Specialist leaders ready to serve
//Story by Donahue Foo & Teo Jing Ting // Photos by Chua Soon Lye & courtesy of interviewees
Newly minted specialists 3SG Sonam Gill and 3SG Lee Jae Won look forward to leading their soldiers.
For 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Lee Jae Won, Basic Military Training (BMT) was his first foray into local culture.
In fact, the cookhouse was where the 19-year-old first tried Singaporean food – he now counts laksa and prata among his favourite local cuisine!
Born in Singapore to South Korean parents, 3SG Lee often shuttled between the two countries during his childhood. After 12, he studied in an international school in Singapore until entering National Service (NS).
The NSF (full-time national serviceman) initially had difficulties understanding and communicating with his BMT mates. It also did not help that he was naturally quiet and shy.
However, he slowly opened up to them and found out that they had plenty in common.
Whether it was sharing a love of playing video games or going out on weekends together, these experiences helped 3SG Lee to better integrate and build camaraderie with his BMT mates.
"They were very curious about my culture and after we started talking more, they began asking about K-pop songs and even asked me if I have any friends to introduce to them!" he said with a laugh.
Bonding with BMT mates
It was also in BMT that 3SG Lee experienced a strong bond and camaraderie with fellow recruits.
For instance, when his Muslim friends had to fast during the month of Ramadan, he and other NSFs would always be by their side to support and encourage them, especially when things got tough.
"For example, we would support them by pouring water over them to cool down during strenuous activities."
Transforming into a leader
From a quiet boy to a newly appointed leader, 3SG Lee changed even more after entering Specialist Cadet School (SCS).
"Back in school, I was a very quiet boy but now, I know how to voice out my opinions, take initiative and lead people."
Post-graduation, 3SG Lee will be posted to 39th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Defence (CBRD) responder. He also wants to help newcomers like him adapt and integrate better into the local culture.
"I'm a bit nervous and excited as I will now have a greater responsibility leading my soldiers," admitted 3SG Lee.
Nevertheless, he is determined to do his best.
"I know that I have the help of my fellow CBRD responders and my commanders so I'm looking forward to a fulfilling NS journey."
Newly minted specialists
3SG Lee was among 860 graduands of the 57th Specialist Cadet Graduation Parade held at Pasir Laba Camp on 16 Nov.
Of the graduands, 746 were from the Army, 45 from the Republic of Singapore Navy and 22 were from the Republic of Singapore Air Force. There were also 47 graduands from the Digital and Intelligence Service.
For fellow graduand 3SG Sonam Gill, joining the military was something the 23-year-old had always been intrigued by.
After visiting and meeting different servicewomen at the Army Women's Career Fair in 2019, she was inspired to sign on as a Signaller.
"As they shared their experiences, my passion for the Army was ignited. I knew I had to give it a go, so here I am!" said 3SG Sonam, who enlisted for BMT on 27 Mar.
She graduated from the nine-week course on 4 Jun and entered SCS a week later.
Like one of the boys
Despite being the only female soldier in her Signals course, 3SG Sonam was always made to feel like one of the boys.
"I didn't feel (there was) any difference, because we are all treated equally in the army and we all worked as a team."
One of the most memorable moments she had during her Signals course was the Sergeant Rocky Challenge, a series of tests that evaluate what the cadets had learnt throughout the course.
"The challenge was draining but it bonded us together. Despite all of us having different views, we managed to come together as a team to overcome the obstacles together," said 3SG Sonam, who emerged a Silver Bayonet recipient.
The Silver Bayonet is awarded to top cadets in the SCS for exemplary performance in areas such as fitness and leadership.
Like 3SG Lee, 3SG Sonam looks forward to being an empathetic leader to her soldiers. She will be heading to 40th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment.
"As a leader, I feel that you need to put in an effort to bond with your soldiers, know more about them and care for them.
"That's how they will listen to you and give their best."