My Dad's a naval diver too

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14 Jun 2021 | PEOPLE

My Dad's a naval diver too

Serving NS in the Naval Diving Unit (NDU) has given CFC Byron Ong renewed appreciation of the tough work that his dad does as a naval diver.

//Story by Koh Eng Beng

//Photos by Chai Sian Liang & courtesy of 1WO Ong

1WO Ong has served as a naval diver for 35 years. His son CFC Ong joined him in NDU when he enlisted for NS last year.

It's rare for someone to serve National Service (NS) in the same unit as his dad. So when Corporal First Class (CFC) Ong was called up for an NDU selection test, he hoped he would make the cut.

After all, his father – 1st Warrant Officer (1WO) Ong Yew Beng – is a veteran naval diver who has served in the Republic of Singapore Navy for 35 years.

When CFC Ong was undergoing the Combat Diver Course at Frogman School, 1WO Ong was the School Safety Officer overseeing the safety protocols for training. Dad's presence was an added motivation for CFC Ong to persevere through the gruelling training.

A proud 1WO Ong with then-Corporal Ong at his Combat Diver Course graduation in March 2021.

After going through NDU training, CFC Ong developed a better appreciation of what his dad does for a living as a naval diver all these years. And for 1WO Ong, seeing his son successfully becoming a naval diver was a sign that CFC Ong was ready to face the challenges ahead in his adult life.

As Father's Day draws near, PIONEER catches up with the father and son to find out what it's like for them to be part of the same elite unit.

Tell us about yourselves.

1WO Ong: In 1986, when I was 20 years old, I enlisted under the Learn As You Earn scheme. Last time we called it the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) Boys' School. We chiong sua (Hokkien for charging up the hill) in the morning, and studied in the afternoon.

I was very physically fit at that time, and I was the Company's Best PT (Physical Training) during BMT (Basic Military Training). So my platoon commander asked me, "Why not join the NDU since you're so fit?" I said, "Okay, let's try."

A young 1WO Ong (far left) with fellow NDU divers in 1989.

I have been with the SAF for 35 years, serving most of my time in NDU as a combat diver. Earlier this year, I assumed the role of platoon commander in Mohawk Company, Basic Military Training Centre School 2.

CFC Ong: I am now serving NS as a naval diver in NDU. I enlisted for BMT in August last year, and graduated from the Combat Diver Course in March this year. Before NS, I studied pharmaceutical science in Temasek Polytechnic.

When you were called up for a selection test in NDU, why did you express interest in serving as a naval diver?

CFC Ong: I felt it was an unique opportunity. First of all it's tough – I'm forcing myself to change for the better. Second, it's the NDU; I can be like my father!

1WO Ong: It's good that he was selected by NDU – let him have a feel of what I had gone through when I was young! (laughs) But physically and mentally, Byron was well-prepared before he enlisted, so I was not worried.

Keeping (super) fit together: CFC Ong has been joining his dad for long distance runs since his secondary school days.

What's it like to serve NS in the same unit as your dad?

CFC Ong: On my first day, one instructor actually called me out, saying jokingly that he wanted some "payback"! (laughs)

1WO Ong : 'Cos most of the instructors (now) were my trainees in the past. During my younger days as an instructor, I was a bit hard on them. That's why he said, "His son is coming in, I must 'groom' him (to be even) better!" (laughs)

CFC Ong: No special treatment, but got some pressure lah. When I had a hamstring strain just a few weeks before Hell Week, I was actually quite worried that I would go Out of Course. But I had to maintain my dad's legacy, if not xia suay (Hokkien for embarrassed).

1WO Ong: He came to me about his leg injury, and I gave him some tips on how to manage his recovery while still undergoing training. Normally young tadpoles (the Navy's moniker for diver trainees) like him go all out in training; they don't know how to pace themselves.

Did you have a better appreciation of your dad's work as a naval diver?

CFC Ong: Whatever I faced during Hell Week – the non-stop physical training, with very little sleep over five days – I already found it super tough. For him, it's probably double or triple that (difficulty). Back in his days, it's even more siong (hokkien for tough).

I also admire his deep commitment to his job for the last 35 years. He is always talking about his work. Even when I book out, he still talks to me about NDU, and asks me to chip in ideas (to strengthen training and safety).

What do you wish to say to your dad on Father's Day this year?

CFC Ong: I want to say, "Thank you for being there for me, and for being in the same camp with me till early this year. You're like my care bear when I was a tadpole during the Combat Diver Course. You were there looking out for everyone and for me."

I was delighted to see him when we entered the boat with ice inside for the "cold treatment" training.

Combat diver trainees being packed into boats filled with ice blocks and water for some "cold treatment" during Hell Week. [File photo]

1WO Ong: (laughs) Majority of the trainees were shivering during this training. But when I saw him, he was okay leh. He was actually smiling; something must be wrong! I don't know whether he was well-prepared or he was just enduring. I wanted to give instructions (for the instructors) to put in more ice, but I couldn't lah. (laughs)

I was the School Safety Officer. My role was to inspect their training, make sure all the safety protocols are being followed, and that all necessary resources have been put in place to support the training.

What is it like to have a father who works in the military?

CFC Ong: He was rather strict, always telling me to always do the right things and study hard. But now that I am in NS, he has become less strict, more open to discussion, and fun to talk to! (laughs) I think he has less worries for me 'cos most of the things that he expected me to do, I have already fulfilled them, less my university studies and starting a family.

1WO Ong: It's also because the SAF has taught him well. Once he embarked on NS, he had to be his own man, and independently move on in his own (life) journey. I'd watch him from the side, and if he needs me, I'll coach him as a mentor.

Being in NDU has allowed CFC Ong to better appreciate what his dad does as a combat diver all these years, while 1WO Ong feels that NS has taught his son to become a resilient young man who can take on any challenge.

During your younger days, how did you juggle your work as a naval diver and duty as a father?

1WO Ong: My family was very understanding of my work. Working in the elite force meant that my days were long, and nights even longer, so I may sometimes miss certain important family occasions, but I'd always make it up after my training or exercise. The unit was also very understanding, and made up for it by giving us time off so that we could be with our family.

What's your wish for Father's Day?

1WO Ong: I just wish for COVID-19 to end soon as the pandemic has hit us quite badly. Meanwhile, all fathers and their families should take this opportunity to "re-org" and spend more time together with the family (while working from home).

I also hope Byron continues to have a good experience in NDU as an NSF (full-time national serviceman). Stay safe, help people who are weaker than you, and always pay attention to details.

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