Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the 129/22 Officer Cadet Commissioning Parade at SAFTI Military Institute on 10 June 2023.
Parents and Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to be here to celebrate this special day with all of you, so let me start by extending my heartiest congratulations to all our graduating cadets.
Coming back to SAFTI brings back fond memories for me. I noticed all of you are 129/22 OCC – in other words, you are the 129th batch of officer cadets since we started this tri-service cadet course. I belong to 3/91 – the third batch of tri-service cadets. I started my training in the old Pasir Lebar camp, disrupted for my studies, and then came back here to SAFTI MI, and commissioned right here in the same parade square nearly 30 years ago.
So I can fully appreciate how all of our graduands must be feeling right now – the deep emotions as you reflect on what you’ve been through over the last 9 months, and I am sure there must have been up and downs in that journey, as well as the tremendous sense of achievement as you stand ready to join the ranks of a commissioned officer. So to all of you, I say: Cherish this moment – it’s something special that you will always treasure for the rest of your lives.
Of course, I’d also like to acknowledge all the family, friends and loved ones who are here with us today. Because all of you have journeyed with our graduands over the past nine months. Your encouragement, your support and your sacrifices gave them the strength to carry out their duties. They could not have made it without you. So to all who are gathered here – family, friends and loved ones – thank you very much for your support as well.
To our graduands, you are receiving your commissions as officers at a time of great change and uncertainties in the world: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended decades of peace and stability in Europe. It has been more than a year since the war started, there is still no end in sight, and certainly no clear signs of a way out of this conflict. We also face larger geopolitical challenges. The US-China relationship is at a low point, with deep suspicion and fundamental mistrust between both sides. And here in Asia, flashpoints like Taiwan and the South China Sea have become more dangerous, and the risks of an accident or miscalculation have increased significantly. Around the world, including in Southeast Asia, we continue to face a multitude of threats, be it terrorism, violent extremism, or cyber-attacks by increasingly sophisticated actors.
Asia has enjoyed relative peace and stability for nearly 50 years since the end of the Vietnam War. It may be hard for us to imagine how things can be different. But as Europe’s experience shows, things can easily go wrong – conflict can break out, and war in Asia is a scenario that we cannot rule out.
So we are heading towards more dangerous and more troubled times. We are entering a world where countries think less about mutual benefit, and more about their own national security. We must therefore be prepared for more shocks that can severely disrupt the world and our region, and surely Singapore as well.
Need for a Strong SAF
Singapore will have to adjust to this new era, and navigate our way through the stormy weather ahead. We will continue to build a broad network of friends to advance our shared interests, and strengthen our partnerships with all the major powers to keep them engaged in our region. We will strive to preserve our sovereignty and the right to determine our own future, as we have done since our independence.
But we cannot do all this just by passively sitting back and hoping for the best. If we wait for threats to materialise before our doorstep, it would have been too late. Our security requires a strong and credible SAF – one that can give weight to Singapore’s voice on the international stage, enable us to stand firm in defence of our own interests, and ultimately, to keep all of us safe and secure.
And that is why we have steadily invested in the SAF’s capabilities over the years. Today’s SAF is a more integrated force, with better weapons and better systems. We have new leading-edge capabilities across our services, including the new Digital and Intelligence Service set up last year to tackle threats in the digital domain.
The SAF is able to conduct a full spectrum of operations, both at home and overseas. And over the past decade, the SAF has been deployed to deal with international piracy, global terrorism, and humanitarian and disaster relief operations. Time and again, the SAF has responded to the call of duty during periods of crisis, going even beyond its traditional security roles, as all of us saw in the last three years of the Covid pandemic.
Call to Action
But the strength of the SAF lies not in its capabilities alone. Because in the end, it’s really about the spirit of our people – it’s about our collective will to defend our country and protect our way of life.
Leadership matters in forging this resolve and fighting spirit.
All of you, our graduands this evening, have worked hard to earn your commissions. And the commissions you receive today make you officers. As officers, you will have the responsibility to train and lead the men and women under your charge.
But always remember: being an officer does not automatically make you a good leader. You want your soldiers to follow you not because of your rank, but because of who you are. You want your soldiers to serve and fight alongside with you, not because they have to, but because they want to.
So lead with conviction, lead by example. Inspire your soldiers, not just with words, but with actions. Imbue in them a strong sense of passion, purpose and commitment. Show them that our nation, our people, and our way of life are worth defending and fighting for.
Above all, the exercise of leadership must come from within all of you – from your core values. Lead not to elevate yourself or to pursue your own ambitions. Lead instead to advance the common good; lead for a higher purpose. I will always remember the three words that were drilled in me as a young cadet – duty, honour, country. And I hope these will also serve as your moral compass – to always have the courage to do what’s right, to lead a life of purpose and honour, and to do so in service of our country and fellow citizens.
For nearly six decades, generations of SAF officers have stepped up to the call of duty and served with dedication and integrity. Today, the torch is passed on to all of you, as you join the ranks of the officer corps. May you live up to the proud traditions of those who came before you, and in everything you do, strive to Lead, to Excel and to Overcome. Congratulations once again and I wish you all the very best as you embark on this new phase of your leadership journey. Thank you.
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