Graduating from the Officer Cadet School at 24, she fulfils childhood dream of joining the S'pore Armed Forces

Stories of Us: It has always been her dream to serve the country and she would do whatever it takes — even if it meant extending the course by seven months.

Fasiha Nazren| March 22, 05:47 PM

You might recall a few ambitions you've had as a child — teacher, lawyer, doctor, firefighter, and princess were common ones.

But Regina Lim, who has always wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father and uncle, are among the few who followed through.

Her father served in the Singapore Police Force (SPF), while her uncle is still in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as an infantry soldier.

Fast forward to Mar. 15, 2020, I was at the SAFTI Military Institute in the far west of Singapore to witness the 24-year-old at her commissioning parade.

Photo courtesy of MINDEF.

Not only did she manage to make her dream come true, but she also was about to be awarded the Sword of Merit, which is given to only the top 10 per cent of each cohort.

Before the parade, I managed to sit down with Lim to find out more about how she got into the SAF.

SAF versus SPF

She enlisted into SAF on July 2018, shortly after she graduated with a degree in Sociology from Singapore Institute of Management Global Education (SIM GE).

This was after she made some research and tough deliberation between the different forces in Singapore.

She elaborated, "Initially when I was younger, I wasn't aware of these different forces. I just knew that I wanted to sign on and do the same thing as them [her father and uncle]. Having been through their parades and award ceremonies, I thought the job satisfaction was there and I want to experience the same thing."

She chose to serve as an infantry soldier not because she liked her uncle more than her father (not that she would tell us, anyway).

On the contrary, the former part-time hockey coach said that her love for the outdoors, coupled with her background in sociology, made her feel like she would be a good fit for the Army.

And her entire family has been very supportive of her career.

"They were glad I did it [sign on]. It was something they knew was going to happen eventually even though we've never discussed about my career path. Going through Basic Military Training (BMT) and now, Officer Cadet School (OCS), they didn't expect that I'd enjoy it so much."

Photo courtesy of MINDEF.

16 months to complete OCS

All that said, her journey in the Army hasn't always been a bed of roses.

While an OCS course typically lasts for nine months, Lim extended her training by seven months.

This meant that she only graduated from the course after 16 months.

Photo courtesy of MINDEF.

While the extension of a course would typically dampen one's spirits, Lim felt that it wasn't a waste of time and it was, in fact, the right call for her.

The extra nine months gave her the chance to understand herself better and improve her leadership skills, she explained:

"I feel even more ready to assume my role. It has been a long time coming, especially after 16 months in the institute. I don't think of it as a disadvantage or as a waste of time. Rather, I feel that I have been provided with a lot of opportunities and experiences that I can't get anywhere else. It made me perform better the second time round."

Not treated differently

While on the topic of OCS, she told me about an overseas jungle training she went through for slightly less than a month.

During the training, she picked up new skills to survive in the jungle, like firefighting and Ridgeline fighting, which essentially equips them with skills to engage in firefights along the highest point of a mountain ridge.

Part of the training includes carrying a heavy load of items everywhere they go including a signal set, their own rations, rifle, and as much water as they can collect from the river.

She also had to learn how to navigate her way through the jungle which required her to walk through a jungle she wasn't familiar with for hours on end.

Of course, being away from a familiar place took a toll on her physically and mentally.

But knowing that she wasn't doing this all alone was what kept her going.

"It's being able to carry on day by day of waking up and walking continuously, going up and down the mountains just to find the checkpoints... It's just about finding that extra ounce in you to carry on the next day because you know when you wake up, you will have to do the same thing again. That's why we are so close."

She went through the overseas jungle training with her wing of about 60 other people, and there were only two women in the wing, including herself.

But that did not mean that she was treated differently from the men.

In fact, she stressed that they are tasked with the same missions, and are expected to deliver the same results.

"As a female (in the Army), it imposes its own challenges, but we do the same exercises and we carry the same load. I don't think we're being shortchanged or treated differently."

And even when she was in the middle of the jungle, she didn't let her periods get in the way of her missions.

Lim said: "It's something for us to manage. We tried to manage it better so it doesn't act like a disruption that would hinder our exercise. So we just brought whatever we need and, really, just deal with it."

Want to give purpose to NSFs

Now that she has been commissioned, what does she hope to achieve?

Lim, who will be heading to the 2nd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (2SIR) as a lieutenant, said that she hopes to leave a meaningful impact on the men that she will be leading.

"A lot of full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) can't find a reason for them to serve. So I think my first desire is to help them understand why they need to serve and find a meaning in what they are doing.

I feel that it's very important, especially when they're going to serve two years of their life. That's the basic goal I want to achieve."

Top image courtesy of MINDEF.