From botak boy into a man
Outgoing Chief of Defence Force Lt-Gen Ng talks about his 29-year career and his entry into politics
There was a massive downpour on the day of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's state funeral.
But soldiers, drenched head to toe, remained at their posts in front of the barricades.
From among the crowd behind them, a hand held an umbrella over a thoroughly-soaked serviceman in a futile attempt to shelter him.
That image from March 29 this year remains etched in outgoing Chief of Defence Force Ng Chee Meng's mind.
The gesture edged him closer to his decision to serve Singapore in a different capacity - in politics.
"When we saw the unity of Singaporeans, it gave (me) a lot of encouragement to see Singaporeans coming together.
"The umbrella physically did nothing for the body, but it did wonders for the soul," he said.
Yesterday, Lt-Gen Ng, 47, handed over the reins of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to his successor, Major-General Perry Lim.
Before the change-of-command parade yesterday afternoon at the Safti Military Institute, Lt-Gen Ng spoke about his 29 years in the military and about his next phase of life.
Though he is stepping down a few months earlier than the usual three-year term for a defence chief, Lt-Gen Ng said he leaves the SAF a better and stronger force than it was.
Under his leadership, the SAF successfully carried out missions in Afghanistan and the Gulf of Aden, as well as humanitarian and disaster relief operations in the region.
The SAF today has the best weapons and technology available and is in advanced stages of linking its fighting platforms into a network of communication systems.
This will enable the SAF to have greater combat power beyond its size and physical numbers, Lt-Gen Ng said.
Planning for the next 15 to 20 years has also begun, with the SAF looking at the use of robots to alleviate the manpower crunch.
"The day we are completely satisfied... is the day that we will deteriorate.
"The SAF is not a perfect organisation. We always scan and see how we can bring the organisation forward and serve even better," he said.
Lt-Gen Ng joined the SAF in December 1986 and went on to become a fighter pilot before moving up the ranks.
The SAF has given him a rich cache of memories, he said, fondly recalling his time in Basic Military Training (BMT) and the Air Force.
"The SAF turned a botak boy into a man," he said.
As Chief of Defence Force, he was the chief military adviser to the Defence Minister and Prime Minister.
Initially drawing a blank when asked about his most cherished memory in the SAF, Lt-Gen Ng said that the past six months, particularly during the week of mourning for Mr Lee and the period leading up to the Golden Jubilee National Day, were among the most unforgettable.
Last week, he flew a F-5S Tiger fighter jet for the last time and was pleasantly surprised to see a rainbow when he touched down. He immediately took a picture with his wife.
"My journey in the SAF has come to an end. I've chased the rainbow with my wife by my side.
"When I finished, there was really a rainbow. How nice," he said.
GOING INTO POLITICS
Lt-Gen Ng said yesterday it was already an "open secret" that he was going into politics.
Coming to that decision was not easy - it was only after much thought and advice from his family and mentors, he said.
Ng's elder brother, Major-General (NS) Ng Chee Khern, 49, is the Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) at the Ministry of Defence and Second Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health.
His younger brother, Mr Ng Chee Peng, 45, a former Chief of Navy, was appointed chief executive of the Central Provident Fund earlier this year.
But, after benefitting much from society, he now hopes to give back.
If he does stand in the coming election, he will be the highest-ranking military officer to do so. It will also mark the first time that a defence chief has entered politics.
He said: "It's been a wonderful journey (in the SAF). I would like to give back to society in small ways for all the benefits that I gained.
"I care about Singapore's future, about Singaporeans' well-being... and what Singapore will be like for my grandkids."
Outgoing chief played multiple roles
Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng, 47, was appointed the Chief of Defence Force on March 27, 2013.
He held various key command and staff appointments in 29 years of service, including the Chief of Air Force.
He was also the Military Private Secretary to the Defence Minister from December 1995 to July 1996.
Lt-Gen Ng, who has two daughters, also sat on the boards of Singapore Technologies Engineering, Defence Science and Technology Agency, and Jurong Town Corporation.
Most recently, he was the chairman of the State Funeral Organising Committee for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and was among the first set of vigil guards to stand by the founding Prime Minister's casket as it lay in state at Parliament House.
He also led the preparations for the Golden Jubilee National Day Parade, which was held on Aug 9.