Former chief of defence force (CDF) Ng Jui Ping had a knack for questioning officers under his command in an interrogative fashion that meant they had to think quickly and clearly, and yet appear confident on their feet.
If they ended up contradicting or trapping themselves, they would have to expect follow-up questions from the lieutenant-general, who was also not shy in delivering reprimands. "But he also did this in a manner that made you want to prove that you were not the idiot that he just made you out to be," wrote Mr Bernard Tan, a retired brigadier-general in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
"It was only years later that I appreciated that this demanding style of grooming officers created a steeliness and expanded form of thinking in us all, a style of grooming which perhaps will not sit well with the modern generation of today."
Mr Tan was among several who took to Facebook to pay tribute to Mr Ng following his death at age 71 yesterday morning.
He said he was introduced to Mr Ng when the latter was the chief of army, and spent 10 days as his staff officer on an official visit to France and the United States. "No officer I have worked with has been so demanding or skilled at keeping people on their toes," said Mr Tan.
Mr Tan said that Mr Ng, who later served as Singapore's second CDF from 1992 until his retirement in 1995, had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.
The current CDF, Lt-Gen Melvyn Ong, also expressed his condolences to Mr Ng's family on the Ministry of Defence's Facebook page and said he was "deeply saddened" by Mr Ng's death.
"He was an exemplary leader and laid the foundation for the SAF to be as it is today. My officers and I are fortunate beneficiaries of his legacy and will continue his work to keep Singapore safe and secure.
"We thank Lt-Gen (retired) Ng for his many contributions to the SAF and extend our deepest sympathies to his family."
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong also paid tribute to Mr Ng on his Facebook page yesterday, revealing that he had visited the latter on New Year's Eve. "He opened his eyes only momentarily. He was drowsy and in obvious pain and discomfort. Fortunately, I had visited him earlier on Dec 17. He was then alert, cheerful and stoic. He was planning how to live out the last few months of his life," said Mr Goh.
During the earlier visit, he said they had recalled the role Mr Ng played in handling the hijack of Singapore Airlines Flight SQ117 in 1991 by four terrorists, which ended with a team of SAF commandos freeing the passengers and crew in an operation.
"As CDF, he helped to keep Singapore safe," wrote Mr Goh.