Squadron in MH370 search wins SAF award

Squadron in MH370 search wins SAF award
Lieutenant-Colonel Ong Chee Wei (far right, foreground) with the RSS Formidable crew, which won the Best Ship award for the second time. The 145 Squadron, which operates F-16 fighter jets, was named Best Fighter Squadron in this year's Singapore Armed Forces Best Unit Competition. This is the fourth time that it has clinched the award.

SINGAPORE - First Sergeant Eng Guan Peng was playing with his three sons at home on the morning of March 8 when Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was reported missing.

As soon as the 26-year-old got the alert, he suited up, bid his family farewell and rushed to camp.

Hours later, he was on a C-130 aircraft activated by the Republic of Singapore Air Force, ready to look for the missing plane in the South China Sea.

The speed with which crew members of the 122 Squadron, like 1st Sgt Eng, got ready for action helped it bag the Best Air Combat Support Squadron title at this year's Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Best Unit Competition.

The search was partly coordinated on the ground by commanding officer of 122 Squadron, Lieutenant-Colonel Wong Hong Kai, 33.

"We were activated on short notice, and responded extremely well," said Lt-Col Wong, who declined to disclose the turnaround time due to security concerns.

Past and present servicemen from the squadron volunteered as pilots and spotters to look for flight MH370 debris, a sign of the unit's close-knit culture, he said.

The unit had previously been sent for relief aid missions such as those for Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines last year.

Said 1st Sgt Eng: "It was my first search-and-locate mission, and the flights were very long, so that was daunting.

"But we wanted to do our part to help, so it spurred us on."

This year's winners also include seamen from RSS Formidable.

Camaraderie among the RSS Formidable's 70-strong crew propelled it to its second Best Ship victory, said the ship's commanding officer Lt-Col Ong Chee Wei, 41.

"We have some traditions that are ours. For example, we never miss anyone's birthday when they are out at sea.

"The ship mates even bake cakes for one another," he said. The crew's expertise in engineering and gunnery was pivotal to its win, he added.

The 114m-long stealth frigate, which forms part of the Republic of Singapore Navy's attack force, has taken part in a military exercise every month over the past year.

It led the sea phase of the multilateral military exercise Bersama Lima involving five countries last year.

The annual SAF awards are given to military units that have excelled in areas like combat readiness over the past year.

They will be presented by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the SAF Day Parade tomorrow.

The 145 Squadron, which flies F-16 fighter jets, was named Best Fighter Squadron.

Air Force engineer Aloysius Lye said: "The open culture here allows us to have better communication at all levels."

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