Multi-Gen Military-Fam

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17 Jan 2022 | PEOPLE

Multi-Gen Military-Fam

Cousins MAJ Vanderput Ian James Valence and 3WO Aeria Timothy James spill the beans on what it's like growing up in a large family with a rich military history.

// Story By Teo Jing Ting

// Photos By PIONEER photographers & courtesy of interviewees

MAJ Vanderput (right) and 3WO Aeria are close cousins who grew up in a large military family.

When your grandfather was the former Chief of Navy (CNV) and your uncles are retired fighter pilots from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), there is no doubt that conversations during family gatherings are almost always centred on anecdotes and stories of the military.

Growing up, Major (MAJ) Vanderput Ian James Valence and 3rd Warrant Officer (3WO) Aeria Timothy James often heard tales of how their grandfather – Colonel (COL) James Aeria – volunteered to join Singapore's fledging naval force during Konfrontasi (a period in the mid-1960s when Indonesia embarked on a campaign to oppose the formation of the Federation of Malaysia) and eventually rose to become Singapore's first Navy chief.

A young COL Aeria (fourth from left) and his wife (to his right) during a New Year's Day party on board a ship.

When 3WO Aeria's father, MAJ (Ret) Ralph Aeria, and uncle, MAJ (Ret) David Aeria, became a Hawker Hunter pilot and A4 Skyhawk pilot respectively, the air force also became a part of the family's conversations.

Things became even livelier when the third generation – MAJ Vanderput and 3WO Aeria, both 33 – joined the Singapore Army. 3WO Aeria's younger brother was formerly in the Naval Diving Unit but has since left the Service.

We speak to MAJ Vanderput, a brigade S3 in 3rd Singapore Infantry Brigade, and 3WO Aeria, a platoon warrant officer in Officer Cadet School (OCS), about growing up and living in a large military family.

COL Aeria (right) with an SAF cadet and his wife during his stint as a defence attache in Manila, Philippines.

Hi guys! Your family has a very rich military history. What are family gatherings like?

MAJ Vanderput: Growing up in a military family, you won't think that choosing a military career is out of the ordinary. So it's no surprise that almost all of us, except for my older brother, ended up signing on. And because most of us are from the military, it's literally the only topic when we all get together!

Even my mum and aunts grew up in a time when my grandfather was still serving, so the military, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and serving the country have always been the centre of conversations.

Do your uncles often compare their military experiences to yours?

MAJ Vanderput: (laughs) At the risk of getting hammered by them, they are your typical coffeeshop uncles who go, "Back in my time ah, it was so much more difficult…" But they say it all in jest. They try to chime in as much as possible with their experiences but, at the end of the day, they were both in the air force whereas Timothy and I are in the army, so there's still a difference in experience.

Apart from that, we often talk about what's going on now, if things are changing for the better and what it was like in the past. We're all very passionate about the military so we are always discussing how things can be better.

3WO Aeria: Yeah, they are always saying how much tougher it was in their time! Back in the day, Uncle David actually did his Basic Military Training as a commando while my dad enlisted in the navy for his National Service before joining the air force. So they do know a thing or two about toughness.

A young MAJ (Ret) David Aeria posing in front of the A4 Skyhawk.

And your wives are ok with the constant military conversations? 3WO Aeria, I heard that you met your wife because of your dad!

3WO Aeria: My wife's father is also from the RSAF, so my father and he were friends even before I met her! When I was 11, our family moved to Tamworth, Australia as my father was attached there as a flying instructor to assess potential pilot trainees. Her father was also posted there and I met her while she was visiting him. I liked her immediately but I'm not sure about what she thought of me. So we became good friends and somehow I managed to convince her to give me a shot. (laughs)

MAJ Vanderput: My father-in-law is a retired infantry officer, so my wife technically grew up in a military family too. I like to think that she is as invested as me. 'Cos even when I'm home, I talk about work and I'm constantly on my phone as there's always something to do and solve. I think she's used to it already.

3WO Aeria (centre) with his parents at his specialist cadet graduation parade back in 2010.

Did you go to a lot of military exhibitions and open houses growing up?

3WO Aeria: Before moving to Tamworth, my dad would bring us to the RSAF open house at Paya Lebar Air Base whenever it was held. When we were in Australia, there were no open houses. Instead, we often gathered as a Singaporean community and all the pilots would talk about their experiences. That made me really wanted to join the military.

MAJ Vanderput: For me, not really. I think it's because my parents' and uncles' houses are like mini military museums. My mum has my grandfather's medals framed up and Uncle David has my grandfather's sword and peak cap.

Uncle David's house also has pictures and models of the A4 Skyhawks, him posing with them, as well as pictures of him and my grandfather. Uncle Ralph's old house had tons of flight suits and models of the Hawker Hunter, and you usually can't get my uncles to stop telling us stories.

And there's also the silverware and crystals at my parents' place, from when my grandmother was hosting dinners in Manila (where COL Aeria was stationed as a defence attache for 2.5 years after relinquishing his role as Chief of Navy in 1975).

So there's not only the military stories, but even the history of the cutlery and crockery that was used. I think this is the reason we are all passionate about the military, 'cos we grew up with these things that we hold so dear to us.

COL Aeria's medals are currently framed up in MAJ Vanderput's parents' house.

Is that why both of you became Regulars?

MAJ Vanderput: Growing up and listening to how my uncles enjoyed their military service made me want to sign on. At the risk of sounding extremely cheesy, I see serving the military as a noble profession and I believe in honour, duty and service.

Everyone was very supportive. In fact, Uncle Ralph accompanied me to Central Manpower Base to sign the contract 'cos my parents were overseas. My parents initially wanted me to wait for them, but Uncle Ralph just said, "Don't bother waiting, I'll go with you!"

3WO Aeria: I actually wanted to be a fighter pilot like my dad, as I was very inspired by his stories. My favourite movie is Top Gun and it was one of the first few movies I watched with him. Even though I didn't make the cut to become a pilot, I found a new passion as an infantry specialist when I enlisted for National Service (NS) and decided to make a career out of it.

MAJ Vanderput graduated from the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College last October.

What were some of the memorable or challenging moments throughout your career?

MAJ Vanderput: The most fulfilling moment I've had so far was when I was an OCS instructor from May 2013 to January 2015. Officer training is something close to my heart 'cos at the end of the day, we are stewards of the organisation. If we get it right, these cadets will go on to lead soldiers and make a difference in their lives.

It's also really nice to make a difference in the lives of the younger soldiers – especially when you see a guy goes from not enjoying NS to actually seeing the purpose of what NS is about and starts enjoying what he's doing.

3WO Aeria: Throughout my career, I've had the privilege of training both specialist and officer cadets. Moulding the next batch of leaders is very fulfilling.

MAJ (Ret) Ralph Aeria (right) putting the 3WO rank on 3WO Aeria during the latter's promotion ceremony in July 2021.

Did the military bring you guys closer?

3WO Aeria: We are always sharing where we are or what we are doing at different stages of our career! Sometimes I will give him a call and let him know where I'm posting to next. There were also times when we were working in the same place for a while, like in MINDEF, so we'll meet up to talk.

And because both of us were in OCS recently (I'm an instructor while Ian was there on course), we would catch up for a meal or two. During weekends, I will bring my 2-year-old son to his house to play with his cousins, and we will talk about work too.

MAJ (Ret) Ralph Aeria (far left), MAJ (Ret) David Aeria (third from left) and 3WO Aeria (second from right) at MAJ Vanderput’s (in black jacket) wedding in 2013.

MAJ Vanderput, I hear that your 7-year-old daughter wants to sign on! And 3WO Aeria, what will you say to your son if he wants to join the military in the future?

MAJ Vanderput: Yup, my daughter is telling us that she wants to sign on and I'm going to be a bit selfish and say it's because of me. (laughs) My wife and I are supportive! We told her that she can definitely sign on as long as she becomes a doctor first. Then she can join the military and become a military doctor.

3WO Aeria: I will definitely tell him to go ahead! In fact, I'll be very happy if he wants to join the military. It's a stable job, it's fulfilling and coming from three generations in the military, it'll be nice if he continues that tradition. But of course if he doesn't want to, I won't force him. As long as he's happy and he knows what he wants to do, I will not interfere.

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