SAF officers press on to finish command and staff courses despite Covid-19 pandemic

Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong (second from right), with graduands of the Command and Staff course under the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College.
Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong (second from right), with graduands of the Command and Staff course under the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College.PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - National serviceman Abdul Haniff Abdul Khalik was about three months into his Command and Staff Course (CSC), which prepares servicemen for more senior appointments in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), when the circuit breaker forced all lessons to be moved online.

He was apprehensive about the change, initially. "For us mature students with children and work commitments, the move to home-based learning was pretty challenging," said the 39-year-old father of three, who is a senior manager at Certis Cisco.

So he was glad when he was finally allowed to return to the campus at SAFTI Military Institute (SAFTI MI) in June.

Captain (NS) Haniff found the safety measures put in place by Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College (GKS CSC) effective and reassuring.

Candidates were split into groups of 10 known as "minimal learning units" to enforce social distancing when they returned for the residential phase at the college, and all lectures were conducted online even when trainees they were in camp.

"The college gave all the measures quite a bit of thought, as we had staggered arrival times, and even dispersed locations for meals," he said.

Capt Haniff was among the graduates of three command and staff courses at a ceremony at SAFTI MI on Monday (Oct 26). The ceremony took place simultaneously at different locations in the training institute to maintain social distancing.

In his speech at the event, the guest of honour, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, congratulated the graduates for carrying on despite the Covid-19 pandemic, including those from other countries who remained in Singapore to complete the course.

"Despite the outbreak, we have roughly the same number of graduands as previous years, 226 in total, including 49 national service (NS) commanders, one Singapore Police Force officer and 20 international officers from 13 countries.

"The participation of these international officers reflects the mutual trust and closeness of ties between us and their home countries," said Dr Ng.

The graduates were from three different variations of the Command and Staff course under the GKS CSC. These were for regulars, the equivalent one for national servicemen and two batches of the version designed for executive personnel like military experts.

The Ministry of Defence website says the Command and Staff courses represent the highest level of formal military education offered in Singapore for regular, national service and international officers.

In his speech, Dr Ng also noted that national security threats had not diminished despite the pandemic and Singapore must cope with the pressures of an increasingly connected and yet vulnerable world.

"Climate change, cross-border terrorism, cybercrime, maritime disputes and malpractices continue around the world," he said.

He reiterated that Singapore's defence forces must be able to deal with both security and the virus simultaneously.

"We have to deal with the pandemic but we cannot neglect or let down our guard against other security threats," he said.