Training soldiers, touching lives

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01 Oct 2021 | PEOPLE

Training soldiers, touching lives

MAJ Muhammad Redza Bin Mohd Asri treats his soldiers like his siblings, is not afraid to ask for brutally honest feedback and enjoys making a difference in his trainees' lives.

// Story Teo Jing Ting

// Photos Kenneth Lin

MAJ Redza constantly asks for honest feedback so that he can improve on his training methods.
English Melayu

Once, he went all-out to help his soldier who was kicked out of his parents' house because the latter got his girlfriend pregnant. Then a junior officer, Major (MAJ) Redza not only helped the Full-time National Serviceman (NSF) source for various financial aid, he even visited the couple frequently, took them out for meals and counselled them to make sure they had all the help they needed.

That was in 2009, when he was a Platoon Commander (PC) in the 3rd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (3 SIR).

Since joining the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 2006, MAJ Redza has taken up several leadership appointments including a being platoon trainer in Officer Cadet School and an Officer Commanding (OC) in both Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) and 1 SIR.

In 2019, he took up his current appointment of Bravo Company Trainer in the Infantry Training Institute's (ITI's) Active Unit Training Centre. He coaches Regulars, NSFs and Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) for their Army Training Evaluation Centre (ATEC) evaluations.

As a trainer, he unabashedly admits that he is "loh soh" (colloquial slang for long-winded), and has no qualms about asking his soldiers to give him truthful feedback.

The 36-year-old father of three also believes in giving his soldiers space by letting them take the lead for certain missions and only steps in to correct and advise them when necessary – a method that he passed on to fellow trainer Captain (CPT) Edmund Lim. This eventually led to CPT Lim's company receiving the top score for their company mission in February.

We speak to both MAJ Redza and CPT Lim, OC of B Company from 1 SIR.

MAJ Redza (right) guiding an NSman from the 798th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (798 SIR) as they go through a refresher of tying a bowline from their weapon to their LBV, as part of Coastal Hook Operations training.

Hi MAJ Redza, what is your training style?

MAJ Redza: I'm not that kind of trainer who will force my methods down your throat. I'm here to advise, coach, train the OC of the company to achieve good results for their ATEC because it is the OC's company, not mine.

As a principal trainer, I will give my trainees as much room to learn as possible without compromising on standards. I will also advise the best and shortest way to do a mission or certain operations but if my trainers prefer to do it their own way, it's alright as well.

I'll guide my trainers and trainees towards their goals but not to the point that they feel I'm a nuisance.

We heard that you always ask for negative and honest feedback from your trainers. Why is that so?

MAJ Redza: So that I can keep on improving! (laughs) If they just give me positive feedback, then I'll just take it that we're doing a good job. Now that I'm coaching NSmen companies, I try to get feedback every two to three days because their In-Camp Training (ICT) is only two weeks. After a debrief or discussion, I will usually ask the commanders if they have any negative feedback for me, or anything suggestions that I can make their ICT better. If they are hesitant about telling me in the open, they can text me instead.

'Cos these are NSmen and at the end of the day, I want to make their ICT as seamless as possible. I will even speak to the ground troops because they are the ones who will carry out most of the mission.

MAJ Redza (foreground, right) observing the 798 SIR NSmen as they simulate landing at far bank and combing the beach.

Did anyone inspire you on the way you handle your soldiers?

MAJ Redza: Lieutenant Colonel Jasni, he was my then-Commanding Officer from BMTC School 4. He told me to treat my recruits or trainees like my own siblings. I still remember that he said: "Don't treat them as some passer-by in your life who you let go after three months of Basic Military Training. Make sure that you train them well so that they can be a good son to their parents and are able to lead their own family well after they get married."

This is why I believe in explaining to my trainees, especially when I have to punish them. They may think that I'm naggy but they also appreciate my explanation when they understand the reasons behind the punishment. I also will do the punishments (e.g. drop 20) with them to show them that I'm with them all the way.

CPT Lim, is that why you feel that MAJ Redza is like an older brother to you?

CPT Lim: He may be my company trainer but he's more like a big brother who is always there whenever I need him. I usually ask his opinion and discuss the pros and cons of a matter before making a decision 'cos he's a very experienced and approachable trainer.

During a company mission in February, my soldiers were feeling very low as it was raining very heavily. It was about 3am and they had been walking all night. MAJ Redza was also there sweating it out with us and he kept on encouraging us to go on. His words touched me and spurred me to do well for the mission and not let him down.

CPT Lim (left) says that MAJ Redza is like a helpful older brother who dishes out appropriate advice and tips to help him lead his soldiers better.

We heard that MAJ Redza also gave you some tips about not micromanaging your troops…

CPT Lim: Of all the pointers he gave me, this was the most valuable! I used to be very fixated on ensuring that every aspect of the operation is run smoothly and accordingly to what I have planned. So I was always micromanaging my PCs to make sure that they do the steps correctly. MAJ Redza noticed this about me and told me to give my PCs more trust and empowerment instead.

He was right. I spoke to my PCs and it turned out that my company feels better about me not micromanaging them. They are actually able to run operations smoother 'cos the PCs also feel a sense of achievement leading their soldiers instead of always doing it my way.

MAJ Redza: Yeah, I told him the company needs to be able to function even without him around. As an OC, you want to ensure that everything happens but you also need to trust your soldiers.

MAJ Redza, you once helped an NSF when he was kicked out of the house. Can you share more?

MAJ Redza: I was working late one night when I heard him crying so I asked him what happened. Turned out that both his and his girlfriend's parents wanted to disown them as she was pregnant. They were both about 18.

When I visited him at his address, I realised that he was already kicked out of the house and found out that they were both staying in an empty rental flat, without any furniture or bed. They did not have enough money to pay for the flat as well so I decided to source for various financial aid to tide them over. I would also buy basic necessities for them, treat them to makan and be their friend 'cos I also did not want his outside troubles to affect his performance in camp.

Recently, I bumped into him and found out that he's in the hotel line and doing pretty well. He also married his girlfriend and they now have three kids! It's just nice to see that and I'm so happy for them.

MAJ Redza (right) interacting with the NSmen from 798 SIR.

Lastly, what brings you satisfaction as a trainer?

MAJ Redza: I would say when my trainers and their company achieve good results because you know that your hard work paid off. I always treat their mission like my mission so when they look good, I look good. (laughs)

Then there's also the part when people remember me as their trainer, especially when they call out to me in public. I may not remember everyone I taught but when they acknowledge me because I perhaps impacted their life in one way or another, it feels really nice.

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