She's the calm amidst the chaos

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09 Sep 2022 | PEOPLE

She's the calm amidst the chaos

ME3 Alexis Quek cuts a kind and caring figure, even when things get tense in the air traffic control tower.

Story by Thrina Tham / Photos by Kenneth Lin

English 华文
With 23 years of experience in air traffic control, ME3 Quek trains the next generation of specialists and military experts in the control tower.

She trains young Air Operations Specialists (AOSes) and Air Operations Systems Experts (AOSXes) to work in one of the most stressful environments in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) – the control tower.

Here, exacting coordination is needed among tower crew and the aircraft and other agencies; any conflict could be unsafe. Despite the rigours of this demanding role, she remains a warm and motherly figure to her trainees.

Meet Military Expert (ME) 3 Alexis Quek, the Launch & Recovery Ops Training In-Charge at 208 Squadron (SQN) which provides air traffic control and aerodome management for the RSAF at Changi Air Base.

An AOSX by vocation, ME3 Quek is responsible for ensuring the serviceability of control and communications systems and equipment in the tower, and assisting with the launch and recovery of aircraft.

As an instructor, the 44-year-old imparts her knowledge and skills to the AOS and AOSX trainees in her squadron, while assessing their abilities. She also helps to oversee their training schedule and progression.

ME3 Quek watching over 3SG Yoong as he coordinates the take-off of an aircraft. Communicating with aircraft is typically done by Air Warfare Officers, while AOS and AOSX liaise with external agencies.

Kind & motherly figure

With her warm voice and friendly demeanour, it is no wonder that ME3 Quek is a go-to helpline for trainees, who affectionately address her as "Ma'am" or "Axis".

"In the words of my previous Commanding Officer, Axis is the ‘godmother of the squadron'," described 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Woo Xuan Hao, who joined 208 SQN in November 2020.

"Every time you come into camp, she'll be there with breakfast or snacks she bought to share. Sometimes, she'll help us to get porridge and you tiao (fried dough sticks). She really gives a lot to the squadron," said the 22-year-old, who was one of ME3 Quek's trainees.

Her caring manner extends to work. Once, 3SG Jarod Yoong, 21 – 3SG Woo's fellow AOS – made a mistake during training and immediately texted ME3 Quek about it, even though she was not his instructor that day.

"She explained very nicely that it's okay to make these mistakes as a trainee, but that it was important to understand the implications and learn from them," said 3SG Yoong.

The Full-time National Serviceman added that things can sometimes get tense in the tower because of contingencies, but ME3 Quek would always handle the situation appropriately.

"Afterwards, she takes the time to explain everything. She often bases it off her own experiences and helps illustrate the consequences."

ME3 Quek (centre) with her trainees, 3SG Yoong (left) and 3SG Woo, whom she has trained as Tower Information Coordinators.

Passion for the job

ME3 Quek's own journey began in 1999 when she enlisted in the RSAF with a keen interest in aviation.

"I love to watch aircraft taxiing and anything to do with air traffic, so I was inspired to sign on… And till today, I'm still happy to be here in the control tower," she said with a smile.

She started at Paya Lebar Air Base – as a ground controller and also working in the Flight Planning Office, processing flight plans for both RSAF and foreign pilots. This was before she was posted to Changi Air Base in 2015.

Last March, she was roped in to join the RSAF's COVID-19 vaccination task force, which was responsible for coordinating and scheduling vaccine jabs for the entire RSAF.

For one-and-a-half months, the task force vaccinated about 400 to 600 personnel daily.

"The hours were long, but it was meaningful and fulfilling to work with the health care workers. Their professionalism truly earned our respect – our aim was to achieve zero wastage of the vaccine and we did it," she recounted.

ME3 Quek (second row, fourth from right) with her squadron mates during a walk and jog at Changi Beach Park in Feb 2019. [Photo courtesy of ME3 Quek]

A squadron family

As an instructor, ME3 Quek's preferred style of teaching is to first build a rapport with her trainees – something she says is important for them to trust her so that she can help them better.

3SG Woo said that ME3 Quek would often "test" him on his procedural knowledge outside of the classroom, and use discussion to further gauge their understanding.

"She will let you sink everything in and then the next day when we're walking for lunch, she'll ask, ‘So, how would you react to this scenario?' and then guide you from there.

"Her style is interesting and engaging."

Some of the thank you notes and gifts that ME3 Quek has received from former trainees.

This approach came naturally for ME3 Quek because of her squadron's culture: where everyone treats each other like family.

"We have a lot of kopi talks. That's when I will kaypoh (pry) a bit and ask them how's their day and they will slowly open up and share about their day, their training sessions or their tasks," said ME3 Quek.

"We have a friendship with our trainees, rather than just being their teacher and disciplinarian. And when they ORD or move to other roles, we remain friends."

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