Theme: NS Moments


All in the family: both 3SG Tan (centre) and his father SLTC (Ret) Tan took part in the RIMPAC exercise, 10 years apart, on board the same ship. Here, he is celebrating his Specialist Cadet Graduation Parade on 20 Feb with his dad and mum, Mrs Linda Tan.


Ten years ago, Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) (Ret) Tan Wei Min, the first Commanding Officer (CO) of Formidable-class frigate RSS Supreme, set sail for the RIMPAC exercise off the coast of Hawaii, United States.

The deployment marked two "firsts": it was the first time that the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) fired an Aster Surface-to-Air missile at the multilateral naval exercise; the ship and her crew also made RSN cinematic history when footage of the crew during the exercise was used in the 2012 blockbuster movie, Battleship.

3SG Tan was posted to RSS Supreme as a Marine Systems Operator in February this year.

A decade later, his son, 3SG Tan, was the one sailing on RSS Supreme to take part in RIMPAC. The Full-time National Serviceman's (NSF's) deployment was also a memorable one: not only was it held in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was also the longest RSN sail without any shore leave - the crew spent a total of 67 consecutive days on the ship!

We speak to 3SG Tan, 20, to find out about his experience, and how his dad SLTC (Ret) Tan, 53, helped him to get ready for this long deployment.

SLTC (Ret) Tan (right), then a Lieutenant Colonel, was RSS Supreme’s first CO, and led her on her first RIMPAC exercise in 2010.

3SG Tan, what stories did your dad tell you about his RIMPAC deployment?

3SG Tan: How bad the sea state was at certain points - he said it was like a rollercoaster ride, and he got thrown of his bed once while sleeping! I never understood what he meant until I sailed. One night, during the leg from Guam to Hawaii, the sea got really rough. I woke up thinking I was flying because the ship was pounding (up and down)!

Another interesting story was that RSS Supreme made a cameo in Battleship - some of the crew were even filmed in the opening scenes!

SLTC (Ret) Tan: RIMPAC 2010 was very memorable to me because it was the first time the RSN had fired the Aster missile at the exercise. It showcased our capabilities to our fellow participants (from the other navies) and allowed my crew to benchmark themselves against their counterparts. It was also the first time our crew appeared in a Hollywood movie.

RSS Supreme was the first RSN frigate to fire the Aster missile at RIMPAC.

What is your role on board the ship?

3SG Tan: I'm a Marine Systems Operator. I am part of the Engineering Department that maintains the engineering systems, which are critical in the ship's ability to fight and survive at sea. These systems include the engines and steering gear which provide propulsion, and freshwater generation.

I'm still relatively new, so I assist my seniors in the daily engineering operations. I just graduated from Basic Specialisation Course 1 at the Naval Military Institute earlier this year, and was only posted to RSS Supreme in February.

3SG Tan carrying out checks on the ship’s engineering systems during his RIMPAC deployment.

What was the hardest part of the deployment?

3SG Tan: Being confined to the same space for 67 days! I've never done something like this before in my life. I would be most homesick right after we left a port, because that was when I would call home and talk to my loved ones.

It took a lot of adjusting to, but eventually I learnt to count the days I'd completed, and not the days till the end of the sailing. The silver lining was that I could still catch a glimpse of other countries from the ship (when she docked at Guam and Pearl Harbor to receive supplies).

The ship also organised a Supreme Super Sailor competition (testing the crew's seamanship skills) and inter-house games such as human foosball, which allowed us to interact and release some steam. We also bonded by playing board games in our free time and chatting over meals.

RSS Supreme docking at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, ahead of RIMPAC 2020. Although the crew was not allowed to disembark from the ship, they were able to take the time to make video and phone calls home.

SLTC (Ret) Tan, were you worried for 3SG Tan, since it was the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and he had to be away from home for a very long time?

SLTC (Ret) Tan: I'm familiar with how the navy operates, so I knew there were measures in place to ensure the safety of the crew amid the pandemic. The long period away from home is part and parcel of being in the navy and of being selected to participate in RIMPAC. In fact, my RIMPAC deployment in 2010 was even longer than his (but with shore leave).

The Tan family – (from left) mum Mrs Tan, younger sister Sarah, 3SG Tan and SLTC (Ret) Tan – will now have more RIMPAC stories to share.

How do you feel now that he is home and has completed a very extraordinary deployment?

SLTC (Ret) Tan: I am proud of him for completing the deployment safely. Now we have two in the family who will tell RIMPAC stories!

3SG Tan: This is definitely a special experience. Being able to be go on an overseas deployment during my NS is a rare opportunity. Not many NSFs in the Navy, let alone the Singapore Armed Forces, get the chance.

This story was first published on PIONEER on 28 September 2020.