Airbase is Singapore family's home away from home

Air force engineer Lee Ban Chin, his wife Angelia Giam and their children (from left) Eytan, Damir, Fayth and Clemens have been living at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho for two years now.
Air force engineer Lee Ban Chin, his wife Angelia Giam and their children (from left) Eytan, Damir, Fayth and Clemens have been living at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho for two years now.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

MOUNTAIN HOME (Idaho) • As an air force engineer at the Peace Carvin (PC) V training detachment in the United States, Military Expert 2 (ME2) Lee Ban Chin is kept busy not just with his professional duties, but also managing his four children.

ME2 Lee, 37, and his wife Angelia Giam have been living at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho for two years now. The couple, who have been married for 15 years, have four children: Clemens, 14; Damir, 12; Eytan, five; and Fayth, three. Three of the children attend school in Mountain Home while Eytan goes to school at the base itself.

Their parents are concerned about whether the children can reintegrate back into Singapore schools when ME2 Lee's posting ends this year, so they have been preparing them for the School Placement Exercise for Returning Singaporeans (Spers).

"When my eldest son was preparing for his Secondary 2 Spers, I saw him struggle a lot, because he didn't have our Singapore primary school foundation," said Ms Giam. "For him to skip Primary 6 and then study for the Secondary 2 exam - I saw him struggle."

To prepare Clemens for Spers earlier this year, the family engaged online tutoring services and gave him exam practice papers to do.

They were speaking to reporters ahead of the permanent training detachment's 10th anniversary celebrations on Thursday.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) PC V detachment trains pilots, weapon systems officers and air force engineers to operate F-15SG fighter jets alongside their US Air Force counterparts. A typical stint abroad for these RSAF airmen lasts two to three years.

Ms Giam, 36, a former executive administrator with DBS Bank, said the family have created a home away from home. "We replicate a lot of dishes. And when you look after the kids, it's still the Asian-mum style - a little bit more restrictive.

 

"My son would come back and say, 'Mum, my American friends, their mums don't impose a curfew, they get to take their phones all day long, why can't we do the same?'"

A typical weekend consists of going to Boise, about an hour's drive away, for grocery shopping and activities with the children, including going to the playground and visiting a pumpkin farm for Halloween.

There is also strong community support among the 375 or so RSAF personnel deployed at PC V and their families, with regular potluck sessions at different homes.

The family will miss the friends they have made - and the cool weather, which can range from 2 to 22 deg C in October - when they return to Singapore.

ME2 Lee said: "For my family and my kids, they got to know new friends. I'll miss this and the weather when we go back."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2019, with the headline 'Airbase is Singapore family's home away from home'. Print Edition | Subscribe