RSS Independence named SAF's best maritime security unit

Members of the 1st Commando Battalion executing a rappelling drill at Pasir Ris Camp last week. The battalion won its 16th consecutive Best Combat Unit award. The crew of RSS Independence manning their stations in the ship's integrated command centre
The crew of RSS Independence manning their stations in the ship's integrated command centre. The littoral mission vessel won the Best Maritime Security Unit award in this year's Singapore Armed Forces Best Unit Competition.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
Members of the 1st Commando Battalion executing a rappelling drill at Pasir Ris Camp last week. The battalion won its 16th consecutive Best Combat Unit award. The crew of RSS Independence manning their stations in the ship's integrated command centre
Ground crew of 142 Squadron, which took home the Best Fighter Squadron award, loading a weapon on an F-15SG fighter during a capability showcase at Paya Lebar Air Base on June 17.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Ground crew of 142 Squadron, which took home the Best Fighter Squadron award, loading a weapon on an F-15SG fighter during a capability showcase at Paya Lebar Air Base on June 17.
Members of the 1st Commando Battalion executing a rappelling drill at Pasir Ris Camp last week. The battalion won its 16th consecutive Best Combat Unit award. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

When Singapore's first home-built littoral mission vessel 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 yesterday.

The 1st Commando Battalion chalked up its 16th consecutive win for the Best Combat Unit, while 142 Squadron took home the Best Fighter Squadron award - its first since being assigned to operate the F-15SG fighters in 2016.

RSS Independence - the first of eight littoral mission vessels that are all scheduled to be operational next year - was commissioned in May 2017 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. They are meant to replace the 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 was the ship's crew, whose professionalism was "top notch".

"As a maritime security unit, we're a front-line unit. This means that when called upon, you must go at short notice. It's not something that you can tell your family members in advance. So all of them accept this is the job, this is the profession and this is the duty," he said.

The annual SAF Best Unit and Best NS Unit competitions were introduced in 1969 and 1993, respectively, to recognise units that have excelled in the areas of combat readiness, operational proficiency and administrative excellence.

Eighteen active and 11 national service units will receive awards for being the best in their formations at the SAF Day parade at Safti Military Institute next Monday.

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.

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 has won the Best Combat Unit 33 times so far. Commanding officer of the 1st Commando Battalion, Major Fabian Pwi, 36, said the team that won last year was "vastly different" from this year's, as most of last year's unit had completed their full-time NS.

"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, a lot of motivation for our soldiers," 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 his going to the commando unit as she knew the training would be tough. "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 the tough training and I've grown as a person as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2019, with the headline 'RSS Independence named SAF's best maritime security unit'. Print Edition | Subscribe