The unlikely friendship between an officer & his sergeant

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03 Apr 2023 | PEOPLE

The unlikely friendship between an officer & his sergeant

//Story by Koh Eng Beng // Photos by Chua Soon Lye & courtesy of 3SG (NS) Gan

English Melayu

They met in the Army, and went from buddies to each other's best man.

CPT (NS) See (seated) was 3SG (NS) Gan's commander when the latter was serving his full-time NS.

In 2012, when CPT (NS) See Mite was deployed to Afghanistan for a six-month peace support operation, 3SG (NS) Gan Jian Long would visit his aging parents to help check on them.

"I was single then, and my parents were no longer young. He would check on them and also give me emotional support," said CPT (NS) See, then an Army Regular.

He was a member of a Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) Imagery Analysis Team that provided vital intelligence to prevent potential terrorist attacks on the Afghan population and international coalition forces.

CPT (NS) See (second from left) with his Imagery Analysis Team at a 2013 exhibition on the SAF's contributions in Afghanistan.

The operating environment in Afghanistan was fraught with constant danger, with rockets being targeted on their base camps.

It's no wonder that CPT (NS) See, 41, was grateful to 3SG (NS) Gan, 34, for his support and help.

The duo had struck an unlikely friendship earlier, while serving together in the Army Training Evaluation Centre (ATEC) in 2008.

3SG (NS) Gan was a Full-Time National Serviceman (NSF) while CPT (NS) See, who is seven years older, was his commander.

They bonded over frequent outfield training, as often as up to two to three times a month, both locally and overseas.

CPT (NS) See (left) and 3SG (NS) Gan (centre) with a fellow soldier in 2008.

As scout umpires, their task was to follow the troops into the jungle, and evaluate their performance.

"Pai tan leh!" said CPT (NS) See, using a hokkien term that literally means the money is hard earned.

"The scouts are the first to go in and last to leave. We just follow them; if they bash, we bash; they crawl, we crawl; and we eat combat rations."

On the last day of the evaluation, they had to produce a PowerPoint presentation to debrief the unit.

"It's a lot of hard work outfield; we 'feed' mosquitos, cannot sleep, and yet we still need to craft slides and do reports together. That's why we became very close."

CPT (NS) Mite remembers 3SG (NS) Gan as an NSF who often sacrificed his sleep and never once complained. "He worked very hard and we just managed to 'click'," he said.

3SG (NS) Gan was, in turn, impressed by CPT (NS) See, who led by example and did not set a barrier between himself and his specialists. "He won't ask you to go touch the tree and come back," said 3SG (NS) Gan with a laugh.

Role model

Recalling the first time he met CPT (NS) See in the Army, 3SG (NS) Gan said: "He was an upright guy – an officer who looked good, dressed well, and was well-spoken. So I really look up to him like an older brother."

Indeed, when 3SG (NS) Gan started hanging out at pubs and clubs as a young university student, CPT (NS) See was "the one who would put me back on the right path".

The pair continued to keep in touch after 3SG (NS) Gan completed his full-time NS.

In one incident, during 3SG (NS) Gan's 21st birthday celebration at a club, his friends made various excuses to avoid paying for the drinks, leaving CPT (NS) See to foot the bill alone.

Sensing that these people were not of good character, CPT (NS) See advised 3SG (NS) Gan to be more wary of them. "I told him, 'Be careful of who your friends are; these are drinking friends, they are not real buddies.'"

Close confidante

In turn, CPT (NS) See goes to 3SG (NS) Gan, a manager with Coca-Cola Singapore Beverages, whenever he needs career advice.

"I sought his advice before I pursued a flying career. I asked him, 'Hey bro, do you think it's the right decision? What if I don't make it?'

"And he said, 'Don't worry. If you come back from training and can't find a job, I'll help you find a job.'"

The duo is still working together as NSmen, serving in 3rd Singapore Infantry Brigade.

With his encouragement, CPT (NS) See took a leap of faith and called time on his military career in 2014. He successfully completed a two-year pilot training in the United States, and has been working as a commercial pilot with Scoot since 2017.

From buddies to best men

They were also each other's best man at their own weddings. "It's a given. He is my best man. I am his best man," said 3SG (NS) Gan.

He explained: "Our friendship really grew; from him being my officer and mentor, it gradually became a close friendship. Not only do I take care of him, he also takes care of me."

3SG (NS) Gan (in suit) with his "minions" and best man CPT (NS) See (second from right) on his wedding day in 2018.
3SG (NS) Gan (foreground) taking a wefie before CPT (NS) See (third from left) picked up his bride. This was in 2016.

"I am thankful that, through NS, I got to meet him," added CPT (NS) See. "The physical 'suffering' from being outfield constantly was definitely not easy, but we bonded through this experience.

"He gave his best, I gave my best – so, of course, we're able to 'click' with each other."


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