We spoke to CPT Kaiser Tan who recently returned from his studies at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), where he clinched an award at the academy. Here, he shares about his experience and motivation.
Hi CPT Kaiser, before we begin this e-interview, could you give us a quick introduction of yourself?
Hi, I am CPT Kaiser Tan Wei Hao from the Air Force Training Command, Flying Training Institute, Aviation Flight. I am currently a Pilot Trainee.
First and foremost, congratulations on winning an award at the USAFA, how do you feel about winning the award?
I am really honoured and feel a great sense of pride to be one of the 53 cadets who graduated from the Academy Scholars programme. I would like to express my gratitude and utmost appreciation for everyone who have helped me in this journey.
Is there someone you would like to thank or show appreciation to?
I would like to thank my parents for being there for me, encouraging me, and ensuring that I was able to cope well throughout the 4 years. They have been there for me through thick and thin, despite me not being able to return home regularly due to the pandemic.
I would also like to thank the Department of Foreign languages and International Programmes at the USAFA: Mrs. Elizabeth Orie for ensuring that all of the International Cadets were well taken care of. Also, not forgetting the predecessors who came before me from the RSAF: comprising Elson Boo, Sean Yang, Shawn Huang, Edmund Wong, and Christabel Chai. They had given me valuable advice before my departure, during my time at USAFA, and after my return. To the RSAF personnel: Jay Chen, Ms. Davina, Kevin Goh, and Koi Eng Chew for the mentorship throughout my time away. Lastly, to my sponsor parents: Gene Hagan and Miradiel Hagan for the constant love and support that made me feel at home.
Could you also share with us your experience studying at USAFA? Was it different from what you had expected?
Having majored in Astronautical Engineering, arguably one of the toughest majors at the Academy, it was a gruelling experience that required multiple late night all-nighters. Nonetheless, I genuinely enjoyed my academic experience, it was during the time that former US President Trump signed the National Defence Authorisation Act in 2019 to inaugurate the Space Force. Being able to learn about space under the premise of the Space Force and the rapid advances in the commercial space industry was something that fascinated me.
I was also fortunate to intern at the Space Security and Defence Programme, working with civilian and military entities. My mentor and I worked to develop programmes to characterise Rendezvous Proximity Operation (RPO) of satellites using data collected from commercial and military ground stations. Thereafter, we looked into the foreign policy side of things to develop norms and characterise responsible behaviour in space from a strategic messaging standpoint.
For my final capstone project, I was able to present at the National Security Strategic Studies Partnership forum. The crux of the presentation centred around the strategic implications of a lunar base founded upon Joshua Carlson’s – Space Development Theory. This experience would not have been possible without the kindness and generosity provided by my teachers and mentors from the Astronautical Engineering department at USAFA.
Were there any particular experience in the RSAF or the USAFA that was the most memorable and meaningful to you?
With regard to the SAF/RSAF, the most memorable experience was getting a phone call from the Défence Attaché office in Washington during the height of the pandemic. They had called to check on how I was doing and sought to ensure that I had access to medical facilities/vaccines. They went the extra mile to ensure that all the in-service personnel were well taken care of. It was an honour to have Brigadier General Simon Lee - Défence Attaché Washington attend my graduation, and recite the Officer’s Creed to commemorate the occasion.
At the USAFA, there were many co-circular activities for us to take part in. My favourite was being one of the seventy cadets that were chosen to be instructor pilots in the glider programme. As glider instructor pilots, we had to achieve Initial Qualification Training (IQT), be proficient to operate the aircraft, and thereafter Mission Qualification Training (MQT). The mission of glider instructor pilots was to expose cadets to aviation-related activities and raise, train and sustain the future generation of glider instructor pilots.
These are definitely some wonderful memories. On the flipside, have you met any challenges in the RSAF or the USAFA and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I faced was adapting to the new environment and relearning how to be a military member in a different country. Akin to Basic Military Training (BMT), I had to shave my head and was inducted into Basic Cadet Training (BCT). BCT was six weeks long, and cadets were given seven basic responses that they had to memorise and observe, such as the following:
7 Basic Responses
1. Yes, sir/ma’am
2. No, sir/ma’am
3. No excuse, sir/ma’am
4. May I make a statement, sir/ma’am
5. Sir/ma’am, may I ask a question?
6. Sir/ma’am, I do not understand
7. Sir/ma’am, I do not know
This military training was followed by being a ‘doolie’ for the next nine months of our freshman year. As a doolie, one had to memorise all the names, ranks, and job appointments of all the upperclassman in one’s squadron. Doolies had to study for weekly military knowledge tests, attend mandatory training sessions, and a plethora of military duties.
My prior military experience within the SAF prepared me well for this change. When joining a new organization/unit, one must be humble and sensitive to take the time to understand the culture and tradition of that establishment. Following that, establish credibility within the organisation and build one’s reputation. With time, I was able to adapt to a vastly different but similar military setting.
Now, looking back at how all these began, could you tell us why did you sign on with the RSAF and why do you think it is important to serve the nation?
Having served as a Commando Officer during my full-time National Service, I had the opportunity to undergo Ground Forward Air Controller (GFAC) training. GFAC was my first touch point with the RSAF. Through my interactions with the Apache and Fighter pilots, I came to have a better appreciation of the operational duties they had to perform in order to protect Singapore’s national interests. Having resonated with the larger strategic mission of the RSAF, I decided to make it my career.
Singapore is a country that is underpinned by its strategic limitations: water, strategic depth and natural resources. For Singapore to be what it is today, a little red dot that punches above its weight, this required the blood, sweat and tears from the predecessors who came before. The younger generation of Singaporeans have to rise to the occasion and defend what we call home. Under the pretext of current geopolitical trends, from a realist standpoint, there is no peace without security.
Going forward, how do you think you can contribute to the RSAF? And what are you most looking forward to?
Upon returning, I hope to be able to contribute to the RSAF through the perspectives that I have garnered serving at various institutions and organisations. Most importantly, leading by example and serving with empathy.
I am looking forward to pilot training, thereafter, being an operationally competent pilot and of service to the RSAF in whichever capacity they require of me.
Do you have any parting advice for your juniors?
Being humble and approachable goes a long way. Despite how much we think we know, we can never be the best at everything, there is going to be someone more knowledgeable out there. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
Also, be receptive to new perspectives - change is the only constant and we have to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Lastly, for all the goodwill you have received, pay it forward so that others may benefit from it.