Commander of maritime task force in charge of securing Singapore’s waters off Tuas among 500 promoted

Colonel Seah Poh Yeen (above), commander of the Maritime Security Task Force, was among more than 500 Ministry of Defence and Singapore Armed Forces personnel promoted.
Colonel Seah Poh Yeen (above), commander of the Maritime Security Task Force, was among more than 500 Ministry of Defence and Singapore Armed Forces personnel promoted.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - The head of the task force that secured Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas during a maritime border dispute with Malaysia at the end of last year, Colonel Seah Poh Yeen, has been promoted to Rear-Admiral.

Col Seah, 47, commander of the Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF) set up in 2009, was among the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) and Singapore Armed Forces personnel promoted on Thursday (June 27), at a ceremony held at the Mindef auditorium in Bukit Gombak.

They received their promotion certificates from Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong.

This year, more than 500 personnel are getting promoted, including 470 officers, 89 Military Experts and 30 Warrant Officers from Mindef headquarters, the army, navy and air force. Among them is the Chief of Air Force, Brigadier-General Kelvin Khong, who rises to the rank of Major-General.     

Their new ranks will take effect on July 1.

Col Seah, who has been with the SAF for about 28 years, said the MSTF's role is a 24/7 job.

He noted that 2018 was a significant year as many events took place, which added to the pressure on his task force members.

"Last year, we had the Trump-Kim Summit, we had the Asean Summit, and in between we continued to conduct operations in the waters around Pedra Branca. The contestations are similar to the ones in the Tuas waters," he said, referring to the maritime border dispute.

"We also conducted other operations like security for F1 (Formula One race), security for National Day (Parade). If you line them up, you realise every other day we are quite busy. The stress is high, and the challenge is to keep up the morale of the guys, and make sure they are always ready and able to respond, and (they) keep their heads high."

Col Seah said that in handling operations in the Republic's territorial waters off Tuas, there was a need to deploy more resources sometimes in many places at once.

He also said that Singapore's organised response was helped by the fact the contestations were similar to the Pedra Branca dispute, also with Malaysia, which Singapore has "quite a lot of experience" in.

"Of course, the area is a little bit different so we have some adjustments. But otherwise, I would say they are largely the same, short of, of course, ramping up our forces to deal with it, sometimes on multiple fronts at one go," he said.

Col Seah said his promotion is a recognition of the efforts by his entire team.

"For the people under me, the promotion of its commander is a proxy recognition of their work on the ground. I think this is more important - to recognise the men."

He shared that when operations were ramped up during the maritime border dispute, many of his officers were raring to take part.

"Of course, if you are in the military, you want to be part of the operations, rather than just (taking part in) exercises and planning, and doing staff work."

Mindef said the annual promotion exercise is part of efforts to recognise, reward and groom officers, Military Experts, Warrant Officers and Defence Executive Officers who have performed well, and demonstrated potential to contribute further to the organisation.

Major Lynn Lee was the first female pilot of the Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft in the air force. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Another officer who was promoted was Major Lynn Lee, a Senior Force Transformation Officer in the Joint Plans and Transformation Department who has been in the service for 14 years. She was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

Maj Lee, 32, who was the first female pilot of the Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft in the air force, called her promotion "a milestone in my journey as a leader".

She said that while a promotion brings increased responsibility and higher expectations, it also provides her with more opportunities and a bigger role in shaping the future of the SAF.

"For women who join the SAF, we all have a spirit of adventure. I wanted to take the path less trodden and try out something new and different, which would be challenging. The journey so far has proved itself quite right," she added.

Senior Lieutenant-Colonel (SLTC) Fairoz Hassan, 40, who was promoted to Colonel, felt that the promotion showed the organisation's faith in him and he felt motivated to contribute even more.

The commander of Army Training Evaluation Center enlisted in 1997, and it was during his full-time national service stint that he got to mix with people outside of his usual social groups. That broadened his horizons and drove him to want to serve in the SAF.

In his current role, SLTC Fairoz said it was key to shape the mindsets and behaviours of soldiers, so they can achieve the task at hand safely, and also develop as better people.

"I think the fact that I'm being promoted shows that the organisation values my contributions and, for me, it means taking on more responsibilities in the SAF."