Initially wanting to enter the field of medicine, Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) David Kan found his calling in the Navy to lead his crew on the ship to fulfil the critical mission of safeguarding Singapore’s security and defending our way of life.
Did you originally plan on having a career in the MINDEF/SAF?
I’ve always wanted to make a difference to people’s lives, and as a triple science student in JC (back when this subject combination was possible), I thought I would study medicine. What changed my mind and encouraged me to join the Singapore Navy instead was during my Basic Military Training, when I saw how naval officers carried out daily operations that safeguard the everyday lives of Singaporeans. They also served and interacted with their ship crew in a very personal and family-based manner. I realised that joining the Navy was also a great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the crew under my charge.
Tell us more about your current role, day-to-day responsibilities and challenges.
As the Commanding Officer of a Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV), RSS Justice, my role is to lead a team of sailors to carry out maritime patrols where we defend Singapore’s sovereignty and safeguard our way of life against acts of terror. We train consistently and hard to make sure the team is competent in handling any threats and in the process build our familial spirit. We also participate in foreign multilateral exercises to enhance diplomacy.
My challenge lies in the evolving nature of today’s security environment. There is a broad range of threats, from sea robberies and piracy to terrorism and unwanted intrusions.
How has a career in MINDEF/SAF changed your life and/or thinking?
A career in MINDEF/SAF has taught me that if we want a safe and secure home for our loved ones, we need to be the ones to make it happen. It has also strengthened my leadership skills and the ability to connect and relate to people.
How is the MINDF/SAF career a rewarding one?
This is a consistently challenging career that makes you step outside your comfort zone. However, with the right support and attributes, you can overcome and excel, and that gives me an immense sense of fulfilment.
How have you impacted lives as an SAF officer?
It’s not something that most Singaporeans think about, but the maritime domain contributes significantly to the economic success and energy security of our nation. By keeping our shipping lanes safe and open, we make sure that Singapore remains economically viable, and that our daily amenities and supply chains remain intact.
To my crew, I believe in developing them not just professionally but also helping them excel in other aspects of their lives such as their family, education, and physical health.
What is the most memorable moment in your career?
The most memorable moment was sailing out on National Day in 2021 – this was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when Singapore was contemplating if a parade should be conducted. My ship was not part of the display segment of the maritime sail past; instead, we were behind the scenes ensuring that nothing gets by while all eyes were on National Day Parade. Our loved ones can sleep safe, and our country can prosper because we keep watch.
What keeps you motivated at work?
I am most motivated when I come to work with a group of team members who are always seeking to learn and improve and training hard, and trying out new ways to do things better and more effectively.
What makes a good, effective leader?
One who can connect with the team and adjust his leadership style to keep the team committed, united, and clear on a goal to strive towards.
What do you aim to achieve as an SAF officer for the Nation?
Given the rapidly evolving threat landscape where challenges can come in nebulous and unexpected forms, we need to develop teams that are nimble and able to adapt to various situations and to stay ahead and emerge on top. This is my key role as a leader in the SAF.
What have you learnt from your MINDEF/SAF career?
I’ve learnt that people will give their best for a noble cause as long as it is not tainted by selfish reasons or ineffective management. If we have a worthy cause, and lead our people well, it is possible to attain outcomes beyond what we initially imagined.
What’s your advice to aspiring scholars who wish to embark on a military career?
To embark on a military career, you must be able to work well with people. This is because the backbone of the SAF is its people. You must also appreciate a career that constantly exposes you to a wide range of appointments and responsibilities to develop a versatile suite of skills.
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) DAVID KAN
Commanding Officer RSS Justice, Republic of Singapore Navy
Recipient of The SAF Scholarship, 2007
Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering, University of Cambridge
Master of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering, University of Cambridge