It's no secret that around the world, majority of those serving in the Army are males. In recent years however, more females have joined the Army, performing just as well as their male counterparts. This International Women's Day, as we celebrate the achievements of women worldwide, we spoke to five servicewomen who have contributed to the defence of our nation in their own ways.
We would also like to take the chance to thank all servicewomen for playing their part in serving, and keeping the country safe.
MAJ Dai Jing, CO, 36 SCE
Having served in the Army since 2007, MAJ Dai Jing, Commanding Officer (CO), 36th Battalion Singapore Combat Engineers (36 SCE), leads her unit in responding to all explosive related incidents nationwide and conducting preventive security operations.
Why did you choose to sign on? How did your family react?
I wanted to do something that was purposeful, rather than profit driven. The Army provided both the meaning and challenge that I craved. One of the most memorable events during my schooling years was the Sep 11 attack. That spurred me to want to be a part of Singapore's defence against such attacks. In the years since, the threats have increased in complexity and scope so this remains a purposeful area to be in.
Being an only daughter, my family naturally had concerns, but they saw the purpose I found in my work and were eventually supportive of my decision.
Are there any role models you look up to at work?
There is something to learn from everyone. From the NSFs to the young regulars, I am constantly learning to think out of the box. From the senior regulars, I am constantly soaking in their experience and commitment to the mission. From my superiors, I am always a grateful recipient of their support and empowerment, which I hope to pass on to my subordinates.
Is there any particularly memorable event from your time serving in the Army?
By nature of 36 SCE, we respond to bomb calls and conduct many preventive security operations. Each is memorable in their own way, I have been involved in calls that involve a range of locations from construction sites, to HDB estates. In each of these situations, we have to work with various stakeholders to remove the explosive hazard safely, often working late into the night. Invariably, the satisfaction of restoring the public area to normalcy is strong.
I have also been involved in preventive security operations for many high key events such as National Day Parade and the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, with the most memorable one being the 2018 North Korea-United States Singapore Summit.
Reflecting on your own journey and experiences, do you have anything to say to aspiring female commanders?
Happy International Women's Day! We have come a long way and learned many lessons since the first female combatant joined the SAF. As warfighting, technology and attitudes progress, the military gender playing field has been greatly levelled. For those of us in service, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Let's strive to make this experience as meaningful as it can be!
Topping the Armour Officer Advanced Course – CPT Rachel Tan.
Hailing from the Combat Team Training Centre (CTTC), CPT Rachel Tan recently completed the Armour Officer Advanced Course. Much to her surprise, she ended up topping her cohort for the course.
How do you feel about topping the Armour Officer Advanced Course?
It came as a pleasant surprise to me. We were having back-to-back training prior to the course and I just completed my live-firing the night before the course started. It was tiring but I told myself to just give my best, regardless of the results. My greatest takeaway from the course would be learning how the Armour formation operates in different terrain. I was also able to make new friends, which was a big part of the whole experience.
Why did you choose to sign on?
My biggest motivation in doing anything has always been the purpose and meaning behind it. I'm very fortunate to be able to call Singapore my home, and this nation has played a huge part in my upbringing. Finding a job that would allow me to defend what we currently have was important to me. Also, as I take on various appointments, it allows me to do different things, learn new skills and meet new people. Though I'm the only child, my parents are very supportive of my career. They also served in the SAF many years back so they understand why I enjoy this job, and the challenges that come with it.
CPT Rachel (middle) with her parents at her Officer Cadet Commissioning Parade.
CPT Rachel with her fiancé, who is also serving in the SAF.
Are there any role models that you look up to at work?
There are a few, all for various reasons. Firstly, there's CWO Jennifer Tan who is very professional, and still makes the effort to push herself physically despite her age. She's someone I looked up to even before I signed on. Secondly, it's my previous CO, who is one of the most grounded people I know. He made the effort to get to know people on the ground, down to the last man. Lastly, my service term Platoon Commander (PC), who helped me realise the true meaning of "Endurance" when he survived stage 4 cancer.
Given that it's International Women's Day, are there any words you would like to say to fellow servicewomen?
Thank you to all who are serving the nation. It's a bold and respectable decision to be a part of this organisation. Never forget the reasons that spurred you to embark on this journey. One of my favourite quotes is "There are no limits to what you can accomplish, except the limits you place on your own thinking" by Brian Tracy. Do not stop shining in your own way!
CPT Anithra from the Artillery Leadership Training School.
With a couple of years of service already under her belt, CPT Anithra has been around the block. Having served her tours in a few different units, she has seen how several parts of the Army operate. Currently, she's posted to the Artillery Leadership Training School under the Artillery Institute.
Do you have any particularly memorable event from your time serving in the Army that you would like to share?
I have several in mind but a particularly notable one would have to be my Field Artillery Training Evaluation Programme (FATEP) in Exercise Daring Warrior, back when I was a Platoon Commander. I was under the 6th High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) Battery and we had a strong team made up of NSFs and regulars. The whole exercise was something out of our comfort zone, but we made the best out of the experience. It was a good opportunity for everyone to work together and overcome something that was new and challenging to us.
Why did you choose to sign on?
I signed on because I knew that I wanted a career that was challenging, and can get me out of my comfort zone. The Army cultivates us to be leaders from the start by sending us for training and courses. I saw my peers adopting these skills and turning into "men" which enticed me to join the SAF.
It helped that my family was extremely supportive. They gave me the freedom to choose my path, and till this day I am appreciative of the fact that they continue to support me through it.
CPT Anithra (second from left) with her family during her Officer Cadet Commissioning Parade.
Do you have any initial concerns when you first signed on?
My initial concerns were mainly centred around family planning and managing a family. As women, we have the honour and ability to bear children. However, that blessing requires some meticulous planning, especially so given our operational roles in the SAF. No matter the situation, I've always made it a point to plan with my professional responsibilities and commitments in mind. Thankfully, the organisation has family-friendly policies and with an evolving society, men are doing their fair share in contributing to the family. So, I am optimistic that my partner will undertake in this journey with me.
CPT Anithra (right) with her partner.
Given that it's International Women's Day, are there any words you would like to say to fellow servicewomen serving in the SAF?
We should be proud of how far we've come, regardless of language, race, rank, appointment and marital status. I hope that fellow servicewomen will remember to work hard and play hard!
1st Female Base Sergeant Major, CSSCOM - 2WO Karen Tan
As the first female Sergeant Major of a Combat Service and Support Command (CSSCOM) Base, 2WO Karen Tan shares with us the capabilities and leadership skills that a woman can bring to the Army.
How do you feel about being the first female Base Sergeant Major in CSSCOM?
I think that it's a great honour. It is also a form of recognition for all the hard work that I've put in, and a personal milestone for me. Each appointment is different, and brings about different challenges and opportunities. I will do my best to bring my unit to greater heights.
How did your family react when they found out you wanted to sign on? Why did you sign on?
Thankfully, there was no resistance from my family when I decided to sign on. Rather, they were elated when I made the decision. My family have always been supportive of what I want to do. I signed on mainly because I wanted to show my female juniors that if they work hard, and learn well, they will most certainly get to where they want to be. In this era, women are given equal opportunities to succeed.
2WO Karen (right) presented with the Letter of Appointment by Commanding Officer, Supply Base Central, MAJ Phua Teck Seng (left).
What do you think are some challenges that women face when working in the SAF?
I think a lot of the challenges stem from a lack in confidence. As it is a majority-male environment, some servicewomen, especially more reserved ones, may be shy to speak up and make themselves heard. Thus, I feel that one of the changes I want to try and bring about would be to instil confidence in them by giving them more tasks and opportunities so that they can communicate and gain more confidence in the process.
Volunteering to serve the SAF – SV1 Nur Qistina.
Unlike other servicewomen, SV1 Qistina did not sign on. Instead, she chose to volunteer and serve under the SAF Volunteer Corps (SAFVC), volunteering her free time to serve and contribute to the SAF whenever she has the opportunity to.
How do you feel about your role in the Army?
I am very honoured and proud to be able to volunteer as an Auxiliary Security Trooper (AST). It may not be a "flashy" role, but I am humbled by the trust and responsibility given to me to support the Army in protecting our military camps and bases, and by extension, protecting our servicemen and women. As a volunteer, though I spend most of my time in my civilian role, whenever I put the uniform on and carry out my duties, it makes me happy that I am serving the society.
SV1 Qistina (left) with her youngest brother and mother during her Formation Patch Presentation Ceremony in 2018.
What made you decide to join the SAFVC?
I signed up to volunteer after I graduated from university. At that point in time, I was thinking a lot about what I wanted my future to look like and knew I really wanted to serve my community. When I was looking for a full-time job, one of my university classmates who had started her work as a Defence Executive Officer (DXO) said she found it to be challenging and meaningful. That got me browsing through the MINDEF website for the jobs that I could apply for. Eventually, I came across the SAFVC page and it seems to tick all the right boxes for me. So, here I am.
What was the most memorable experience as a SV?
I think that would have to be my first deployment helping out during COVID-19 last year. My role was to call those who were serving their Stay Home Notice (SHN) and check up on them. To me, it was meaningful because (1) we were the linkage between the different government agencies and these people, especially those who were older or living alone, and (2) we were contributing towards the nation's efforts to combat the spread of the pandemic.
What really added to my experience however, was that we, as volunteers, were working directly with the SAF regulars and NSFs. It was truly a heart-warming experience. I saw how professional and competent they were, and also how they even worked together to help each other when faced with language barriers. And then when the job was done, to witness the camaraderie between them with little nods and thumbs-up is a sight I will remember fondly.
SV1 Qistina (first row, first from left) during her Qualification Training Ceremony.
How did serving in the VC change your perception of the Army?
It definitely humanised the Army for me because I could see the careful planning that commanders put into training and operations. Sometimes, we forget that there are people behind who are making sacrifices and putting in their effort to make sure our country continues to be defended. As a servicewoman serving in the Army, I find that the culture here is very respectful.
Written by: REC Basil Sim (Army News)
Photography by: CPL Jakob Carlo Dass and CPL Lincoln Lee (Army News), with contribution from interviewees