In the first of PIONEER's "Back to Serve" series, meet India-born 3SG Thirunavukkarasu Karthikeyan who used to listen to his father's stories about National Service (NS). Now, he is living out his own unique NS story.
3rd Sergeant (3SG) Karthik lived in India till he was 13 and had never heard about NS apart from the stories his Singaporean father used to tell him.
Mr Thirunavukkarasu, who had served his NS as an infantryman, would regale him with stories about the army, which piqued 3SG's Karthik's interest.
"My father told me that one of the things soldiers might go through in NS was the jungle confidence course, where you'd learn to live off whatever was at your disposal to survive. When I heard that, I began looking forward to it because this was something I hoped to experience too."
Ten years ago, 3SG Karthik moved to Singapore to join his family here and began school in Outram Secondary School.
"It was slightly tough fitting in at first because of the language barrier. I didn't speak English well, and there were also a lot of Singlish words being used that I didn't understand," he explained. Luckily, he found a close circle of friends in his school's Tamil drama group who helped him adapt to life here.
Now 23, 3SG Karthik knows that this is home: "I've spent a large part of my teenage and young adult life here. I feel more Singaporean than anything else. When I talk to people, they don't realise I was not born here."
Riding waves with the Navy
After enlisting in July 2019, 3SG Karthik is now serving as a Marine System Operator with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). His NS doesn't involve jungles and outdoor cooking. Instead, he's riding waves on board a Landing Ship Tank (LST) – literally.
"One of my most memorable experiences was the month-long Midshipman Training Deployment (MSTD) on board RSS Endeavour last November (when my ship supported the training). The sea was rough and it was quite bad for me as a junior sailor!"
"The sail was also part of the Singapore-India-Thailand Maritime Exercise (SITMEX). As the most junior member of my engineering department, I was selected to participate in a sailpast with the other navies to mark the completion of the exercise," he added.
"Even though we had faced a lot of challenges during the deployment, ending it on a high note was one of the best experiences in my Navy stint so far."
For the Marine and Offshore Technology graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, working in the ship's engine room is right up his alley.
His daily duties involve maintaining the engineering systems on RSS Endeavour, such as the main engine for propulsion and power generator.
"I've been getting a lot of hands-on experience, especially during the MSTD when I learnt a lot in terms of technical knowledge and the LST's engineering system."
All this, he believes, will stand him in good stead when he goes on to study Mechanical Engineering at the National University of Singapore later this year.
"I'm planning to go into the marine and offshore industry (after graduation). So, whatever engineering challenges I face now in the course of my work, I see as a stepping stone that can help propel me further in my future career."
A lesson in self-discipline
3SG Karthik's NS journey may sound like a dream now, but it didn't start out easy. When he enlisted, he was "severely obese" and placed in the PES (Physical Employment Standard) BP batch for obese recruits.
"Before NS, I wasn't a very active person, and I wasn't very disciplined. It was a very challenging journey during BMT (Basic Military Training), but eventually I was able to shed off the excess weight and lost about 18kg.
"It's also helped me improve my self-discipline and confidence."
Now, he works out almost every day to maintain his fitness.
"One of my biggest takeaways from being in the obese batch is fighting spirit. It's not about giving your best; it's about giving a little bit more than what you gave the last time, so that that becomes your new best. You strive to push yourself further every single time."