From auditor to sailor

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13 Jan 2021 | PEOPLE

From auditor to sailor

In the first of PIONEER’s “From Desk to Field” series, Major (MAJ) Lee Jia Pei shares why she ditched her job in the auditing industry to join the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).

// Story Teo Jing Ting

// Photos PIONEER photographers & courtesy of MAJ Lee

MAJ Lee enjoys her life and work on board ship, and has no regrets making a career switch.

When she first mooted the idea of joining the navy in 2012, her parents had a three-hour talk with her.

“My mother was somewhat against it. On the other hand, my father was more supportive and shared his experience as a pioneer national serviceman with me," said MAJ Lee, who is the youngest in the family.

Fast forward eight years, and the 31-year-old maintains that it was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.

MAJ Lee (third from left) and her RSS Sovereignty crewmates during the commissioning of the ship in November 2017.

A different experience

Then fresh out of university, MAJ Lee joined auditing firm Ernst & Young as an audit assistant in June 2011. Barely a year into the job, she realised that she was not someone who could sit at a desk all day shuffling documents.

A fresh-faced MAJ Lee (second from right) with her Ernst & Young colleagues during their dinner and dance in 2011.

She decided to join the RSN after hearing about her brother’s National Service (NS) experience. Her elder brother served as a naval diver during NS. Hearing more positive experiences from her friends who were already in the Navy affirmed her decision.

What sealed the deal for MAJ Lee was learning that the RSN offered opportunities to move around and try out new things through different appointments. “It’s the diversity that I like – in the navy, you don’t always do the same thing."

MAJ Lee (centre, in uniform) with her secondary school friends at her Officer Cadet Commissioning Parade in 2013.

With that, she enlisted in July 2012 and graduated from Officer Cadet School a year later. Her first appointment was a junior officer on board Missile Corvette RSS Valiant, before moving on to become a Navigation Officer on now-decommissioned Patrol Vessel RSS Justice.

Trying new things

In 2016, MAJ Lee joined the pioneer crew on board Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) RSS Sovereignty as an Assistant Operations Officer. That was when she really got to experiment with new work processes.

MAJ Lee (front row, fifth from left) with her shipmates at the launch of RSS Sovereignty in April 2016.

At that time, the LMV was the new “baby” of the Navy and RSS Sovereignty was the second ship in the fleet. Protocols were still being developed and it was up to the crew to get the ship up to speed.

“It was fun ’cos we got to test the limits of the ship when she went for sea trials, and we were able to try out new operating methods," explained MAJ Lee.

“It was also about discovering and developing the most efficient ways (of doing things) together with the crew."

Proud moments

Little did she know that she and her ship would be called to the test in December 2018, when the Singapore-Malaysia maritime dispute occurred.

Then a Principal Warfare Officer on board LMV RSS Independence, MAJ Lee’s ship was among the first to arrive at the scene.

“It wasn’t anything like we had encountered before in recent years, but that didn’t stop us from standing our ground," recalled MAJ Lee.

“From the top management to the ground level, everyone was fast in coming out with strategies based on past training and we did what we could."

During that period, MAJ Lee’s role was to make decisions based on the factors presented onsite, and direct her team’s actions accordingly.

 

MAJ Lee (right) was part of the crew on RSS Independence, which was tasked to safeguard Singapore's territorial waters during the maritime dispute between Singapore and Malaysia in end-2018.

For over four months, RSN vessels patrolled the areas of tension. MAJ Lee recalled being deployed up to four times a month, with each deployment spanning up to several days.

The hours were long. Weekends and important events in their personal lives were sacrificed, but what kept the crew going was that they saw the purpose in their mission.

“When it comes to protecting Singapore, the Navy is probably the least seen or heard (’cos we’re not on land and you don’t see us flying) but it is important that we do what we do," said MAJ Lee.

“For example, if we let slip a suspicious small boat and the crew successfully boards our shores and conducts terrorist activities, the injured could very well be our loved ones. We definitely don’t want that to happen."

The right decision

Today, as the Acting Information Plans Branch Head in Navy Information Centre, she develops communications plans on RSN operations, exercises and initiatives for the public as well as other navies, media and internal stakeholders.

Despite missing life on board ship, MAJ Lee has no regrets about being in the Navy. And when she meets up with her friends in the financial industry and hears about their work, she is even more certain that she has made the right decision.

MAJ Lee (seated, third from left) celebrating her birthday with her RSS Sovereignty shipmates in 2017.

“I love the family spirit of the Navy, especially on board ships. ‘Cos you work, eat and sleep together in the same environment and you have like-minded people doing it together with you."

Her advice to those who are thinking of a career switch?

“Don’t be afraid to try. It’s always better to regret what you did rather than regret what you didn’t do."

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