Saturday, July 25, 2015

Officer – Gentleman – Champion of the Working Man

Singapore’s Generals have been getting a lot of flak lately. The reason for this was simple – a recent breakdown in the MRT, which involved the CEO of the SMRT Corporation (a former 3-Star General) and the Minister of Transport (a former 2-star Admiral). Everybody in cyberspace has been quick to criticize the fact that the former military men, while having impeccable academic credentials, have simply been plonked into highly paid and high profile positions – our generals, unlike places like the US or UK, can’t even claim to have “Combat Experience.” As most Singaporeans who have served national service will point out – being a general in Singapore is easy as long as you’ve got the right papers – your promotion is guaranteed and you are actually protected from the need to prove your professional competence.

Amidst all of this, there is a Singaporean General who’s bucked the trend of negative publicity and actually gained public recognition of sorts for being – well, a good leader. I am proud to say that the general in question is my former Battery Commander, Lam Sheau Kai, and the Current Commander of Combat Service Support (CSS). General Lam, who was newly promoted this year was caught on camera doing something SAF Generals are not known for doing – sweating alongside his men – the full story can be found at

On a personal level, I’m happy that General Lam is getting the recognition he deserves. The man is a genuine walking advert for Singapore Military Leadership – he actually believes in leading by example and communicating with the men. I remember when he took over Alpha Battery of 23 SA back in 1996/97. He started using Hokkien (main dialect of Singapore’s Chinese population). For the officers and specialist of the battery, he ended the practice is pointless endurance meetings – he meant it when he stated that he believed that any meeting above an hour was unproductive. More importantly, he took made it a point of knowing us on a personal level. Interviewed me several times when I asked him to be my referee for university.

I know the man well enough to say that the online story that’s boosting his image is not one that he created. I know him well enough to know that he started helping the men pack the NDP Fun Packs (over 1 million packs that need to be packed before August) because he genuinely believes he needs to work with the men to lead the men.
Other that, I’m not going to publicise General Lam as I believe he’d be most horrified by my efforts to sing his praises. Instead, I believe there’s a happier picture in the sudden boost to his online fame.
The fact is, General Lam is leading the least glamourous and therefore the most overlooked side of the army. Combat Support Services involves the guys like store men, drivers and cooks. These are the guys who work hard to ensure that the frontline troops get to where they need to, are well fed and have the right equipment. In short, they provide the necessary services but the ones nobody wants to do.

The army isn’t the only place where such people exist. Just think of the medical profession where everyone wants to become a doctor but nobody wants to become a nurse. The doctors get the glory for curing the patient but it’s the nurses who take care of the patient from the point of entry into the hospital or clinic and doctors often work on the information provided by the nurses. Healthcare, as they say, is actually run by the nurses.

In the media business there is something similar. Everyone wants to be a reporter and to be the character that breaks the story and gets his or her name mentioned. What nobody talks about is the fact that it is sub-editors who bring the paper out by acting as final check of facts, grammar and so on. It’s the subs who come up with the headlines that we all read but they never get the recognition for it.

Life is filled with people who do tough and menial jobs that are essential to keep things going. Yet, more often than not, everyone forgets about them.

I see General Lam’s online praise as something that goes beyond the man himself. It’s like – finally, the people behind the scenes getting praised.

Think of it, we’re going to be having a huge National Day Parade this year to celebrate our 50 Years as an Independent Nation. Much will be made of the fireworks display and the exhibits. The parade commander will be the centre of National Attention and everyone will be watching the Guard of Honour. Nobody will think of the guys who made it all happen behind the scene.

Well, it looks like that might change thanks to General Lam and his team. Thank goodness some attention will be focused on the people who made it happen. It’s about time someone remembered the people who make things happen behind the scenes. 

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