Family first1WO Ronald Tan worked hard throughout his 42-year career in the Army so that his children could have a better future. Years later, his youngest son joined him in becoming a career soldier.
//Story Koh Eng Beng
//Photos Chai Sian Liang & courtesy of MSG Tan
Although 1st Warrant Officer (1WO) Ronald Tan couldn't afford the finer things in life for the family, his children would say in a heartbeat that he is the best father in the world.
The reason? He always put family before self.
Most of his salary was spent on his three children, especially his eldest Ryan – an autistic child who couldn't feed himself and needed constant care.
"My wife and I spent a lot of time with him and looked after his daily needs – we even hired a helper to help care for him, even though during the early stage of my career, I was not earning a lot of money. We didn't see Ryan as a burden; he's our son so we did whatever we could do for him," said the Army Regular, who was drawing about $1,200 a month as a young sergeant. His wife was earning about $800 a month as a secretary.
Whatever money that remained went towards paying for tuition for his daughter Rachel and youngest son Reuben. "We had to work harder to afford the tuition for them. And no lavish spending – we eat at home most of the time; we bring the children for walks at Orchard Road, picnics and swim at the beach," he said.
To 1WO Tan, spending quality time together as a family is what really matters in life. Two years ago, Ryan passed away at the age of 31 from thyroid cancer. Life was short but sweet – his father made sure of the latter.
His selflessness is why his children see him as their role model. "He's really family-oriented and would do anything for the family," said Master Sergeant (MSG) Reuben Tan, the youngest in the family.
MSG Tan, who followed in his father's footsteps to join the Army, described his father as someone who can "dong" (Hokkien for withstand) hardship and knocks.
1WO Tan signed on as an armoured infantry soldier when he was only 18 years old. He had only one O-level pass in Chinese, but upgraded himself through various military courses. Rising through the ranks over the decades, he took on appointments from company sergeant major to regimental sergeant major to division intelligence warrant officer.
When MSG Tan was considering an Army career, he naturally turned to his father for advice. This was eight years ago, when MSG Tan was then about to finish his National Service as a trooper in 41st Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment.
1WO Tan, who's now a trainer in the Armour Training Institute, said: "There's only one thing that I wanted to ask Reuben before he signed on: Does he love the Army? He must have the passion, otherwise he won't go far."
MSG Tan heeded his advice and joined the Artillery Formation as he had an interest in big guns like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS. The 29-year-old is currently the SAFARI Weapon Locating Radar Detachment second-in-command in 24th Battalion, Singapore Artillery.
Warm & caring family
1WO Tan, 61, will be retiring soon in July. He is currently on his second short-term contract which was first offered to him when he turned 55 (the official retirement age for warrant officers and specialists) in 2015.
"Thank you Daddy for taking care of us all these years. You've enjoyed yourself in the many years that you were in the SAF. Your work is tough – it is not easy to don the uniform for over 40 years but I've seen you go through it, and I wish to do the same as well."
For 1WO Tan, he feels blessed that his children have grown up to be responsible and caring adults. For example, his children insisted on delivering a home-cooked dinner from their Pasir Ris home to the Singapore General Hospital, where he was deployed for a COVID-19 operation last year.
1WO Tan was part of a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) team in charge of conveying COVID-19 positive patients from public and private hospitals to community care facilities at Singapore EXPO, D'Resort and more.
When he asked his family if they could also bake snacks for the staff who had been working very hard at these facilities, they swung into action the next day, preparing care packs consisting of home-made cookies, muffins and sandwiches.
"We're a very close-knit family and this shows the love and care that they have for me (and for others)," said 1WO Tan.
Asked his wish for Father's Day this year, he simply said: "I don't ask for much. In fact, I have nothing much to ask for. I am just grateful to have a very great wife by my side and a nice family. I hope that we will continue to stay happy."