INSTEAD of celebrating the New Year with his family earlier this year, Major Wee Hong Tat was braving the weather out at sea.
He was then deputy officer- commanding of the MV Swift Rescue, one of the Singaporean vessels dispatched to search for the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 that crashed into the Java Sea on Dec 28 last year, killing all 162 people on board.
"Initially, the sea state was very bad," the 33-year-old recalled. "Some of our crew were getting seasick and some even vomited."
But the submarine support and rescue vessel finally located the fuselage of the missing plane on Jan 14 - some 15 days after it set sail.
Yesterday, Maj Wee and other crew members of the MV Swift Rescue were presented with the prestigious Overseas Service Medal for their efforts. They made up more than half of the 75 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel who were honoured.
The crew members had been deployed the longest among about 400 people involved in the AirAsia search- and-locate mission.
Another 33 SAF staff were honoured for helping with flood relief efforts in Kelantan, Malaysia, between December last year and January this year.
Over two weeks in Kelantan, members of the SAF, Singapore Civil Defence Force and PUB, the national water agency, worked to purify 136,000 litres of river water for drinking.
"Because the floods were so serious, basic services like electricity and water were cut off in many areas," said Second Minister for Defence Lui Tuck Yew, who presented the awards.
"The local water supply had been contaminated by the flood, and the risk of waterborne diseases was rising by the day. Access to clean water was a crucial priority."
Mr Lui, who is also Transport Minister, lauded the dedication of all the award recipients, many of whom had missed ushering in the New Year at home as the crises had happened near the turn of the year.
"While the rest of Singapore was enjoying the year-end festivities, preparing to welcome 2015, you answered the call of duty at very short notice and were serving in foreign lands and seas, far away from home and loved ones," he said.
"It is times like this that remind us of what we are capable of and the values that the SAF stands for - duty, honour and country."
This article was first published on June 9, 2015.
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