Walking in Mum's footstepsThis mother joined the SAF Volunteer Corps (SAFVC) hoping to support her son when he enlisted for NS. Instead, she inspired her daughter to join the Navy.
// Story by Benita Teo // Photos by Chai Sian Liang & courtesy of SV2 Eng
"I'm the fire and she's the ground!" SAFVC Volunteer (SV) 2 Eng Boon Chen says of her relationship with her daughter, 2nd Lieutenant (2LT) Lye Yu Xuan.
Indeed, their personalities seem almost opposite: SV2 Eng, 49, is excitable and self-deprecating, while 20-year-old 2LT Lye is quieter and speaks in a measured tone.
But SV2 Eng, who only joined the SAFVC at the age of 44 – a year shy of the cut-off – in 2018 as an Auxiliary Security Trooper, has passed on to her daughter a strong independence and drive to chase her dreams.
In fact, she set 2LT Lye on her path to becoming a Naval Officer in the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).
Hi SV2 Eng! We hear you actually joined the SAF before 2LT Lye did!
SV2 Eng: I had considered a career in the military when I was young. When the SAFVC was introduced, it gave me the opportunity to volunteer and contribute to national defence. I could finally fulfill this dream of mine.
I have a son (who is four years younger than 2LT Lye), so I thought it would also be a good idea for me to keep updated on the latest happenings and understand his challenges when he enlists for NS (National Service). His dad had served his NS as an infantry officer, but his knowledge is outdated already.
Nothing beats going behind the scenes myself to find out more. Little did I know that it would end up rubbing off on my daughter instead! (laughs)
2LT Lye, did your mum influence your decision to sign on with the SAF?
2LT Lye: I've also been interested in defence since I was young, partly because of my dad's NS stories. But I was also inspired by my mother – they always say that the SAF is very tough, but she went through the elements of Basic Military Training (BMT) in her Basic Training and she enjoyed her experience.
That gave me a lot of courage and inspiration, and I felt like the military was a career I could consider.
Did she share her own stories with you?
2LT Lye: At that time, I was only 15 and didn't know much about the SAF, so she shared with us her experience camping in the jungle.
SV2 Eng: As part of Basic Training, we had a three-day-two-night field camp in Pulau Tekong. Our uniforms would become very smelly after our close-quarter and Battle Inoculation Course training, and we had to pack them into ziplock bags and change out before we booked out. When I got home, I told my two kids: "Come, come, come, I bring you the smell of Tekong!" and made them smell the uniforms!
2LT Lye: She also encouraged me to join the first Women's Boot Camp in September 2018. I went with my cousin. Her encik in Basic Training was also my encik at the Boot Camp!
When I decided to sign on, I was reminded of these stories, and I felt it would be a good opportunity to challenge myself.
What impressed you the most about your mum becoming an SAFVC Volunteer?
2LT Lye: Just the fact that she survived the training.
SV2 Eng: I was already 44 when I joined the SAFVC, so she's thinking, if this old lady can do it, so can I!
2LT Lye: When I attended my mum's Formation Patch Presentation Parade, I was impressed that she could handle the SAR 21 (Singapore Assault Rifle – 21st Century).
We also got to see her in her uniform, which we rarely did, and she looked very cool. She had the soldier vibes. I don't know anyone else whose mum is an SAFVC Volunteer. She survived her training, and I'm proud of her.
SV2 Eng, did you expect 2LT Lye to make the RSN her career?
SV2 Eng: I hadn't yet imagined what she would choose for a career, because she had just finished junior college (at the NUS High School of Math and Science).
In fact, she kept her application almost a secret – we didn't know anything until one day in November 2021 when she announced: "Oh, in January I'm going to BMT!" and we were all wondering, "Huh, what BMT? Oh, the SAF BMT!"
2LT Lye: I attended career talks in Year 2 of junior college, and thought that it would be meaningful to contribute to Singapore's defence. I became quite interested in the work the RSN did, like the types of operations and defence diplomacy.
I did consider the Army because my mum is an Auxiliary Security Trooper, but I like being able to sail, see the sea and engage with people from other navies.
2LT Lye, what are you most grateful to your mum for?
2LT Lye: That she's always allowed me to do what I want to do. But she was strict in making sure I passed my exams and would check in to see that I was doing well.
SV2 Eng: When it comes to my kids, I'm quite a hands-off mum. I don't interfere with their school lives or what co-curricular activities they want to join.
My philosophy is that it's their life to live and their decision to make. But if there's something they want to pursue, we'll just make sure they know what they're in for, and that the family is there to support them.
2LT Lye: When I was in Officer Cadet School (OCS), she would pick me up from SAFTI Military Institute so that I could get home faster to rest, especially when we booked out late. That was nice.
SV2 Eng, how do you feel now, seeing 2LT Lye donning the uniform herself and becoming a soldier?
SV2 Eng: She's matured a lot, especially after BMT and OCS. I see the confidence in her. It's quite a sudden difference for me – one moment she's in school and the next she's in the navy uniform. The realisation that if there's ever a war, she's going to fight in the war. To me, it's like, wah, suddenly my kid's grown up already! (laughs)
She's very independent. Academically, we've never had to worry, she's managed on her own. Ever since she was a child, she showed a certain level of maturity and we never had to worry that she would make a bad decision or get into bad company.
I'm very proud of her and grateful that she's independent enough to take care of herself. I'm confident that she can navigate her way. This will be a long journey in the Navy, but she has that resilience to keep going.