A salute to the best of the Singapore Armed Forces

The Singapore Armed Forces has selected the best units for its annual competition this year. The Straits Times hears stories of sacrifice and excellence from the personnel involved in the various units.

(From left) Third Sergeant Muhammed Syakir Zainol, Lieutenant-Colonel Ng Kiang Chuan and Corporal Joshua Ng from the 1st Commando Battalion. The unit won the Singapore Armed Forces' Best Combat Unit award for the 15th consecutive year.
(From left) Third Sergeant Muhammed Syakir Zainol, Lieutenant-Colonel Ng Kiang Chuan and Corporal Joshua Ng from the 1st Commando Battalion. The unit won the Singapore Armed Forces' Best Combat Unit award for the 15th consecutive year.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Best Combat Unit: Commandos set the bar high in mental strength 

When Third Sergeant Muhammed Syakir Zainol first read his enlistment letter, he had to take a second look.

After all, his three brothers had already served or were serving national service in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). But there it was, in his letter, stating that he would be serving NS as a commando.

"Everyone, especially my friends, was surprised and didn't believe me. I had to show them my enlistment letter," said the 22-year-old full-time national serviceman (NSF).

He added: "When I told my parents, they were shocked, but it was a big thing for them that their son was going to be a commando."

They told him it was a good opportunity, and 3SG Syakir gave his best during training.

His efforts contributed to the operational readiness of his unit, the 1st Commando Battalion, which clinched the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) Best Combat Unit award for the 15th consecutive year.

For 3SG Syakir, the training was a test of his mental capacity. He cited the 72km route march as an example, noting that commandos have to endure aching shoulders, abrasions or leg sprains while carrying their combat loads and battling fatigue.

He said:"Being a commando is not only about being fit, but also about mental strength. "

The SAF Best Unit competition was introduced in 1969 to recognise units that have excelled in combat readiness, operational proficiency and administrative excellence.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ng Kiang Chuan, commanding officer of the 1st Commando Battalion, said there is no complacency as there is a new batch of soldiers every year, so training starts all over again.

While concerns about safety arose after the death in April of an NSF who had suffered heatstroke, LTC Ng said: "We continue to do high-risk training, but we bear in mind that all the safety measures must be thought through and put in place."

President Halimah Yacob and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen will present the awards to the winners at the SAF Day parade on Sunday at the Safti Military Institute.

Best NS Infantry Unit: Strong bonds and drive help 772 SIR clinch award

(From left) Lt (NS) Leon Cross, Lt (NS) Andy Lee and Cpl (NS) Enrique Lee Wei Xun from the 772nd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment, which is the best NS Infantry Unit for the second time in three years.ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

He was 16 when his family relocated to the United States, where his father was posted for work.

While Singaporean Leon Cross saw living overseas as an option, he returned for national service after graduating from high school when he was 19 years old.

NS, he said, was an opportunity to gain life experiences and lessons.

"While I would still like to explore opportunities abroad, I believe Singapore is my long-term home," said the 30-year-old.

The operationally-ready national serviceman (NSman) is now a fire support officer at the 772nd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (SIR).

Lieutenant (NS) Cross said that during NS, he came to appreciate the job opportunities, culture and security in Singapore.

Now a father of four, he lives with his family in Batam, where he operates a spa business.

But he makes sure to return every year for in-camp training (ICT), partly because of the friends he made in the unit.

It was such close bonds, as well as drive and discipline, that clinched 772nd Battalion, SIR the best NS Infantry Unit award for the second time in three years. The unit has around 500 men in infantry and artillery operations.

Lieutenant (NS) Andy Lee is also from the same unit.

The NSman decided against deferring his ICT last year even though his wife had just given birth to their first child.

The 30-year-oldis a forward observer for the unit.

Balancing work and family is challenging for the Citibank relationship manager, but Lt (NS) Lee said he looks forward to ICT with the committed group of people in his unit.

Best Fleet Unit: Family spirit propels crew of RSS Stalwart

Lieutenant-Colonel Aaron Li Jun Hong (second from left) with some of his crew members - (from left) Military Expert 2 Harikumar K. Rama, Military Expert 4 Lee Siak Kong and Military Expert 1 Juliana Ang.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

After five years on board the frigate RSS Stalwart, Military Expert 4 Lee Siak Kong can say he has two families.

One is his unit of 72 members, whose operational performance won them the Singapore Armed Forces' Best Fleet Unit award this year.

The other is his family at home, without whose "undying support" ME4 Lee said he would not be able to do his job as well.

The 53-year-old coxswain said that one of the hardest things he has had to do has been to lend support to his three children from afar during major examinations. His 13-year-old daughter sat her Primary School Leaving Examination last year, while his 18-year-old son is taking his A levels this year. His older son, 23, is a graduate of Nanyang Technological University.

ME4 Lee said that without family support, it would be hard for anyone, even a competent professional, to focus on doing the job well.

This is the second time that the RSS Stalwart has won the Best Fleet Unit award, the first being in 2010. The frigate was commissioned in 2009 and has weapon capabilities, including missiles and torpedoes, to deal with air, surface and underwater threats.

The unit has participated in overseas exercises such as the Inaugural Exercise Pacific Griffin, a joint exercise by the Republic of Singapore Navy and the United States Navy, last year.

Lieutenant-Colonel Aaron Li Jun Hong, who became the commanding officer of RSS Stalwart this year, said: "I have inherited a strong crew... We didn't set out to win but we did our best."

Best Fighter Squadron: Supportive culture a key part of 149 Squadron

Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Koh (left), the commanding officer of 149 Squadron, and Third Sergeant Benjamin Chan at Paya Lebar Airbase. The squadron clinched the Best Fighter Squadron award for the eighth time.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Third Sergeant Benjamin Chan, a full-time national serviceman (NSF), was not in the best frame of mind when he joined his unit as an air force technician.

Not only was the 149 Squadron an unfamiliar place, but he had also just received news that his grandmother had died.

But the NSF found his superiors to be understanding. Thankful for the supportive environment, 3SG Chan, 21, said he returned after his grandmother's funeral, ready to do his best. He said: "We do it not only to protect the country, but also for the man who is next to me and the man who is going to fly the plane."

It was this spirit that enabled the unit to clinch the Best Fighter Squadron award in the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

The 149 Squadronwon the award for the eighth time, and this is its third win with the F-15SG multi-role fighter jet.

On Aug 3, 3SG Chan will end his service and say goodbye to 149 Squadron to pursue an engineering degree at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. He hopes to specialise in aerospace engineering.

Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Koh Boon Yit, 39, the commanding officer of 149 Squadron, said the unit's winning formula is to provide a supportive environment and to listen when the men have difficulties.

LTC Koh emphasised the importance of safety in addition to the close bonds and professionalism that the unit upholds. The slogan he has for the squadron is "Daddy, come home safely", which he adopted from a highway sign he once spotted.

"We do our job so that we can go home safely," added the father of an eight-year-old son.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2018, with the headline 'Commandos set the bar high in mental strength '. Subscribe