RSS Fortitude wins Best Maritime Security UnitShe's one of the newest members of the Navy family. Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) RSS Fortitude was only commissioned in January last year, but has emerged strong to clinch the Best Maritime Security (MARSEC) Unit award in the Singapore Armed Forces' Best Unit Competition.
// Story by Benita Teo
// Photos by Ong Ji Xuan
As part of the MARSEC flotilla, RSS Fortitude is involved in conducting round-the-clock patrolling of Singapore's waters to keep sea lanes safe and open.
The ship also participated in a passage exercise with the Indonesian Navy on 21 Aug last year. This was one of the first overseas exercises the Republic of Singapore Navy had taken part in since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Planning was done virtually and the exercise was carried out entirely in the southern reaches of the South China Sea.
Operating during the pandemic was no easy task – even more so in a shipboard environment where the virus could potentially spread easily. The crew had to make sacrifices and lifestyle changes to remain operationally ready.
For instance, they conducted "ops in isolation", where they would live on board ship to ensure that they were clean, before commencing their duties. This meant weeks away from home each time.
Commanding Officer (CO) Major (MAJ) Randy Peh is grateful for the crew's commitment to their ship and mission. "The really great thing is that the ship really pulls together – they are not scared to work hard or stay late. They are truly an embodiment of the Navy family and I'm very proud to have them as my crew."
So what does it take to be the Best MARSEC Unit? MAJ Peh, Navigation System Cluster Chief Military Expert (ME) 3 Ravinder Singh Jogjee and Weapons System Specialist 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Desmond Sia tell us about their winning formula!
1) Strengthen teamwork and trust among the crew
One of RSS Fortitude's best qualities is the teamwork among the crew, said MAJ Peh. Although the 33-year-old only took command of the ship in January this year, he has witnessed the crew's camaraderie and dedication to their mission.
"We really function like a very close-knit family. The crew is not shy to help each other, stay back late, and chip in even whena task is outside their scope of work. So long as anyone needs help, they will respond to the call. And I think that's our winning formula."
With the high tempo of MARSEC operations, having trust in one another was also crucial, said MAJ Peh. "It's about knowing that everyone around you is a professional, has good skills and fundamentals and will not let you down."
It's not just working well within the ship, but with other MARSEC ships too.
Full-time National Serviceman 3SG Desmond Sia paid tribute to RSS Fortitude's sister LMVs, which have helped her to grow: "Even though RSS Fortitude won the award, (all the ships)...work together with each other, learn from each other, and strive to do better with each other, so that we can do our best when we go out for patrol, and do our daily operations."
2) Coach and empower your new sailors
As a Navigation System Cluster Chief, ME3 Ravinder, 44, believes in giving new sailors the space to grow while being there to support them if they make mistakes.
"When I was a training instructor, I learnt that you cannot treat the young adults who come into the Service as kids – you have to empower them with responsibilities. This will help them work towards our common goal. But, of course, I am always there as their ‘fallback' to guide them in the right direction."
For instance, officers have a checklist to follow during MARSEC operations. However, they must learn to think on their toes when obstacles arise.
When needed, ME3 Ravinder will step in to offer advice and help them make good recommendations to their superiors. "When you give them the right training and exposure, you, too, will benefit."
ME3 Ravinder is quite the lao jiao (veteran) of the LMV world. Back in 2015, he came on board the LMV programme to help set up the new platform, watching the project develop through different phases and selecting people to form the various ships' crews. He later joined RSS Fortitude as her pioneer crew.
"After the amount of time, effort, blood and sweat we put into the LMV project, seeing RSS Fortitude win best ship is a blessing," he said thoughtfully.
"We did not aim to win, but we made sure (we kept up) the standards at all times. We also made sure to inculcate good learning knowledge and methodologies to our younger generation (to help them) take on key appointments."
3) Keep the Navy Family spirit strong
Being a MARSEC frontline unit means the ship has to take turns conducting patrols every day, even during the festive holidays. To make sure the sailors don't miss out on the celebrations, the crew of RSS Fortitude once came together to plan a very special menu.
"We were tasked to sail during Deepavali. So the crew, led by the Indian members, decided to cook some special Indian dishes to share with the ship. We cooked nine different dishes ranging from non-spicy to spicy, and everybody enjoyed it," said ME3 Ravinder.
The ship's family spirit has inspired 3SG Sia to extend his National Service (NS), which is due to end on 14 Aug. He hopes to stay on and lessen his teammates' workload, explaining: "My understudy just arrived and I feel that if I leave now, the ship would have to train another helmsman to do my job (until my understudy comes up to speed). By staying, we will have more manpower."
After all, the 22-year-old has witnessed the crew's unity first-hand. After returning to shore late from their firing exercises, it was commonplace to see everyone come together to help clean the ship's A-Gun.
"Usually when we come back, it's past midnight. But all of us, including the officers who are available, (will still) help to clean the gun together because it is so huge," he said.
"That's how the ship works as a whole – instead of just taking care of our own responsibilities, we all work together so that we can finish the task quicker."