MINDEF – Republic of Singapore Navy
Feature | Organisation

A Privilege to Serve

MINDEF – Republic of Singapore Navy
Captain (CPT) Aaron Koh gives us an inside look into the lives of those who safeguard our waters and defend our everyday.

Growing up, CPT Aaron always knew he wanted to serve in the Public Service. While other teenagers his age were mulling over grades and games, the Hwa Chong Institution alumnus was serving actively as a student councillor and volunteering in service-learning projects. Inspired by his younger brother with special needs, he spent time helping the intellectually disabled and lower-income communities in Singapore.

These experiences left him with an unassailable conviction that he wanted to dedicate his life and career to serving the public. “The SAF appealed to me not just because it offered a diverse spectrum of experience, but also because fundamentally, I saw no higher calling than committing to the defence of our country,” says CPT Aaron.

In 2011, CPT Aaron was awarded the President’s Scholarship and The SAF Scholarship and went on to read Political Science and Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, USA.

Captains of the Future

Today, CPT Aaron holds the appointment of Assistant Operations Officer on board the Formidable-class frigate, RSS Stalwart. As the Division Officer of the Underwater Department, he is responsible for the morale, training and discipline of the six crew members under his charge.

On shore, his duties revolve around planning for exercises and deployments, and helping to oversee the ship’s routine. Out at sea, he works with the bridge team as an Officer-of-the-Watch to keep the ship navigationally safe. In addition, he also doubles up as the ship’s organic Aircraft Controller, communicating with helicopters, fighter jets and other surveillance aircrafts to carry out various operations.

Much of his time is spent with his crew, working to sharpen their technical competencies to ensure operational readiness, as the ever-changing environment at sea can lay waste to even the most detailed of plans. All naval officers are entrusted to take ownership of their deliverables and work together as a cohesive team to adapt accordingly.

He credits the RSN for her commitment towards grooming officers, noting that there is a strong emphasis on leadership and personal development in all the courses naval officers attend as they rise through the ranks. This helps them understand themselves better and lead teams more effectively. CPT Aaron adds, “I do not think any other organisation places so much emphasis on people development.”

Raising Our Flag High

As guardians of our seas, RSN servicemen work tirelessly round-the-clock to protect our sea lines of communication and defend Singapore against maritime threats. At the same time, they also play a strategic role in our country’s diplomatic efforts, by participating in exercises with other navies and contributing to regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief efforts.

One example is the sea exercises in the lead-up to this year’s International Maritime Review to mark the RSN’s Golden Jubilee. Despite being a relatively junior officer, he was appointed lead planner and tasked with the responsibility of organising three group sails to foster cooperation and interoperability between navies. The exercise involved a staggering 24 ships from 19 countries – an unprecedented number in the RSN’s history.

Much to CPT Aaron’s satisfaction, the exercise went relatively smoothly. “The guidance provided by my commanders and dedication of the crew were instrumental. Considering that we are a relatively small navy, being able to successfully execute an exercise of this magnitude gives me a sense of great achievement for the RSN. It reinforces the strategic role we play as the diplomatic arm of our nation, forging friendships with countries all over the world,” he shares.

“Above all, this year marks the Golden Jubilee of the RSN. It has made me reflect on how far we have come, from wooden-hulled warships to a technologically-advanced navy respected on the international arena. It has certainly ignited a stoic determination to build on the good work of our predecessors, and continue to serve as a steward of our navy’s future,” he adds.

CPT Koh Zhan Wei Aaron

CPT Koh Zhan Wei Aaron 
Assistant Operations Officer, RSS Stalwart

President’s Scholar and the SAF Scholar

“When you realise that what you do defends the everyday of your family and loved ones, your perspective shifts and you feel it is more than worth the sacrifice.”

Not for Self, but for Country

Empowering yet challenging. Life in the RSN is rigorous, demanding, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. CPT Aaron admits that homesickness is a real challenge faced by many, especially when they sail on long deployments.

Still, whenever the going gets tough, he draws strength from the camaraderie within the crew and the rewarding nature of their work. As he puts it, “When you realise that what you do defends the everyday of your family and loved ones, your perspective shifts and you feel it is more than worth the sacrifice.”

For aspiring scholars looking to follow in his footsteps and pursue a military career, CPT Aaron has some final words of advice, “Look beyond the alluring prestige of the scholarship. The expectations are high and the pressure to perform is a reality that you will have to learn to deal with. To cope with these, you must have a strong sense of duty to country, a heart to serve others genuinely, and a willingness to go above and beyond what others would ordinarily do.”