95 servicemen lauded for disaster relief, anti-terror ops

(From left) Staff Sergeant Keith Ho, Military Expert 4 Brian Rezel, Major Jason Chai and Lieutenant-Colonel Oh Chun Keong were among 95 military personnel who received Overseas Service Medals from Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday. Dr Ng said the
(From left) Staff Sergeant Keith Ho, Military Expert 4 Brian Rezel, Major Jason Chai and Lieutenant-Colonel Oh Chun Keong were among 95 military personnel who received Overseas Service Medals from Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday. Dr Ng said the recipients had flown Singapore's flag high with their professionalism and conduct to fulfil missions under trying circumstances.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Medal recipients' contributions benefited other nations, did S'pore proud: Ng Eng Hen

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.

A personal connection helped Lt-Col 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 evacuated more than 800 people from Palu and delivered more than 340 tonnes of supplies.

Lt-Col Oh, 41, was among 95 servicemen who received Overseas Service Medals from Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in a ceremony at the Ministry of Defence in Bukit Gombak yesterday.

The Apache helicopter pilot told reporters before the ceremony: "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."

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

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

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

 
 

The C-130 flight engineer with 122 Squadron was involved in the Palu mission, and recounted an incident where servicemen tried to find out what was wrong with a woman who was panting while being evacuated, so they could help her.

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 the medal recipients had flown Singapore's flag high with their professionalism and conduct to fulfil 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.

Sixty-eight of the medals given out 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.

Since 2014, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has deployed medical teams, imagery analysis teams, intelligence fusion officers and the KC-135R tanker aircraft to support multinational coalition efforts to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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

When up against Al-Qaeda and ISIS, he added, the international coalition's cooperation "thwarted terrorist plots and averted many potential deaths and injuries, whether in the Middle East or in our region, including Singapore".

"Your contributions there protected Singaporeans here and citizens everywhere," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2019, with the headline '95 servicemen lauded for disaster relief, anti-terror ops'. Print Edition | Subscribe