Full of vigour: Missile corvette clinches Best Fleet UnitThis is the fourth time RSS Vigour has bagged the top honour since entering service about three decades ago.
// Story Koh Eng Beng
// Photos Ong Ji Xuan
Through its years of service with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), RSS Vigour has been a reliable workhorse that has seen a slew of high-tech upgrades.
This year, the Victory-class missile corvette has clinched the Best Fleet Unit in the annual Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Best Unit Competition.
The award is given to the ship that comes out tops in the assessment of various aspects such as combat readiness and proficiency, logistics, safety and manpower. RSS Vigour last won the top honour in 2016.
RSS Vigour has proven its combat capabilities and readiness - it won this year's RSN Top Gun award in the Navy's annual gunnery shooting competition.
Away from home, it successfully commanded a task group comprising eight warships from five countries in Exercise Bersama Lima, a Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPFA) exercise hosted by Malaysia last year.
RSS Vigour was also the warfare commander for anti-surface and anti-air exercise serials during the exercise.
The second oldest military partnership in the world after NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the FPDA comprises Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
RSS Vigour also achieved a first during the 40th anniversary of Exercise Pelican, a bilateral exercise with the Bruneian Navy, last year. It deployed an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for the first time in the exercise series to provide tactical surveillance and targeting information.
Secret to success
What enabled RSS Vigour to come out tops? Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Loy Shing Tong, 39, said it all comes down to their strong family spirit.
"My belief has always been that people are important. They need to enjoy their work. (And) in order for them to enjoy their work, they have to treat each other as family members."
After all, when people enjoy their work, they will naturally give their best and excel.
Case in point: To prepare the ship for Exercise Pelican last year, the entire crew of 46 worked late into the night, to scrub each and every floor board in the bridge and clean the machinery.
"Even though some (of them) completed their tasks earlier than others, everyone chose to stay on together," said Military Expert (ME) 1 Jesphne Koh, a Marine Systems Operator.
"This memory is one that always brings a smile to my face," added the 25-year-old. One of four female sailors in the crew, ME1 Koh is responsible for keeping the machinery on board the ship in tip-top condition.
Part of the family
Full-time National Serviceman 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Lim Bing Hong can attest to the strong bonds among the crew, describing RSS Vigour as a "very caring ship".
During his maiden sail in Exercise Bersama Lima last year, the 22-year-old vomited seven times in one hour due to the bad sea state. Although this took place during a major exercise, the crew's topmost concern was his well-being.
"They really cared for me and showed their concern by offering me tips on how to manage (my sea-sickness). And this really reassured me that I'm in safe hands."
Protecting Singapore's sea lanes as part of RSS Vigour has enriched 3SG Lim's National Service journey.
He realised that he is playing an important role by preventing disruption to maritime trade and ensuring the flow of crucial food supplies and necessities to Singapore.
A Navigation Systems Operator, 3SG Lim helps in the navigation of the ship using radar as well as electronic and paper charts.
To help rookies like him get up to speed with the ship's operation, senior members of the crew will guide them, step by step, until they are confident of handling a task on their own.
"We don't treat ourselves like colleagues, come in just to work from nine to five, and go back. We are like a second family," said ME2 Navin Kumar, a Weapons System Supervisor.
End goal: to defend S'pore
The 30-year-old has been with the ship for the last five years. He was also part of the RSS Vigour crew that won the Best Fleet Unit in 2016.
While winning the Best Fleet Unit and Top Gun awards is a recognition of the ship crew's hard work over the past year, ME2 Navin noted that these are just by-products of training well.
Their motivation? To defend Singapore.
Part of the RSN's strike force, RSS Vigour maintains a high level of combat capabilities to perform quick attacks on enemy ships and aircraft. It has been on standby duties for most of 2020.
In recent months, some of the ship's crew members stepped up to support other units that were deployed to safeguard Singapore's waters during the circuit breaker period and Phase 1 of Singapore's reopening.
To ensure the operational readiness as well as the health and safety of their fellow sailors, they had to be isolated in camp for up to six weeks.
Asked about his future hopes for RSS Vigour, LTC Loy said: "As we all know, friendship is not built overnight… I really hope that the unit will be able to maintain this strong family spirit and culture, and continue to bring the ship forward."