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SAF – Flying High with Major Tong


During my BMT, I was given an SAF Overseas Scholarship (SAFOS) brochure entitled ‘The Road Less Taken’ and was asked to consider applying for it. That was when I started thinking about it. I went ahead to apply for it even though I did not think I stood a good chance to be awarded this premier scholarship. Usually the scholarship is awarded to outstanding servicemen who excel in their studies and co-curricular activities and perform well in the officer cadet course. I was elated that not only was I awarded the SAFOS, I was also shortlisted for the President’s Scholarship interview. When I was eventually among the five selected as President’s Scholars, I was really humbled for this is widely regarded as Singapore’s most prestigious undergraduate scholarship awarded to those who show dedication in improving the lives of Singaporeans and have the potential to be a role model for Singaporeans. In 2003, I enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, USA, to read Sociology and Economics.

I had to undergo the Computerised Aptitude Selection System (COMPASS) test, aeromedical screening, interviews, BMT, OCS, and overseas training in Australia, before being shortlisted as an RSAF Fighter Pilot. After donning my wings as a fighter pilot, I received further training in France and America. As an operational pilot, I continued to train with the very best locally and overseas in exercises such as Ex-Cope Tiger in Thailand and Ex-Pitchblack in Australia. Local simulator training also allowed me to hone my edge.

The role of a scholar requires me to rise above the role of a fighter pilot by taking on leadership roles in the RSAF. I serve as a covering branch head in the Air Plans Department, where I oversee the capital projects of the RSAF’s fighter, helicopter, transport and ground-based air defence assets, and govern the force structure of the RSAF. In this department, I continue to shape the air defence assets that Singapore has and will have.
I continue to train with 140 Squadron to keep in touch with the ground and also develop my piloting skills and instincts. We provide the first line of defence for Singapore through airborne air defence patrols and are on alert 24/7. Being a fighter pilot is no doubt an extremely noble task, and I find it enjoyable to share with my family, relatives and friends the little nuggets of my experience.

For four years, I trained as a fighter pilot in five different nations. The various air forces that we trained with, the different terrains that we flew over and the different missions that we were exposed to, allow me to develop my professional abilities and build bonds within my community. These are priceless experiences. Aside from flying trainings, I regularly attend courses that expose me to the other aspects of the Air Force, the SAF, the Public Service as well as the international landscape. I also serve as secretary to the Chief of Air Force at his regular meetings with his key command and staff members, which exposes me to issues at the Air Force and the SAF at large.
I also had the opportunity of working with the Minister of Defence as his Military Private Secretary, which exposed me to many strategic issues facing Singapore.

I am privileged to be in a position that can make positive changes in the organisation, especially in my staff appointment in the Headquarters. The level of responsibility is huge, and this requires dedication and commitment to ensure that I am always kept on my toes, whether I am flying the F-16s over Singapore or overseeing large-scale projects. It takes a lot to be a good RSAF officer and the various experiences I went through allowed me to develop my thinking, my actions, and my values to better serve the nation.

My journey with the military is nothing short of exciting, meaningful and life-transforming. I would encourage students who care strongly for the future of Singapore and their fellow Singaporeans to join me in taking this path. Even if you have no desire to fly and your interests lie in other fields, I believe you will find your place to serve through a career in the SAF.