Guardsman, Father, Role ModelThis Father's Day, PIONEER finds out how a former Guards Formation Sergeant Major indirectly inspired his son to sign on, and how he runs a strict regime both in camp and at home.
// Story by Thrina Tham
// Photos by Amos Chew & courtesy of SWO Saravanan
While in Singapore Guards together, this father-son duo acted as though they did not know each other.
During one occasion, Senior Warrant Officer (SWO) Saravanan S/O Shatiannathan – then the Formation Sergeant Major – led a force preparation check on 3rd Battalion, Singapore Guards (3 Gds), which was his son’s unit.
They did not acknowledge each other as 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Vishva S/O Saravanan high-kneeled in front of his father for his weapon inspection. It felt odd to SWO Saravanan, to say the least.
But it was all part of ensuring that 3SG Vishva would not be treated any different from his peers.
In fact, SWO Saravanan made it a habit to personally interview every Regular entering Guards but kept out of his son's selection last June.
Instead, he said that he was busy and asked his Brigade Sergeant Major to take over him in interviewing that entire batch.
"To be fair to the system, I did not get involved and I did not tell the people who were involved. Only after the final interview when they gave him a thumbs up, then I told them: 'That's my son'," explained the 51-year-old.
Now a Commanding Officer at SAFWOS Leadership School, SWO Saravanan sees himself passing on the baton to his 22-year-old son, a young Guardsman starting his journey.
Donning the khaki beret
SWO Saravanan initially had mixed feelings when his son told him of his intention to sign on with Guards, sometime after completing his Specialist Cadet Course.
"I was quietly happy that he chose the family among all the other formations. But also apprehensive because I knew the tough conditions he was going to go through," said SWO Saravanan.
In his over 30 years as a Guardsman, he served three years with the Army Deployment Force, and was the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) for 3 Gds in 2012.
Besides being deployed to East Timor in 2002, he also went overseas thrice to study. This includes the Sergeants Major Course in Texas, United States in 2013, which is recognised as a capstone for non-commissioned officers. His family stayed with him during the year-long course, with then-13-year-old 3SG Vishva studying in a high school there.
"I've had a wholesome career; I've served in every role from Section Commander to Formation Sergeant Major," said SWO Saravanan.
Yet, he insists that his biggest achievement is when his guys greet him on the streets.
"Leadership is not about running your individual race – but about everyone running with you. Can you make yourself purposeful to everybody?"
Following his father's footsteps
It was SWO Saravanan's men who, in turn, inspired his son.
As a young boy, 3SG Vishva would sometimes meet and chat with his father's soldiers during functions and fishing trips that SWO Saravanan organised.
They shared how his father helped them improve – by not unnecessarily punishing them for mistakes and, instead, turning their mistakes into learning points.
"They spoke highly of him, how he changed their lives, how he showed leadership and inspired them. I thought to myself, 'If he can be doing something that changes people's lives, shouldn't I be doing the same?'" said 3SG Vishva.
In his current role as a Section Commander leading six men in his Company, he aims to follow his father in leading by example.
"That's a characteristic I admire about him. It's important to practise what you preach, to understand the men and also care for them."
Running a strict regime
An RSM at heart, SWO Saravanan runs a tight ship both in camp and at home. He has a strict curfew for his three kids (3SG Vishva is the middle child among two sisters) and expects everyone home on Sundays for family time.
He is also especially strict on 3SG Vishva, and would harp about his bearing – like clipping his fingernails and shaving – before he booked in.
"I know the pain he goes through; I wouldn't want to be a Warrant Officer's son," admitted SWO Saravanan.
Despite this, 3SG Vishva knows that his father is all about putting family first.
"There is a lot of work to be done. Even over the weekends, his phone is always going off. But there was never a time I called him and he told me he couldn't make it," recalled 3SG Vishva.
Recognising his father's sacrifices, he said: "Having been in the Army for this long, he always has friends saying 'Let's go out for supper, go out for drinks', but he never did that.
"He would always spend time with the family and I appreciate that."
Get ready to go "awww" at 3SG Vishva's Father's Day message to SWO Saravanan here: