One was inspired to become a soldier after attending her former students' Basic Military Training (BMT) graduation parades; the other is carrying on the legacy of his late father, who was a warrant officer in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Military Expert (ME) 4 Evon Khoo and ME4 Kaviraj S/O Anbalagan show that it's never too late to find your calling or chase your passion.
Teacher with a big heart
Former teacher ME4 Khoo, 35, joined the profession as she loved helping people. In her seven years as a mathematics and social studies teacher at Bukit Panjang Government High School, she worked hard to help level the playing field for underprivileged students, and won the Most Caring Teacher Award in 2016.
In early 2019, she decided to take a break from teaching. In the years that followed, two of her female ex-students invited her to their BMT graduation parade. While there, a switch in her head was flipped.
"I saw the pride in them. Back in school, the two girls weren't particularly sporty – one of them was a dancer. But they managed to complete BMT, which broke the stereotype I had that the SAF is very rough.
"I didn't think I would be able to take it, especially at my age! But when I saw them go through it, I felt that maybe it wouldn't be that bad," she explained.
After completing her specialist diploma in Data Science and Analytics from Singapore Polytechnic in 2021, she came across the new Digital and Intelligence Service (then known as Command Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence or C4I).
As she had always been interested in the uniformed services – she joined the National Police Cadet Corps as a student – she decided to take the leap of faith and sign on as a Military Intelligence Expert.
Learning from others
Enlisting as a mature soldier was daunting, ME4 Khoo admits: "When I enlisted in January 2022, it was pretty scary because I wondered how I was going to do this on my own. But over time, I learnt that the SAF is not about doing things on your own, but about teamwork. I can always count on my buddies and friends."
In case you were wondering, her buddies in BMT didn't treat her like their teacher!
"As a matter of fact, I felt that they always did better than me when we were studying for new topics. But with the one-and-a-half more decades (that I've lived), I have more life experiences so I help them by offering a different perspective on things!" she said with a laugh.
"Life is not just about learning from people who are more educated than you, but also learning from people who are different from you."
She also continues to keep in contact with her students-turned-sisters-in-arms: "I saw one of them, Lieutenant (LTA) Yeo Tsing Ngia, during my training, and because her rank was higher than mine, I had to call her 'Ma'am'! She is in the Navy and I've sought her help a couple of times since I enlisted.
"My other student, LTA Tania Pang, is a Signals Officer and she's very excited for me. We're making plans to meet up soon."
The military way of life
Military Intelligence Expert ME4 Kaviraj, 33, is no stranger to the military way of life. His late father, ME2 Anbalagan S/O Vadivu, worked in logistics in the Republic of Singapore Navy, and ran the household like a tight ship.
"My dad always exposed us to the military lifestyle – even at home we had to be disciplined and responsible. We had no helper, so we had to do everything ourselves! And every 9 Aug, he would sit us down to watch the National Day Parade and explain all the significant moments to us."
Although joining his father in the SAF had always been at the back of his mind, having trained as an engineer, ME4 Kaviraj decided to put his skills to use and join the industry.
He joined ST Aerospace after graduating from the Singapore Institute of Technology with a degree in Mechanical Design and Engineering, working on the F-16 upgrade programme.
His introduction to the DIS came almost by chance: "I randomly walked into the SAF Career Centre one day and asked what I could do that would be interesting and fulfilling. They recommended C4I and the intelligence community.
"I spent two months thinking, and felt it was my calling to join the intelligence community. I re-enlisted and started at Officer Cadet School in May 2022. Soon after, the DIS was inaugurated."
He added: "I'd had a good experience back when I was a Full-time National Serviceman – I was a Military Policeman, working with my fellow security troopers to protect Tengah Air Base. I wanted to lead men like my officer, so I decided to take the leap."
Finding strength through adversity
With no prior experience in intelligence work or geopolitics, the learning curve was steep, ME4 Kaviraj explained.
"When I first started, I didn't know what I was getting into. I had to study and read up a lot to bring myself up to speed. But with the guidance of my commanders and peers, we managed to clear every hurdle."
He was also grateful to his buddies for their support: "Most of my buddies were at least 10 years younger than me! But they were very nice. They're very tech-savvy, and I also learnt from them how to write and present reports. Unlike them, I had left school way before and my skills in these areas had become quite rusty!"
Noting that his education path was "different from that of most people", ME4 Kaviraj said: "I went to ITE and polytechnic before getting my degree. My life has been about overcoming the odds. I keep this in mind and when I'm faced with difficult times, I think back about how I had overcome these challenges and it keeps me going."
Although ME4 Kaviraj's dad passed away in 2018 and did not get to witness his BMT graduation and appointment as a Senior ME, he is happy to be walking in his footsteps and doing his part to defend the nation.
"My family is happy and proud of me. I feel like this journey is a dedication to my dad, to carry on his legacy."