Just three months after graduating from university, she was already earning a high four-figure monthly salary from her first job as a financial adviser. But Midshipman (MID) Phoebe Lai chose to give up her lucrative insurance career to join the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).
"I find greater meaning in what I am doing now. I am making a direct contribution to the defence of the country," said the 25-year-old. MID Lai had started working part-time in the insurance industry during her final-year of studies at the National University of Singapore in 2016.
Her two managers in the insurance agency, both former regulars in the RSN, influenced her to make the radical career switch.
"They told me about the family spirit and life (in the RSN). And I liked it as I was looking for meaningful work that is not your typical 8-to-5 job," said OCT Lai, who enlisted last July.
Among her memorable experiences in the Navy so far were sailing to Kochi, India and Phuket, Thailand, as well as firing the powerful Oto Melara 76mm Gun. "The entire ship shook!" she recalled.
MID Lai will serve on board a Landing Ship Tank (LST). She does not know which LST she will be posted to but she is already looking forward to the experience.
She described her training as a transformative experience that made her a better leader. "You are in a setting where everyone is equal. You have to be well-versed in terms of knowledge, do your work well and be confident, so that others will have the confidence to trust in you and follow your lead," she said.
She was one of the 348 officer cadets who were commissioned as officers in a parade held at the SAFTI Military Institute on 17 Jun. The newly-commissioned officers will go on to assume command, instructional or staff appointments in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
The commissioning parade marked the completion of 38 weeks of rigorous training at the Officer Cadet School (OCS). The cohort comprised 273 officer cadets from the Army, 40 from the Navy, and 35 from the Air Force.
In his address, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who reviewed the parade, reminded the newly minted officers of their responsibilities
He said: "The country is entrusting our defence in your hands. Parents are entrusting their sons in your hands and your men are entrusting their lives in your hands.
"What you do and how you conduct yourselves will shape the National Service experience of those who look up to you as officers and leaders. Lead them well, train them hard, and keep them safe."
Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, also highlighted the importance of the SAF in safeguarding Singapore against wide-ranging threats that include terrorism and cyber-attacks.
Mr Tharman's message resonated with Officer Cadet (OCT) Muhammad Qamarul Anwar Bin Mohd Noor. The 22-year-old Full-time National Serviceman is considering signing on as a regular.
"Being a soldier is an honourable job, because it’s a duty to the country," said the Sword of Merit recipient. The award is given to the top 10 per cent of each cohort.
One of the toughest training he went through took place in an overseas exercise. In a team of four, they had to evacuate an "injured soldier" on a stretcher for 5km up a hill from midnight till dawn.
"It was our seventh day out in the field, and it was raining all the time. We were wet, hungry, and tired, but we knew we had to push on for the sake of our buddies," he said.
OCT Qamarul will be returning to the 1st Commando Battalion. He will be a Detachment Commander, leading 12 soldiers.
Training in the OCS as well as in the Commando Section Leaders’ Course prepared him well for the leadership role, he said.
"I have learnt to better withstand pressure. As a commando officer, you must still be confident in front of your men, be able to put up a good fight and care for them."