Sunday, August 2, 2015

SAF50 - Generations of Men

I'm a contributing writer for the #SAF50 commemorative book, GIVING STRENGTH TO OUR NATION. The following is reproduced from the "Generations Of Men" (page 55 onwards) in the publication. 

Thank you to the Ministry of Defence and Singapore Armed Forces.

I'm honoured to be representing my ex-NS unit - 1st Commando Battalion. This one's for the kickass band of brothers in 1st Company.
A photo posted by Sanif Olek (@sanifee) on

Some people have said that SAF training in the past was tougher than the present. What is your opinion on this?
In the first generation of the Army, training to be soldiers meant regimental authority was unquestioned, individuality was secondary and fleeting self-reflex was 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.

Based on my commando background, training needs to be more about building rugged, mental strength and “survivability” during war, rather than largely driven by monetary incentives. Soldiers prioritise team objectives and thinks for their country and nation. In war, battle will proceed regardless if the weather is CAT 1 or 3.

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 depend only on his natural instincts to complete a task and sustain his survival at the battle zone.

Share a defining SAF moment.

The first defining, positive, moment for me was when I received my red beret. Throughout history, the red beret of the 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. Deep down I shed tears of joy 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, no matter what, we never, ever leave a brother behind.

How have these instances and your SAF experience generally contributed to you as a person?
Even as a civilian, the manner I carry myself personally and professionally personify the high degree of expectations one would expect of an elite soldier. There is an expectation that I am someone they can trust to complete a task regardless of circumstances - higher-degree tasks and with mental preparation for contingencies. In all these life 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 is firm in making decisions. I think these traits have allowed me to achieve many things as a professional creative director.

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 understands 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.

The SAF can only be successful when it truly integrates itself into the social fabric. Every Singaporean citizen can contribute as an individual, regardless of their background without prejudice, to the national defence. It is only when every citizen has a sense of belonging that everyone has the instinct to protect our homeland.

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

Without the SAF, each Singaporean will still need to live out the heart 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 defence machinery, we can stand together and rise against the enemy in common spirit as Singaporeans – because history showed that the spirit of the mind is much stronger than all technology put together. 

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