Plenty of people do marathons every year in running-mad Singapore but her story is pretty unique - Military Expert (ME) 2 Cheryl Chen did it a few months after delivering her first child in mid-2008.
I started running and training a month after delivery and did a marathon at the end of the year, she said. I felt that I needed to take care of my kid but I also needed some time for myself.
Since then, she has been doing the Army Half Marathon (AHM) every year. Somewhere in between preparing her son for school and getting to work, ME2 Chen finds time to run daily.
My husband got me hooked on long distance running, said ME2 Chen. Her husband had taken her to her first AHM when she was still going through Basic Military Training.
But it could have all turned out another way. While studying at a polytechnic for her diploma in Law, her sights were set on joining the police force.
My best friend wanted to join the Army so we signed up for both (the SAF and police force). Her best friend ended up in the police force and ME2 Chen in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). We ended up both working in the intelligence units, so that's really a twist of fate!
What can we say; she's destined to be in uniform.
The first and only Singaporean to be signed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, mixed martial artist CFC (NS) Royston Wee packs a serious punch.
Standing at 170cm tall and weighing in at 61kg, Corporal First Class (CFC) (NS) Wee is one of Singapore's most talented mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters. At 29 years old, he has already fought twice for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the largest MMA promotion company in the world.
Boasting a record of 4-1-0 (4 wins, 1 loss, 0 draws), it might come as a surprise that CFC (NS) Wee only started his martial arts career when he was 21 years old, after graduating from polytechnic.
This top Bantamweight (weight class of about 57 to 61kg) contender was not always the powerhouse that he is today - after all, even the great have to start somewhere.
I began learning MMA for a few months before enlisting for National Service (NS), he recalled. During the first few months while I was in Basic Military Training (BMT), it was a bit difficult for me to continue. I tried to train as much as I could in Tekong, and I would head down to the gym on weekends.
The Transport Operator from 6th and 9th Divisional Air Defence Artillery Battalions still has fond memories of his NS days. Going from BMT and then to unit, I've met new people and some of them have become my good friends, he said. More importantly, when you go through NS, you become more independent.
From being assigned tasks or waking up for exercises at 3am, it teaches you one very important thing - responsibility.
These qualities would come in handy for CFC (NS) Wee. After NS, he continued his martial arts journey by becoming an instructor at Impact MMA.
I started competing in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu around that time, said CFC (NS) Wee. My first competition was an inter-house. Even though I was only a white belt then, I won all the fights and got gold for that competition.
It was only in 2011 that CFC (NS) Wee started fighting in MMA, chalking up his first two MMA victories in the Malaysian Fighting Championships in November and December that year.
He then left to further his studies in Australia, but after returning to Singapore, he got his big break in 2013 - being selected for the UFC.
It was a bit overwhelming at first, he reminisced. UFC is (a competition) of the highest standard in the world… Everybody wants to be in the UFC.
His debut UFC fight, held at Marina Bay Sands on 4 Jan 2014, also marked the very first time a UFC fight was held in Singapore. Winning the fight via a unanimous decision after dominating his opponent in all three rounds, CFC (NS) Wee would then go on to win his second fight, this time held in the 15,000-seat Cotai Arena in Macau in August last year.
There is a Chinese proverb that says: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the People's Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA (N)) took that first step in enhancing bilateral ties, with the inaugural Exercise Maritime Cooperation which took place on 20 May, and 23 to 25 May.
The four-day exercise saw RSN frigate RSS Intrepid and missile corvette RSS Valiant, together with Chinese frigate Yulin, conduct gunnery firing and manoeuvring drills.
RSN Commander Task Group Colonel (COL) Ken Cheong said: The exercise is a major step for us; we have moved from very basic manoeuvres to more advanced bilateral training. The two naval forces also conducted air-defence and other war-fighting drills.
He added: It's a stepping stone to more interactions in the future. We have achieved all the training (targets). Besides bilateral training objectives, we also made friends.
The Chinese Task Group Commander, PLA (N)'s Senior Captain Zhang Ming Qiang, voiced similar sentiments: The exercise increased our mutual understanding of how each other operates, and it has enhanced our ability to operate together. It's win-win for both sides.
The RSN was open and sincere with us, and very serious in their work. That left a deep impression on us from this first time (that) we are exercising together.
Said PLA (N) Commander South Sea Fleet Rear Admiral (RADM) Shen Jinlong: Exercise Maritime Cooperation reflects our common goals and beliefs, and is a new achievement in the exchanges and interactions between both our navies.
Apart from the drills at sea, sailors from both sides also planned for the exercise together, and went through simulator training at Changi Naval Base.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the exercise on 20 May, RSN Fleet Commander Colonel (COL) Lew Chuen Hong highlighted the growth in professional interactions between the two navies.
He said both navies could learn from each other and deepen professional knowledge to strengthen mutual trust and understanding.
This year marks 25 years since Singapore and China established diplomatic ties. Exercise Maritime Cooperation comes on the back of the Four-Point Consensus agreed on by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen and Chinese Minister of National Defense General Chang Wanquan during Dr Ng's visit to China in November last year.
Founded in Seletar East Camp on 1 Jun 1970, the Republic of Singapore Air Force's 160 Squadron (SQN) is Singapore's first and longest-serving air defence squadron. On 23 May, more than 400 past and present servicemen and women of 160 SQN returned to Seletar East Camp to celebrate the squadron's 45th anniversary.
On the same day, a heritage storyboard commemorating the oldest Royal Air Force (RAF) base in the Far East and the birthplace of 160 SQN was launched. Produced by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, 160 SQN, and the 160 Anti-Aircraft (AA) Alumni, the heritage storyboard traces the history of the old RAF Seletar from its beginnings in 1928 to its handing over to the Singapore Air Defence Command in the 1970s. It also tells about the origins of 160 SQN and its first home at Block 450, which was used by the squadron personnel.
Built in 1930, Block 450 was the barracks occupied by RAF personnel, and subsequently, RSAF personnel from 160 SQN.The building was gazetted for conservation in June last year. Fondly known as alpha, it housed the operational flight of 160 SQN between 1970 and 2002.
Guest-of-Honour, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, launched the storyboard at Block 450, in Seletar East Camp.
Speaking at the celebration, Mr Chan paid tribute to the pioneers of 160 SQN, saying: All this (the safety that Singapore enjoys today) would not have been possible without the gumption and the fighting spirit of our pioneer generation.
This is my tribute to the pioneer anti-aircraft community in Singapore - thank you very much, on behalf of all the Singaporeans, for allowing us to sleep well at night. Without your effort, without your sacrifices, today we would still be worrying.
Major (MAJ) (NS) Jayson Goh Swee Kang, president of the 160AA Alumni, agreed with Mr Chan. In his welcome address, he also paid tribute to the pioneers in the anti-aircraft community, such as Professor Lui Pao Chuen, who made the decision in 1968 to purchase the 35mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun.
MAJ (NS) Goh also spoke about the significance of the conservation of Block 450 and the new storyboard. He said: With the launch ofthe heritage board, Block 450 will become a new focal point. Not only for servicemen to come back and remember the good old days, but more importantly, for a future generation of Singaporeans to come and visit, and learn more about their heritage.
Also present at the celebration was Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou.
I reported at SAFTI Military Institute in early March with my vintage Skeletal Battle Order (SBO). There were murmurs as I walked towards a group of officer cadets (OCTs) from Alpha Wing.
This is damn cool, one of them said, referring to my SBO which reflected my status as an Operationally Ready National Serviceman.
I was there for their jungle survival training which prepares them for the Jungle Confidence Course (JCC) overseas. As a specialist, I did not get to attend JCC so I was eager for a sneak preview.
The JCC is a nine-day course in which cadets go through an energy-sapping navigation exercise through the dense jungle. They then have to survive in solitude for three days.
The first day was a show-and-tell session on how to create tools that are needed for survival for a prolonged period of time. These included the A-frame shelter with a fire place, wooden fork and spoon, spear, monitor lizard trap and fishing rod. We also learnt how to forage for food and obtain water through condensation.
There were so many details to remember: The shelter had to be tied to a tree, the roof must be downward sloping, the fireplace had to be layered with soil and leaves… The cadets listened intently, conscientiously taking down notes. They will be tested during the JCC. Every point counts. The JCC is not a sure pass course.
I couldn't catch up, and turned to my team-mates OCT Benjamin Tang and OCT Ho Kang Hua. Hey, you guys know what's going on, right? You have to take care of this old man here, okay?
Sir, no problem, we can manage, OCT Tang said with a grin. (The cadets insisted on addressing me as Sir because civilians out-rank everyone.)
Home in the wilderness
The next morning, we began a two-day, one-night exercise in a forest near Pasir Laba Camp. We started building the A-frame shelter by tying the wooden poles together to form the skeleton. Each lashing had to be wound ultra-tight. After all, you don't want your shelter to give way when you sleep on it!
I tried out each step to get a bite-sized experience. To avoid taking away the cadets' much-needed practice time - they have to construct a shelter individually during the JCC - I worked on the wooden fork and spoon, and did the grunt work like chopping the trees for wood and leaves.
By noon, the hunger pangs hit, and I was dehydrated from the scorching sun. I had arrived earlier in the morning with an empty stomach and brought only two half-filled water canteens. The three of us were supposed to share one day's worth of combat rations and 21 litres of water.
In JCC, cadets are given just about a day's worth of combat rations, and have to obtain drinking water from river streams.
Since I was not a trainee, the instructors allowed me to get water and food from the training shed. But I felt bad seeing my buddies taking small sips of water.
I help you guys get syrup water? I offered. OCT Ho declined, waving his hands frantically: No, no. It's okay. We have to get used to it. JCC will be worse!
I was impressed by their integrity.
In the next few years, more navies in the region will operate more submarines, including in the increasingly congested South China Sea. While this raises safety concerns, there are also opportunities for cooperation in submarine operational safety.
Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman made this point in his opening address at the 4th International Maritime Security Conference (IMSC) on 20 May.
He cited how the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the United States Navy are currently co-hosting the Asia-Pacific Submarine Conference (APSC) over the next few days for submariners to discuss submarine rescue and operational safety.
The IMSC and the APSC are key events of the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (IMDEX Asia) - the largest maritime defence show in the Asia-Pacific - currently being held at Changi Exhibition Centre.
Speaking to about 350 participants which included Navy and Air Force Chiefs, coast guard senior officials and leading maritime academics from the region and beyond, Dr Maliki highlighted the opportunity to tap on the diverse and extensive expertise of…the international maritime community present today.
We can leverage on this shared wisdom and ask ourselves how we can build stronger linkages in cooperation through multilateral cooperation.
He added that conducting maritime exercises is another way to strengthen cooperation among various countries. The RSN, for example, will be hosting a series of exercises on the side lines of IMDEX.
The war games, codenamed Maritime Information Sharing Exercise (MARISX) and the Western Pacific Naval Symposium Multilateral Sea Exercise (WMSX), are being held both on shore and at sea.
Dr Maliki said that on shore, navies would strengthen information-sharing linkages, while at sea, eight navies would exercise maritime security scenarios to strengthen interoperability.
For the first time, the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) is being used in this series of exercises. The region's first code of conduct for unplanned encounters between navy ships and aircraft, CUES could help prevent maritime tensions from escalating into conflict.
It was endorsed by Asian-Pacific naval chiefs at the 14th Western Pacific Naval Symposium in Qingdao, China last year, following a two-year period of rising territorial tensions and air and sea confrontations in the South and East China Seas.
Enhancing regional framework for submarine operational safety
Singapore's Chief of Navy Rear Admiral (RADM) Lai Chung Han was one of eight speakers at the IMSC, which was themed Safe and Secure Seas - Strengthening Maritime Cooperation. They spoke on how different navies can co-operate to address various maritime threats.
In his speech, RADM Lai called for countries to come up with a regional framework for submarine operational safety in order to reduce the risk of underwater accidents in the South China Sea.
With the increasing numbers of submarines operating in that congested and confined water space, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that it is an accident waiting to happen, he said, citing estimates that the navies of Asia-Pacific could operate over 130 diesel-electric submarines by 2020.
There is an urgent need to establish a broader framework beyond existing bilateral agreements on submarine rescue, RADM Lai added.
One such agreement was the Joint Standard Operating Procedures for a Memorandum of Agreement for mutual submarine rescue support which the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) signed with the United States Navy yesterday.
Singapore also has similar arrangements with Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam.
To kick-start the creation of the regional framework, RADM Lai suggested that navies could share non-sensitive information - such as the movement of large crude carriers as well as dredging and other underwater activities - to facilitate the planning of submarine operations.
He also suggested the sharing of best practices in submarine rescue, training, as well as coming up with common standards for submarine safety regimes.
Finally, navies can work towards creating a code of conduct to guide submariners on manoeuvring to prevent accidents during an unlikely encounter, he added.
RADM Lai also called for regional navies to extend joint piracy patrols to new hotspots in the South China Seas. Such efforts have been successful in bringing down the number of piracy attacks in the Straits of Malacca in recent years.
About 200 naval engineering professionals from 20 countries also gathered at another conference at IMDEX Asia to discuss new developments on naval technology related to defence and maritime security.
The opening ceremony of the 2nd International Naval Engineering Conference @IMDEX 2015 (INEC@IMDEX Asia 2015) was officiated in the afternoon on 20 May by Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) Major-General (MG) (NS) Ng Chee Khern.
Themed Adapt and Transform - Flexible Capability in an Uncertain Environment, the discussions centred on the areas of multiplying effect, flexible platforms, underwater technology and effective support solutions.
In his opening address, MG (NS) Ng highlighted how the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) had tapped on technology to overcome various challenges such as limited manpower.
He cited the RSN's latest Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs), which come with features such as equipment automation to optimise manpower use.
To prepare for uncertainty, the SAF also injected flexibility in the design of its hardware so that they could be rapidly reconfigured for different missions, he added.
We do not always know the sort of operational scenarios under which the SAF would be called upon to operate or fight, MG (NS) Ng explained.
For example, the RSN's Endurance-class Landing Ships Tank provide various ways to transport equipment and personnel, such as via cranes, fast craft or helicopter.
Such versatility has proven useful in missions such as the Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Operation for the Boxing Day tsunami in 2006, he noted.
Building bilateral ties
On the sidelines of IMDEX Asia, opening ceremonies were also conducted for two bilateral exercises that the RSN is participating in separately with the People's Liberation Army (Navy) and the Indian Navy.
The exercises aim to strengthen bilateral ties and enhance mutual understanding and friendship among personnel of these navies.
All countries need to come together to tackle security challenges arising from maritime territorial disputes, terrorism and piracy.
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen said this at the opening of the 10th International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (IMDEX) Asia - the largest maritime defence exhibition in the Asia Pacific - on 19 May.
Addressing an audience of military top brass from various navies, defence professionals, industry players and academia, he emphasised that no country, however large or well-resourced, can solve these challenges alone.
He cited examples such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Al-Qaeda's calls for maritime attacks in the region, and the recent increase in the number of piracy attacks in Asia.
To solve these problems, countries should step up dialogue and practical co-operations, come up with codes of conduct to reduce misunderstanding and mishaps at sea, and build up joint capabilities for swift operations, Dr Ng urged.
It is clear that there are many challenges facing our maritime community. To ensure that our seas remain safe and secure, we need to work together as a region to deal with security challenges that threaten us all.
To this end, the biennial IMDEX Asia was a good discussion platform to strengthen maritime security cooperation, he added.
Held from 19 to 21 May at the Changi Exhibition Centre, IMDEX Asia comprises not only an exhibition, but also three conferences.
This year's edition attracted about 50 delegations from 40 countries, including navy chiefs and senior officials from various defence and maritime agencies.
For the first time, the 15th Asia Pacific Submarine Conference (APSC) is being held in conjunction with IMDEX Asia. Co-hosted by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the United States Navy (USN), it seeks to strengthen the partnership among submarine-operating navies in the region.
Before the start of the APSC, the RSN and USN also signed the Joint Standard Operating Procedures for the Memorandum of Agreement concerning Submarine Rescue Mutual Support and Cooperation. The signing of this agreement underscores the strong partnership between the two navies.
The RSN is also co-hosting the 4th International Maritime Security Conference with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. The conference will focus on addressing pressing security issues through collaboration.
This year's International Naval Engineering Conference (INEC@IMDEX Asia) will cover the latest naval technologies.
As part of IMDEX Asia, 20 warships from 12 countries are on display at Changi Naval Base. These include the RSN's Landing Ship Tank RSS Endeavour, Frigate RSS Intrepid, and rescue vessel MV Swift Rescue.
At the main exhibition, 180 companies from 28 countries are showcasing their maritime hardware and solutions.
According to AMI International, countries in the Asia-Pacific are expected to invest over US$200 billion on new ships and submarines by 2031.
To strengthen co-operation with other navies, the RSN is hosting a series of war games on the sidelines of IMDEX Asia from 18 to 22 May: the Maritime Information-Sharing Exercise (MARISX) 2015/Exercise Bell Buoy, and the 5th Western Pacific Naval Symposium Multilateral Sea Exercise.
Their crews are some of the most highly trained sailors in the navy. Powerful and stealthy, the submarines of 171 Squadron (SQN) patrol the depths of the ocean and play their role quietly in maintaining the defence of Singapore's waters.
Each weighing over 1,000 tonnes and measuring over 50m in length, the Archer-class submarines of 171 SQN are well-oiled war machines that stand ready to protect Singapore's sea lines of communication.
The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), however, did not always have such a capable submarine force. Only in 1995 was it announced that the Navy was to acquire its first submarines from the Royal Swedish Navy (RSwN). A total of four Sjoormen-class submarines - later renamed the Challenger-class - were purchased from the RSwN.
Since then, it has been a continuous process of learning and refinement by the crews to ensure that the RSN's submarines can perform to the highest standards.
Dipping their toes into submarine training
For the first batch of 12 would-be RSN submariners, the cold and windy town of Karlskrona would be their home for the next few years as they arrived in Sweden on 9 Apr 1996 for training by the RSwN.
Colonel (COL) (Ret) Cyril Lee, the very first RSN personnel to be awarded the submariner badge, said: Initially, it was an almost 50-50 mix of experienced Swedish crew and Singaporean trainees.
The Swedish side gradually tapered as our individual proficiency increased. In the end, we only had one Swedish Commanding Officer, one Marine Engineering Officer, and one radio operator.
RSS Challenger, the RSN's first submarine, was launched at the Kockums Shipyard in Malmo, Sweden on 26 Sep 1997.
Over the two years of training, the RSN's pioneer submariners achieved a number of milestones - taking RSS Challenger for her first dive while completely manned by Singaporeans; undergoing their first live torpedo firing; and even expanding their families, with 28 children born in Sweden.
On 9 Aug 2000, at Singapore's 35th National Day Parade, a Maritime Review was held off Marina Bay in full view of guests and the public. After the last ship had sailed past, a black hull emerged from the sea.
RSS Conqueror, the first submarine to arrive home in Singapore, surfaced after her reconnaissance mission, surprising those present and proving the expertise of the RSN's submariners. At her conning tower were two smartly dressed Naval officers, one saluting and the other waving a Singapore flag.
Sharpening the edge
With the expertise of the pioneer batch of submariners, 171 SQN began its own submarine training programme in 2001.
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Charles Teng, the first locally trained submariner, recalled the tough training, noting that it was very different from that for surface ships.
Speed is especially critical in any emergency situation during underwater operations, and the entire crew is cross-trained to take over another colleague's job if needed. We have to know every system on board... One of our final tests was the Blind Man's Walk, where we were blindfolded and had to walk through the entire submarine, locate important equipment and operate them, said LTC Teng.
Military Expert 2 Gunaselan, the first chef on board a submarine, added that the crew had to be highly versatile and work as a team. He served on board RSS Challenger, and aside from cooking for the crew, he was trained in many other roles. I'm responsible for certain safety systems such as putting the oxygen systems into operational settings. I also help in operational duties like torpedo loading, and conduct sound and security rounds throughout the boat.
The next wave
In 2005, the RSN signed an agreement with the RSwN to acquire two Vastergotland-class submarines, which were later renamed the Archer-class submarines. The first of its class, RSS Archer was commissioned into the RSN on 2 Dec 2011.
Compared to their predecessors, the Archer-class submarines boast several improvements, such as upgraded combat and sensor suites. Their air independent propulsion system allows them to remain submerged for twice as long for greater endurance and stealth.
In 2013, Singapore signed a contract with ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems to acquire two Type 218SG class submarines to replace the aging Challenger-class boats, which will be progressively retired from service.
Slated to arrive in 2020, these new submarines will push the RSN's submariners to even greater levels of excellence and teamwork. As COL (Ret) Lee said: In the submarines, there is no 'I'. Even as the Commanding Officer, I had to rely on the team. It is all collaborative. No one is above the team.
As an Honorary Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to the President of Singapore since 1998, Military Expert (ME) 7 Daniel Chua Thian Cheong has received countless foreign dignitaries at the Istana. However, one of the memories etched deepest in his mind was when he had to send off our very own founding father.
ME7 Chua, the Head of Manoeuvre and Survivability Engineering Branch at Headquarters Combat Service Support Command, was overseeing the planning of the 24-hour vigil by officers from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). He witnessed many Honorary ADCs coming forward to offer their services as vigil guards.
We volunteered for the duty because we’ve had many interactions with Mr Lee in our jobs as Honorary ADCs, the 55-year-old Army Engineer recounted. It was a very emotional experience for many of our Honorary ADCs. Without asking, they just came forward, even those who had retired. That was the most touching.
At the Honorary ADC Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony Dinner on 13 May, ME7 Chua was reappointed as an Honorary ADC and presented with a token of appreciation by President Tony Tan Keng Yam. Commending him for his outstanding and dedicated service to the President's Office, Dr Tan thanked him for his contributions over the last 17 years.
A total of 102 personnel from the SAF, SPF and SCDF were appointed Honorary ADCs at the ceremony held in the Istana. Of the 102, 57 were from the SAF, with 10 being newly appointed, while the other 47 were reappointed.
The Honorary ADCs are a corps of uniformed personnel, comprising both Regulars and Operationally-ready National Servicemen, who assist three full-time ADCs in events organised by the President's Office. They are volunteers who offer their time and services while holding down their regular jobs and duties. The Honorary ADCs who are in service are reappointed annually.
As an Honorary ADC to the President, you represent the Presidency, Dr Tan told the Honorary ADCs in his welcome remarks. The responsibility is heavy and the expectations of you are high. (But) I am confident that you will rise to the challenge of your duties and continue to uphold the stature of the office.
Rising up to new challenges is one of the reasons Captain (CPT) Eileen Zhang Xinmei decided to volunteer as an Honorary ADC. The 29-year-old Naval Officer saw the role as an extension of her work in the SAF.
This job is very different from what military officers do. This is the diplomacy portion of defence, where you serve the President and help him in discharging his duties. I think it's an honour to serve him and the office, said the Staff Officer in the National Service Branch, National Defence Directorate. This is the first time she is being appointed.
This is also another way I can serve the nation on top of my day job, added fellow new-appointee, ME4 Thanasekar s/o Pothiraj. The 30-year-old Air Force Engineer developed an interest in the protocols and decorum required in handling dignitaries after working in the Foreign Military Liaison Branch during the Air Show last year.
As a Staff Officer in the Attack Helicopter Branch, Helicopter Centre, Air Engineering and Logistics Department, he hoped that his job as a system manager has equipped him with the skills necessary for his role in interacting with local and foreign dignitaries: My current job requires me to talk to a lot of people, such as contractors. I will be able to apply the soft skills I learnt to this role as well.
As they will be juggling both work commitments and duties in the President's Office, CPT Zhang was also glad that her commanders were supportive of her decision: They see that this role is in line with what we do. She was alluding to the SAF's role in serving the nation.
However, first-time Honorary ADC CPT Mohamed Khairiz bin Mohamed Khair noted that accepting the job meant some sacrifices on their part.
You need to sacrifice, for instance, personal time. I had to discuss it with my parents. Even at work, your colleagues might need to cover for you. said the Guards Officer who is an Officer Commanding in Basic Military Training Centre School 4. At 26, he was one of the youngest Honorary ADCs to be appointed this year.
He added: But as long as you have the desire and interest to do it, that's the most important.
ME4 Thanasekar agreed: Since I requested to do this, I am more than happy to take up the duties.
For every aerial ballet that the Black Knights perform, there is a corresponding dance on the ground.
The ground crew pore over the jets, making sure all the panels are securely fastened. Some check on the landing gear tyres, others fuss over the control flaps on the wings' trailing edge and some inspect the air brakes on the rudder.
All so that these lethal F-16C fighters in state livery can steal hearts when they take off into the skies.
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) contingent has concluded its Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operation in earthquake-hit Nepal, and returned to Singapore on 11 May.
During the 12-day deployment, the SAF medical team used the town of Gokarna as a base and treated more than 3,000 patients. They worked alongside their counterparts from the Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) as well as the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) who joined them along the way.
The combined medical team also formed roving medical teams to reach out to remote villages in the vicinity.
The SAF contingent also included a team of personnel from the Changi Regional HADR Coordination Centre (RHCC) that assisted the Nepalese Army in coordinating the multinational relief efforts.
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, who welcomed the returning contingent at Paya Lebar Air Base, commended their contributions to the Nepalese.
I am very happy that Singaporeans have a big heart and when others are in need, they step up. All around, I think this has been a very good mission. We have been able to do what we wanted to do, said Dr Ng.
For Military Expert (ME) 4 Tan Puay Meng, a Military Medical Expert, the biggest takeaway was being able to help people who were left stranded in remote areas.
They have no means to get to any health-care facility… from the mountainous areas to seek help, recalled the 38-year-old, who was part of a roving medical team that went into remote villages up in the mountains, a two-hour journey by vehicle.
Language was no barrier when it came to showing care and concern.
Medic ME1 Shorini Dhurga recalled comforting a 12-year-old Nepalese boy while the 6cm-cut on his knee was being stitched up by an SAF doctor.
He just leaned on me and started wiping his tears on my shoulder. At that point of time, all I could do was just put my hands around his shoulders and just comfort him.
He doesn’t know English; I have no knowledge of Nepali. There was this silence (which was) quite emotional, said the 24-year-old medic who was on her first overseas mission.
The SAF servicemen and women were deployed at noon on 26 Apr at short notice. But they were professional and had remained resolutely focused on the mission
For instance, ME4 Tan was with his wife at a Starbucks cafe when he received the call to report for the mission. He had only a few hours to prepare himself.
What went through my mind was what are the things I needed to do to prepare my team, both emotionally and also logistically, recalled the SAF Regular who is married with two children. He had been to six overseas operations before this.
Changi RHCC’s role
Dr Ng also commended the efforts made by Changi RHCC in helping with the coordination of the relief efforts. This was its first mission since it turned operational last year.
He described it as a major deployment, led by its director on the ground in Nepal.
Changi RHCC provided a real-time common operating picture that showed where help was needed most, and the locations of search and rescue as well as medical teams.
Colonel (COL) Lim Kwang Tang, Director of Changi RHCC, said: At one look, you know where are the gaps, and where are the areas where actually there were duplicates of teams on the same spot.
COL Lim, who was also the overall mission commander of the 38-strong team from the SAF, cited the example of how the SAF medical team was initially deployed to Sankhu village where three other foreign medical teams were already present.
He explained that such HADR operations are chaotic especially during the initial phase. Therefore there was a need for a common platform, such as the SAF’s OPERA Command and Control Information System, to share information, to optimise resources and render assistance as fast as possible.
The system was used at daily briefings held at the Multinational Military Coordination Centre and several foreign relief teams found it so useful that they requested for accounts to access it. Those that asked for the accounts included teams from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Israel and Thailand, as well as the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Going forward, the Changi RHCC will work on making the software more user-friendly for non-military personnel, such as those from non-governmental organisations, COL Lim added.
He elaborated that the OPERA system was designed for the militaries. As a result, the civilians had to be guided by the Changi RHCC personnel in interpreting elements such as air photographs and military symbols.
The Republic of Singapore Air Force’s C-130 aircraft had earlier on 28 Apr evacuated 71 Singaporeans and 24 foreigners from the disaster-hit country.
The aircraft made 11 flights into Nepal to bring personnel, equipment and relief supplies since 26 Apr.
The SAF also donated $150,000 worth of humanitarian aid supplies, which included tents, blankets, portable lights, and food to Nepal.
The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) will continue to upgrade its capabilities and acquire new assets to sharpen its fighting concepts and meet new challenges.
This was a point made by Chief of Navy Rear-Admiral (RADM) Lai Chung Han in an interview with the media at Changi Naval Base on 8 May.
The Navy is facing a more complex operating environment. Since 9/11, we not only need to deal with conventional threats, we also need to have the capability to deal with non-conventional threats such as terrorism and piracy, he said.
Last June, the RSN completed its upgrading of the Missile Corvettes, which were fitted with the ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles for enhanced maritime surveillance and identification abilities.
Other upgrades included the Mine Countermeasure Vessels which were completed last August; as well as the frigates and Landing Ships Tank which are in the midst of upgrading.
For new capabilities, the Navy is acquiring two Type 218SG submarines to replace the Challenger-class submarines, and these will be coming into service post-2020.
Similarly, by 2020, eight new Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs) will be fully-operational, replacing the current Fearless-class Patrol Vessels.
(The LMVs) are far more capable, far more versatile, and they'll take us into the future, said RADM Lai.
He also revealed that the LMVs would be named after the ideals that the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore's pioneers fought for, as well as the attributes that they exemplified, like independence, sovereignty and justice.
The LMVs will also be a key platform to integrate manned and unmanned systems for a smarter navy. This is another chapter that the Navy will be moving into.
In recent years, the Navy has been building up its capabilities in unmanned vehicles, and these have been demonstrated in various missions. For instance, the REMUS Autonomous Unmanned Vehicle was deployed for the search and locate operations of the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 last December.
In an effort to save time and resources, the Navy is also designing a ship's capabilities around the logistics and engineering support that it requires. The LMVs are an example of this new concept.
RADM Lai explained: The ship has a mast and typically, there are a lot of systems outside the mast. To do maintenance, the ship needs to go into a shipyard and have a scaffolding put up to reach the systems.
But for the LMV, because we are designing the support, we make sure that 90 percent of the active components are accessible from inside the mast. So you can do a lot of maintenance work without going to the shipyard and that is a small example of how it helps save effort, time and resources when it comes to engineering support and maintenance.
During the interview, RADM Lai also spoke about the internal challenges that the RSN was facing, which included dwindling birth rates resulting in a smaller pool of Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), as well as manpower crunch.
His solution? To explore alternative sources of recruitment, such as attracting more mid-careerists and women to join the Navy.
He said: We must tell the people out there that the Navy is not just a viable but an attractive second career. Young people these days want to experience different things, and having seen things on the other side, we offer the Navy as a viable second career.
Leveraging the current Military Domain Experts Scheme, which allows servicemen to serve to the age of 60, would give a 35-year-old mid-careerist 25 more years of full career, he said.
He added that while the Navy was looking to employ more people, they must also bring value to the organisation. The RSN welcomed those from the engineering sector and merchant navy, safety officers and even lawyers.
Said RADM Lai: Our value proposition is not only the remuneration, but the attractive career we will present, opportunities for upgrading, but most importantly, a very different sense of purpose and mission.
The Navy is also reviewing its policies to make it more family-friendly and attractive for women to join.
RADM Lai said: Today, seven percent of our work force is made up of servicewomen. That number is far too low in my view.
Our commitment and dedication is to double that in 10 to15 years' time. And it's not just about numbers and filling the ranks, but also to have more women in leadership.
He explained that a change in attitude was needed to recognise that women also brought great value, especially in advanced armed forces where technology was key. Some of the characteristics that women would bring with them were mental strength, and a nurturing and engaging side.
Policy-wise, the Navy will be reviewing the structural support for servicewomen who go on maternity leave, and flexibility in their route of advancement.
Similarly, there are plans to tap the expertise of Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) and a possibility of having the Navy's unmanned systems fully operated by NSmen and NSFs in the future.
On regional cooperation, RADM Lai revealed that the Navy was working with other littoral states to extend their successful model of piracy deterrence in the Malacca Straits to the lower regions of the South China Sea, where the piracy hotspots are.
He said: Bilaterally, we are working very closely with Indonesia and Malaysia through the Information Fusion Centre. We've exchanged information and given them heads up where there's an incident. There have been a number of cases that we have been able to respond very expeditiously to disrupt piracy because of the close working relationship.
In closing, RADM Lai emphasised the importance of having a sharper, smarter and stronger navy for Singapore.
He said: The reason people will talk to us - the Japanese, the Americans, the Chinese – is because we have the capability. When they exercise with us, it's not just notional or about defence relations. They get professional training from working with us.
Because we are sharper, smarter and stronger, we become a partner of choice.