Meet LTC Roger Cheong and MWO Eng Yew Kiang, the two elite soldiers who are leading this year's SAF Day Parade. One is a naval diver while the other is from the Commando Formation.
This is the stuff of dreams for these two men.
Come 1 Jul, Master Warrant Officer (MWO) Eng will lead as parade regimental sergeant major of the SAF Day Parade – one of his two childhood dreams.
His other was to jump during National Day Parade (NDP) as a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Red Lion, which he fulfilled in 2013 as part of the parachute team.
These were the reasons he joined the SAF Commando Formation in 2002. The 40-year-old now holds the appointment of Brigade Sergeant Major, 2nd Singapore Infantry Brigade.
For Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Cheong, it was the Combat Diver Course (CDC) which sealed his decision to become a naval diver in 2002.
The 43-year-old Commanding Officer (CO) of Frogman School and Underwater Demolition Group in Naval Diving Unit enjoyed the excitement of naval operations, and the strong brotherhood forged among divers.
Like MWO Eng, this SAF Day Parade will also be LTC Cheong’s first time as a Parade Commander.
We get the duo to pit their strengths against each other and spill their feelings about leading the first SAF Day Parade after the COVID-19 pandemic and what the parade means to them.
One of you is a naval diver while the other is from the Commandos. So which is the fitter formation?
MWO Eng: (laughs) I won't say which formation is fitter. Each vocation has its strengths. I mean, there's a reason the SAF has different vocations right? So both are equally fit.
LTC Cheong: Commandos and naval divers specialise in different domains – the Commandos specialise on land whereas naval divers specialise in the maritime domain. Both are equally fit and can do everything.
Very politically correct answer. So between the two of you, who is fitter?
LTC Cheong: (laughs and points to MWO Eng) He's younger!
MWO Eng: Yeah, if you go by age, I think you've got the answer.
LTC Cheong: However, I'm keeping up with my diver's gold standard (for the Individual Physical Proficiency Test) by running with my soldiers. It's a must to maintain my fitness – I run three to four times a week ranging from five to 10km.
Do you remember what training was like in your younger days?
LTC Cheong: It was tough! There were up to 80 of us when we first enlisted and only up to half of the cohort passed out as naval divers.
MWO Eng: I did my NS (National Service) with the Singapore Police Force so it was a huge culture shock. I actually wondered if I made the right decision. But because the training was designed to be progressive, I was able to cope.
LTC Cheong: I totally agree – the progressive training helped! I remember when I just enlisted, I couldn't do even one chin-up and was clocking 12 minutes for my 2.4km run. But by the end of the CDC, I was doing close to 30 chin-ups and my personal best was 8.22 minutes for my 2.4km run.
What was your best 2.4km timing, MWO Eng?
MWO Eng: 7.24 minutes.
LTC Cheong: (laughs) Now you got your "who is fitter" answer already!
MWO Eng: Eh, but when I enlisted for NS, my 2.4km was 14 minutes.
What do you miss most from your early days in the SAF?
MWO Eng: When we were junior soldiers, it was all about training hard and staying sharp. As we progressed to higher appointments, there were more responsibilities. You need to put in personal time to train in between work so it's not easy. I miss those days where life was simpler, more carefree and just focused on training.
LTC Cheong: Similarly, I miss the days where I can be on the ground and spend time with my guys just training or doing operations. Right now, as a CO of a unit, it's challenging 'cos I've to attend meetings as well as handle a whole range of issues including manpower, logistics, training and morale.
If I can turn back the clock, I would spend more time on the ground because I know that I don't have as much time to do so now.
So what is your most memorable moment in the SAF to date?
MWO Eng: My first NDP jump in 2013. When the parachute opened and I looked down at the Floating Platform, it was a dream come true. And when I jumped on the actual day and saw the crowd cheering as I was landing, no words could describe what I was feeling.
Being the parade RSM for this year's SAF Day Parade is also memorable. Not many of us get a chance to lead large-scale parades and it's my first time leading one with more than 1,000 participants.
LTC Cheong: This SAF Day Parade will become one of the most memorable events for me 'cos I've never been a parade commander before. I only took on this appointment three months ago because last year's reserve, who was supposed to be this year's parade commander, had to drop out due to work commitment constraints. I'm really proud to be chosen.
How do you feel about taking part in the parade?
MWO Eng: There's this funny saying in the SAF that commandos and naval divers cannot march. I want to show that, for once, we can!
LTC Cheong: (laughs) Actually, this saying came about 'cos commandos and divers tend to be more bulky so we look more awkward when we march. But we're training hard to prove ourselves, okay?
Jokes aside, it's an honour to be in the parade. Everyone is working as one and doing our best to execute the drills and commands to the sharpest. This year's parade tagline from MWO Eng is "Stronger as one", and we will always work together so that we can be successful as one.
How has training been so far?
MWO Eng: With guidance from SAF Sergeant Major, I came up with a "3S" training concept – shape, strengthen and sharpen. It's similar to progressive training.
I always remind myself that, no matter how the training turned out on that (one) day, there must be something good that was done. I focus on that and bring up the areas for improvement at the next session. I don't want to come down too hard on the participants 'cos I don't want them to lose heart.
LTC Cheong: MWO Eng is doing a fantastic job at making sure the parade is ready. My role as a Parade Commander is to keep morale high, so we're taking in feedback as much as possible and making sure things are good on the ground.
Based on the past few rehearsals, I'm seeing commitment and resilience in every single participant, so I'm confident that we will do well on 1 Jul.
Finally, what does the SAF Day Parade mean to you?
LTC Cheong: The SAF Day Parade is significant because it shows that the SAF managed the pandemic well and emerged stronger. This year is also NS55 (the 55th Anniversary of NS) and with the bulk of the parade participants being full-time national servicemen, it shows that NS is a critical part of our defence.
MWO Eng: The SAF is ready and coping well with this pandemic. We are "Stronger as one" and this is the message we want to send out.