Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Tay is currently the Commanding Officer of 111 Squadron, flying the G550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft. He has a Bachelor of Science in International Relations and History from London School of Economics and Political Science and was awarded the SAF Scholarship in 2009.
The world we live in is increasingly complex and uneasy with the rise of armed conflict, civil unrest and natural disasters.
The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) will face evolving challenges in these uncertain times, and must continue to respond with swift, decisive actions to ensure peace and stability for our nation. This is echoed in its tagline, “Above All”, urging youths to take up the gauntlet and push themselves to soar to the heights of their fullest potential with the organisation.
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Nicholas Tay, Commanding Officer of the 111 Squadron, is one of the brave men and women who heeded the call. From a single, simple wish to experience flight, he has gone through thick and thin with the RSAF and reaped the rewards of honour, experience and the knowledge that his work keeps Singapore safe.
Flying High, Flying Far
LTC Tay had a dream to experience flight and contribute to a cause that was meaningful.
“Putting the two together, joining the SAF as an Air Warfare Officer (AWO) allowed me to achieve both,” he said. “Fast forward a decade or so, I continue to find meaning in the work I do in service to the defence of this country, and at the same time, being able to do so from a highly operational capacity.”
If his passion could be likened to the engines of an aircraft, roaring with energy, then it is the RSAF that gave him wings. He was awarded The SAF Scholarship in 2009, a premier scholarship that perfectly aligned with his goals as it is designed for those pursuing a military career.
“The scholarship acknowledges the potential of the recipient and offers unique opportunities to be exposed to a wide array of opportunities in the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF and also in other areas of the civil service downstream in one’s career,” he shared.
As proud as he was to accept the award, LTC Tay was also deeply aware of the responsibility it entailed. “In accepting the SAF Scholarship, one would need to accept that he or she would be put through the rigours of military leadership and command.”
Learning to Lead
Conscious of his future role in helping to lead and shape RSAF’s future, LTC Tay studied International Relations and History in the London School of Economics (LSE). The comprehensive curriculum gave him a solid grasp of political, social and geographical movements throughout the world. He could then better frame and understand current events to plan for the future.
“My time in LSE was enriching. London remains one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, and LSE remains one of the most vibrant universities with a strong IR and History programme. Consequently, over my three years, I had the good fortune of being taught by and interacting with some of the leading thinkers in the subject such as Barry Buzan and Michael Cox,” he recalled.
It was also a coming-of-age experience of sorts, as it was the first time he had lived on his own in a foreign country. LTC Tay remembered facing the “hiccups of adulthood”, from finding a place to rent, down to the nitty gritty of having the internet set up and the washing machine fixed.
A Strong Sense of Purpose
Today, he has found his place with the 111 Squardron as its Commanding Officer. LTC Tay and his team fly the G550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft and seek to be the extended eyes of the RSAF that search for potential air threats to Singapore.
“My job is simple and complex at the same time,” he described. “In a nutshell, my responsibility is to lead my people to complete the tasks that are assigned to them effectively. While simple in concept, in practice, it is far more difficult. The environment we operate may be uncertain and carries inherent risks; our people have different motivations and challenges; our roles is not always exciting and can also be onerous.”
“It is my responsibility to keep my squadron going and rally my people so that we can work through our challenges in service of the wider mission to protect Singapore’s peace and security.”
What keeps him going is not just his sense of purpose, but the camaraderie shared by all the men and women of the RSAF.
“Work in the SAF is fulfilling because the people we work alongside with have a strong sense of purpose. Despite the challenges that we face, we are all motivated by the same sense of purpose towards defence. It is this common sense of motivation that drives me,” he added.
Staying Resilient in the Face of Challenges
He hopes that others will follow in his footsteps to be the drivers and motivators of change in these times as Singapore experiences new developments and challenges.
At the same time, LTC Tay was frank about life with the RSAF: “A military career is demanding and requires sacrifice. The training is hard and expectations are high. We expect self-motivated learners to join our ranks, who can accept ambiguity and constant changes in their operating environment.”
“A person keen on joining the SAF must therefore not be someone who only expects an action-packed life every single day. He or she must be prepared for the wide range of experiences that comes with this career. They must adapt to uncertainty and ambiguity, from operations to even training. Ultimately, an officer must be resilient, willing to accept failures, and have the mettle to overcome and excel.”
But for those who overcome the challenges and rise above all, an unparalleled journey of discovery and actualisation awaits.