SINGAPORE - When Singapore's first home-built littoral mission vessel (LMV) sailed out from ST Engineering Marine's shipyard to the nearby Tuas Naval Base on May 26, 2016, it was a nervous moment for its crew.
"I was quite nervous, not knowing how the ship would react . At that point in time, I thought it was quite amazing to sail the ship that was still not fully manned and bring it (to berth) for the first time," said Military Expert 2 Pearlyn Leow, 32, who was the helmsman for the first-of-class RSS Independence in its first sail to the base.
Less than three years later, the high-readiness, front-line unit has already taken part in high-key security operations, such as during the Trump-Kim Singapore summit and the 33rd Asean Summit last year.
RSS Independence, affectionately referred to as Indy by its crew, won the Best Maritime Security Unit award in this year's Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Best Unit Competition, said the Ministry of Defence on Monday (June 24).
In other accolades, the 1st Commando Battalion chalked up its 16th consecutive win for the Best Combat Unit, while 142 Squadron, which operates the F-15SG fighter jets, took home the Best Fighter Squadron award - its first since being assigned to operate the fighters in 2016.
RSS Independence - the first of eight LMVs which are all scheduled to be operational by next year - was commissioned in May 2017 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The LMVs are meant to replace the older Fearless-class patrol vessels, which have been in service for more than 20 years.
Major Gabriel Choy, 31, the ship's commanding officer, told reporters last Tuesday that the most important factor for winning the award is the ship's crew, whose professionalism is "top-notch".
"As a maritime security unit, we're a front-line unit. This means that when called upon, you must go, and you must go at short notice. It's not something that you can tell your family members in advance. So all of them accept that this is the job, this is the profession and this is the duty," he said.
The annual SAF Best Unit and the Best NS Unit competitions were introduced in 1969 and 1993 respectively to recognise units which have excelled in the areas of combat readiness, operational proficiency and administrative excellence.
Eighteen active units and 11 national service units will receive awards for being the best in their formations. The awards will be handed out next Monday at the SAF Day parade held at the Safti Military Institute.
Commanding officer of 142 Squadron, Lieutenant-Colonel Shewan Goh, 39, said the tough, realistic and safe training his unit undergoes allows it to fulfil its mission when called upon.
The squadron scrambled its fighters in two cases of alleged bomb threats on board commercial flights in April last year and earlier this month.
"Both incidents were very proud moments for the squadron. It just showcases and is a testament to the high operational readiness of our airmen, both air and ground crew," he said.
The commando unit - known for its proficiency in specialised operations such as raid and reconnaissance missions - has won the Best Combat Unit award 33 times so far. The last time another unit won the award was in 2003, when the 1st Battalion, Singapore Guards clinched the honour.
Commanding officer of the 1st Commando Battalion, Major Fabian Pwi, 36, said the team that won the award last year was "vastly different" from this year's, as the majority of those in last year's unit have completed their full-time national service.
"So whether the unit is winning it for the 15th or 16th time, as individuals, for us it's always the first time. And I think that continues to generate a lot of excitement and a lot of motivation for our soldiers," he told reporters at Pasir Ris Camp last Wednesday.
He said a key challenge in managing training for the elite unit since he took over command in August last year was changing their mindsets from the misconception that commandos must push themselves beyond their limits.
"My message to them is this: A commando that pushes himself over the limit and collapses, and ends up on a stretcher; he becomes nothing more than a casualty on a stretcher. And that reduces the overall combat effectiveness of the commando unit," he said.
Corporal First Class Tan Yi Wei, 19, who enlisted in January last year, said that initially, his mother was not too keen on him going to the commando unit as she knew the training would be tough.
"Especially the day I donned my red beret (as a commando), my mother kind of understood what I was going through. And she was definitely proud that I made it through all this tough training and I've grown as a person as well."