He's served as a soldier in the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps (SAFVC) for seven years, and intends to continue as long as he can. Meet SV2 Michael John Ryan.
Singapore has been his home for the past 18 years. For almost half of that time – seven years – he has served in the SAFVC.
In fact, SAFVC Volunteer (SV) 2 Michael John Ryan did not think twice about signing up when applications first opened in 2015.
"Immediately I thought, why not? I wanted to contribute in some way to this place that I call home," said the 44-year-old Singapore Permanent Resident who was originally from Melbourne, Australia.
"It was only after I signed up that I realised that I should have discussed it with my wife first," said SV2 Ryan with a chuckle. "But the deed had been done."
It comes as no surprise that SV2 Ryan, who migrated to Singapore in 2004, is strongly rooted in local culture.
He loves his kopi and teh, and counts nasi lemak as one of his favourite dishes. His sentences are peppered with lots of Singlish – lah and lor roll off his tongue easily.
Yet, there were times when the father-of-two felt disconnected, especially if a colloquial joke or expression was made during conversations with his Singaporean friends.
"There were things that my friends would talk about and share that made me feel like I'm on the outside… Because there are some things that you will only know if you've grown up and experienced it here."
This was also part of the reason SV2 Ryan chose to serve – to get a sense of belonging that Singapore is truly his home, and contribute back in any way he can.
Learning the ropes
Despite hearing stories, SV2 Ryan found basic training nothing like what he had expected.
What kept him going through the mental and physical exertion was a constant hunger for learning. Though he was exhausted at the end of each day, he would wake up wide-eyed and eager to absorb more.
"It was intense, we were damn 'shag' (local slang for tired) but we wanted more. It felt like we never slept, we never stopped," said SV2 Ryan, who enlisted in June 2015.
The significance of what he was doing truly hit him during his weapon presentation at Kranji War Memorial.
Seeing the first few rows of fallen soldiers, he felt a sense of connection as these were his fellow countrymen from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Learning how Singapore fell during World War II also affirmed his decision to join the SAFVC.
"It further fuelled my motivation and desire to contribute to the Services 'cos I have friends and a family here. If there is even a tiny way to support or protect them, I want to do it," said SV2 Ryan, who has a Singaporean wife and five-year-old twin girl and boy.
Since graduating as an Auxiliary Security Trooper (AST), SV2 Ryan has taken on a myriad of roles.
From performing security trooper duties and being an auxiliary trainer to SAFVC enlistees to joining the inaugural volunteer marching contingent during National Day Parade (NDP) 2019, SV2 Ryan has continued to serve, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recalling how nervous he was during his first armed duty at Clementi Camp in 2018, SV2 Ryan said: "I couldn't have been more 'on' (local slang for enthusiastic). I was so afraid of screwing it up that I stood frozen for two hours."
This is also his most profound memory of serving till date. "You cannot feel more like part of an armed force until you're actually armed and on duty in a critical role. I am the first line of defence and I want to do it well."
Whenever he is on AST duty, this middle-aged ang moh (local slang for Caucasian) in uniform is often at the receiving end of funny looks from people, especially full-time national servicemen (NSFs).
More often than not, they would look at him and search for his rank before asking: "Why you here ah?"
SV2 Ryan would then take the opportunity to strike up a conversation, share his experience and encourage them to look at National Service (NS) positively.
"I always tell them that NS is an opportunity for them to grow and mature while being trained as a soldier. As cliché as it may sound, you get what you put in so take what you can get from this experience as much as possible – you will not regret it."
It is also through these conversations that new friendships are formed. He stays in touch with some through social media, while others pop into his café for a catch-up.
"Ask me anything and I'll answer – I always let my guard down. I want to take a purposeful opportunity to connect with as many people as possible," said SV2 Ryan, who owns local bistro Jimmy Monkey.
With pride, I serve
Despite having served for seven years, SV2 Ryan feels that he has a lot more to give.
When probed further, he revealed that his goal is to complete an equivalent to two years of service, just like what NSFs go through. Only then can "I possibly feel that I have truly contributed," said SV2 Ryan.
Adding that donning the uniform is his way of respecting as well as representing the SAF and the nation, he said: "When someone sees me performing well on duty, they will also feel a sense of pride for the Service. (This is also why) I want to perform well and be the best I can be."
Come 1 Jul, SV2 Ryan will be promoted to the rank of SV3.
While it is nice to be recognised for his service, what makes him truly happy is the pride and respect he receives from his family and friends.
His cousins are always catching up with him just to hear his latest experiences, while several friends have said "I'm so damn proud of you Mike".
"I've gotten closer to my friends and forged deeper relationships. I'm no longer that ang moh buddy, I belong, I'm family."
And he will continue to serve as long as he is allowed to.
"In the 18 years I've been here, I've spent seven years voluntarily with the SAF. We prepare and work hard in order to give our best," said SV2 Ryan.
"I choose to defend my country, my people, my family, my friends and make a commitment and contribution to the place I call home."