Finding the Perfect Partner3WO Padmanabh Rai and CPT Lee Man Ying may seem like complete opposites – one works underwater as a diver, the other controls air traffic – but they're actually each other's perfect life partner.
//Story By Benita Teo
//Photos By CPL Ong Jixuan & courtesy of CPT Lee
No, 3rd Warrant Officer (3WO) Padmanabh Rai did not pick up his wife at Officer Cadet School (OCS).
Yes, Captain (CPT) Lee Man Ying had been a cadet there in 2016 while 3WO Rai was an instructor. But the couple had actually met before CPT Lee enlisted. At that time, she was a mid-careerist looking for a job that promised progression and new challenges.
"I would look shady if people thought that I was hitting on the young female cadets at OCS!" 3WO Rai said in his typical deadpan humour.
Today, Air Warfare Officer (Air Traffic Control) CPT Lee, 34, and naval diver 3WO Rai, 36, have built a loving home together with their daughters, three-year-old Tricia and nine-month-old Lara.
So… tell us the real story about how you met!
3WO Rai: We met at a friend's birthday party back in 2015. We started talking, and I eventually asked her out for a movie. But from the first date, she kept asking me questions about the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), and I was wondering why she kept wanting to talk to me about the SAF!
CPT Lee: When I met Rai, I was already undergoing the tests and interviews for my application to join the SAF. I had worked in a laboratory and a bank previously, but I didn't feel that those jobs were challenging enough. I thought that a career in the SAF would be more dynamic. Rai and I dated for a few months before I left my job at the bank and enlisted.
3WO Rai: Do you know that on the day she enlisted in BMT (Basic Military Training), I was the one who sent her to Pulau Tekong, because her parents were busy? I always imagined that one day I would send my son there, but I ended up sending my girlfriend instead! (laughs)
And when she was in Air Wing in OCS, I was also in the Midshipman Wing next door, running the course as the Course Warrant. That's why at our wedding, I had to put out a disclaimer to our SAF colleagues and commanders that we didn't meet while she was a cadet in OCS!
Did 3WO Rai give you any advice on joining the SAF?
CPT Lee: Yes, he ended up being my career advisor! Although I had already decided to sign on, I wasn't sure which vocation to take up. Rai helped me to decide, based on my personality and interests.
3WO Rai: She once called me up, upset, because she didn't do well in a test. I told her: "If you've decided to do something, then you must put your heart and soul into it, and not keep thinking that you can quit." Eventually she did well and commissioned as an Air Warfare Officer. She was even "Best in Physical Training" in her cohort at Air Wing!
Your journeys in the SAF have been very different. Do you make use of your experiences to help each other in your work?
3WO Rai: I've been in the service since 2005, much longer than Man Ying, so I share with her my experiences in areas such as working with the leadership. And since I'm a Warrant Officer while she is an Officer, we see things from different angles, so we can exchange different perspectives.
CPT Lee: Rai is also the harder one who tends to approach his men more strictly, so I will teach him to handle them with a softer approach.
3WO Rai: Yes, she's the one with a softer, motherly touch.
Are there any challenges to being married to a fellow military personnel?
CPT Lee: Because we're both in operational roles, we often work irregular hours. It becomes a challenge when we have to make plans for our children and ensure that someone is able to pick them up from school and take care of them. Luckily, my mother-in-law lives nearby and helps us out. My commanders have also been very understanding when they learnt that Rai is also in an operational role and, especially after I gave birth, tried to give me more regular work hours.
3WO Rai: It was especially difficult during COVID-19, when I had to be in base for a whole month and couldn't come home at all. I also travel a lot for my work, so Man Ying is often alone taking care of the kids.
What's the key to maintaining a good relationship as a couple and as parents?
CPT Lee: Because we're both in the SAF, we understand the challenges that each other faces. For example, when Rai disappears or is uncontactable for hours, I won't panic because I know he is at work. If I need help with, say, picking up the kids, I know to call my mother-in-law or helper instead.
3WO Rai: Trust is definitely important – we know what the other is doing (workwise), even if we don't talk about it. For example, when Man Ying is at work, she is completely uncontactable as she cannot bring her phone with her. I'm also often out and about without my phone. Of course, we can see for ourselves how busy the other person has been at work, when they come home and just collapse from exhaustion!
What do you appreciate most about each other?
CPT Lee: Rai may look stern and unfriendly, but he has a gentle and humorous side that he doesn't show to everyone. He's someone I can rely on and trust to be there for me and my family. He's also strong-minded and knows what he wants in life, so when I'm feeling lost, he will give me good advice.
3WO Rai: She's very independent and capable, and I know that she can run the household and take care of the family when I am not around. She's also a very good mother to the girls. Now, it's like I'm nothing to her, I'm not even here!
CPT Lee: He's ranked the lowest now!
3WO Rai: But that's why I chose her (as my wife). I purposely chose someone different from me – I'm the hard one, and I found someone softer to complement me.