From "zero fighter" to SAF officer
// Story by Koh Eng Beng
// Photos by Chua Soon Lye & courtesy of 2LT Guhanavel
2LT A Guhanavel S/O Ashok Kumar became an officer despite starting with zero leadership experience and fitness.
Just over a year ago, he couldn't do a single proper push-up or chin up. But today, 2nd Lieutenant (2LT) A Guhanavel S/O Ashok Kumar is a commissioned officer with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
For the record, he can now do 60 push-ups in one minute as well as 12 chin-ups.
The 19-year-old is clear proof that leaders are made, not born.
Because of his poor physical fitness in the beginning, he did not expect to qualify for Officer Cadet School (OCS).
But just a week before the end of his Basic Military Training, he managed to score a Silver for his Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT). His sergeant had told him to give it another shot.
"I think I barely got into OCS," he said sheepishly. "I totally didn't expect it. I just wanted to do my best and serve my two years (smoothly)."
Getting into shape with Dad
Off he went to OCS, where he found the going to be even tougher.
"After my first book out, I told my father that I wanted to give up," said the Full-time National Serviceman (NSF).
That’s when his father, Military Expert (ME) 3 Ashok Kumar, 46, shared an inspiring story – a non-combat fit NSF from his camp upgraded his Physical Employment Standard (PES) and successfully became an officer!
"There are people who are not combat-fit, but are pushing hard to become commanders. So my dad encouraged me to take these nine months to build up my fitness and leadership abilities, and see how far I can go."
His father is a Depot Sergeant Major of 13th Forward Maintenance Depot, 1st Army Maintenance Base. He goes for runs and gym workouts with 2LT Guhanavel almost every weekend.
Learning to be a leader
2LT Guhanavel described himself as a low-profile student in Jurong Junior College, who had little experience in leading others. It was only in OCS that he got his first taste of leading a big group of people.
The learning curve was steep. During a training exercise, he struggled to lead his platoon mates to set up the RBS-70 Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) systems in good time.
It was a stressful situation where he lost his temper and shouted at his men. His instructor had to step in, asking: "Is this the way to communicate with your men if you were a real platoon commander?"
It was a wake-up call for him – there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.
So 2LT Guhanavel changed his approach by gathering his platoon mates and briefing them clearly on what needed to be done. He also listened to their concerns and asked for feedback.
"During our second mission, the whole process was much smoother, and my instructor gave me positive feedback," he said.
2LT Guhanavel will be posted to 18 Divisional Air Defence Artillery Battalion, where he will help to watch over Singapore's skies for intruders.
"There will be a lot of real operations as I am in the Air Force; our work is 24/7," said the Air Warfare Officer (Air Defence Weapons).
The only constant is continuous improvement
His current IPPT result stands at a Silver, which he attained about half a year ago, midway through his officer cadet training.
But three weeks ago, during a Physical Training Excellence challenge held in OCS, 2LT Guhanavel scored Gold for his IPPT.
It's a competition where cadets compete to obtain the highest overall score across the various IPPT stations. The results do not count towards their official IPPT scores.
Nevertheless, he can't wait to ace his IPPT officially in his new unit.
"I want to be a positive influence to the people I am leading (and) have a positive NS journey, developing myself and the people in my team."