Golden Bayonet recipient Specialist Cadet (SCT) Michael Lee may be more comfortable making music than shouting commands, but he's learnt to come out of his shell and take charge when the situation calls for it.
"I see how NS (National Service) inspires people with different personalities to work on themselves and become better, without changing who they are," said Republic of Singapore Navy Marine Systems Specialist SCT Lee.
It was a statement made by his instructor during Basic Military Training (BMT), but it has stuck with him all through his training as a specialist cadet. "He said that in NS, you don't have to change who you are. What NS allows everyone to do is to improve and to learn."
That resonated with SCT Lee, who would be one to understand how difficult it is for someone to change their personality.
The soft-spoken 19-year-old admitted to being shy and disliked raising his voice. He was more comfortable playing the viola in his junior college's string ensemble than standing in front of men and shouting out commands.
"But in NS, there were more situations that required this, like giving commands in a parade or relaying messages when you are out in the field. I wouldn't say that I'm very comfortable with it now, but NS has taught me to work on my shortcomings. It's allowed me to find my voice and let go of my inhibitions so that we can function as a group."
He also credited his fellow specialist cadets at the Naval Military Expert Institute (NMI) who taught him the importance of teamwork and working with people from all walks of life.
He recalled undergoing the firefighting and damage control training, where they had to work in teams to repair a damaged ship that was quickly flooding. The task was physically demanding, and the teams had to support each other while tackling the additional challenges that were being injected during the training.
"Being forced to collaborate to solve issues brought us closer together. It taught us to communicate our ideas and have open conversations so that we can identify our course of action, decide our direction and solve the problems."
One friend that he is grateful to have made in his specialist cadet journey is his buddy, SCT Xavier Ng, 19. The pair met by chance and paired up as buddies, before realising that they were schoolmates in Raffles Institution.
However, that's where their similarities end. Unlike him, SCT Ng is a natural leader who is always ready to step up and organise people into different roles when the situation calls for it.
"Xavier is not afraid to speak up when he thinks something is wrong. He may come across as obstinate, but he can connect with people easily to get over the differences and resolve misunderstandings. He is one of the people who inspired me to be more assertive and more self-assured," he said thoughtfully.
"Being in the Navy is about self-leadership and being responsible for your duties on board ship. The survival of the group is dependent on everyone's contributions."
Staying operationally ready and vigilant
SCT Lee received his chevrons on 25 Nov, at Changi Naval Base – one of the venues for the decentralised small-scale indoor parades held from 25 Nov to 3 Dec. He was one of 758 soldiers to become a Specialist in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as of 3 Dec.
The Golden Bayonet he received is testament to the growth he has made in his journey to becoming a full-fledged Specialist and leader.
The journey has not been the easiest one for SCT Lee and many of his peers. He enlisted in February this year, just before the COVID-19 situation in Singapore took a turn for the worse. In fact, he was one of the Full-time National Servicemen whose BMT was disrupted because of the circuit breaker measures.
At NMI, training on board ship was staggered due to the safe distancing measures. SCT Lee and his cohort had to make the most of their time training efficiently in smaller groups and at the staggered timings. They also had to get used to working in the hot and stuffy engine rooms with their masks on.
Reviewing Officer Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Communications and Information, and Ministry of National Development, addressed the graduands in a pre-recorded video message.
Highlighting the challenges Singapore would be facing in a post-COVID-19 world, she called on the graduands to pick up important leadership lessons from their seniors and predecessors on responding in a pandemic.
"For me, one of the biggest takeaways is that leaders must always be ready for the unexpected," she said.
"So as leaders in this new environment, the most important attribute is to be able to adapt and respond to change, to think out of the box, and to be prepared to make decisions based on imperfect information, monitor the execution and adjust the plans when necessary."
Training and serving his NS in the middle of a pandemic has given SCT Lee a renewed sense of purpose.
"National defence remains a priority, because the pandemic does not diminish security threats. It is necessary to remain vigilant and maintain a constant state of operational readiness in order to ensure the smooth running of the SAF in time to come."