"Serve your friends, family, and most importantly, your nation."
These words from her father were etched into LTA Iffa Daniesha's mind as she went through the gruelling nine-month Officer Cadet Course. She is also the first Malay female Naval Officer in the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).
"Growing up, I understood the importance of service towards our country," said LTA Iffa, who recently graduated from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
"My father is an officer in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SDCF), and I heard many stories of how he contributed to Singapore's security and what he did for our country.
She was among the 407 cadets who were commissioned as SAF officers at a parade held at the SAFTI Military Institute on 10 Dec.
"Inspired by these stories, I decided to join a (uniformed) service, and coming out of NTU freshly graduated, I knew I wanted a career that was dynamic."
LTA Iffa has a particular interest in international relations and foreign diplomacy. She saw that serving in the RSN would give her exposure in those fields.
Memories to last a lifetime
The 24-year-old said that her time in the month-long Midshipman Sea Training Deployment (MSTD) was the most memorable period of her time in OCS.
"During MSTD, we were given the opportunity to put theory into practice," said LTA Iffa. "Throughout our time on board, we learnt not only the hard skills needed of a naval officer or how to acclimatise to shipboard life, we also learnt soft skills and what it takes to lead a team of sailors."
The MSTD was not as smooth sailing as she hoped, but it was through those tough challenges LTA Iffa and her course mates went through that moulded her into the Naval Officer she is today.
"We had to learn how to lean on each other's strengths, as well as learn from the mistakes during the deployment," she said
"There were many times where we had heart-to-heart talks with each other; how we can improve as individuals and how we can also tap on each other's strengths.
"Going through that really gave me insights into myself as a leader and as an individual, and how I operate during high pressure situations."
When asked how she felt about her commissioning, she said: "I'm very excited to be where I am right now, and to see where my journey in the Navy takes me."
Speaking at the parade, President Halimah Yacob noted: "National Service (NS) is a critical enabler for defence and deterrence, and necessary for our future. This year commemorates 55 years of NS, and we honour the collective resolve and contributions of generations of National Servicemen."
"Many of you are serving your NS and are joining this representation of our country's collective will and commitment to stand independently as a nation."
She also reminded the newly-minted officers of their duties and responsibilities. "As you bear the mantle of responsibility as young officers, use this milestone as a timely opportunity to reflect on our history, the challenges ahead, and how we will continue to forge on…
"It is your responsibility to inspire and lead, and this includes keeping your soldiers united and resilient against extreme social changes or foreign actors who seek to divide our country."
From content creator to soldier
For 2LT Claris Neo, her desire to pursue a meaningful and fulfilling career led her to the Singapore Army. The thought of becoming a Regular had lingered in the back of the 21-year-old's mind through her school days.
It was after her mother's encouragement to pursue her dreams that she decided to join the military as she knew it would be a worthwhile career.
"Whenever I'm out with my male friends and they share about their experiences in the Army, I tend to be more attentive and listen in on their conversations, which made me realise that their NS experiences were very interesting," said 2LT Neo.
"It made me want to try it out and experience it for myself, as I know that it will be challenging to me in all aspects; physically, mentally, and emotionally, which will allow me to grow and become a better person."
Before enlisting into the army, 2LT Neo did content creation as a freelancer, and her schedule was nowhere near as demanding as it is now.
"I used to have a very flexible schedule, and I was able to plan my day ahead any way I'd like. However, in the Army, it is a lot more regimental and discipline is very important.
"Initially, it was hard to adapt to regimental life, as I was not from the uniformed groups or sports in school. I wasn't exposed to (military) drills and wasn't familiar with the commands.
"Thankfully, my peers gave me guidance and I am very grateful for them."
She will forever remember her in OCS. 2LT Neo said: "The feeling of overcoming tough times together, alongside my peers and commanders, are the moments that I will keep very close to my heart."
More than just a duty
Before he started his OCS journey, 2LT Keagan So was filled with doubt and uncertainty about his own ability to become an officer.
"When I first stepped foot into OCS, it was nothing like I imagined," said the 19-year-old Combat Engineer Officer. "I knew that I was going to have to overcome a steep learning curve, and with the help of my section mates and friends I made throughout these nine months here, I emerged as a better person and leader."
A leader in 2LT Keagan So's eyes is someone who is not only able to guide his team to succeed, but also someone who cares for his team's wellbeing and ultimately leave a positive impact on their lives.
The Sword-of-Honour recipient thanked his father for always giving him advice and being a figure to look up to.
"My father played a pivotal role in the success I have today. The best advice that he imparted to me was when I was appointed as Cadet Wing Commander – he told me to not worry about my own performance, but to focus more on the people under me and to make sure that they are taken care of.
"This is something I will remember when I lead my men in the future."
When asked what his key takeaway from OCS was, the 19-year-old said: "Protecting my country, to me, is very important.
"It is more than just a duty to uphold, because it means that I'm protecting my friends, my loved ones, and my family."