SINGAPORE - Full-time national serviceman Benjamin Chan was not in the right frame of mind when he first joined his unit as an Air Force technician.
Not only was the 149 Squadron an unfamiliar place, but he had also just received the news that his grandmother, whom he was close to, had died.
But the NSF found his superiors to be understanding. They took care of his needs.
Thankful for the supportive environment, Third Sergeant Chan, 21, said he returned after his grandmother's funeral, ready to do his best.
He said: "We do it not only to protect the country, but also for the man who is next to me and the man who is going to fly the plane."
Such a spirit infuses the unit, enabling it to clinch the Best Fighter Squadron Award in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
The 149 Squadron, which was inaugurated in 1985, won the award for the eighth time, and this is its third win with the F-15SG multi-role fighter.
While 3SG Chan felt that his diploma in aerospace electronics gave him the edge to perform his role as an air force technician effectively, flying appears to be in his blood. His father was a pilot with Singapore Airlines until his retirement, and his mother was an air stewardess with the same airline.
On Aug 3, 3SG Chan will end his service and bid goodbye to 149 Squadron. After that, he plans to pursue an engineering degree at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and hopes to specialise in aerospace engineering.
Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Koh Boon Yit, 39, the commanding officer of 149 Squadron, said the unit's winning formula is to provide a supportive environment and to listen when the men have difficulties.
In his daily meetings with his aircrew, he tries to get them to reflect on why they come to work, and how they feel about Singapore as home.
Having a purpose keeps the men motivated throughout the intensive training, which starts in April every year and leads to large-scale air combat exercises like Exercise Pitch Black from July to August.
The last exercise on their schedule - Exercise Cope Tiger with the United States Air Force and Royal Thai Air Force - ends in March the following year.
Lt-Col Koh emphasised the importance of safety in addition to the close bonds and professionalism that the unit upholds. The slogan he has for the squadron is "Daddy, come home safely", which he adopted from a highway sign he once spotted.
"We do our job so that we can go home safely," added the father of an eight-year-old son.
Lt-Col Koh said the unit makes special preparations to reduce the noise level projected when flying aircraft during major school examinations. They also make sure they land earlier than usual, at 9pm, so students taking the exams get adequate rest.
The squadron is one of 11 NS units and 18 active units earning honours for being the best in their formation.
The Singapore Armed Forces' Best Unit competition started in 1969 and was extended to NS units in 1993 to recognise those that have displayed unparalleled efficiency in operations, administrations, and combat readiness.