Tri-Service siblings? Khoo!

Actions /web/wcm/connect/pioneer/a51bdd4a-a105-4135-b867-dabf8b776716/15may24_news1_photo1.jpg?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE.Z18_1QK41482LG0G10Q8NM8IUA1051-a51bdd4a-a105-4135-b867-dabf8b776716-o-WlwOl /web/portal/pioneer/article/cover-article-detail/people/2024-Q2/15may24_news1
14 May 2024 | PEOPLE

Tri-Service siblings? Khoo!

What are the perks of having siblings in the Army, Navy and Air Force? MAJ Janet Khoo, MAJ Edward Khoo and CPT Edwin Khoo spill the tea!

//Story by Teo Jing Ting / Photos by Kenneth Lin & courtesy of interviewees

Looking at the Khoo siblings, it's hard to guess who the eldest of the trio is. That is, until they start talking.

Big sister Major (MAJ) Janet Khoo proudly declares that her subordinates think that she's the younger sibling.

Without batting an eyelid, middle child MAJ Edward Khoo immediately retorts: "You so fierce, of course they won't tell you the truth lah!"

True to his laidback personality, youngest child Captain (CPT) Edwin Khoo chooses to stay out of the argument.

A "Khoo" military family: (From left) CPT Edwin Khoo, 35, MAJ Janet Khoo, 40, and MAJ Edward Khoo, 39, serve in the Air Force, Navy and Army respectively.

The decision to join the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) started with MAJ Edward, who signed on with the Singapore Army when he enlisted in 2005.

The reason? He wanted to give back to Singapore as he was a second-generation citizen.

"My father's Singaporean and my mother's Malaysian, so we were born in Malaysia. I signed on as I wanted to give back to the country, and the sense of purpose became stronger after I started a family," said the Commanding Officer (CO) of Specialist Cadet School (SCS) III, whose family moved to Singapore in 1996.

The Khoo family appearing in full force for MAJ Janet's (second from right) officer cadet commissioning parade in December 2008.

For MAJ Janet, it was a sense of inspiration during MAJ Edward's officer cadet commissioning parade in December 2005 that prompted her to join the SAF.

"With the sun setting at the background, the whole aura was so different and I felt so proud and inspired that I wanted to be part of the contingent," recalled the Head Safety Education and Training Branch in Naval Inspectorate with a laugh.

Her love for swimming and the beach made joining the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) a natural choice, and she signed on in 2008 after completing her university studies.

Enlisted as a naval diver in 2010, youngest brother CPT Edwin made the switch to join the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) in 2012 after passing his COMPASS (Computerised Aptitude Selection System) Test.

He was offered the role of Weapon Systems Officer (Fighter) in the F-16 D+ fighter jet, and has never looked back since.

We quiz the Khoo siblings on what it's like having one another across the three Services!

All smiles: CPT Edwin (second from right) with his fellow trainees after passing their air grading course in Australia back in May 2012.

MAJ Edward, we hear that CPT Edwin kinda fulfilled your dream of being a fighter pilot?

Edward: I always wanted to be a fighter pilot! Needless to say, I also went for the COMPASS test but I didn't do well.

Janet: So when Edwin told us that he passed it, my jaw dropped. It's unbelievable 'cos I always thought Edward was the smartest among us. And since you passed it, no need to think – just join the fighter team!

Edwin: The COMPASS test was quite draining and it's easy to lose focus along the way, so I was just clicking what came to mind.

Edward: I think that's what they are looking for – those who can do it naturally without much effort.

MAJ Edward (right) and his wife, Jacqueline, at his CSC graduation ceremony at the Istana in 2019.

Do your colleagues know that you have siblings in the other Services?

Edward: Yes! Janet went through Officer Cadet School (OCS) in 2008 and when I was posted to OCS as an instructor in 2011, her ex-instructors became my colleagues.

I also attended the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College's Command and Staff Course (CSC) with Edwin's boss in 2019. During ice-breaker games, we had to share two truths and a lie and I always played the sibling card in those games.

So maybe I'm the one who spreads the news. (laughs)

So what is it like having siblings in the SAF?

Edward: We always help each other out. For instance, I passed all my CSC study materials to Janet when she attended CSC.

And when she needed help during a recent overseas exercise, I knew a friend who was running the logistic support in that country. So I texted and asked him to help look after my sister.

Janet: I think having Edward's network (in the course) and knowing the right people really helps. I'm not ashamed to leverage on them. (laughs)

MAJ Janet (fifth from right) with her division mates during their Midshipmen Sea Training Deployment in 2008.

Have you all been on any military exercises together?

Edward: Edwin and I were in Exercise Wallaby together last year! The sad thing was that I was at the Army Command Post while he was up in the air flying.

There was a segment where the fighter planes were flying really low with afterburners as part of the exercise. All the army command post folks were very excited and stood outside to watch.

When the planes flew past us, I was like "ok, that's my brother." That was the closest we got to each other.

It didn't help that I was also wet, dirty, miserable and eating my combat rations while knowing he was going back to nicer accommodations when he was done with his flying. (laughs)

The trio at MAJ Edward's change of command ceremony as the CO of SCS III in September 2023. They are joined by his wife, Jacqueline, and 5-year-old daughter Elizabeth.

So is the grass really greener on the other side?

Edward: In my younger days, I actually envied my siblings 'cos they got to travel a lot. Janet sailed for quite a number of deployments while Edwin stayed in the United States (US). But at this stage of my life, I wouldn't want that 'cos of the time away from home.

Edwin: Yeah, in these past 12 years, I think I've spent more than half the time overseas. I was training for two years, and then spent another two-and-a-half years in Peace Carvin II detachment (in the US).

Edward: Yeah, so I don't think the grass is greener on the other side. In the Army, the leadership is very raw and you have to be with your soldiers. I like to be on the ground, work with my soldiers and help them achieve their goals – that's what I enjoy about my job.

Unseen sacrifices: MAJ Janet feeding her youngest son, then only one year old, before leaving for her first long deployment during her operational tour as Operations Officer of RSS Persistence in August 2017. [Photo: RSN]

Which Service has the best food?

Edward: The Navy! We will never get that kind of food in the Army. I ate on the ship once and I was like "wah… damn nice!"

Edwin: It's true. I had to sail for three weeks as part of an exercise in India in 2011. But the Navy really needs good food, because the food and company on board the ship during deployments are really important.

Janet: When the deployment is four months, you'll see the same person for four months every day. So you just have to make it work. That's why I'm not complaining. Each of our Services has its own perks.

MAJ Edward (first row, second from left) with his SAFSA dragonboat teammates during the Singapore River Regatta in 2016.

Since you are all in the SAF, do you guys actually work out together?

Edwin:  I exercised a lot more in the past, less nowadays.

Edward: When he was in the Naval Diving Unit (NDU), he was super fit! I remember running together with him when we were still staying at our parents' place. I don't think he can run today. (laughs)

Edwin: I used to think how people can take 11min to finish their 2.4km run. (muses) Yup, that's how it happens.

Edward: Then Janet will sign up for exercise classes like pilates, yoga and spinning. What I do is buy a good pair of shoes and exercise in my camp, together with my guys – true Army style!

The Khoo siblings, together with their parents, donned in their ceremonial fit at MAJ Edward's wedding in 2018.

What do your parents think of all of you being in the SAF?

Janet: My mum has always loved uniforms and she always wanted us to join uniform-related CCAs (co-curricular activities) but I refused. Both Edward and Edwin were in Boys' Brigade in primary school, and in secondary school, Edward was in National Cadet Corps (NCC) (Air) while Edwin was in NCC (Land).

So when I signed on, my mum was super proud… like it was the best decision I've ever made.

Edward: It's quite screwed up 'cos my parents DID NOT turn up for almost any of my milestones! First day of Basic Military Training (BMT), BMT graduation parade, the day I entered OCS… My mum only turned up the day I commissioned from OCS.

But they turned up for Janet's enlistment, parents' engagement day and all the other milestones. [Ed's note: It's the middle child syndrome]

Edwin, I heard that you have an UNTOLD story about your sister…

Edwin: There was once we had to go to Changi Naval Base when I was an NSF (full-time national serviceman) in NDU. I was sleeping in the truck when suddenly one of my fellow NSFs exclaimed: "Eh, that zha bor (Hokkien for girl) like damn cai (Hokkien for pretty) sia!"

I woke up and realised from her back view that the girl that they were talking about was my big sister. So I called out loudly, "Janet Khoo!"

She turned around and said: "Oh my god, why are you here!" (mimics high pitch voice) It was really quite funny. (laughs)

Is the grass greener on the other side? The Khoo siblings each enjoy serving in a different Service of the SAF.

Last question, what do you all like about the SAF?

Janet: I don't think there is any other organisation that develops a person as well as the SAF. There are a lot of soft skills imparted by the SAF that is valued by companies out there.

Edward: So skills like people development, team-building, ops planning…

Janet: Even things like being professional and having the ability to see a project through – organisations outside value these attributes. So even if I strike Toto, I won't leave the SAF.

Watch the siblings in action as we put them to the test in our Who’s Most Likely To: SAF Siblings Edition!

Suggested Reading
Meet the TANkees
Cover story
Meet the TANkees

Brothers MAJ Aaron Tan, 3WO Jarvis Tan and SSG Gavin Tan are all Armour soldiers. Their father, Mr Tan Chin Soon, also used to serve in the Armour formation. Does this make them true TANkees?

The sea is in their blood Feature
The sea is in their blood

Husband-and-wife duo LTC Phang Chun Chieh and MAJ Josephine Ang met in the Navy. Little did they know that their roles would inspire their respective younger brothers to sign on too!

Specialist leaders ready to serve
Specialist leaders ready to serve

Newly minted specialists 3SG Sonam Gill and 3SG Lee Jae Won look forward to leading their soldiers.

Brothers in arms at Ex Forging Sabre
Brothers in arms at Ex Forging Sabre

Brothers ME3 Yew Boon Leng and ME2 Yew Boon Siong reunited at the exercise for the first time in nine months after being deployed in the US.

Air Force super mum Feature
Air Force super mum

This military mother-of-three handles the demands of motherhood and work life with grit and grace.

Walking in Mum's footsteps
Cover story
Walking in Mum's footsteps

This 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.

Leading against all odds Feature
Leading against all odds

He defeated a childhood illness and became the first in his family to serve NS. Today, he is a Regular in the RSAF and Golden Bayonet recipient.

Multi-Gen Military-Fam
Cover story
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.

Rock around the clock
Cover story
Rock around the clock

Join these Specialist Cadets as they pull an all-nighter for Exercise Sergeant Rocky to mark the completion of their Specialist Cadet Course Foundation Term. Will they make it?