From wooden hull boats to warships

IN 1967, 20-year-old Edwidge Desker completed school with a dream of becoming an artist. But his father wanted him to take up a job with the military instead.

Mr Desker relented and signed a three-year contract as a combat medic. "I didn't know what to expect and thought I'd just make him happy first, and then leave when the contract was up."

But Mr Desker, now 67, ended up working in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for 42 years. He served as a first warrant officer and then a defence executive officer before retiring in 2009.

"I never felt bored and felt I was not only learning every day, but also teaching my juniors useful skills," said Mr Desker, who has a 41-year-old son.

Yesterday, Mr Desker was one of the pioneers recognised for helping the SAF to become what it is today - a modern military, touted to be the most advanced in South-east Asia, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Things were not so rosy back in 1965 when Singapore suddenly became independent. People questioned how a fledgling nation, with hardly any defence assets to speak of, could defend itself.

Fifty years on, no one doubts the ability of the SAF to defend the Republic, said Dr Ng.

Referring to how the pioneers had lived through the Japanese Occupation and defended Singapore during the Konfrontasi, or Confrontation, with Indonesia, Dr Ng said: "Because of those experiences, it taught us that if Singaporeans don't defend Singapore, no one will."

He was speaking to 300 guests, including pioneers who served in the Singapore Volunteer Corps or were part of the first batch of national service enlistees.

Dr Ng also launched the SAF50@Vivo exhibition, which kicks off the SAF's golden jubilee celebrations. The public exhibition at VivoCity, which runs till Sunday, showcases the past, present and future of the SAF. Visitors get to go up close to the SAF's military assets and also have a chance to tour the Landing Ship Tank, RSS Endurance.

Speaking on board the RSS Endurance, Dr Ng said: "Back in 1965, when we started with two wooden hull boats, it would have been hard for any of you who were there to believe that one day, the Singapore Navy will not only get this type of ship, but that we built it ourselves."

In paying tribute to the 740,000 men who have served NS in the past 50 years, Dr Ng called on all Singaporeans to support the SAF for it to continue to progress.

As Mr Desker reflected: "No one could have imagined that SAF would look like this today. We just did what we thought was the best way to become a military that our people can count on."

This article was first published on February 13, 2015.
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