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On a mission to excel

Planning and monitoring the operations of his brigade is a crucial role that LTC Alan Tan takes in his stride as the Operations and Training Officer in the 2nd Singapore Infantry Brigade (2 SIB).

The 32-year-old is responsible for planning, coordinating, and monitoring the operations and training of the men and women in his brigade.

He works closely with each of the four battalions to plan for large-scale exercises, both locally and overseas; and homeland security operations.

LTC Tan has served in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) since 2004.

He applied for The SAF Scholarship when he was serving his National Service (NS).

“I wanted a dynamic, fast-paced career that would offer me a diverse range of opportunities and experiences. It was also important to me that I would be working in teams and leading people, rather than traditional deskbound jobs where you work alone.”

“I found out that the SAF offered a wide range of vocations and postings. These inclinations led me to seriously consider the military over other careers,” he says.

When he was in school, he always enjoyed the sense of camaraderie and teamwork he shared with his teammates in his co-curricular activities like canoeing and National Police Cadet Corps (NPCC). He was also influenced by his experiences during NS.

He was keen to do his undergraduate studies overseas but did not want his parents to bear the cost, so a scholarship that would cover tuition fees and accommodation was a win-win situation for him.

He completed a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in 2007, followed by a Master of Science in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University in 2008, both in the United States.

Taking on the reins of leadership When LTC Tan applied for the scholarship, he knew he wanted to be a Commando Officer and lead an elite group of soldiers.

Since joining the Singapore Army, he has been able to achieve all his goals, including passing the Special Forces Qualification Course, and commanding a company of Commandos.

As a Commando, he had to complete the Basic Airborne Course and also attended the Basic Military Freefall Course, which he passed and has since completed almost 80 parachute descents, or “jumps”.

“While most people think of skydiving as a sport for fun, military freefall is a discipline that demands leadership while executing complex manoeuvres at the highest level. In such high-performance, high-stake situations, the men will only follow your lead if they trust both your personal capabilities and leadership judgement,” he says.

LTC Tan enjoys the diverse learning experiences his job offers and the challenges that come with new roles.

“My career in the SAF has trained me to become comfortable in a rapidly-changing environment, to adapt quickly and navigate through complex and volatile situations,” he says.

For most of his career, he has held command appointments within the Commando formation and other staff appointments in the SAF.

His first appointment after graduation was as a Detachment Commander in the 1st Commando Battalion, commanding 11 full-time National Servicemen (NSFs).

“One of my goals was to make sure my men understand the value of NS. So I made it a point to constantly associate ongoing national events and happenings with our training and operations. I strived to allow them to appreciate the significance of defending the nation, to recognise that ‘you do not own what you cannot defend’,” he says.

His subsequent role in the Force Transformation Office (FTO) in the Joint Plans and Transformation Department, which he describes as a “transformational” experience, was equally challenging.

He faced a steep learning curve as he had to handle policy matters for the first time. This tour allowed him to appreciate the resource trade-offs that came with making key decisions for the SAF’s future development.

He recalls: “I had to ensure I always understood the perspectives from all sides. I had to devote extra attention to research the issues at hand, thoroughly drill into the heart of the proposals, and finally distil the information into a concise proposition. This allowed me to make better analyses and recommendations to my team and bosses.”

After his stint in the FTO, he went back to the Commando unit as a Company Commander in 2014.

“At the age of 29, I had to lead a company of experienced soldiers. Each of them was an expert in his chosen vocation, be it weapons, demolitions, medical or communications. I had to prove my competence in decisionmaking and leadership in order to earn their trust and faith,” he says.

Taking on a bigger leadership role as the 2 SIB’s Operations and Training Officer made him more appreciative of the lessons he learnt from his previous Commanding Officers.

“Leadership by example will always remain relevant. I had the opportunity to benefit and learn from some truly great and inspirational leaders,” he says.

He also learnt from his bosses that it is essential to create an environment for his team to experiment and grow, so as to bring out the best in them.

“The SAF offers a career that is diverse and constantly challenging. It will stretch you in different ways, test and develop you in all directions. Command of soldiers is a heavy responsibility, but a distinct privilege that I believe cannot be replicated in another career or profession,” he says.