The last major training exercise I was part of was held in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland. On the night before the end of the exercise, (which was also an assessment known as ATEC that determines whether a combat unit is fit for operations) the communications radio in my armoured fighting vehicle crackled with a higher than usual urgency. Our vehicle commander pleaded with us to keep quiet so he could listen better.

When someone yells or screams into a radio comms, whatever message that person is trying to send is usually distorted and garbled, and because you don’t know what it is that is making the person so frantic, it tends to scare you a little.

All we could hear was frantic yelling on the radio communications – something about “No Duff”, which was code for “Not Simulated”.

We worked out that one of our tanks had overturned. And when that happens, chances of injury to the crew are likely to be high. There is a vehicle overturn drill which we practice before every exercise, but we had been on the move for over 36 hours and this had been our battalion’s final mission in the assessment. We were exhausted and car (tank) sick and more likely to slip up.

We panicked a little in our vehicle, not knowing if the crew of the tank was ok. There was a bunch of us that night who were from my original NSF unit, and who must have had flashbacks of an exercise in 1989 where one of our unit mates was killed when his vehicle overturned.

That exercise was halted, for about 12 hours, before our commanding officer explained that as operational soldiers, we had to carry on. We stayed on and trained in Thailand for the next 2 weeks.

You never forget something like that – and I remember being unable to control my trembling even when it was finally announced that the tank crew was safe because they’d just managed to duck into the compartments as it flipped over.

The other memorable moment of the exercise was when my company commander calmed everyone’s jangled nerves that night by calling over the comms: “Two-Niner to all sta­tions Two-Niner, if your Zulu (Armoured Fight­ing Vehi­cle) dri­vers or com­man­ders are tired, I will stop and let you rest! I promise you! We will fin­ish this mis­sion safely! …Two-Niner, out!”

To my brothers in the 46th Battalion, Singapore Armour Regiment (1989-91) and 433rd Battalion, Singapore Armour Regiment (1999-2008), I’m proud to have served alongside you. And, even as eras pass and doctrines change, here’s to every soldier, sailor and airman of the Singapore Armed Forces.

Happy SAF Day.

Ex Wallaby 2005 - Somewhere in Queensland
Ex Wallaby 2005 – Somewhere in Queensland
Ex Crescendo 1989 - Somewhere in Thailand
Ex Crescendo 1989 – Somewhere in Thailand

Pink Dot 2014

Pink Dot is a family event
Pink Dot is a family event

I am honoured to have been invited to speak at this year’s Pink Dot as part of a new segment called “Community Voices”. This is what I said:

When I was in secondary school I was among the fortunate few to have friends who were gay. Some of whom I knew were gay before they knew or cared to admit.

My father was the most concerned, of course, and told me he was worried that I would get affected or influenced – in his own words, “you spend so much time with him, you become a gay then you know”.

I said, “Pa, look at me, I can’t dress to save my life. I wish I could be influenced”.

Then came National Service, the 2 and a half years that was meant to make men out of boys. Interestingly, it was also where I learned how brave my gay army mates were, and how they stood the tallest among the fighting men in my combat unit.

Not only did they endure the physical duress of training, they took the insults – being called Chow Ah Kua, Bapok, Faggot – any derogatory term for a gay man, daily. It was only after my unit became operational that the tables turned somewhat.

The best GPMG gunner was gay. 2 of my company’s best platoon sergeants were gay, and the guy that broke another soldier’s leg during unarmed combat was one of those Chow Ah Kuas.

These NS boys were tortured and I cannot begin to imagine the torment they must have endured, having to hide and deny who they were.

Things are ever so slightly better these days. There’s this civic event right here that celebrates and affirms the right to love, regardless of orientation, even if some people don’t, and even if there is an unjust and unconstitutional piece of legislation that doesn’t.

My hope is that it doesn’t stop here. And I will support this celebration and affirmation until it becomes a right under the laws of this otherwise dynamic country.

I say this because my family and I count ourselves the luckiest people. It’s not because we probably have more gay friends than straight ones. But it’s because many of our gay friends have shown us the ability to sustain love above all manner of obstacles, objection, ridicule.

And more importantly, they love my wife, my son and myself for who we are.

We are without doubt blessed by their friendship, and our family cannot do without their love.

I am glad that we are raising our son amongst friends who share the same family values. That two people can love each other regardless of gender, gender identity or labelling.

If this is the “gay lifestyle”, then my family and I will wholeheartedly promote it.