Rear-Admiral (RADM) Ken Cheong Kwok Chien was awarded The SAF Scholarship (formerly known as the SAF Overseas Scholarship) in 1992 to pursue a degree in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. “What drew me to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was the chance to lead and serve the nation, as well as the opportunity to work closely with people towards a common goal of defending our nation,” he says. RADM Cheong, 44, describes the Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN) evolution through the years. He says: “We went from small wooden boats to a balanced force of modern frigates, submarines and aircraft in less than 50 years. Our people have also grown quickly with the evolution. “In less than a generation, we have shed the more traditional, hierarchical modus operandi in most military organisations and embraced a new generation of working relations, greater interconnectivity, fl atter decision-making and greater agility to respond to challenges and emerging opportunities. “The workplace is now more vibrant and inclusive, with greater participation from the rank and file.”
Myriad of experiences
RADM Cheong experienced many different roles in the SAF. “I have led operational units, engaged in policy development, driven capability development and worked with people from all walks of life,” he says. One of his career highlights includes assuming command of Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, a multinational coalition force to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, in 2016. “It was an honour to be part of the international effort to keep vital sea lines of communication free from piracy,” he shares. He was part of many interesting overseas deployments, one of which he recalls fondly was his deployment to San Diego in 2009 to operationalise the S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter. “We sailed RSS Stalwart across the Pacifi c Ocean, trained hard with the newly acquired Seahawk helicopters and returned almost seven months later with the capability to operate the helicopters from our frigates,” he says. He also recalls how port calls to countries such as Oman were memorable because of the beautiful cultures and the warmth and hospitality of their people.
Leading the fleet
Today, as Fleet Commander, he oversees more than 20 warships, thousands of active personnel and Operationally Ready National Servicemen. His work spans a variety of roles and responsibilities. He says: “I am fi rst and foremost responsible to the Navy to ensure that our warfi ghting ships and crew are well trained, motivated and prepared. “I work with my team of commanders to develop training processes and content, as well as oversee effective implementation of the plans and policies. “When specifi c incidents occur that require our ships and aircraft to respond, I lead these operations. “I also interact with my counterparts from around the world to build professional relations that can help advance our diplomatic ties.” For those considering a career in the SAF, RADM Cheong advises: “It is a challenging and fast-paced environment. You will be constantly tested mentally and will have to learn to make sound decisions that affect lives and equipment. “Most importantly, you will make lifelong friends. Many of them will be your true comrades, whom you know you can depend on for life.”