SAF personnel recognised for supporting Australia flood relief operations

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27 Feb 2024 | PEOPLE

SAF personnel recognised for supporting Australia flood relief operations

//Story by Thrina Tham /Photos by Chai Sian Liang & courtesy of the RSAF

English Melayu

Over 50 medals were awarded to SAF personnel for their contributions overseas, which included flood relief operations and counter-terrorism efforts.

(From left) 1WO Singh, LTC Neo and ME2 Kabeelhen were recognised for their efforts in the Australia flood relief operations in 2022.

It was on a Saturday when they got word – the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)'s Oakey detachment would be transporting personnel and emergency supplies to areas devastated by the floods in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia.

Many of the personnel of the Oakey detachment in Queensland were spending time with their families then.

"I had to recall most of my team to come back to start preparing. We met up with our Australian Defence Force (ADF) counterparts and developed plans over the weekend," recalled Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Jimmy Neo, 43, who was the Oakey detachment commander then.

In about 36 hours, they put together the logistics requirements, manpower, and all the equipment they would need to operate over long hours.

On the morning of 7 March 2022, they set out on board two RSAF CH-47F Chinook helicopters, transporting personnel and emergency supplies as part of flood relief efforts.

The RSAF's C-130 aircraft and A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) also delivered a relief package containing tents, blankets, ready-to-eat meals, water and medical supplies from Singapore.

An RSAF C-130 aircraft (pictured) and A330 MRTT had delivered a relief package from Singapore to Australia earlier.

Battling challenges as a team

From the start, operations were challenging as many areas were severely affected by the floods.

"There were many waterlogged regions so we had to plan where we could land the aircraft safely, (so that) it wouldn't be on soft ground," said 1st Warrant Officer (1WO) Sukhwinder Singh, 44, an Air Crew Specialist Leader.

"(At the same time), we wanted to be in close proximity to the affected communities to distribute the supplies immediately. So, this required a lot of planning with the ADF," he said.

Even their first mission – transporting over 100 ADF troops – came with its own surprises.

"We made assumptions on the weight of each trooper, but they came equipped with additional supplies. Because they had to be on the ground for about a week, they brought additional food and kits," said LTC Neo.

As a result, the team carried less fuel to compensate for the additional weight, and quickly arranged to refuel at an alternative airbase after dropping the troops.

The RSAF's two Chinook CH-47F helicopters taking off from the Oakey detachment in the Army Aviation Training Centre in Queensland.

There were many uncertainties in the missions, agreed Military Expert (ME) 2 Kabeelhen Raja Mohan, 27.

"We didn't expect to the terrain to be so muddy; the supplies were also kind of heavy and we had to carry them on foot to the locals," said the Air Force Engineer.

"But we formed a human chain and, with the right teamwork, were able to deliver all the supplies as efficiently as possible," he added.

Over 22 days, the RSAF personnel worked closely with the ADF, flying sortie after sortie, to assist with the relief efforts.

They completed their mission on 28 March 2022.

Dr Ng (right) presenting the Overseas Service Medal to LTC Neo.

Recognition for their service

For their contributions, they were honoured with the Overseas Service Medal in a ceremony held at the Ministry of Defence on 27 Feb.

A total of 33 medals were awarded to personnel involved in the Australia flood relief efforts; while another 18 were awarded to those who supported the multinational coalition efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East.

Speaking at the award ceremony, defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen thanked both teams for their efforts.

He noted that the RSAF's efforts in Australia left a deep impression on the Australian Department of Defence and the ADF.

"It wasn't only what we did practically on the ground… They were very impressed with our spontaneity. They felt that it was real, the way we responded (with) quickness…and they could feel the sincerity."

"And I think as a result, bilateral defence relations and trust have deepened – a friend in need, is a friend indeed," said Dr Ng.

Overseas contributions by SAF personnel have helped to deepen bilateral defence relations and trust with other countries, said Dr Ng.

Dr Ng also highlighted that the SAF has deployed troops regularly for

counter-terrorism operations to the Middle East since 2007.

Recognising the Intelligence Analysts who were deployed over six rotations from 2021 to 2023, he said: "They have won respect from other militaries for their high expertise and professionalism.

"Your efforts have safeguarded the peace and stability here, as they reduce the risk of terrorism being exported from the Middle East."

The RSAF's CH-47F helicopters ferried ADF troopers to support the flood relief efforts.

Deep sense of meaning

For the personnel from the Oakey detachment, it was knowing the importance of their work that motivated them through their mission.

LTC Neo recalled a moment when they dropped off relief supplies near a school, and the school children rushed out to greet the aircrew.

"That really humbled us to see their joy when we brought the supplies to them. And it encouraged us in our mission," he said.

Sharing his sentiment, 1WO Singh added that though hours were long because of lean manpower, the crew never complained.

"We feel the adrenaline and somehow we don't get tired easily. We want to do more to contribute because we know that these are people in need."

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