Chief of Army,
Chief Commando Officer,
Members of the Commando family,
My warmest congratulations to all the men and women of the Commando Formation on your Golden Jubilee. Commandos and Special Forces in militaries all over the world hold pride of place as the elite group of soldiers, called upon to execute the most difficult of missions; whose impact far exceeds their numbers and whose victories can have an uplifting effect on the morale of the entire army. The expectations placed on Commandos are therefore always high, which explains why their selection criteria and training are so rigorous, even unforgiving.
HISTORY AND ACHIEVEMENTS
The SAF's Commando Formation was formed on 1 December 1969, then only thirty-strong. Barely five years later, a succession of security challenges showed how necessary it was to have this special elite force. In 1974, terrorists associated with two militant groups – the Japanese Red Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – attacked the Shell Oil Refinery on Bukom and hijacked the ferryboat “Laju”, holding its five crew members hostage. After intense negotiations, the hijackers agreed to release the hostages, but only in exchange for a group of guarantors. Four Commandos stepped forward, joining several others in the thirteen-man party led by our late President, Mr S.R. Nathan, to trade places with the hostages and escort the armed hijackers to Kuwait. Thankfully, that crisis came to a peaceful resolution, as the Commandos and other guarantors had put their lives at risk.
The following year, refugees fleeing the Vietnam War arrived in our territorial waters. Our Commandos, together with the Marine Police and Navy delivered food, water and fuel to the refugee boats. They were unarmed, but as they approached one of the vessels, grenades were hurled at them to stop them from boarding the vessel. Our Commandos responded decisively to defuse the situation and disarm the crew. Because of their swift action and calmness under pressure, no injuries or deaths resulted.
Many Singaporeans will remember our SAF Commandos' daring and successful endeavour when SQ 117 was hijacked at Changi Airport on 27 March 1991. Codenamed Operation Thunderbolt, the Special Operations Force stormed that hijacked flight, when it became clear that the situation had become desperate and the lives of passengers and crew were at risk. Our Commandos successfully freed all of them. The four hijackers were killed. That operation, executed with surgical precision, took all of 30 seconds.
These three operations exemplify the modus operandi of our red berets, who are often put in extreme harm's way, but whose professionalism, skill and capabilities result in mission success even under the most trying circumstances.
EVOLVING THREAT OF TERRORISM
We recount these operations not because we enjoy episodes where the lives of SAF soldiers and our Commandos are put at risk. Every soldier has a family, and is a son, brother or father, whose lives are as precious as the next Singaporean's. These brave escapades are instead a reminder that there will be moments in Singapore's history, and in our future, where the brave and daring actions of a few are needed to save the lives of many, and to act as the sharp end of the spear for the SAF. This is a fact of life for all commandos and militaries.
The need for a special force like the Commandos is as necessary today as it was then in the early days. The threat of terrorism has grown here and is a clear and present danger. ISIS has lost its foothold in Iraq and Syria, but its fighters and networks have moved elsewhere, including into our region to join with others that will do Singapore and Singaporeans harm. On the dark web, today's terrorists can buy sophisticated weapons that can wreck much destruction. They can also access information to target specific individuals, groups or events to gain publicity and strike fear. To respond to this growing threat, our Commandos too must evolve their strategies, capabilities and tactics. In keeping with technological advances, our Commandos have incorporated new sensors and other equipment into their armamentarium.
The inauguration of the Special Operations Task Force's Special Operations Command Centre (SOCC) represents an important step in the Commandos' response to present day security threats. The SOCC is capable of processing large amounts of data and information from sensors employed, to provide a quick assessment of the situation to help commanders decide on the best course of action. The SOCC is also linked with the Police and other agencies, so that we can act in concert with the rest of the government when called upon.
GREATEST ASSET OF THE FORMATION – ITS PEOPLE
The Commando Formation, as the tip of the SAF's spear, must be kept sharp all the time. It calls for a special breed of men and women, who are physically and mentally agile, able to respond at quick notice, and act decisively and deliberately under great pressure. To produce that breed of soldiers requires special training here at Hendon Camp. It is no wonder then that the First Commando Battalion has won the Army's Best Unit Competition 33 times since the award was launched in 1969, and for 16 consecutive years since 2004.
Singaporeans stand behind you, admire your courage and daring, as they do every National Day Parade, enthusiastically and with great pride in greeting the Red Lions descending from the sky, as if propelled by an invincible all-powerful force.
Today, on your 50th anniversary, I charge all Commandos, past and present to continue to be the best, to serve as a fearsome reminder to those who would do harm to Singapore and Singaporeans; to stand guard, ever vigilant, poised to attack when called upon, “for Honour and Glory”.
Once again, I congratulate the Commando Formation on its 50th anniversary. Thank you all and congratulations again.