mindef1 I have had the opportunity to handle various portfolios and command appointments in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and these experiences have allowed me to better contribute beyond the SAF. I am presently on a secondment to the Ministry of Finance as Head of International Relations under the Management Associate Programme (MAP). Under my current portfolio, I am tasked with charting the strategy for Singapore’s international engagements in finance. I lead a team of three associates to cover global and regional financial issues at both bilateral and multilateral levels. My main objectives are to build and strengthen strategic bilateral relations with key partners, pursue Singapore’s interests at all finance-related multilateral fora, and to expand Singapore’s intellectual and economic space through interactions with multilateral development banks (MDBs) and international financial institutions (IFIs).

There was no single incident which catalysed my decision. It is true that, as a 19 year old, making such a choice may preclude other opportunities that come your way. But that is not a good enough reason to forego the first one that comes your way. By any measure, SAFOS is not an opportunity to be scoffed at. Of course, I had to convince myself that I could do well in the SAF, using the short experience I had in BMT and OCS. I was confident of my leadership abilities and enjoyed tremendously the camaraderie forged with my platoon mates. More importantly, I observed the traits and conviction of the senior commanders I interacted with at the scholarship tea sessions. Many of them inspired and gave me confidence. I felt I could be like one of them.

Frankly, I recognise that few, if any, 19 year olds would be absolutely sure what they want to do for a career. Therefore, I would advise to do what I did ten years earlier if you want to size up an organisation, interact with and observe the senior management within. Brochures and advertisements can sugar-coat many aspects, but the people tell an accurate story. See if these are individuals of character with a strong conviction to serve then ask if you would like to be like one of them ten or fifteen years on. This is a far better gauge than mulling over whether you could be a better banker or an engineer if you have what it takes, you are likely to excel in either anyway.

The SAF provides, more than most organisations, the opportunity to influence starting from a very young age. As a commander of National Service (NS) men, you have the responsibility of developing and training not only soldiers for our Army, but also quality people for Singapore as a whole. Although I usually have a motley crew of unmotivated individuals coming into my unit, I do have a great deal of influence and say over who and what they become as they leave our Army. This gives me tremendous satisfaction and motivation – to constantly overcome the odds and maintain the edge of our Army. I got to experience this most as the Officer Commanding (OC) of an Armour Combat Team in 2007 where I commanded over 120 officers, specialists and soldiers. In under a year, I brought all of them together and built a team with a singular focus to excel as an effective operational fighting unit. The pinnacle was reached when we completed the rigorous Army evaluation with flying colours the sense of accomplishment and the team spirit forged was indescribable. But the real challenge is not the 2 years in which the NSFs have really no choice but to serve out their time. Rather, the true measure of a great unit, I believe, is how they continue to stay intact and united over the course of their remaining NS cycle. This is why I made it a point to keep the network alive even as my unit left our Army Ð we even have a fairly healthy Facebook group account!

A lot remains the same since the time I received the scholarship the challenges of leadership, the opportunities to influence and make a difference. At the same time, the SAF is constantly evolving to become leaner and more dynamic than before, amidst the challenges of technology, budgetary constraints and heartware. To achieve that, we need people of the highest quality with the passion and conviction to make the SAF even better. Nothing less than the best would be sufficient for the SAF.

MAJ Frederick Choo
1998 SAF Overseas Scholar
Bachelor of Arts in Engineering
Masters in Engineering
University of Cambridge, UK
Head, International Relations,
Ministry of Finance