Being twins, 2nd Lieutenants (2LT)s Darren and Derrick Ong went through life together and celebrated every birthday together.
This was until their 22nd this January – when 2LT Derrick was away for a 40-day sail as part of his Midshipman Sea Training Deployment.
"It happened over Chinese New Year too, so it was kind of sad to miss out on an important family occasion," described 2LT Derrick. "But my family held an early celebration for me and motivated and encouraged me during the long deployment."
His sail – which took place as part of the Navy's routine training to its port of call in Guam – involved taking shifts 24/7 to keep watch at the bridge.
"It really takes a team to keep watch and everyone had to be on the ball to ensure that we're navigating properly, we're watching the tides, and we're watching out for small vessels (in our vicinity)," said 2LT Derrick, whose shifts included graveyard hours of 12am to 4am.
Back home, 2LT Darren, the older twin by five minutes, had a simple birthday dinner in absence of his brother.
"I also helped him collect his ang baos (red packets) during Chinese New Year visiting, but of course I gave them back to him," he added with a smile.
The twins were part of 417 officer cadets from the Singapore Army, Republic of Singapore Navy and Republic of Singapore Air Force commissioned at the Officer Cadet Commissioning Parade on 11 Jun.
The parade, held at SAFTI Military Institute, was the first centralised one for the Officer Cadet School (OCS) since the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was also the first time since the start of COVID-19 that each graduand was allowed to have four guests.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Education and for Foreign Affairs Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, who reviewed the parade, emphasised the importance of a strong Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) amidst evolving challenges.
"Even as Singapore transitions towards COVID resilience, we are faced with the geopolitical uncertainties caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The conflict has also shown us that digital threats continue to grow in scale and sophistication.
"I am confident that the SAF will continue to rise to meet new challenges. A strong and credible SAF is the sole guarantor for our sovereignty, peace and security," said Dr Maliki.
For the twins – who went to the same schools and were even posted to the same platoon as part of the 3rd Battalion, Singapore Guards, 19th Mono-Intake – being posted to different vocations was a big change.
But it was also a good opportunity for them to share stories with one another.
An Infantryman by vocation, 2LT Darren went through an equally memorable training experience as part of his 2D1N summary exercise.
In the overnight exercise, the soldiers were inserted into the area of operations from a Chinook helicopter where they carried out a route march to an urban operations area to assault an objective.
"After we captured the objective, we still had to transit to defence and deter an assailant. This was the last (training) we all had together so we all really gave our best," said 2LT Darren
Though they are going their separate ways after graduation, the twins' goals as leaders could not be more similar.
"When I return to my unit, I would be leading second-year soldiers who would have more experience than me," said 2LT Darren, who will be joining the Guards Conversion Course before awaiting his appointment.
"To gain their respect, I need to lead by example and I want to learn from them too and be on the ground with them."
In a similar tune, 2LT Derrick, who will be leading an Accompanying Sea Security Team (ASSeT) in the Navy's 180 Squadron, aims to "do the right thing, even when no one is watching".
"I wish to get to know my men on a personal level and forge a trust with them.
"As an officer I also hope I can help them find purpose, not just to serve but to make something good of their time here in NS."