Keeping cool to keep VVIPs alive

Keeping cool to keep VVIPs alive

She sat across the table and rolled up her long sleeves to reveal a bruise the size of a plum on her right forearm.

When asked about it, she laughed it off and said: "This? It's just a little pain. If I can't take a bit of pain, then how am I to take a bullet?"

Such is the nature of Staff Sergeant (Staff Sgt) Tan Siow Peng's job as a personal security officer (PSO) in the Singapore Police Force that she is expected to lay down her life for whoever she is protecting.

Last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Dr Lee Wei Ling, in their eulogies, both thanked the PSOs who served the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Dr Lee related how, while having lunch one day, her father choked on a piece of meat and was saved by his PSOs who helped him dislodge it.

It is this type of quick thinking and responsiveness that Staff Sgt Tan, 26, who joined the police force six years ago, has to execute during her line of work.

She told The New Paper that she applied to join the Police Security Command (SecCom) - an elite unit of officers assigned to protect the President, ministers and other VVIPs - two years into the job because "it seemed cool".

She was put through a gruelling 12-week course, where she learned skills such as defensive driving, shooting, combat tactics, medical skills and even social etiquette.

As a result of her training, she is able to stay awake and alert for more than 24 hours and can take down a man larger than her and armed with a knife.

Staff Sgt Tan has travelled to more than 10 countries - each time for about a week - with various dignitaries. She is also a trainer for combat tactics in her unit.

About 10 per cent of SecCom is made up of women - one of whom is a 55-year-old grandmother who is still serving in the frontline.

Staff Sgt Tan recounted her most tense moment came when she was travelling to an airport in China with an ambassador and her "principal" - the term used by PSOs to refer to their designated VVIP.

"The driver told us that he didn't know the way and neither did we. We were lost," she said.

But Staff Sgt Tan drew on her training and past experience to remain calm, despite trying to catch the flight while being in an unfamiliar land with not many avenues to seek help.

ALERT

She quickly took out her mobile phone, switched on the maps app and guided the driver to the airport. She did all these while remaining alert and watching her surroundings for threats.

"We got to the airport late, but the plane had been delayed anyway due to a typhoon," she recounted.

Her colleague, Staff Sergeant Calvin Tay, 34, who has been in SecCom for 10 years, said his most nervy moments have been during the General Elections.

"The crowd and sheer volume of people are a concern. We have to appreciate the situation, and we learn to profile and assess the types of people we meet," he said.

When asked if there have been instances when he has been required to take down an attacker, he said: "Thankfully, no."

The toughest part of his job? Appearing fresh and alert even as fatigue creeps in, especially during long shifts, he said.

Due to the sensitive nature of his job, Staff Sgt Tay admitted that his family and friends do not know the full details of what he does.

PSOs also continually undergo refresher training to ensure they remain sharp on the job, which requires them to be armed while on duty.

Despite the long hours and constant threat of danger, both officers are proud of what they do.

Said Staff Sgt Tan: "I hope to stay long here. This job is a unique experience. I go to different places and meet different people - from members of the public to grassroots leaders to ministers from other countries."

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