NAVY: Led By the Stars

Two SAF scholars tell how the Navy, regardless of rank or gender, has honed their characters and calibre through opportunities as countless as the stars in the sky.

By Tan Yan Shuo and Cheryl Lim

“The joy of sailing, no land or ships around you, just the sky, the sea, the tranquillity, the beauty of the sunset on the horizon, the beauty of a full moon rising on the horizon, and the beauty of a thousand stars in the sky – all that excites me every time I go out to sea,” muses Lieutenant Colonel Alan Goh from the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).

Although his current posting doesn’t require him to sail, a love for the sea continues to run through the veins of this former sailor, avid sportsman, and SAF Overseas Scholar.

Of depth and breadth
Since joining the Navy in 1998, Alan has garnered a wealth of experience through extensive opportunities. His eventful years of service illustrate the sheer amount of grooming that the Navy offers its scholars.

He has worked onboard various ships, climbing the ranks from trainee to second-in-command in his early years and learning specialities such as anti-submarine warfare; he has worked in the Naval Plans Department, where one of his biggest projects involved procuring Singapore’s second generation of submarines; he has studied for a year at the US Naval War College; he has commanded a Missile Corvette in the Navy.

He has also had the privilege of being the Military Private Secretary to Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean. “For me, the time with the Defence Minister was an eye-opening one. It gave me a glimpse of the vast scope of important responsibilities our Cabinet Ministers hold. It was a privilege to be able to see what goes through his mind on a daily basis, especially when he has to deal with difficult issues and communicate the rationale of MINDEF's decisions to the public,” he says.

Due diligence
Today, Alan is the Head of the Naval Personnel Department (NPD) reporting directly to the Chief of Navy. “I manage the whole human resource value-chain of the Navy – recruitment, career management, scholarships, welfare, benefits, manpower support, regimentation, promotions – the whole range of HR functions,” says the University of Cambridge alumnus.

To achieve both the Navy and SAF’s missions of defending Singapore, the NPD looks into recruiting, developing, and retaining the right people.

“We can have the right systems and ships, but if we don’t have the right people with the right attitude, we will not go very far,” he says. “We also need to make sure we engage our people enough. Our career propositions must be sufficiently attractive so our people would want to stay while not being worried about their career development prospects.”

Approachable and humorous, Alan is a “people person” and a good fit for his current role. Although managing the careers of the entire naval force can be a heavy mantle to bear, the satisfaction gained makes it all worthwhile.

He says, “The greatest job satisfaction I have is when I can make a difference to somebody’s career in a positive manner, and as a result, that person is all the more engaged and happy to contribute to the Navy. These opportunities occur every day, and each time it happens, it gives me a lot of satisfaction to keep going.

“While it might seem like just a file to me, it’s someone’s career that’s on the line. Therefore you need to give it that due diligence. If that means staying late just so that someone’s career doesn’t go the wrong way, then I think it’s important to.”

As one who sits on the panel when it comes to recruitment and scholarship interviews, Alan has sound advice for potential applicants. “The key ingredients for someone to excel in the Navy and SAF are character, values, passion, and commitment to the mission of defending Singapore. Everyone has different levels of aptitude. But it’s the attitude of people that will make the difference, because aptitude can be trained to a large extent.”

Learning the ropes
Without fail, the ambition of every junior Naval Officer is to command his own ship. But to be worthy of that esteemed position of responsibility, one must first learn various roles, from gunnery to operations. Like other officers, Captain Janice Chua is starting out at the first rung – navigation.

This SAF Merit Scholar has begun her career at the Navy as an Officer-Under-Training onboard the RSS Daring, RSN's Anti-Submarine Patrol Vessel (APV) which regularly patrols the Strait of Singapore. She helps navigate the ship through one of the busiest and most important sea lanes in the world, which presents her with multifarious challenges of maintaining maritime security.

“Every squadron has its own unique mission to fulfil,” explains the Economics graduate. “Training in the PV squadron provides me with valuable first-hand experience in dealing with piracy – a security threat that today is of great concern internationally.”

Such adept understanding of the Navy’s mission comes naturally to Janice because of her rigorous training in Economics. She puts her knowledge to good use in her other duties, such as contributing to the policy-making process, attending discussions with senior Navy officers, assisting in writing policy papers, and even initiating her own projects.

Janice is also in charge of the welfare and discipline of her crew – a diverse group of personalities that come from all facets of Singapore society. Despite having studied Japanese, Spanish, and German, she soon realised that these mattered naught as her crew was more proficient in local languages. But once she mastered them, they were quickly won over by her warm and easy-going personality.

As a result of the vast amount of time spent together, there is a strong sense of camaraderie among the crew of the RSS Daring. “We work hard and we play hard,” says the 24-year-old.

Broad horizons
Fun aside, Janice derives great satisfaction from making a positive impact on the lives of her crew, whether through nurturing their talents, motivating them to meet objectives, or simply lending a listening ear. She is also looking forward to going on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations in the vein of Operation Flying Eagle, during which the Navy deployed three Landing Ships Tank to Aceh and Meulaboh in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami.

“The Navy is special to me because it is an organisation that allows me to broaden my horizons, challenge my limits, and develop my potential,” she enthuses. “I enjoy wearing all the different hats – as a mentor to peers and juniors, as a diplomat when we have foreign exercises, and as simply a sailor navigating the sea by the stars.”

Just as Janice helps her ship to navigate its course through the Strait of Singapore, it can certainly be said that the Navy has likewise helped her to navigate the course of her life.

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