SINGAPORE - When Colonel Tan Tiong Keat enlisted in 1998, he barely knew the structure of the army, and thought a lot of time would be spent on route marches and digging trenches.
Today, the commander of the 2 People's Defence Force (2PDF) heads a division responsible for counter-terrorism and homeland security, with personnel on standby round the clock even throughout the pandemic.
A key challenge in the past year, he said, has been sustaining the operational readiness of his soldiers, including keeping up their morale as they have to be confined in camp before their duties to ensure they are free of the virus.
What keeps him alert is the fact that operations continue to run. "Soldiers are deployed to ensure the security of our camps and bases. They are on standby to respond to any contingencies within very tight timelines," he added.
Col Tan, 41, is among 724 personnel from the Ministry of Defence and the Singapore Armed Forces to be promoted to the next higher rank as part of the annual promotion exercise this year.
He told The Straits Times that being in the military had sounded exciting when he was a member of the National Police Cadet Corps in secondary school.
"But as you spend more time in the army, you realise that there's something in the army that's beyond defending the country against military threats."
He highlighted the ability to make a difference to young citizen soldiers. "To be able to shape their character, fighting spirit and world view before they go on to contribute to our country is something that is tremendously meaningful and impactful."
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen presented certificates to some who were promoted at a scaled-down ceremony held at the Mindef headquarters in Bukit Gombak on Friday (June 25).
He gave certificates to those promoted to the ranks of brigadier-general, military expert 8, colonel, military expert 7, DX16, chief warrant officer and senior warrant officer (SWO).
As part of Covid-19 measures, all participants of the promotion ceremony were fully vaccinated and underwent pre-event testing for Covid-19.
Personnel promoted to the ranks of lieutenant-colonel, military expert 6, master warrant officer and major will receive their certificates from their service chiefs at various decentralised promotion ceremonies by next week. Division and formation commanders will present certificates to the other ranks.
All promotions take effect on July 1.
F-15SG fighter pilot, Captain Muhammad Iskandar Dzulfadhli Abdul Rahman, who had dreamt of flying from a young age, has won several international and local awards since he joined the air force in 2008. He will be promoted to the rank of major.
Earlier this month, the 33-year-old was awarded the Distinguished Graduate for the SAF Tri-Service Warfighter Course, which develops mid-level officers for joint operations between the army, navy, and air force.
His next appointment will be in the Air Operations Department at the Republic of Singapore Air Force headquarters, handling strategic policies and doctrines related to fighter operations.
Another promoted serviceman is SWO Chew Poh Heng, 53, who is the first warrant officer to become the commanding officer (CO) of an SAF vocational school via the trainer pathway.
This route of advancement, introduced in 2019, allows warrant officers who specialise in training the opportunity to progress from being a chief master trainer to being a CO of certain vocational schools without the need to fulfil a senior sergeant-major appointment.
SWO Chew, who is CO of the School of Army Reconnaissance, said the army has given him the opportunity to develop and grow over the past 37 years.
"I never expected myself to reach such a pinnacle appointment. That's why I'm very appreciative of the recognition and trust that the SAF has given me," he said.
DX15 Ang Yee Ling, 47, will be promoted to DX16 as a defence executive officer. These officers are non-uniformed professionals who work in Mindef and the SAF.
DX15 Ang has spent 24 years in service, mostly doing work in formulating manpower policies, such as reviews on how to better attract and retain talent.
DX15 Ang, who is the director of the corporate development directorate at Mindef, said: "This sense of purpose has really grown on me, knowing that I also play a part in contributing to the defence of the nation."