Tuesday, February 24, 2015


A photo posted by Sanif Olek (@sanifee) on

To the sceptics, I don't think I ever need to explain myself about my involvement in SAF50. I am too aware of all the politics (read your contemporary Singapore history books and go figure!) and speculation of me being enlisted in the Singapore Armed Forces's 1st Commando Battalion. At the same time, I do not wish to apologise for being narcissistic about my experience in this elite military unit either (visit my Instagram, haha).

As citizens of a nation we are ALL subjected to national politics in the first place.

Importantly I would like to address that on a personal level, the experience in the unit has taught me to 'grow up', to be decisive, to be professional in execution and a smart soldier. Many may have warped perspectives of what wearing the red beret is all about. but the experience also taught me about compassion for humanity and loyalty. Back in National Service, we were different people from different backgrounds, raised in different environments were thrown together. It was the only time when one meets different people, people whom you otherwise wouldn’t have met by keeping to your own social group. I am privileged to be part of the esteemed and be trained alongside legendary men of character.

I may not agree with some of the national policies but I really care about my role as a contributing citizen of Singapore, thus it is my right to care for my country to defend it regardless of my vocation. In a democracy, loyalty to the country does not mean I need to be loyal to its governing policies.

Singapore is my home. 2015 marks the 50th year of the Singapore Armed Forces. The force has achieved so much since its inception - being formed in 1965 during Singapore's independence. Today we are being recognised as a strong and professional armed forces in the region and as a Singaporean, I am proud to be part of it. 

A photo posted by Sanif Olek (@sanifee) on

My thoughts on SAF50  
(Questions by the Ministry of Defence)
Some people have said that SAF training in the past was tougher than the present. What is your opinion on this?

In the past - the first generations of the army - many of the soldiers existed in a climate where training to be soldiers meant unquestioned regimental authority, individuality was secondary and fleeting self-reflexivity suppressed. The mantra to “sweat more during training to bleed less during war” further validated the idea that the self takes a backseat to achieve group goals. There was no social media where soldiers make their grievances public. I remember when I was a trainee, there was a saying among the senior trainers that in the old SAF, soldiers die for the country, whereas in the new SAF there is a danger that soldiers live for himself because authority is regularly being questioned. 
The trainers stressed that training needed to be more about building rugged, mental strength and survivability during war, rather than one that is driven by monetary incentives. The soldier prioritised team objectives and thinks for his country and nation. In war, battle will proceed regardless if the weather is CAT 1 or CAT 3. 
We often hear cases of a seemingly fit soldier dropping out - perhaps they have not trained hard enough. Thus, when push comes to shove they over exert and fall out or even drop dead
Too much dependence on gadgets may also negate initiative and hamper natural, ground-survival instincts that are imperative during battle. When batteries for gadgets run flat or touchscreens crack, the soldier can only depend on his natural instincts to complete a task and sustain his survival at the battle zone.  
All these perhaps made the older generations of soldiers perceptively, better soldiers. 

Share two defining moments – one positive, the other negative – in your SAF experience. 

The first defining, positive, moment was when I received my Red Beret. Throughout history, the Red Beret Commando represents one of the ultimate achievement that a soldier can receive in the army. For me, it was not just about personal achievement and glory, it was a bittersweet and humbling moment to be associated with glorious soldiers whose dedication to honour and excellence is second to none. I think deep down I shed tears of joy (and still is) at this accomplishment. It was also a moment when I understood the meaning of brotherhood and camaraderie, regardless of “race, language and religion”. In any battle, we seek to complete the task regardless of circumstances. Most importantly in the process, our bond grew tight that in any circumstances we never, ever leave a brother behind. 
The second defining moment, perhaps a negative one, was the constant physical and mental struggle I faced while going through the training towards achieving the Red Beret. There was often the self-doubt if I could suceed the gruelling tasks. All the tests conducted in the commando unit were always a notch higher compared to other infantry units. Besides that, being one of the rare Malay/Muslim person in the unit carried another level of expectations. I had to validate (albeit unnecessarily) my engagement and prove myself that my achievements in the unit were something that my community can be proud of. Nevertheless, my fellow trainees truly made the race issue insignificant, because in their eyes I was one of the brothers and as brothers, we needed to accomplish the rigorous training together. We treated one another unequivocally as fellow soldier. 

How have these instances and your SAF experience generally contributed to you as a person?

In the eyes of the public, being a commando may certainly put me in higher regard. Even as a civilian, the manner I carry myself personally and professionally personify the high expectations one would expect of an elite soldier. The mental conditioning during full time National Service makes a commando someone who can complete a task regardless of the circumstances. The nature of our ops made us mentally prepared for contingencies. Trust and integrity are second nature. As all commandos also are vocationally cross-trained, we tend to have the mental capacity to multitask. We are in many ways, seen as leaders.
In all these instances I have learnt that in life, respect is earned, never given

How has your SAF experience connected you to people and society?

In the commandos we were taught to appreciate everything that life has to offer and to respect fellow human being regardless of their background in society. As many operations in the unit are done in small groups, I learnt that collaboration and tolerance are keys to connect with people. In professional capacities, I thrive as a leader who listens to collaborators and surbodinates yet firm in making decisions. I think these traits have allowed me to achieve many things as a professional creative director. 
The diverse people I come in contact professionally and personally has made me evolve into someone with the capacity to empathise and be respectful of diverse perspectives. The only way to succeed and be ahead in life is to have the capacity to constantly view things differently out of the box

Imagine, within your experience, Singapore without the SAF. What do you see?

Without the SAF, each Singaporean will still need to oversee the basic aspect of national defence - to honour our citizenship.  
We need to honour our duty as responsible and disciplined Singaporeans. It is only when every single citizen have a clear idea of this commonality as Singaporeans that we can stand together as one people in camaraderie. What we may lack in technical defence machinery, we can stand together to rise against the enemy in common spirit as Singaporeans because history showed that the spirit of the mind can withstand further than all technology put together. 

How would you like to see the SAF develop?

I would like to see the SAF as a sophisticated organisation where each soldier first and foremost understand the reason for the need to defend Singapore - not just the superficial, vague notion to defend itself from an enemy, but also the need to appreciate why we are defending it.  
We may overwhelm the potential aggressor with the latest machinery but in my humble opinion, this is rather too simplistic. The human condition is bigger than that. The SAF can only be successful when socially, all Singaporeans are not ambivalent about its purpose. Every Singaporean citizen can contribute as individual, regardless of their background without prejudice, to the national defence. It is only when every citizen have a sense of belonging that everyone has the compulsion to protect our homeland - together - as Singaporeans.
A photo posted by Sanif Olek (@sanifee) on

A photo posted by Sanif Olek (@sanifee) on

Berita Harian; 19 February 2015 (click picture to read article)

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