Two RSAF pilots share how their military careers have stretched their potential and brought out the leaders in them.
By Ruth Wong
It is not every day that one gets a “full-sized marching band, ministers and diplomats from across the country, and an RAAF F/A-18 flypast” for his graduation ceremony. Little wonder then that for Major Mark Lim, 33, graduating from the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) was one of the most memorable milestones in his life.
Unique learning experiences
In fact, it was the “opportunity to experience learning in a different environment” that motivated the former Hwa Chong Junior College student to take up the SAF Academic Scholarship (Military). That learning experience was certainly a unique one, as ADFA – run jointly by the Australian Navy, Army and Air Force in conjunction with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) – offers military and leadership training, as well as degree programmes from UNSW. Through the Academy, Mark graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering with First-Class Honours from UNSW.
Presently a fighter pilot with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), Mark is also a Flight Commander, or Officer-in-Command (OC), of an operational unit. One of his key responsibilities is to ensure that the squadron is ready for operations at all times.
Similarly, Captain Timothy Ang relishes his days spent in Cambridge University and Oxford University in the United Kingdom (UK), where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in History with First-Class Honours and a master’s degree in Modern History respectively.
The SAF Overseas Scholarship recipient fondly recalls how he got to “engage with world-renowned academics at the forefront of their respective fields” and “be personally tutored by internationally recognised experts in history” who authored some of the books he used to read in school. “It was a truly eye-opening experience,” he declares.
Besides the intellectual stimulation, the Raffles Institution (Junior College) alumnus adds that his horizons were further broadened through interactions with a highly cosmopolitan and culturally diverse community at Oxford’s St Antony’s College, where students came from over 70 different countries.
A befitting career
Today, the 26 year-old is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) pilot whose work can vary significantly from one day to another. “The wide variety of different tasks I'm exposed to means that there is never a dull day at work,” Timothy enthuses.
On days when he has flying training, he enjoys the “adrenaline rush of flying the aircraft and operating the camera payload on board to carry out surveillance missions”. When he is not flying the UAV, he gets his hands on developmental work such as writing training manuals or developing UAV doctrines and tactics. Occasionally, he also gets involved with writing policy papers.
Timothy decided to join the RSAF because the positive experiences he had during National Service convinced him that he would enjoy a military career. Furthermore, he wanted a job that was not desk-bound and where he could make a direct, positive impact on people. “A military career fitted the bill by giving me ample opportunities to interact with, inspire and lead those around me,” he elaborates.
Growing with RSAF
But as with every job, a military career has its own set of challenges.
“Flying in itself can be challenging, especially in the context of fighter operations, which can be fast-paced, complex and highly dynamic. In multi-lateral exercises, there can be up to 100 aircraft of various types from different countries flying in the same airspace,” says Mark. “But with challenges, there are always opportunities for growth.”
He explains, “On a personal level, I have developed greater awareness of my strengths and weaknesses. Professionally, my 13-year stint in the Air Force has brought me to many places – Australia, France, Thailand, US, and UK, amongst others. The RSAF has definitely broadened my horizons, and equipped me with skill sets that can be useful even outside of work.”
On a lighter note, he says, “We have lots of fun. The working atmosphere can be quite informal at times. One of the most enjoyable things about being in a unit is the strong sense of camaraderie that we build from working together to tackle difficult situations.”
Timothy adds, “Through my work, I've learnt how to cope with the stress of taking on greater responsibilities. I've been exposed to some of the dilemmas of decision-making, especially when decisions made have a grave impact on those around me. These experiences have taught me important lessons on being a military leader.”
Reflecting on his career developments, Timothy is pleased to have taken up the SAF scholarship. “Besides the big perk of full funding for an overseas education, I'm glad about how my career and personal development have been planned for, and how I’m systematically groomed.”
Any advice for students?
“Think about the scholarship not just as an award, but as an avenue to a military career. Think carefully about what you will find meaningful and fulfilling in a job, and then whether the military fits the bill. This consideration is of utmost importance in the long-run.”
For Timothy and Mark, their job satisfaction hinges on the impact of their work at both national and international levels.
“I derive the greatest fulfilment from seeing how I can make a difference in the lives of people around me, by ensuring that I'm good at what I do and that I can inspire those I work with. I find it fulfilling that my role as a UAV pilot contributes to the nation's defence. I am proud that I play a part in enhancing the security of my family and friends,” says Timothy.
For Mark, every successful mission accomplished brings him a great sense of satisfaction, especially in multi-lateral exercises involving other first-class air forces. He explains, “Due to our accomplishments in these exercises and contribution to peace support operations around the world, the RSAF is very well-respected as a small but potent air force.”