Life's smooth sailing when you're married to your best friendHappiness is being married to your best friend: Find out how this Navy couple stay the course in their relationship.
// Story by Koh Eng Beng
// Photos by Kenneth Lin & courtesy of ME2 Huang & ME2 Phoon
They served on the same warship, became best friends – then fell in love years later and became husband and wife. Meet Military Expert (ME) 2 Joe Huang and ME2 Samantha Phoon.
They met each other when they attended the Petty Officers Course in 2007. Both were then posted to the same ship, frigate RSS Stalwart.
But it was only many years later, in 2015, that sparks flew.
"It just happened naturally over time when we did a lot of activities together like rock climbing, diving and rollerblading with our other Navy friends," said ME2 Huang, 37.
As fate would have it, their friends – whether by chance or by choice – started not showing up for their outings at the last minute, leaving the pair alone to spend time together.
"After a while, we got comfortable with each other's company, started messaging each other, and it all began from there," said ME2 Phoon, 39.
Because they had already known each other for so many years, ME2 Huang wasted no time in proposing to her shortly after they started dating. The pair got married in 2016.
PIONEER catches up with the couple to find out about their love story and how they keep the flame alive.
What do you guys do in the Navy?
ME2 Huang: I am Chief Weapon Control System on board frigate RSS Tenacious. Together with my teammates, we operate and maintain the ship's 76mm OTO Melara gun and ASTER surface-to-air missile system.
ME2 Phoon: I am a training supervisor in the Naval Wargaming & Simulation Centre. The facility is like a mock-up of a ship's Combat Information Centre. We run simulation training for the crew of missile corvettes, landing ships tank, frigates, as well as the maritime patrol aircraft.
What attracted you to each other?
ME2 Huang: Her character – she is a very determined person. When she wants to achieve something or has decided to do something, she will stay the course and push herself to the limit.
ME2 Phoon: Throughout our journey as friends and during courtship, I've always felt that he's very similar to me. We used to do a lot of activities like rock climbing and diving with our group of friends in the Navy.
I can be myself in front of him – we were already that comfortable with each other when we started dating. So yes, I married my best friend! (giggles)
What is it like to be a couple in the Navy?
ME2 Huang: I have to go for a one-week training sail from time to time. I also go for long deployments that last for one to three months.
ME2 Phoon: Of course, when he goes on long deployments, I will miss him but it's manageable. I will make heart-shaped cookies for him to eat on ship!
ME2 Huang: When I eat her homemade cookies, I feel very happy and blessed to have someone who cares for me when I go sailing. She would also prepare cards with dates labelled – I was supposed to read one card each day.
ME2 Phoon: The dates were of my schedule – I would tell him what I would be doing on a particular day. The cards also included some lovey-dovey messages lah. (giggles)
Does it help to have a spouse who also works in the Navy?
ME2 Huang: It helps because whenever I have problems or face frustrations at work, I can go to her and seek advice on how to do things better. If she's working outside (the Singapore Armed Forces), it would be more difficult as I wouldn't be able to discuss sensitive military matters with her.
ME2 Phoon: Because I work in the Naval Wargaming & Simulation Centre, I have to conduct training for servicemen and women from various vocations. If the training is related to his vocation, I will go to him and ask what are the procedures to do certain operations.
How would you describe each other in three words?
ME2 Huang: Kind, determined and jovial.
ME2 Phoon: My. Perfect. Soulmate.
Do you think there's something special about a man/woman in uniform?
ME2 Phoon: I signed on because I wanted to protect my country so donning the uniform is, of course, something special that I am proud of. Actually, when Joe wears the uniform, he is very 帅 [Chinese for handsome] one! (giggles)
ME2 Huang: That's only her opinion lah. (laughs)
How are you guys planning to celebrate Valentine's Day?
ME2 Phoon: We celebrate our wedding anniversary and Valentine's Day every year. We take turns to plan. Otherwise, it would always be the guy planning. (laughs)
ME2 Huang: So for this year's Valentine's Day, I would be planning for…err…
ME2 Phoon: You havent planned yet, right? (laughs)
ME2 Huang: Errr…secret. (laughs)
How about last year's Valentine's Day?
ME2 Phoon: Last year, I was doing my Joint Leadership Course so it was a busy time for me. But it was my turn to plan, so we had a simple dinner at Crab in Da Bag. No matter how busy we are, we'll try to celebrate.
How do you guys make full use of your time together?
ME2 Phoon: Because of our training in the Navy, we're very actually systematic. When we go out, we will create a checklist.
ME2 Huang: When we run errands on weekends, we will list down what we need to do the night before. We will plan our itinerary, like where to go first and next, so that we can save on travelling time.
Tell us about your furkid.
ME2 Phoon: Her name is Mayo. She is a 7-month old Westiepoo, and just joined our family last October. We take care of her together. Feeding, showering and clearing the poo – I take care of these.
For Joe, as he watches a lot of YouTube videos on dog training, he does a better job in training the dog to do things like sit, stand and turn. So he takes care of the discipline and training.
ME2 Huang: Actually, I have to take care of the discipline and training because she is more 心软 (Chinese for soft-hearted)!
ME2 Phoon: Yes, like when Mayo refuses to eat, I would go, "She never eats, can give her a snack." But Joe would say, "Give her a snack, then she wont eat her food later."
What's the most romantic thing that you guys have done for each other?
ME2 Phoon: It's the little things he does. For example, when he finishes his work, he will text me to tell me that he's coming home. I feel that this is romantic because he is thinking of me and looking forward to coming back home.
ME2 Huang: Ehhh, I don't know lah, I'm not a romantic kind of person. (laughs) Okay lah, when she was on course, she would come home late but still wanted to cook dinner for us even though I offered to buy food. So I really appreciate that.
What relationship advice do you have for other couples?
ME2 Phoon: Marry your best friend! Our relationship is strong because I know him well, and he knows me well. Even if we have an argument, we will agree to disagree.
ME2 Huang: For example, when we were deciding on the colour scheme for our house renovation, we knew that there was no right or wrong choice, it's a matter of preference.
Hence we compromised – she shortlisted a few colours, I would then choose from these three colours. In a way, it's a win-win as she got to play a part in the decision-making and I also got to choose.
ME2 Phoon: We respect each other. After we come to a decision together, I will support it even if I dont agree with it. And even when something bad happens, I will not say things like, "See lah, I told you last time already, but you never listen to me." We stand by each other.