Their job is to pass on their military experience and imbue the right mindset, skills and attitude in each generation of soldiers that they train. This they do with pride and professionalism.
But if you look past the tough exterior of SAF instructors, you'll find a genuine concern for the well-being of their soldiers. From counselling sessions to the sharing of experiences, the trainers do it all. Here are the stories of two trainers who share the same passion to teach and nurture.
Everybody loves Razali
At first glance, Captain (CPT) Muhammad Razali Bin Norman does not seem like your typical trainer. Compact and athletic, he greeted us warmly with his signature winsome smile and a firm handshake.
His office was a cosy haven, peppered with personal touches such as a 2017 "Trainer of the Year Award" plaque, photos of family and friends, Avengers figurines and a Helinox camping chair.
At 33, CPT Razali has been in service for 11 years and a trainer for seven. "As a trainer, you have to be fit, knowledgeable about leadership qualities and firm about demanding (high) standards from your officers and officer cadets (OCTs). You also have to be humble, be willing to listen to feedback and have patience."
It may sound like a lot to take in, but the Echo Company Wing 2nd In-charge from the Officer Cadet School (OCS) seems to have it all figured out.
Apart from imparting the values of leadership, supervising weapon training and planning section drills, he adds a personal touch when engaging his officers and OCTs. He often shares fitness tips on recovering quickly from injuries and improving running and weight-lifting techniques.
"The cadets know that I have sports science knowledge, so they come to me for advice. I also studied nutrition, so I will advise them on food and supplements to take if they are trying to gain weight or build muscles," explained CPT Razali, who is currently pursuing a degree in sports science.
As the sole paracounsellor in the company, he has had to handle a number of emotional situations. For instance, he once counselled an OCT who wanted to drop out of the course because of relationship issues. After talking things through with CPT Razali, the OCT eventually stayed on and completed the course.
Together we train
For 2nd Lieutenant (2LT) Timothy Cutter, working under CPT Razali for almost a year has taught him to be more understanding when leading his men, especially when dealing with those who have troubled backgrounds.
Describing his commander as "one of the most loved guys around", the 20-year-old platoon instructor shared that CPT Razali is always seen with a smile on his face and never fails to ask his officers how they are doing.
"Even during introduction to the OCTs, he portrays himself as a jovial and approachable guy and this makes them unafraid to ask him questions. He is professional in his field, yet very down-to-earth," explained 2LT Cutter.
He may have just entered OCS, but OCT Teo Jun Quan was impressed when CPT Razali made an effort to engage every new cadet and train with them.
Citing an example of how the commander ran with them during a casualty evacuation race, the 19-year-old said: "I was super tired, but when I saw him running with us, I knew I couldn't give up. He's older, but he still runs with us. As younger soldiers, we feel that we have to keep up with him."
"As a trainer, you have to be fit, knowledgeable about leadership qualities and firm about demanding (high) standards from your officers and cadets." - CPT Razali
A satisfaction like no other
In his years as a trainer, CPT Razali has seen many of his cadets grow in confidence and become the leaders they are called to be. For him, bumping into former trainees and being thanked for transforming their lives is a frequent affair.
"There's a sense of achievement and I feel that I've done something right. Even my wife tells me that my students are always coming up to me, and I'll reply jokingly: 'Maybe it's 'cos I'm good?'"
Guess the Trainer of the Year Award says it all.
2WO Lim (left) briefing his trainers before they take on close-quarter battle operations.
More than meets the eye
Stern and serious, 2nd Warrant Officer (2WO) Lim Khoon Kheng looks every bit like a trainer of trainers. There was hardly a smile on the 39-year-old's face and every stride he took seemed to strike fear in his subordinates.
As one of the Chief Trainers of the Specialist and Warrant Officer Institute (SWI), 2WO Lim's main role is to look after the welfare and proficiency of his trainers and ensure that they train their cadets correctly.
A week before a new batch of specialist cadets enlists, he conducts a refresher for his trainers to square off some of the finer details, be it in conventional operations, close-quarter battle or weapon handling. Once the new course starts, he monitors the training.
Describing himself as a demanding boss, 2WO Lim admitted to having unconsciously embarrassed his trainers at times by correcting them in front of their cadets when they did something wrong.
"Sometimes when things happen on the ground, you just want to intervene and sort it out immediately," he explained.
He is now more aware of this and waits for appropriate breaks or pulls the trainer aside before giving his feedback, although the old habit still makes an occasional appearance.
"You know that you've done well when you've produced quality cadets and trainers."
- 2WO Lim
Tough exterior, soft heart
Although 2WO Lim appears unapproachable at first, he does have a heart for his men, and is willing to listen and give advice should they come to him.
Recalling an incident where he took the initiative to counsel a troubled serviceman: "The sergeant was always late for training and not clad in proper attire at times. After observing him for a while, I decided to talk to him and encouraged him to change. Only after three talks did he share with me that he was facing family and financial issues."
The father-to-be subsequently counselled the sergeant and lent a listening ear when needed. After countless sessions, the latter finally understood his chief trainer's heart and decided to do his best till he completed his National Service.
One person who has seen past 2WO Lim's aloofness is 3WO John Foo.
The 33-year-old Assistant Chief Trainer from SWI has worked under him for close to eight months and has seen how the latter takes time to counsel and check on his servicemen periodically, especially if he knows that they are having problems.
"After learning that I had some family issues, 2WO Lim often encouraged me to knock off earlier to take care of my mum. He would also lend me a listening ear from time to time."
A positive influence
With each new batch of trainers, 2WO Lim knows that there is a need to improve training methodologies and communicate with them. He also expressed a desire to step out of his shell in order to better engage his trainers.
"I hope to change my stern personality and have a personal connection with my trainers. That way, we can understand each other better."
When asked what he liked about his job, 2WO Lim said that it was the joy of being able to positively influence the next generation.
"You know that you've done well when you've produced quality cadets and trainers. It's a force multiplier and in the long run, the whole standard will be raised," he quipped confidently.
"I'm proud of my trainers."