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Chemistry graduate is ready to neutralise potential threats
Captain (CPT) Tay Min Yi wearing Mission Oriented Protective Posture (Mopp) 4 attire
As a Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defence officer, Captain (CPT) Tay Min Yi trains extensively with her unit in their Mopp 4 attires to keep themselves in tip-top shape. PHOTO: PIONEER

Not wanting to be cooped up in a lab, this SAF scholar decided to sign on as a Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defence officer in the army

In her Mission Oriented Protective Posture (Mopp) 4 attire, Captain (CPT) Tay Min Yi looks like a character right out of a science-fiction movie. 

The suit’s massive faceplate is devoid of features. Its square-headed silhouette is bulky. Not an inch of skin is visible underneath a layer of thick, olive-green rubber. 

She would look more at home, perhaps, on the surface of an alien planet, hundreds of thousands of kilometres from earth.

But the threats that necessitate the use of this suit are much closer to home.

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Sarin gas, ricin, anthrax and cyanide – exposure to any of these would result in excruciating pain and possibly even death, but the 26-year-old strides resolutely towards the source as others flee. 

This is because CPT Tay does not just have an ordinary career. She is an Army officer formerly with the 39th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers (39 SCE). 

The unit is the Singapore Army’s specialists in Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defence (CBRD), responsible for responding to, containing, decontaminating and disposing of threats of such nature.

As such, CPT Tay’s duties at 39 SCE extended to conducting security screenings at events like the National Day Parade and being on standby if an incident that requires CBRD expertise should take place, like an industrial chemical spill or bomb threat. 

“It’s a very niche department within the SAF, which is why I chose it in the first place,” says CPT Tay, who further adds that the Army does, however, offer many diverse roles for people with varied interests and passions. 

She is currently working on human resource policy at the Joint Manpower Department of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). 

Inspired since school days

Her days with the National Cadet Corps (NCC) during secondary school inspired her to join the military, specifically the CBRD branch of the Singapore Combat Engineers, where she could marry her passion for chemistry with her desire to be part of an organisation surrounded by camaraderie and solidarity. 

The culture of mentoring and leadership in the Army spoke to her, she says. “What I enjoyed most in NCC was being able to see my juniors grow from shy Secondary 1 kids into willing and confident leaders capable of training and leading the rest of the CCA.”

CPT Tay (second row, far left) celebrates with her charges after their Milestone Parade. PHOTO: MINDEF

It was her desire to be part of this culture that sealed her conviction to take up The SAF Scholarship, through which she earned herself a Master of Science in Chemistry from the University of Oxford.

“As much as I loved chemistry, I couldn’t see myself spending the rest of my career in a lab,” she says. “A lot of the work I did at university was very individual-based, and I wanted to be part of something that was greater than myself.”

Expectedly, the specialised nature of CPT Tay’s work with 39 SCE required equally specialised equipment, the most protective of which is the Mopp 4 suit. 

The highest level of individual personal protective equipment (PPE) used by CBRD engineers, the suit affords protection from known chemical or biological agents. However, because individual PPE often incorporates breathing apparatus, vision is limited. Thick, bulky gloves make even the simplest tasks virtually impossible.  

PPE garments are designed to be impermeable to even the most insidious of vapours, meaning that nothing harmful can possibly penetrate it – but no air does either. The heat within the suit rises quickly within a few minutes. 

Even after a comparatively lax training session with the PPE, you can turn your suit inside out and literally see the moisture dripping out, laughs CPT Tay. 

“As much as I loved chemistry, I couldn’t see myself spending the rest of my life in a lab… I wanted to be part of something that was greater than myself.”

Captain Tay Min Yi, recipient of The SAF Scholarship

So why would anyone do this? To CPT Tay, the reason is simple: To protect fellow Singaporeans. 

“CBR agents can cause massive harm and disruption to our way of life. During national events, our unit partners other home-front agencies in security operations to ensure a safe environment for all,” she says. 

Her expertise in chemistry gives her an advanced understanding of the CBRD equipment at her disposal, and also makes her uniquely qualified to devise highly varied training scenarios for her unit. 

She introduces different types of chemical and biological agents to make them think on their feet. 

She explains: “Our unit trains hard to build confidence and competency in our equipment and teams so that we can respond to incidents effectively and facilitate a return to normalcy as soon as possible.”

Currently, CPT Tay is wrapping up her stint at the Joint Manpower Department. SAF officers undergo regular job rotation to expose them to different challenges so that they can grow professionally in various aspects. 

Her next tour of duty will see her return to prepare for her Officer Commanding appointment but starting as the company’s second-in-charge first, in the 30th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers.

About MINDEF/SAF Scholarships
The mission of MINDEF and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is to enhance Singapore’s peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and should these fail, to secure a swift and decisive victory over the aggressor. MINDEF/SAF continually seeks talent who are willing to take up the challenge of defending our nation. Taking up a MINDEF/SAF scholarship is a lifelong mission to contribute to the peace and security of Singapore. Answer the higher calling. Defend what matters.

This article is brought to you by the Ministry of Defence.

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