Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Commissioning of the 121/20 Officer Cadet Course on 12 June 2021. Due to COVID-19, DPM Heng delivered his speech via video message.
Graduands of the 121/20 Officer Cadet Course,
My heartiest congratulations on your commissioning as Officers of the Singapore Armed Forces.
After nine months of intense training, you have proven yourselves and earned your commission. As you put on your newly minted rank, your journey to serve the nation in a greater capacity has only just begun. You will take on heavier responsibilities, at a time of great global uncertainty and flux.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown that it is not just armed conflict that can cause huge disruptions to lives and livelihoods. Globally, COVID has taken away more than 3.5 million lives, and wiped out the equivalent of more than 250 million jobs.
Vaccines offer a glimmer of hope. But with the limited global supply and the emergence of more infectious strains, this pandemic is far from over.
It is critical that we continue to remain vigilant and adapt to the fast moving circumstances.
OCS: Adapting to COVID-19
OCS has adapted quickly to the different environment. Training continued even during the Circuit Breaker last year. Safe management measures, including safe distancing, cohorting, and video conferencing, were put in place. When global travel came to a halt, overseas training was replaced with local exercises of the same intensity. Many of you successfully participated in a complex finale exercise – Exercise Panther Strike – made possible with additional testing protocols.
What you have gone through – training under the shadows of COVID 19 – is unprecedented. Apart from the typical gruelling training, this crisis has also provided an important lesson in grit, resilience and adaptability. These are qualities that will serve you well, not just as Officers of the SAF, but also in your future endeavours outside of National Service.
SAF Operational Readiness Amidst COVID-19
Beyond OCS, the men and women of the SAF continued to perform their frontline operational duties across land, air, and sea. Our ground forces continue to protect our key installations. Our Air Force guard our skies, and scrambled F15 jets earlier this year in response to a potential air threat. Our Navy continues to patrol our sea lanes, rain or shine.
To ensure operational readiness, the SAF has also remained nimble and adapted. Let me mention a few examples. First, the SAF has continued with its large-scale exercises, including with foreign militaries, with safe management measures in place, such as the multilateral Rim of the Pacific Navy exercise in August last year, which involved the navies of Australia, Brunei, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea, among others. The Exercise Red Flag-Nellis air combat exercise in the US in March 2021, and separate naval passage exercises with the People’s Liberation Army Navy and the French Navy earlier this year.
Second, the SAF continues to innovate, with programmes such as the NS FIT in April 2021, which offers our NSmen greater flexibility to build in regular exercise into their lifestyles. To minimise large cohorts, the programme is offered at 45 locations across the island. The NS FIT programme has received many positive responses from the public.
Beyond ensuring operational readiness, the SAF has gone over and above to support the nation’s fight against COVID-19. For example, the SAF supported efforts on temperature screening, contact tracing, distribution of masks, and the management of the outbreak in migrant worker dormitories. Throughout this crisis, the SAF worked closely with other agencies, including the Home Team, exemplifying Total Defence at its best.
The SAF also quickly adapted and successfully organised NDP 2020 under very different circumstances, and will continue to do so for NDP 2021. In difficult moments such as this, it is all the more important that we rally together as a nation.
Ultimately, the SAF’s many contributions emanate from our men and women in uniform. It is a great reassurance to all of us that Singapore can depend on your dedication and resilience, in a time of crisis. My heartfelt thanks to all of you, and your families, for your commitment and sacrifice.
A More Uncertain Security Environment
Beyond COVID-19, we must be prepared for greater uncertainty in our external environment. The US-China relationship is fraught with uncertainty. The pandemic has also intensified existing tensions and rivalries. We must also be alert to emerging threats, including those in non traditional security domains such as cybersecurity.
The SAF must continue to enhance its capabilities to address these diverse threats. I commend the SAF for establishing a multilateral Counter-Terrorism Information Facility, which brings together like-minded countries to share intelligence and capabilities. The SAF has also stood up the Cybersecurity Task Force, to enhance its ability to guard against threats and aggressors in the cyber realm.
Why We Serve
There will always be new threats, but what does not change is Singapore’s fundamental reality as a “little red dot”. As a small country with no natural resources, and a small and greying population, we will always be vulnerable. But the unwavering support for National Service and the commitment of generations of servicemen have built up the SAF into a strong and credible fighting force.
This would not have been possible without the support from parents, spouses, employers, and the community at large. To the family members and friends of our graduands, I thank you for your unwavering support for them. They are here today because of you.
To all our graduands, today marks the end of your training in OCS and the beginning of a new chapter as Commissioned Officers of the SAF. I urge you to put what you have learnt into practice. Not just leadership skills, but also the grit, resilience and adaptability that the past nine months have forged in you. You are now leaders in the SAF. As leaders, remember that you are responsible for the well-being and safety of your people under your charge. Anchor yourselves on the strong values and ethos that you have learnt in OCS, bear in mind the Officers’ Creed, and you will have a fulfilling leadership journey ahead. Be humble, lead with your heart, and serve with purpose. I have every confidence that you will be able to Lead, to Excel, and to Overcome.
Congratulations once again to all graduands.
Majulah Singapura! Thank you.
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