SINGAPORE - When Myanmar-born Maung Thet Naing Win, 19, first told his parents in 2011 of his wish to pursue a career with the Singapore Armed Forces, they instinctively baulked at the idea.
Having grown up and lived under the harsh rule of the former Myanmar military junta, they were adamant that their son not become a military man.
But officer cadet (OCT) Maung, who moved to Singapore with his family when he was just a year old and became a citizen in 2008, persevered at convincing them.
On Monday, he became one of this year's eight recipients of the prestigious SAF Overseas Scholarship (Safos) in a ceremony at the Istana.
The scholarship is given to only a handful of top students each year. Notable past recipients include Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean, Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, and Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.
The other seven recipients this year are OCTs Dylan Lee Whee Sian; Li Yiming; Lim Yu Han; Jonathan Loh You Qing; Jeremy Ong Jun Kai; Foo Sze Wei; and Marcus Lee Jian Ying, son of Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu. All are aged 19.
OCT Maung, who studied at Hwa Chong Institution, recalled: "There was some discontentment. They (my parents) felt that they hadn't come all the way to Singapore for me to be in the military."
But his parents' stance softened this year after they visited him during Basic Military Training on Pulau Tekong and saw his commitment to it. It is a dedication drilled, partly, through years of watching the National Day Parade on television, he said.
"I also convinced my dad that his job stability depended on Singapore's peace and stability, and that in part comes from the SAF."
His conviction to defend Singapore grew during an internship he did with Mindef in 2011. He began to understand, he said, how much of the military's important work defending the country went unnoticed by the public.
It made the new citizen determined to be a part of it.
"It made me realise that no one owes us a living. We have to ensure that we are strong ourselves, that we are capable of protecting our loved ones," he said.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who presented the scholars their awards, recalled that when Safos was introduced in 1971, it was "not a norm" for Singaporean parents to aspire for their children to join the military as a career.
But Safos alumni, he added, "have had a greater impact than its small numbers", and have contributed significantly to Singapore in both the public and private sectors.
"An SAF career is a national calling... (This) comes with a heavy responsibility, but it is a noble and deeply satisfying one," he said.
That message resonated with OCT Maung.
"Career is a lifelong thing. I don't want to do something just for short-term gain," he said.
In all, there have been 292 Safos holders. Of these, 132 remain in active service.
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