A higher calling to serve
//Story by Benita Teo
//Photos by Chai Sian Liang & courtesy of RSN
President's Scholarship recipient Lieutenant (LTA) Ang Zyn Yee is a Young Officer on board Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) RSS Fortitude, running the ship's routine as Officer-of-the-Day and joining the crew on patrols.
But did you know that this 20-year-old is also an avid environmentalist who once ran a successful campaign to get F&B outlets to cut down on their use of disposable straws?
Come 25 Aug, she will be heading to Brown University in the United States, to pursue a degree in economics and statistics. She hopes that her skills in data analytics and the liberal arts will help her contribute to the Navy's next-generation transformation.
Here are four things to know about this high achiever:
1) She never thought she would be a career soldier
Joining the military never crossed LTA Ang's mind until she attended the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) Experience Programme in 2018, as a Junior College student. During the three-day event held by the MINDEF Scholarship Centre, she met servicemen and women who inspired her with their passion for their jobs.
"I saw the spark in their eyes, and I felt like I wanted to be part of that as well. As I learnt more about the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), I realized that the organisation's purpose resonated with me. I wanted to play my part in our nation's defence and protect the people I love," she said.
Why the Navy? "It's the Navy Spirit. I've done team sports my whole life and I want to work in a similar environment, where the team is very tight-knit and supportive of each other.
"The Navy felt like the perfect fit for me," explained the former school touch rugby player from Hwa Chong Institution.
2) She's very passionate about the environment
What were you doing at 17? Well, at that age, LTA Ang was spearheading the "Straw-Free Singapore" campaign to cut down the use of single-use plastic straws in F&B outlets and save the environment.
The campaign was a huge success, and LTA Ang found herself meeting with businesses and touring schools to spread the message to young students.
"My biggest takeaway was the importance of resilience – when I first started the project, I got quite a few rejections. It was going nowhere for the first few months, and I questioned why I was putting in so much effort.
"But I pushed on and eventually I got featured in the media, and that was how it blew up. It's important to keep trying, even when it seems absolutely terrifying. Not only will you achieve your goal, you will also push beyond your comfort zone and grow from it."
Since graduating from school and enlisting in the SAF, LTA Ang has relinquished her role in the project. However, she hopes to carry on her mission by encouraging those around her to play their part in saving the environment.
"I don't need a social media platform or an active campaign to be an environmental advocate; I can start with the people on my own ship," said LTA Ang, who noted it can start with small things like getting people to use their own cups, plates and utensils instead of disposable ones.
3) She once thought about quitting, but knows now that this is the career for her
LTA Ang was candid when asked if she'd ever had second thoughts about joining the Navy. "Yes, of course. When you sign on as a young person straight out of school, you never really know what's coming your way."
"I struggled quite a bit in the first few months of OCS (Officer Cadet School). It was a combination of factors like learning new material and the strict scrutiny we got from our commanders. Coupled with (my responsibilities as) Midshipman Wing Commanding Officer, I felt very overwhelmed," she admitted.
The turning point, however, came when she went for the Midshipman Training Deployment (MSTD).
"I realized that there was a lot more to being a naval officer than just the simulator training sessions we had undergone. And when you're piloting the ship, you become very aware of the weight of your responsibility.
"After becoming a Young Officer and training for my Certificate of Competency (COC), I knew I could see myself doing this (as a career)."
The COC qualifies naval officers to take on duties as Officer-of-the-Day when the ship is in harbour.
4) RSS Fortitude has a special place in her heart
The LMV is not only her first ship after returning from her MSTD, but has also given her invaluable experience in Maritime Security (MARSEC) operations.
"After MSTD, we had to be attached to a platform to obtain our COC. I chose the LMV because I wanted to experience MARSEC operations. These days, MARSEC is an extremely important part of the role the SAF plays (in defending Singapore)."
LTA Ang is grateful for the precious sail time she got on board RSS Fortitude. "Because I got to sail, I got to see how the crew works and the operations they do while out at sea on maritime patrols."
In her eight months on board the ship, she has experienced the crew's warmth and Navy Spirit: "We're all working in the same space together and not in different rooms or compartments so there's a lot of bonding. I look back on every single patrol very fondly.
"We've even celebrated my birthday on the ship. I like to bake, so when I'm on board ship, I'll work with the chef to bake things like egg tarts, cheesecakes and ondeh ondeh. And the crew will always eat the stuff, even when it doesn't taste the best!"