The engineer who dreamed of being a soldier
In the second of PIONEER's "From Desk to Field" series, Captain (CPT) Azri bin Haron tells us why he left his dream job as a chemical engineer and joined the Army.
Chemistry was his favourite subject in school, and he dreamt of working in the chemical industry. Being a chemical engineer, however, turned out to be the wrong fit for him.
Day after day, it was just him and the chemical materials. He kept repeating the same processes, and was unable to find fulfilment in his work.
"I wanted to make a change 'cos I couldn't see myself doing it for the rest of my life," said CPT Azri, who was working for half a year in a start-up company that has since closed down.
The tipping point came when he could not complete a 5km run that he signed up with his then-girlfriend (now wife!) in January 2016. He started walking after just 1km – a far cry from the recruit who won the Best Physical Training award during his Basic Military Training (BMT).
CPT Azri resigned that very month and enlisted into the Singapore Army three months later.
Making a difference
His first appointment was as an Officer Commanding (OC) at the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC). During his two years there, he made it a point to engage his recruits and talk to them every week before they book out.
"I let them know they can come to me if they had any problems that their platoon sergeant or commander couldn't solve", said CPT Azri.
It was also during his stint at BMTC when the 29-year-old met his most memorable case – a recruit who refused to participate in his training.
"After talking to him, I realised the reason for his behaviour was that he always got into trouble previously," said CPT Azri.
"I told him that, while I understood where he was coming from, he was going to be in National Service for two years, so why not try to make the most of it and emerge a better person?"
Week after week, CPT Azri encouraged this recruit to find something that he was good at. His efforts paid off – the recruit soon realised that his strength was in running, and became even more motivated to do better when others acknowledged his achievements.
Eventually, the recruit signed on and was posted to the Army Deployment Force (ADF) as a specialist.
"I felt a sense of achievement knowing that I managed to change his mentality – from someone who only cared about himself to a soldier who is disciplined and wants to contribute to the nation's defence," said CPT Azri.
This was exactly what motivated CPT Azri to join the military in the first place. "I wanted a sense of purpose and to make a difference in someone's life – being in the Army allows me to do that."
In August 2018, CPT Azri was posted to the ADF, where he spent his next two years as a Company 2IC (Second In-Charge).
Although he was now leading Regulars instead of recruits, he still felt that trust and engagement were key to making a difference in their lives. CPT Azri would also try to help if the soldiers came to him with family or career-related problems.
"There'd be scenarios like needing to take time off because there is no one to take of their baby. Or they are worried about pay and promotion. As long as I can solve it on my end, I will do so," explained CPT Azri.
He added that this helped to give them peace of mind and allowed them to better concentrate on their jobs.
When CPT Azri ended his ADF tour in July 2020, several soldiers thanked him for helping them out.
"They were grateful that I gave them opportunities to lead their platoon or shine in their careers, and that I made a difference in their lives. I guess I must have done something right," he said with a laugh.
Currently a company trainer in Infantry Training Institute, CPT Azri trains and prepares Operationally Ready National Serviceman (NSman) leaders for their Army Training Evaluation Centre (ATEC) evaluations.
As he has never gone through ATEC, he had to study what the evaluation process entailed before training these NSman OCs. After his first training session with the OCs of 783rd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment, both the Commanding Officer and OC commended CPT Azri on a job well done.
To date, he has coached five batches of NSmen for their In-Camp Training and built a good rapport with the various OCs.
His secret to easing into all these different roles? Adapting to his "audience".
"As a trainer, you have to see who your audience is and adjust your teaching and engagement methods. Some people are more formal whereas some are more casual so the training may be the same but the delivery needs to be different," he explained.
Four years on from his career switch, CPT Azri may be dealing with longer and more irregular working hours, with the occasional overnight training, but he ends each day with a sense of satisfaction.
"Interacting with all kinds of people – from recruits to Regulars and now NSmen – and seeing how they progress gives me fulfilment. This is something I wouldn't be able to experience if I was in the chemical industry," said CPT Azri.
"Even if only one guy thanks me for teaching and guiding him, I'm more than happy."