It was not until a couple of years into his training as a fighter pilot that Captain (CPT) Maung Thet Naing Win first flew in Singapore skies.
Until then, like all other Singaporean fighter pilots, he had trained primarily overseas. Starting with the Air Grading Course and Basic Wings Course in Australia before moving on to France for the Fighter Wings Course, his training had taken him over vast expanses of New South Wales’ land and pristine Cazaux beaches.
“The irony that I had to train so far away from home in order to protect my homeland was not lost on me,” he says with a laugh.
While he had spent countless hours in virtual depictions of the Singapore airspace in high-tech simulators, actually seeing the city’s landscape beneath him on his first flight in Singapore truly drove home why he had enlisted in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) in the first place.
“The highlight of the flight was the recovery back to Paya Lebar Air Base,” he recalls, recounting how his flight path took him past landmarks he had seen countless times from the ground, like Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer.
“Seeing the Singapore skyline from the air was a very proud moment for me.”
A clash of ideals
Awestruck by the annual displays at National Day parades, CPT Maung joined the National Cadet Corps in secondary school, and even signed up for the two-day MINDEF Experience Programme to find out more about life in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
These collectively made him realise how crucial military defence was to Singapore’s strategy to build a strong, secure and cohesive nation — and more importantly, how much he wanted to be a part of that.
“There’s nothing I love more than a good challenge,” he says. “And I was convinced that a career in the RSAF would be a meaningful and challenging one.”
However, his parents were hesitant about their child joining the military — let alone becoming an SAF scholar. “They had always wanted me to be a doctor but my heart was with the military.”
After seeing his passion shine through during his Basic Military Training, they finally gave him their blessing, and proudly attended his award ceremony to receive The SAF Scholarship.
“After talking to the commanders present at the award ceremony, I think my parents felt much more assured and more supportive of my career choice.”
A home away from home
CPT Maung’s time as an SAF scholar has given him a number of unique experiences in the RSAF.
Even during his time as a student at Imperial College London and later at King’s College London, he returned to Singapore for a number of vacation attachments.
These attachments included one at the Air Force Information Centre, where CPT Maung was part of the team responsible for supporting public communications efforts to strengthen public trust in the RSAF, particularly through its social media presence.
After graduating from university and completing his overseas training, he was then posted to 142 Squadron in Paya Lebar Air Base where he served as a wingman pilot. There, he drilled his fundamentals through syllabus flights and simulators with his crew and carried out air-to-air and air-to-ground missions together.
A year and a half later, he was called to a much further posting: the Peace Carvin V detachment, nestled among the snow-covered crags of Mountain Home Air Force Base (AFB) in south-western Idaho in the United States.
CPT Maung still resides there today, training alongside his counterparts from the 428th Fighter Squadron — the “Buccaneers” — of the United States Air Force (USAF).
Having only spent half a year there, CPT Maung is still relatively new to Mountain Home but there is never a dull moment in Peace Carvin V. He recently returned from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, where he took part in the USAF’s Exercise Red Flag Alaska, a large-scale air combat exercise to hone his combat readiness and flying competencies.
Most of CPT Maung’s time is actually spent in preparation for training missions. A common misconception is that since pilots typically fly only one and a half to two hours a day, they have the rest of the day off, he says.
The 28-year-old is quick to correct this. “Depending on the complexity, the planning, brief, flight and debrief for a mission could last anywhere from eight to 12 hours.
“The thorough debrief and self-critique is how we get better at what we do!”
Mountain Home AFB may be his new home, and the men and women of Peace Carvin V his newfound family, but his country and loved ones he trains so hard to defend are at the top of his mind every morning.
The distance – almost 15,000 km away from home – also reminds him why he has chosen to make such sacrifices. “I think of my family and remind myself that I am doing this for them.”
After the time he has spent overseas, he is convinced that distance does not matter as long as one's purpose is clear. “Ask yourself: What does serving this national calling mean to you? Is it to defend our Constitution, our values, our sovereignty? Or is it to fight for our families, our friends, our way of life?
“To me, it is more of the latter – the worthy cause of defending my family, friends and our way of life, and the camaraderie with colleagues who give their all in what is ultimately a risky and fulfilling profession,” he says.
“As long as you are convinced that we must be able to defend ourselves and it is worth serving for something greater than yourself, then this will invariably be a meaningful and deeply satisfying career.”
Find out more about MINDEF/SAF scholarships (now open for application) today.