IT WAS a thirst for adventure that led Colonel Gan Siow Huang to sign up with the air force 22 years ago.
The armed forces agreed she was a good fit when it made her and three other women the first female recipients of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Merit Scholarship in 1993.
Back then, the military was looking to groom talented women into military leaders though it "didn't know how far women could go", said Col Gan, 40.
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I think every individual still has to put in her bit to prove that she can do the job... in order to be given the responsibilities.
It's always best person for the job.
- Colonel Gan Siow Huang
I've had to make tough choices in my career between work progression and family. But with each choice, I accept the outcomes.
- Col Gan
A poster girl for SAF's recruitment campaign for women, Col Gan rose through the ranks, and yesterday became the first woman to attain the rank of brigadier-general in the SAF.
Seven colonels headed the SAF's annual promotion list, and received their first star as brigadier-general or rear-admiral.
The others were Colonel Lam Sheau Kai and Colonel Kenneth Liow from the army; Colonel Lew Chuen Hong and Colonel Frederick Chew from the navy; Colonel Kelvin Khong from the air force; and Colonel Paul Chew from the Military Security Department.
With them, the top echelons of SAF will now have more than 20 generals and admirals.
In all, 413 officers, 74 military experts and 34 warrant officers from the three branches of the military earned promotions and were presented with their certificates at a ceremony at the Ministry of Defence yesterday.
They included Military Expert (ME) 7 Francis Cheong, who heads the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) Air Engineering and Logistics Department. He was promoted to ME8, the top rank among military experts and equivalent to a brigadier-general.
While the Military Domain Experts Scheme has been around for just five years, ME7 Cheong said people now recognise these ranks a lot more. "When I deal with my counterparts, they recognise us for the expertise that we bring, and the contribution that we are able to make to the SAF."
The promotions take effect from SAF Day next Wednesday.
Col Gan's journey was fraught with tough choices between career progression and family. "With each choice, I accept the outcomes," said Col Gan, who previously commanded the RSAF's 203 Squadron and Air Surveillance and Control Group.
Now the head of SAF's joint manpower department, she will take over as the RSAF's head of air intelligence and director (special projects) next month.
The mother of three girls aged three, eight and 12 paid tribute to her colleagues and bosses, and credited strong family support in allowing her to pursue her career.
Her husband left the navy for the private sector in 2006, and he and his parents, who are cancer survivors, take care of the children while she is at work.
But while she may blaze the trail for succeeding generations of female SAF commanders, she said every woman still has to prove that she can do the job.
"It's not that the SAF did not want to have female generals in the past but it had to wait for one who is up to the job and ready.
"I think the time has come."
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post last night that Col Gan's promotion marks "a new chapter in SAF's history".
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also weighed in, saying he was happy about Singapore's first female general.
"Many good women and men serve in our armed forces. Thank you for your commitment and dedicated service to the nation," said PM Lee in his Facebook post.