Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 101/15 Officer Cadet Course Commissioning Parade
I am very happy to attend today’s commissioning parade. I have attended many commissioning parades, but each time it is a special experience because these parades celebrate values that we hold dear – leadership by example, overcoming adversity with courage, service with pride, honour and integrity.
For the cadets, the commissioning parade is the completion of many months of tough training, and is a time to rejoice with your peers and your family. It is also a milestone moment in your service when Singapore affirms its trust in you to defend it. For parents, this is a moment of immense pride. You sent your children to serve the nation. Today, you see them completing a major stage of their training, becoming an officer in the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), and I can say from personal experience – it is a great feeling.
OCS (Officer Cadet School) Instructors, too, feel a sense of satisfaction. You took in untested but promising trainees. You put them through nine months of tough training and moulded them to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Looking Back: Spirit of the SAF
Today’s parade is extra special, because we are commemorating SAFTI’s 50th anniversary. 50 years ago, we started with nothing. It was a period of great uncertainty. Singapore had just separated from Malaysia. We knew we had to defend ourselves so our pioneers created the SAF, and built SAFTI. We recruited our first batch of 140 officer cadets – all volunteers – because we had not yet started the National Service system.
The first Director of SAFTI was Brigadier-General (BG), now retired, Kirpa Ram Vij. At that time he was a Lieutenant Colonel. He said this first batch from SAFTI was “hand-made”. It was our first time training cadets. We had Israeli advisors from the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), but we were in command and we were feeling our way forward. The first batch knew what was at stake, and they were conscious of their heavy responsibility. They persevered through blood, sweat and tears, out of a love for, and commitment to the country. They graduated and went on to hold appointments all over the SAF and together with subsequent SAFTI batches, built up the SAF. So I was very happy to unveil a mural just now at the institute’s Headquarters, to remember the beginnings of SAFTI and the first commissioning parade we held. The images remind us of the indomitable spirit of our pioneers and will inspire future generations to uphold that same spirit to lead, excel and overcome.
I am particularly happy we are celebrating this jubilee with many pioneers from this first batch – both the officers and their instructors. The instructors include BG (Ret) Kirpa Ram Vij whom I mentioned earlier, the first Director of SAFTI, who later became the Director of General Staff; First Warrant Officer (Ret) Ali Pawiro, the first OCS Sergeant Major; and Senior Warrant Officer (Ret) Sng Cheng Chye, SAFTI’s first RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major). Around 70 Officers from the first batch are here. There are too many to mention individually but I know many of them personally, having served with them, and under them. Quite a few put on their old fatigues and marched in the SG50 National Day Parade last year. Let us thank the first batch officers for being “one of a kind”!
We have come a long way. 50 years ago, there was no SAFTI MI. We started at Jurong Town Primary School where the instructors of the first OCS course were themselves trained to become the instructors, and we conducted IQ and physical fitness tests to select the first batch of officer cadets. Then we moved to SAFTI’s Pasir Laba Camp where the first batch of officer cadets started training, even as the facilities were still being constructed. Pasir Laba Camp produced generations of officers, NS Soldiers and NSmen, including me. Every time I drive past Pasir Laba Camp, I look out for the old OCS buildings – when I was there, they were the “new” OCS buildings – and I look for Bravo Company on the first floor, where my bunk was. 20 years ago, SAFTI moved to this new campus: the SAFTI MI. It has since accumulated its own memories, traditions and significance for more generations of officers.
So generation after generation, we improved, upgraded our facilities, improved even the food, made the training more focused but no less tough, and we continue to expect the highest standards from our officers. Today, the SAFTI MI is a key institution of the SAF. It produces and trains the SAF leaders of today and tomorrow. SAFTI graduates have built and transformed the SAF. That is why starting with just two infantry battalions 50 years ago, the SAF is now a tri-service, 3rd Generation fighting force. On parade, we have Infantry, Signals, Armour, Engineers, and Logistics. We have the Air Force, we have the Navy. All arms, all Services, a complete fighting force. We have the latest equipment, technology and tactics. The three Services fighting together as one, well-respected internationally and taking part in many overseas operations.
Why have we been able to do this? At the first Commissioning Parade in 1967, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, “What we lack in numbers, we will make up for in quality: in the standards of discipline, training, dedication and leadership”. Generations of SAFTI-trained officers have been imbued with these values, and have passed them on to their trainees, to soldiers under their command, and to later cohorts of Regulars and NSmen. This has become part of the SAF’s ethos and spirit, and enabled the SAF to perform its duties to keep Singapore safe and secure.
So today, I congratulate all the newly-commissioned officers who are here, and I am glad that amongst you is one from the Royal Brunei Land Forces. Your graduation reflects the close ties between our armed forces and nations. All of you can be proud of completing OCS. Today begins the next chapter of your service to the SAF and to Singapore. You will henceforth be responsible for your soldiers under your charge and for defending Singapore, which is your country. It is your duty to ensure that Singapore will always be secure so that your families, and all Singaporeans, can always be confident of our future together.
I wish all of you every success in your appointment as SAF officers. Remember always to live up to the Officer’s Creed, which starts with the following words, “I am an officer of the Singapore Armed Forces. My duty is to lead, to excel and to overcome”.
Happy 50th anniversary to SAFTI. May you continue to train outstanding officers for Singapore for many years to come.
Thank you very much.
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