NSmen who give their all

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12 Mar 2024 | PEOPLE

NSmen who give their all

// Story by Benita Teo / Photos by Chua Soon Lye & courtesy of interviewees

English 华文

What drives regular Singaporeans like CFC (NS) Ng Say Kian and SLTC (Ret) Jeremiah J. Mark to go above and beyond their NS duties to serve? One of them served for 34 years and is still doing so!

A strong sense of duty has driven SLTC (Ret) Jeremiah J. Mark (left) and CFC (NS) Ng Say Kian to volunteer beyond their NS obligations.

Imagine working in Australia, then coming back to Singapore for In-Camp Training (ICT) – in order to go back to Australia to participate in Exercise Wallaby (XWB)!

This was what Corporal First Class (CFC) (NS) Ng Say Kian would do almost every year when he received his call-up.

As a rigger and load inspector, CFC (NS) Ng (third from left) and his unit worked with ground troops to make sure that loads were properly rigged to Chinooks for underslung operations.

Ex Wallaby veteran

To say that XWB has been an integral part of CFC (NS) Ng's life is perhaps an understatement.

The 41-year-old Operationally Ready National Serviceman (NSman) has participated in the exercise six times – with his lengthiest deployment stretching 40 days long!

"XWB is very important to our squadron. The scale of our operations is amplified at least four times, so there's a lot we can do and learn there."

An aerial cargo rigger and load inspector in-charge (IC) in the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) 103 Squadron, CFC (NS) Ng worked with ground troops and CH-47 Chinook helicopters to conduct underslung operations.

CFC (NS) Ng (back row, sixth from right) has been to XWB six times.

CFC (NS) Ng's commitment to his team is undeniable. In 2015, he struggled with the dilemma of going ahead with the exercise and leaving behind his wife and their firstborn daughter, who was barely six months old at the time.

Then a rigger IC, he felt responsible for the men under his charge: "Back then, I was managing staff sergeants to run the load inspection unit.

"As we are an evergreen unit, I was also in the process of training up my understudies to eventually succeed me."

CFC (NS) Ng with his wife Ru Li, son Hector and daughter Jessica, who are now seven and nine respectively. Incidentally, Hector was born the day before he was meant to depart for XWB in 2017!

He discussed his decision with his wife, Ru Li, who gave him her blessings.

"I promised her that if we had another child, I would make sure I didn't go to XWB. Who knew that two years later, my second child's due date would coincide with the exercise!" he said with a laugh.

As luck would have it, his son was born the day before he was to fly to XWB in 2017!

And of course, he kept his promise.

CFC (NS) Ng (front row, sixth from left) would fly to Singapore from Melbourne, just to fly back to Rockhampton with his unit for XWB.

Supportive employers

CFC (NS) Ng currently works in a Melbourne-based fresh produce trading company. Whenever it was time for his ICT, he would fly back to Singapore to help his squadron with preparations, before flying to Australia to take part in the XWB in Rockhampton, Queensland.

He is so serious about his NS duties that he is upfront even with potential employers about needing time for his ICT and refresher training.

"I informed my current employer during the interview about my NS commitments. I also told him my plans to become a ROVER, which would go beyond my obligations. He was very supportive of me."

He spent about four years serving under the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Reservist on Voluntary Extended Reserve Service (ROVERS) scheme, before completing his service last year.

SLTC (Ret) Jeremiah has been a ROVER, an NS Volunteer, and now a C2D Ambassador.

Good NS vibes

Meanwhile, fellow NSman Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) (Ret) Jeremiah J. Mark has done it all: Full-time National Serviceman, NSman, ROVER, NS Volunteer.

Throughout his 34 years in the SAF, he has taken on a variety of command roles, such as Officer Commanding of 524 Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (SIR), Commanding Officer (CO) of 806 SIR and Brigade Second-In-Command of Headquarters 27 Singapore Infantry Brigade.

Today, the 55-year-old former infantryman has taken on a new role – an SAF Veteran's League Commitment to Defence (C2D) Ambassador!

His motivation to keep serving has been simple: to make sure the NSmen under his charge have a positive NS experience, so that they will be advocates of NS to the people around them.

As part of 806 SIR's stand-down parade, then-CO SLTC (NS) Jeremiah (front row, second from right) led the soldiers on a Freedom March from The Former Ford Factory to Clementi Camp on 12 Mar 2016.

"I've learnt that when you give NSmen a good NS experience, the positive effects snowball. In turn, they will share these experiences with their sons, nephews or cousins who will serve in the future.

"That way, when faced with naysayers, they will be able to defend NS based on their experience," said SLTC (Ret) Jeremiah.

SLTC (Ret) Jeremiah (seated, centre) hosting newly minted officers and their parents at the Officer Cadet Commissioning Parade last December. One of his greatest joys is welcoming these new leaders and interacting with their families.

Mentoring new generations of soldiers

His passion for mentoring soldiers extends beyond the camp to his workplace.

As the manager of a financial services agency, he makes sure to give his NSman employees his full support when they have to attend ICT.

He even has a chat group with them, and often shares his NS experiences and advice if anyone is facing difficulties.

"Of course, not everyone has a perfect time in NS, but if I can offer a different perspective, it might help change their mindset and make their experience more positive."

SLTC (Ret) Jeremiah (in blue blazer) teaching the students of Dazhong Primary School about the different pillars of Total Defence (TD). As a C2D Ambassador, he speaks to students and the public about topics such as TD and racial harmony.
SLTC (Ret) Jeremiah (second from right) receiving his certificate of appreciation from Chief of Army Major-General David Neo (far left) at the SAF NSmen Appreciation Dinner on 7 Mar. With him are his wife Magdalen (second from left) and Sergeant Major of the Army Chief Warrant Officer Sanjee Singh (far right).

Unbreakable bonds of brotherhood

Now that SLTC (Ret) Jeremiah and CFC (NS) Ng will finally be hanging up their military uniforms after completing their NS Volunteer and ROVER journeys respectively, what will they look back most fondly on?

"Being in an evergreen unit means we always go to XWB together, so we are all very close – we basically spend 30 days outfield together! Not many NSmen have this experience," said CFC (NS) Ng.

CFC (NS) Ng started a softball "league" with his units at XWB, returning every year to play with tree branches and a duct tape ball.
CFC (NS) Ng (centre) receiving his certificate of appreciation from Chief of Staff, Air Staff Brigadier-General Ho Kum Luen (left) at the SAF NSmen Appreciation Dinner. With them is Air Force Command Chief Military Expert 6 Ng See Lye.

"ICT is like a family reunion and I always feel like I'm bringing the family back together. I'll miss wearing the uniform and the brotherhood we shared," said SLTC (Ret) Jeremiah.

"What I hope for is continuity – I stayed for as long as I could for the sake of my NSmen, because you'll feel comforted when you come back for ICT and see a familiar face.

"So I hope my presence inspired them to want to serve and make things better for future NSmen."

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