'If I can't take a bit of pain, how to take a bullet?'
She sat across the table and rolled up her long sleeves to reveal a bruise the size of a plum on her right forearm.
When asked about it, she laughed it off and said: "This? It's just a little pain. If I can't take a bit of pain, then how am I to take a bullet?"
Such is the nature of Staff Sergeant (Staff Sgt) Tan Siow Peng's job as a personal security officer (PSO) in the Singapore Police Force that she is expected to lay down her life for whoever she is protecting.
Last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Dr Lee Wei Ling, in their eulogies, both thanked the PSOs who served the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Dr Lee related how, while having lunch one day, her father choked on a piece of meat and was saved by his PSOs who helped him dislodge it.
It is this type of quick thinking and responsiveness that Staff Sgt Tan, 26, who joined the police force six years ago, has to execute during her line of work.
She told The New Paper that she applied to join the Police Security Command (SecCom) - an elite unit of officers assigned to protect the President, ministers and other VVIPs - two years into the job because "it seemed cool".
She was put through a gruelling 12-week course, where she learned skills such as defensive driving, shooting, combat tactics, medical skills and even social etiquette.
As a result of her training, she is able to stay awake and alert for more than 24 hours and can take down a man larger than her and armed with a knife.
Staff Sgt Tan has travelled to more than 10 countries - each time for about a week - with various dignitaries. She is also a trainer for combat tactics in her unit.
About 10 per cent of SecCom is made up of women - one of whom is a 55-year-old grandmother who is still serving in the frontline.
Staff Sgt Tan recounted her most tense moment came when she was travelling to an airport in China with an ambassador and her "principal" - the term used by PSOs to refer to their designated VVIP.
"The driver told us that he didn't know the way and neither did we. We were lost," she said.
But Staff Sgt Tan drew on her training and past experience to remain calm, despite trying to catch the flight while being in an unfamiliar land with not many avenues to seek help.
She quickly took out her mobile phone, switched on the maps app and guided the driver to the airport. She did all these while remaining alert and watching her surroundings for threats.
"We got to the airport late, but the plane had been delayed anyway due to a typhoon," she recounted.
Her colleague, Staff Sergeant Calvin Tay, 34, who has been in SecCom for 10 years, said his most nervy moments have been during the General Elections.
"The crowd and sheer volume of people are a concern. We have to appreciate the situation, and we learn to profile and assess the types of people we meet," he said.
When asked if there have been instances when he has been required to take down an attacker, he said: "Thankfully, no."
The toughest part of his job? Appearing fresh and alert even as fatigue creeps in, especially during long shifts, he said.
Due to the sensitive nature of his job, Staff Sgt Tay admitted that his family and friends do not know the full details of what he does.
PSOs also continually undergo refresher training to ensure they remain sharp on the job, which requires them to be armed while on duty.
Despite the long hours and constant threat of danger, both officers are proud of what they do.
Said Staff Sgt Tan: "I hope to stay long here. This job is a unique experience. I go to different places and meet different people - from members of the public to grassroots leaders to ministers from other countries."
SECURITY TEAM WAS INTEGRAL PART OF MR LEE'S LIFE
When Mr Lee Kuan Yew turned purple after choking on a piece of meat during lunch, it was his personal security officers (PSOs) who saved his life.
They helped the late Mr Lee dislodge the piece of meat, recounted his daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, 60.
"By that time, Papa had already turned purple. But within seconds of the meat being dislodged, he was mentally alert," Dr Lee said at her father's cremation service at the Mandai Crematorium last month.
Speaking fondly of the PSOs, Dr Lee said they formed an integral part of her father's life, even more so in the last five years.
When Mr Lee developed Parkinson's disease three years ago, it became difficult for him to stand and walk. It was the PSOs who helped him along when he refused to use a walking stick or a wheelchair.
Even outsiders could see how attentive the PSOs were. "One doctor friend who came to help dress a wound Papa sustained when he fell noticed this and said to me, 'The (PSOs) look after your father as though he is their own father'," Dr Lee said.
She added that her relationship with her father's PSOs was "as understated as plain water", a literal translation from a Chinese idiom which means they would help each other without obligation when needed, even before a request for help was made.
My 'PSOs' were ready to handle the unexpected
I was a VVIP for a day.
Tasked to sign a guest book and collect a token of appreciation - it all seemed easy and innocuous enough.
That was until I was attacked by a man with a knife before being confronted by another wielding a long wooden stick.
My heroes were none other than the people who had been standing in the background all the while - my personal security officers (PSOs) for the day.
Within seconds, they quickly subdued my attackers with a series of punches, kicks and armlocks before getting me to safety.
Fair enough, it was an exercise by the Singapore Police Force's Security Command to showcase the crucial role these PSOs play in keeping our President, ministers and other VVIPs safe.
But it gave me a glimpse of just how professionally these officers take their jobs.
They briefed me on which door I should use to climb into the car that would take me to my destination.
When I got it wrong, they politely ushered me to the right door. In the car, I noticed they kept their eyes on the road. Not a word was spoken because they needed their fullest concentration.
When we arrived at a "National Heritage Centre", I was taken to a room for a short presentation ceremony.
I was told that my PSOs had already swept the room for bombs, studied it and memorised the best escape route. Yet they told me earlier: "Expect the unexpected."
That rang true as the guy handing me the token suddenly pulled out a knife and swung it at me.
The next thing I knew, I was pulled backwards by two PSOs as Staff Sergeant Tan Siow Peng immediately moved in to beat the daylights out of him. We tried to exit via the main entrance, only for another attacker to charge in while wielding a stick.
Another PSO immediately rushed forward to engage him and shouted for us to leave by the rear exit. We did so as PSOs held on to my supposedly injured arm.
As soon as we exited the building, a car was already waiting for us. The moment we drove off, my PSOs expertly patched up my injuries with bandages - after all, they are also armed with medical skills.
Sadly, that was the end of the exercise, but in those brief 15 minutes, I knew I was safe, thanks to the PSOs.
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