Gan Yu-Jia, 2012 Defence Merit Scholar, is currently with the National Service Policy Department overseeing deployment policies for full-time national servicemen. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History from University of Oxford and a Master of Arts in Eighteenth Century Studies from University of York.
Singapore's defence goes beyond just the Army, Navy and Air Force. Defence Executive Officers (DXOs) are no less important than their military counterparts – they take on strategic roles and shape defence policies, such as overseeing the defence budget and managing HR needs.
One such civilian expert is Gan Yu-Jia, a recipient of the Defence Merit Scholarship (DMS). Awarded to a select few each year, a Defence Merit Scholar enjoys a highly rewarding and challenging career in the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) after graduation.
Currently, Yu Jia is in the National Service Policy Department (NSPD) overseeing deployment policies for full-time national servicemen (NSFs). She helps to ensure that NS policies continue to meet the needs of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and NSFs, in line with the principles of national security, equity and universality.
"NS remains the cornerstone of Singapore's defence, and policies are needed to manage and optimise the deployment of our large and diverse NS population," she explained.
"My work in NSPD is to form or oversee policies concerning NSFs, who form the bulk of our active force."
Yu Jia had always wanted to join the public service so that she can contribute to Singapore and work towards bettering the lives of her fellow Singaporeans.
On her choice of MINDEF and the DMS specifically, she explained: "I applied for the DMS as MINDEF's critical mission of safeguarding our nation's hard-won peace and security resonated most strongly with me."
The DMS stood out to her because of its inclusive nature, as it accepts students from virtually any discipline with the exception of professional courses such as medicine, dentistry and architecture. This scholarship allowed her to pursue her love for history to its fullest – she pursued a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History at Oxford University, followed by a Master of Arts in Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of York.
Yu Jia is appreciative of MINDEF's guidance and support throughout her studies. For example, she had the opportunity to go on vacation attachments at key policy departments in MINDEF and had informative dialogue sessions with senior management. All this allowed Yu Jia to stay engaged and transit seamlessly to MINDEF upon graduation.
The Military Academic
In her 5-year career as a DXO, Yu Jia has been posted to the US Desk in the Defence Policy Office, overseeing bilateral defence relations between Singapore and the US. There, her ability to read quickly, think critically and write cogently stood her in good stead to staff submissions, write policy papers and undertake various secretariat duties.
She continues to draw on her academic training in her most recent posting at NSPD, overseeing general policies concerning the management and deployment of NSFs.
"As the custodian of these policies, we ensure that prevailing guidelines are implemented equitably and consistently, such as by assessing that the policies meet the operational needs of the next-generation SAF, as well as serve the needs of a new generation of national servicemen.
Yu Jia recalled with pride: "it was exciting to work closely with our SAF counterparts to explore myriad and far-reaching possibilities of a future NS system that would best optimise our NS resources, while allowing our servicemen to have a more meaningful NS experience.
In Service of the Country
The work done by Yu Jia and her fellow DXOs at NSPD is pivotal as it affects every single NSF. However, the scholar was quick to remind us that her portfolio barely scratches the surface of what MINDEF and a career as a DXO have to offer.
"MINDEF departments are wide-ranging and varied in scope, from communications, finance, NS policies, defence diplomacy and so on, to more operational outfits such as military intelligence.
Yu Jia added that DXOs have many avenues for professional growth and development. There is also a sound mentorship system and opportunities to take on additional responsibilities such as speech writing, or note-taking for parliamentary debates.
"There are also opportunities for DXOs to undertake attachments or secondments at other ministries or even external agencies. For instance, I was given the invaluable opportunity to undertake a six-month attachment at a private consultancy firm to learn about service delivery."
Yu Jia concluded: "If you are looking for a challenging, engaging and diverse career with a critical mission, MINDEF is the ministry for you!"