SINGAPORE - 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 has seen many changes in the navy since he joined in 1983. He said technology has transformed many jobs and made it necessary for navy personnel to constantly learn new skills.
But he said one of the hardest things he's had to do, has been to lend support to his three children from afar during major examinations. His 13-year-old daughter took her Primary School Leaving Examination last year, while his 18-year-old son is taking his A-level examinations this year. His oldest son, 23, is a graduate of Nanyang Technological University.
ME4 Lee said, even for a competent professional, "when you don't gain your family support, you are more worried for them when you are out there trying to perform your role".
This is the second time that the RSS Stalwart has won the Best Fleet Unit Award, the first being in 2010. It is one of 11 NS units and 18 active units to earn recognition this year for being the best in their formation.
The yearly contest started in 1969 and was expanded to include national service units in 1993, to acknowledge those that have demonstrated exceptional performance in operations and administrations as well as combat readiness.
Military Expert 1 Juliana Ang, 31, communications operator of the RSS Stalwart, said long trips away from home such as during two-week long exercises are challenging, but winning the award "reassures us that our hard work is recognised".
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 like the inaugural Exercise Pacific Griffin, a joint exercise by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the United States Navy (USN) 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."
He makes sure that the unit works and plays hard together, and are in a supportive environment that lets them work together as a team.
LTC Li, 35, said there are "a lot of fatherly figures on board", like ME4 Lee, who will guide the younger ones and try to address their concerns.
What also keeps the crew going, according to ME1 Ang, is the good food prepared by the chief chef - Military Expert 2 Harikumar K. Rama - along with his team of three.
The 31-year-old worked his way up from a junior chef to a chief chef, cooking for the crew for over 10 years. He is awake as early as 3am to prepare breakfast and is often praised for his culinary skills and ability to give crew members a taste of home when they are away.
ME1 Ang said: "During long sails, the food is what most crew members look forward to.
"There was one time, the chief chef did curry baked rice for supper and everyone went crazy."