Tribe chief and his brothers in arms

PRO-ACTIVE LEADER: Lt-Gen Ng receiving the Combat Skills Badge (CSB) from Colonel Tony Teo, Chief of Staff, 9th Division. The CDF volunteered for the CSB course last year when he took over the helm.

His older brother was the air force chief and his younger one is the navy chief. Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng, himself, is now Singapore's Chief of Defence Force, but his journey started out differently from that of his two siblings.

While his older brother, Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) Ng Chee Khern, 48, and younger brother, navy chief Ng Chee Peng, 44, bagged the President's Scholarship, Lt-Gen Ng, 46, was only awarded the Singapore Armed Forces Overseas Training Award.

But to understand why he joined them at the top, you only have to glimpse the passion that drives him.

As the SAF's head honcho, Lt-Gen Ng still volunteered for an army combat skills course last year, taking part alongside comrades less than half his age to lug 20kg combat gear on a 32km route march. He also completed a two-week naval diving course.

He said he wanted to understand the "way of life" in the army and navy.

"I've done the route march as a young man. I wanted to go through it again just to understand what the people who serve together with me go through," said Lt-Gen Ng.

Sibling rivalry? None, said Lt-Gen Ng in a media interview.

As navy chief, RADM Ng is one of the defence chief's "principal commanders".

"I listen closely to his views and to his input so that we can make the best decisions."

Previously, when his older brother was the air force chief, he reported to him.

"And we treat each other as superior and subordinate if need be," Lt-Gen Ng added.

And when the brothers get together with their families, they do not talk shop. They talked about football, said Lt-Gen Ng.

People seem to be the focus of Lt-Gen Ng, who calls the SAF a "tribe" in which the 350,000 men and women he leads speak their mind to "arrive at the best decisions".

And with a more vocal generation of servicemen reporting for duty, the defence chief sees great opportunities.

"I was a 21-year-old before, I embrace the idealism of the younger generation," he said.

"I will take on their views but then from now being a 46-year-old man, I will try to imbue in them a balance of idealism and pragmatism."

But the open culture does not mean "anarchy" as Lt-Gen Ng still expects his commanders to successfully carry out decisions that have been made.

He is a passionate man. When he stepped down as air force chief last year, he was fighting back tears, saying he was leaving the air force with a "heavy heart and with much joy".

But now as the defence chief, he is setting the tone for how he wants to lead his "tribe".

"I think the SAF can do better, and we will try to do better. Starting with me, today. Hopefully, I have removed all the different jargon, I tried very hard not to use any of them. So I hope I have expressed my views to you in a cogent, simple way."

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