SINGAPORE - Mr Keefe Lee Rui Kai, 24, recovered from leukaemia some years ago, but this medical history meant he was deemed not fit for combat when he enlisted in August 2020.
Undaunted, he made an appeal after spending at least nine months in a non-combat role and was allowed to upgrade his physical employment status (PES), but this meant he had to go through a new round of basic military training (BMT).
After completing his second BMT, he was sent to the Specialist Cadet School to be trained as an air defence systems specialist, where he emerged as one of the top trainees in the course, graduating with a golden bayonet on Thursday (May 19). It was the first full graduation parade for the school since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Third Sergeant (3SG) Lee, who said national education classes during his initial training allowed him to understand the importance of national service, has also signed on as a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regular.
He was among the 51st batch comprising 923 SAF cadets and military experts from the Army, Republic of Singapore Navy, Republic of Singapore Air Force, and Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence who graduated at Pasir Laba Camp.
Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, the guest of honour, said specialists and military experts play an important role in safeguarding Singapore's sovereignty.
He said: "The strength of the SAF does not only lie within its leading-edge capabilities, but more importantly, it is in our people and our shared commitment to enhance Singapore's peace and security.
"Graduands, as you step up in your role as leaders in the SAF in the face of an evolving security environment, you must always remain steadfast and resolute to safeguard our way of life and to protect the ones we love."
3SG Lee, who was diagnosed with leukaemia as a child, said of his experience: "Because I was the first in my family to serve national service, I was quite curious about what it is like. I was quite disheartened after I was classified as PES E."
Those graded PES E are deemed suitable for non-combat roles, such as combat service support and service vocations, and typically take on positions such as administrative support assistants or supply assistants.
His family, who had seen a big improvement in his physical fitness since his polytechnic days, was supportive of his decision to ask for a combat role, said 3SG Lee.
Also graduating on Thursday was Military Expert 1 Noor Syarah Natasha Sadeli, 25, who received a silver bayonet, and was the only female in her batch of Army Logistics Training Institute cadets.
Even though she has an elder brother who is a regular in an infantry battalion, she said it was hard to convince her mother to agree to her signing on with the SAF despite her passion for engineering.
Her mother relented after ME1 Noor Syarah was retrenched from her full-time job at Rolls-Royce. She joined the SAF six months later, in June 2021.
“My brother inspired me to sign on, because I thought if he could do it then so can I,” she said, adding that her brother was also a silver bayonet recipient.
The silver bayonet is awarded to outstanding specialist cadets.