A different kind of defence
// Story Benita Teo
// Photos Kenneth Lin & courtesy of ME4 Devaraj
All his life, Military Expert (ME) 4 Devaraj Chandramoorthi thought he would be a lawyer, arguing cases and standing up for justice.
But all that changed after a particular module he took at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, where he was studying for his law degree. The course on international law opened his eyes to geopolitics and how countries navigate unconventional threats like cyberthreats.
He knew that he wanted to play his part in helping the nation fight against such threats.
A heart for service
At that time, ME4 Devaraj didn't know much about the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). He had served his National Service in the Singapore Police Force.
His father, Mr Subramaniam Chandramoorthi, used to be an Air Crew Specialist in the Republic of Singapore Air Force, but he had kept his experience mostly to himself as he knew that it was his son's dream to become a lawyer.
"My dad was proud that I wanted to be a lawyer, so he wanted me to focus on achieving my goal and did not want to influence my decision," said the 27-year-old.
But ME4 Devaraj had always had a heart for the public service and an interest in the military.
After the life-altering module, he made up his mind to sign on with the SAF and join the Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) formation as a Military Intelligence Expert.
"My interest is in areas such as cybersecurity and piracy. I share in the SAF's vision to foresee and confront new and dynamic challenges from conventional and non-conventional domains, in order to remain effective as a defence force."
His family and friends were initially surprised by his decision, but have since become his biggest supporters and pillars of strength.
Big brother in the house
While the decision to switch careers was an easy one, the hard part was adapting to Basic Military Training (BMT). When he enlisted on 3 Jul 2019, he was already 26 and had some trouble keeping up with the physical demands of the training.
Said the former school athlete, who was a sprinter and fencer: "I had considered myself physically active. But when I went into BMT, it was tough because physical fitness is different from combat fitness." To keep his fitness up, he trained on his own when he booked out from camp.
He also struggled to fit in with his batchmates, who were several years younger than him. He recounted the early days, when his section mates were apprehensive about approaching him or speaking to him because of their age gap.
But he was unfazed: "To reach out to them, I read up on what millennials liked to do," he said with a chuckle. "I also saw that they liked to play mobile games, so I talked to them about that, and (eventually) they were more receptive to me."
Now, he's become a big brother to them: "These days we still keep in touch. They come to me for advice on university and on their careers, and I share my experiences with them."
Finding a new purpose
Even though he had a strong interest in cybersecurity and military intelligence, ME4 Devaraj admitted that this was a domain that was new to him. "Initially, it was difficult for me because I lacked the technical knowledge that my colleagues had," he explained.
Luckily, his years of hitting the books for his law degree came in handy: "The rigour of law has been especially helpful in my role as a Military Intelligence Expert.
"I had to pick up new information quickly, synthesise and make sense of it in a short time, and think critically and analytically. This is also what military intelligence is about."
For others like him who are considering a mid-career switch to join the SAF, he hopes that his story can encourage them to take that leap of faith.
"It was difficult for me to go through BMT and command school at my age, but I managed to overcome it. I hope I can be an example to someone who wants to make the switch."