He grew up overseas, doesn't look like a typical Singaporean, and can't speak Singlish. But like every Singaporean son, he did his National Service (NS). Meet Lieutenant (LTA) (NS) Christopher Raj Brian Martin, who was born in Saudi Arabia to a British father and Singaporean mother.
His dad, now a Singapore Permanent Resident, is a globe-trotting consultant in the banking industry, while mum is a homemaker. He has an 18-year-old sister.
LTA (NS) Martin spent his growing up years in Saudi Arabia, Brunei and later Vietnam where his family stayed for 12 years. In 2020, after completing high school, he returned to Singapore to enlist for NS.
Although LTA (NS) Martin had travelled to Singapore to visit his relatives in the past, these were short visits that did not allow him to fully immerse into Singapore's culture.
"Personally, the problem I was facing the most was getting to grips with Singapore culture," said the 20-year-old. For example, during Basic Military Training (BMT), he struggled with Malay drill commands like senang diri (stand at ease) and sedia (attention).
"The commands were really a difficult thing to wrap my head around," he recalled. "Because I was the first platoon IC (In-Charge), giving the commands when I had zero grasp of the language made it even more difficult."
Getting to know his countrymen
LTA (NS) Martin, who recently completed his full-time NS on 10 Aug, summed up his NS as an eye-opening experience.
"It has really opened my eyes…learning about different people's backgrounds. Especially in BMT where everyone – from every walk of life throughout the country – comes together to do the same thing."
One of his BMT platoon mates even became his "bunk mate" throughout NS – when LTA (NS) Martin had to find a new place to stay, this platoon mate offered his spare room.
"We have a really strong friendship; we lived, ate, and spent weekends together. I wouldn't have been able to meet someone like him if it wasn't for NS," he said.
Making full use of NS
Despite the initial challenges of settling in, LTA (NS) Martin was determined to give his best shot in NS. The reason? Personal growth.
"I have two years to spend (in NS); why not make the most of it and become a better person?" he said. "With all the new skills that I would learn along the way, I can apply that to better my life in university and after that in my work life."
He excelled in BMT and was selected to enter Officer Cadet School.
After completing the 38-week officer cadet training, he was posted to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
He served as a platoon commander in 605 Squadron's Response Force. His job was to lead a team of seven troopers, on standby to react to any security threats in Tengah Air Base.
One of the life skills he had picked up during NS was leadership – how to win the hearts and minds of people.
LTA (NS) Martin, who will be pursuing a degree in computer science in Tilburg University in the Netherlands, said: "While you can give someone a command and expect them to take action, they won't have faith in what you tell them – unless you give them a reason as to why they're doing what they're doing.
"This leadership style was foreign to me until I came into NS. And that's what really helps me become a better leader."