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A Courageous Career In Our Army

Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) Muhammad Helmi Bin Khaswan found his mission in life while embarking on a fulfilling career with the Singapore Army.

SLTC Muhammad Helmi Bin Khaswan trained 500 men to be operationally ready during his time as the Commanding Officer of 4th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment. He is an SAF Merit Scholar, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Illinois and a Master of Philosophy in Advanced Chemical Engineering from University of Cambridge.

Loving The Military Way Of Life

When the opportunity to join the SAF was presented to him in 2004, SLTC Muhammad Helmi Bin Khaswan accepted it without hesitation.

“It was the perfect career for me,” he explained. “I have always felt this strong affinity towards public service and the notion of serving a higher calling – my country.”

“My parents were very proud that I wanted to pursue a career in the Army. They, too, felt it was the best choice for me given my personality because the military way of life and its ideals and values are things that I identify with easily.”

“To lead by example, to demonstrate fighting spirit, courage and resilience in the face of challenges, and to care for the people I lead are things I personally stand for,” he added. “These are things that guide my style of leadership and I hope to set an example for the men and women that I lead during the course of my career.”

Lifelong Skills Learnt Through The Scholarship

SLTC Helmi was awarded the SAF Merit Scholarship in 2004 and pursued a Bachelor of Science in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois. He went on to the University of Cambridge to do his Master of Philosophy in Advanced Chemical Engineering. The experience of being away from home gave him new perspectives and broadened his horizons.

“I learned to lead strong-minded and capable individuals by appreciating the importance of maintaining good relationships and strong leadership,” he shared.

These values were inculcated in me when I interacted with officers from other countries during my time in Junior Officer Tactics Awareness Course in the UK and US Marine Corps Command and Staff College,” he continued.

SLTC Helmi added that his engineering background has put him in good stead in the SAF, especially for his staff appointments. “The SAF is a large and complex organisation where systems and processes are essential. During my tenure overseeing the development of training plans for the Army in MINDEF, I had to come up with solutions to address both near-term and longer-term training requirements, or potential shortfalls, for the Army.”

SLTC Helmi

The commanders and soldiers of 4th Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment.

Leader Of Men

Between 2017 and early 2020, SLTC Helmi was the Commanding Officer (CO) of the 4th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (4 SIR), also known as the Eagles. It is a tour he looks back on fondly and describes it as being “one of the most gratifying moments” in his career with the SAF.

“I truly loved my time as CO of the Eagles,” he enthused. “The most fulfilling aspect of the profession is the opportunity to influence the lives of the men we serve. As a unit CO, I have the means to influence positive change in the lives of almost 500 men in the battalion.”

SLTC Helmi’s main role was to train and maintain an operationally-ready fighting unit. Or, in layman terms, he had to get 4 SIR trained and proficient to perform a full-spectrum of operations from peacetime to conventional. But going beyond the physical and operational training, SLTC Helmi was determined to develop his men holistically.

“I wanted to inculcate values in our men so that they will go on to become good citizens, sons, husbands and fathers one day. It starts with small changes in behaviours such as learning to think of others before self, watching out for their buddy and taking care of the welfare of those around them.”

Among his fondest memories are leading his entire battalion in managing about 2,600 performers for the 2019 NDP, and subsequently, fighting alongside his men and women for the unit’s training evaluation, better known as ATEC.

“You need more than just physical courage. You need moral courage to do what is right and worthwhile, placing the interest of the nation and citizens above your own.” SLTC Muhammad Helmi Bin Khaswan

“I was in the trenches with my men, both literally and figuratively. There was a lot of sweat and tears, and I enjoyed every minute as I went through the missions with my brothers and sisters of 4 SIR,” he shared.

“My time in 4 SIR has always been about familial ties. We may not be bound by blood, but we were, and continue to be, a huge family.”

He went on to elaborate on how he would encourage his men to appreciate the National Service (NS) experience. “I recalled one of them saying that the tough experiences in NS taught him that anything was possible in life. That soldier eventually went on to pursue his diploma. Today, he is working as a technician in Shell, with a stable income and the means to improve his family’s quality of life,” reminisced SLTC Helmi, with a smile.

Today, SLTC Helmi has been seconded to the Ministry of Communications and Information as Deputy Director of Industry Division, where he looks at shaping policies to support the transformation of the Info-Comm Technology industry.

Looking ahead, SLTC Helmi hopes to get even more opportunities to train and command units, as well as continue the sterling legacy of the SAF.

“I want to continue to build upon the good work done by the previous generation of leaders in the SAF. I also want to be in a position where I can contribute towards positioning the SAF and NS for a better future always.”

He added: “To like-minded individuals seeking a meaningful career in the SAF, you need more than just physical courage. You need moral courage to do what is right and worthwhile, placing the interest of the nation and citizens above your own.”


SLTC Helmi’s take on his command appointment

As a Commanding Officer, I have to lead by example every day in everything that I do. Implicit is the need to be physically fit and disciplined so that I can lead the team or the unit in training well.

Leadership by example defines the SAF leader. I have to demonstrate fighting spirit, courage and resilience. The tenacity to never give up despite the odds. But beyond the physical aspect, I want to ingrain in my men the culture of having the moral courage to do what is right and worthwhile, for the people and for the organisation.

I have to care for my soldiers. My men and subordinates in the unit are an extension of my family. I need to be firm and tough at times so that the unit will have an indomitable spirit in the face of adversity, but also nurturing so that every single soldier feels like he is growing throughout the two years.

This article was written before SLTC Helmi received his promotion on 1 July 2020.