95 Overseas Service Medals awarded for Palu tsunami relief, counter-terrorism efforts

(From left) Staff sergeant Keith Ho Kee Hou, Military Expert 4 Brian Rezel, Major Jason Chai and Lieutenant-Colonel Oh Chun Keong with their Overseas Service Medals.
(From left) Staff sergeant Keith Ho Kee Hou, Military Expert 4 Brian Rezel, Major Jason Chai and Lieutenant-Colonel Oh Chun Keong with their Overseas Service Medals.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - When Lieutenant-Colonel Oh Chun Keong first arrived in Palu, Indonesia, in October last year, four days after an earthquake and tsunami hit the coastal town, there was confusion on the ground.

As the National Contingent Commander, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) pilot was overall-in-charge of the Singapore mission to deliver supplies and evacuate victims in the Central Sulawesi provincial capital, and had to understand what the locals needed, such as the type of supplies.

A personal connection helped LTC Oh, who is a graduate of the Indonesian Command and Staff College.

In the appointment he held after graduating, he worked with an Indonesian official who turned out to be the chief coordinating officer for foreign militaries in the disaster relief efforts.

As part of those efforts, three RSAF C-130 transport aircraft deployed evacuated more than 800 people from Palu - from infants to the elderly - and delivered more than 340 tonnes of supplies.

LTC Oh was among 95 servicemen to receive Overseas Service Medals from Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen at a ceremony at the Ministry of Defence in Bukit Gombak on Thursday (Sept 19).

The Apache helicopter pilot said: "The Indonesians were really grateful, and it gave me great comfort to know that we were directly helping people who were in distress."

"Even the chief of air force met and thanked us profusely."

"As a close neighbour and friend, it's important that we are always able to assist them in times of need," LTC Oh told reporters before the ceremony.

 
 

The 7.5-magnitude earthquake had triggered a tsunami which eventually left more than 4,300 people dead and some 170,000 displaced.

Singapore was the first foreign country to arrive in Palu, and the C-130 aircraft were based about 400km away in Balikpapan, in East Kalimantan, from Oct 2 to 26, and Nov 21 to 28 last year.

Military Expert 4 Brian Rezel, 58, also received a medal on Thursday.

The C-130 flight engineer with 122 Squadron, who was also involved in the Palu mission, recounted an incident where the servicemen were trying to find out what was wrong with a woman who was panting while being evacuated.

ME4 Rezel, who has been deployed in more than 10 humanitarian and disaster relief missions, said: "With the little Bahasa Indonesia that I spoke, we found out that she was hyperventilating as she was nervous boarding the C-130 for the first time."

In his speech, Dr Ng said that the medal recipients had flown Singapore's flag high with their professionalism and conduct, fulfilling missions under trying circumstances.

"As a result, you garnered praise from other militaries... You also got gratitude from the people you helped directly and from the local governments there," he said.

Of the medals given out, 68 were for those who served in Iraq to help train more than 4,500 Iraqi troops in countering improvised explosive devices, using tactical weapons and combat tactics over nine months from September last year to June this year.

Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong, Chief of Army, Major-General Goh Si Hou, Chief of Air Force, Major-General Kelvin Khong, and senior officers of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as well as family members of the medal recipients were also present at the ceremony.

Dr Ng said that while the SAF is a relatively small-sized military, it is in Singapore's interest to do its part to deal with the global security challenges posed by terrorism.

"Against both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it was the international coalition working closely together that thwarted the terrorist plots and averted many potential deaths and injuries, whether in the Middle East or in our region including Singapore," he said.

"Your contributions there protected Singaporeans here and citizens everywhere."

Since 2014, to support the multinational coalition efforts to defeat ISIS, the SAF has deployed medical teams, imagery analysis teams, intelligence fusion officers and the KC-135R tanker aircraft.

Dr Ng said that Singapore's deployments to various operations both in the region and beyond spoke of the inter-connectedness in the world today, where instability or humanitarian disasters in one part of the world have far-reaching implications for others.

"Singapore and the SAF will therefore continue to do what we can as a friend that our partners and neighbours can depend on in times of need, and as a responsible member of the international community."