If there is anything with wheels or tracks in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), chances are 53- year-old Master Warrant Officer Suhaimi Sapari can drive it.
The veteran who has been with the SAF for 35 years is qualified to drive all SAF vehicles, from Class 2B to Class 5 (motorcycles to cranes). As Chief Tester in the SAF's transport training arm, he tests all the testers and driving instructors.
When asked to name his favourite vehicle in the SAF, he replies without hesitation: "The Land Rover, of course. I started my SAF career driving the Land Rover - it was the first vehicle that I learnt how to drive when I joined the SAF in 1980 as an 18-year-old.
"And I am still driving it."
In 1985 and 1986, when the SAF bought the Land Rover Series III, Mr Suhaimi was among those taught by driving instructors flown in from the United Kingdom.
"The ones SAF bought were diesel-powered and had five gears, whereas the ones the British army handed down were powered by petrol engines and had four gears," he says. "The fifth gear made it easier for long- distance driving."
SAF chief transport officer Colonel Tay Yong Meng tells Life in an e-mail that Land Rovers in the SAF were used mainly as utility vehicles and ambulances. The utility vehicles were fitted with signal sets for commanders to control their troops.
"In the past, a small group of Land Rover Defenders were used for ceremonial purposes, including the towing of the 25-pounder ceremonial guns," he notes.
"Most of these vehicles have since been phased out and replaced by newer platforms such as the Mercedes-Benz G- Wagons."
Mindef declines to say exactly how many Land Rovers it operated and how many remain in service, saying only that it had operated "hundreds" of them.
In 2007, The Straits Times reported that Mindef ordered 870 Thai-made Ford Everest SUVs to replace its ageing fleet of 3,000 Land Rover Defenders.
Besides the SAF, the Singapore Police Force has about 60 Defenders in service, used mainly for patrolling rugged terrain. "The vehicle is one of the few vehicles still using the manual transmission in our fleet today," says a police spokesman.
MWO Suhaimi took Life for a spin at the Mandai driving training circuit in a Land Rover Series III two weeks ago.
"This Land Rover used for training new drivers is part of the 1986 batch, but it still drives well because we maintain our vehicles diligently," he says.
"I will retire in two years' time when I turn 55. With proper maintenance, the SAF Land Rovers will keep going long after I retire," he says with a smile.
This article was first published on August 8, 2015.
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