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This soldier speaks fluent Bahasa Indonesia - and he even wrote a thesis in the language

Caption: Serving in the Army has enabled Colonel Chong Shi Hao to play a key role in national defence and serve a greater purpose.

By Bryant Chan

The assignment seemed like standard fare for any military staff officer: attend a staff college overseas, complete a course and write a thesis. Only that Colonel (COL) Chong Shi Hao had to do everything – including his graduation thesis – in Bahasa Indonesia. 

After three months of language training in Jakarta, he was posted to the Indonesian Army Command and General Staff College (Seskoad) for a year in 2017, where he learnt military strategy from his instructors. The posting was a tremendous learning experience that helped him better understand the values, systems and views of Singapore’s biggest neighbour.

In his more junior days, he also had the opportunity to attend the United States Army Armour Officer Leadership Course to be trained as a tank officer by combat veterans. Through his overseas training experiences, COL Chong developed and honed his leadership and armour competencies in combat fighting.

After returning from the US, he then went on to lead soldiers as a Platoon and Company Commander in an Armoured Infantry battalion. As a Company Commander, he and his soldiers were part of the development of the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle, the first fully digitalised fighting platform being used in the Army.      

“In spite of the challenging work, it was with optimism and perseverance that we overcame such an uphill task because we were convinced of the purpose and our contribution.”

COL Chong and his team conducted stress tests of the vehicles, developed preliminary tactics, techniques and procedures for its operation, as well as provided operator feedback to improve the prototype. His experience in operating several different overseas Armoured platforms in the US also value-added to the development.

In 2018, he was seconded to the Ministry of Health (MOH) as deputy director of non-communicable diseases in the Public Health Group for two years and four months. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, he was deployed to the joint task force set up to tackle the outbreak in foreign workers’ dormitories.

These varied experiences have given COL Chong plenty of opportunities to, in his own words, serve in a job with a purpose greater than himself and playing key roles in national defence and healthcare has helped to make him a more effective leader.  


“The meaning and purpose I have in my work as a military officer is really about how I can serve the soldiers under my charge as a commander, and make a difference to their lives and training.”

He has done just that for over 15 years. From going the extra mile during training with his men and developing the Hunter prototype to working tirelessly during the Covid-19 pandemic to keep fellow Singaporeans safe, COL Chong always seeks to do his best for the nation and his men.

“The SAF’s organisational culture and ethos are unique compared to many workplaces out there,” he says. “There’s a strong sense of purpose, camaraderie and can-do spirit, where people really care and lookout for one another.”

“You never really feel nor walk alone, but are part of a strong cohesive collective, which you know will always have your back.”


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