For many, the tragic news of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 which crashed into the Java Sea on 28 December 2014 and killed all 162 passengers aboard is an incident not to be forgotten. But for MAJ Thung Yee Meng, this incident struck a deeper chord about the meaning of service in the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) as he was deployed for the search operation. “It was a baptism of fire for a newly-minted Operations Officer, a huge test of character of the ship, and impressed upon me the value that the Navy can bring in peace and uncertainty,” he shares.
MAJ Thung was serving as the Operations Officer of RSS Persistence, a landing ship tank (LST), when the ship was deployed for the search operation of Flight QZ8501. It was the third ship from the RSN that was deployed for the search operation. For many of his crew, this meant scrapping year-end plans such as countdown parties with families, wedding anniversaries or birthdays. However, as MAJ Thung puts it aptly, “from the moment the ship cast off her lines, all I saw were clear eyes and steady hands, focused on the mission. I felt proud to be serving alongside a team of professionals who are committed to our mission. They were a constant reminder to myself of why I chose this profession in the first place.”
A Multi-Faceted Career
MAJ Thung’s career with the Navy saw him taking on different roles. He had served as a Gunnery Officer on board RSS Steadfast (Formidable-class frigate) and most recently, Executive Officer of RSS Persistence. As the second-in-command, he held the responsibility of helping the Commanding Officer manage the ship of 81 men and women. Understandably, having to lead personnel who were more experienced and knowledgeable was not always smooth-sailing. However, he did not allow his age nor inexperience stand in the way. “I overcame my challenges by always returning to my principles and encouraging a consultative and participatory environment wherever possible,” he shares.
A career with the Navy provides the opportunity for its Naval Officers to take on different roles, whether ship board or shore appointments that span across different disciplines. MAJ Thung is currently a Staff Officer in the RSN Strategy Office, where he plays a hand in the development of future plans across the various functional areas in the Navy. These include manpower and human resource policies, operations, capability development and planning, engineering and logistics, and training.
This role is vastly different from his previous roles on board ships, which has proven to be challenging, yet fulfilling at the same time for him. “My current role is intensely cross-disciplinary, and demands that I understand key issues in different areas such as human resource, operations, engineering and training, many of which I am unfamiliar to. I try to overcome that by reading as much as I can, and asking whenever I need to,” he says. On top of this, MAJ Thung is also the Military Private Secretary to Senior Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman.
MAJ Thung Yee Meng
SAF Merit Scholarship Recipient
Staff Officer, RSN Strategy Office, Chief of Navy Office
Words of Advice
It has been a decade since MAJ Thung began his journey with the Navy, where the chance to sail and see the world drew him to a career as a Naval Officer. He was awarded the SAF Merit Scholarship to pursue his degree in Politics with International Studies (First Class Honors) at the University of Warwick and a Masters in Politics at New York University.
Ten years on, he puts himself in the shoes of a mentor to the younger officers in the Navy and those who are keen to join him. “It can be a tall order for an 18-year-old to commit their future to a particular profession,” he acknowledges. “In deciding which scholarship to take up, I would suggest that you read widely and talk to people about their interests. See what resonates from there.”
For those who do choose to sail with the Navy as he did, he reckons that developing a combination of humanity and a strategic perspective is key. “Because of the extent to which crew members rely on one another, it is important for leaders in the RSN to show humanity in communicating their ideas and direction, in making decisions, and in the way they treat people. It is also important to retain a macro-perspective to understand the underlying purpose in the things we do, and to achieve buy-in to that purpose in those around us,” he shares.
He concludes by adding that “the burden of leadership in the RSN, particularly in operational command, is to make decisions under difficult situations. This is stressful because lives could be at stake. Therefore, a career in the RSN will not be easy, but I believe it will be fulfilling if you put your heart to it.”