 national service (NS) units from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will be recognised for being the best in their formations, the Defence Ministry announced yesterday.
The awards are given annually to units that do well in combat readiness, operational proficiency and administrative excellence.
Up in the skies, the 144 Squadron operating the F-5S/T fighter planes won the Best Fighter Squadron award for the fourth time, ousting its more modern F-15 and F-16 counterparts. It last clinched the award in 2009.
It did this by emphasising the smallest details, said commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Tsai Hong Pin, 43. He said: "We demand standards in whatever we do, and pay close attention to daily administration processes that may be overlooked, such as properly entering flight details upon the return of an aircraft."
The squadron will be in the National Day Parade Flypast this year.
The RSS Tenacious won the Best Fleet Unit award for the first time since its commissioning in 2008. The stealth frigate took part in a 103-day counter-piracy operation last year in the Gulf of Aden, where the crew endured blistering weather in the Middle East, and encountered a typhoon on the way back.
"Cups were flying and the waves were 6m high," said commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Ho Jee Kian. "The ship was rolling for four days and we could not walk straight."
They were stranded after a port of call at Djibouti was called off due to a suicide bombing onshore. "We did not have replenishments for 29 days and were missing basic ingredients... but the chef ensured our food came out as good," he said.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen will present the awards at the SAF50 Parade at the Safti Military Institute tomorrow.