Two siblings working in the same profession is nothing new, but having both serve at the frontline of Singapore's maritime defence piqued our curiosity. We caught up with a pair of siblings, Military Expert 2 (ME2) Pearlyn Leow and ME2 Leow Bing Qian from the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) to hear their motivations and what inspired them to join the RSN.
What inspired you to join the Navy?
Pearlyn: I've always wanted to do something different from the usual deskbound job. Watching the National Day Parade every year, I was always impressed by the smart men and women in uniform. In particular, the white uniform stood out for me and I decided to find out more about the Navy. After hearing how the exciting work in the RSN came with a higher purpose, I took a leap of faith and decided to take up the SAF Polytechnic Sponsorship during my studies in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
Bing Qian: Having my sister in the Navy and hearing her stories out at sea attracted me to this profession. I was particularly drawn to the diverse array of operations that she got to be involved in as well as the tight-knit family spirit that she often shared after coming back from work. As a result, I decided to sign on during my Basic Military Training (BMT) and have not looked back since.
Military Expert 2 (ME2) Pearlyn Leow
Command and Control Supervisor
Tell us more about your current roles and responsibilities.
Pearlyn: I'm the Command and Control Supervisor of RSS Independence, a Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV). My role involves leading a team to collect tactical information for warfighting decision-making which is particularly important given the LMV's purpose in safeguarding maritime trade and maintaining our sovereignty. Rapid and deliberate collation of information is crucial to enable our warships to maintain situational awareness and vigilance in the Singapore Strait, one of the most congested and vital waterways in the world.
Bing Qian: I am the Navigation Supervisor of LMV Fortitude. As the ship has yet to be commissioned, I guide my team of Naval Warfare Systems Experts as we work to operationalise the navigation and radar systems on board. It has been an exciting journey being part of the ship's pioneer crew, an opportunity to create a wholly new culture and practices with a completely new team of diverse individuals. Prior to this appointment, I was serving on board the patrol vessel, and I look forward to returning to the frontline of maritime security when LMV Fortitude conducts patrols.
Have you both been on any joint exercises, and what's it like, interacting in a professional context?
Pearlyn: We were part of a search and rescue (SAR) operation for a sunken merchant vessel a couple of years ago, when we were both serving on board patrol vessels. Both of our ships were activated whilst on maritime security patrol to assist in the SAR operation.
Bing Qian: To be honest, we didn't interact at all during the operation; both of us were so focused on our tasks on our respective ships that there was no time for that once we were activated! But as siblings, knowing that your sister is doing the same mission as you out at sea, far from home, was and remains as something special.
Do you discuss your work with each other?
Pearlyn: We rarely discuss work at home, and take the opportunity to rest and enjoy our time off with our family as whole-heartedly as we take our work. Bing Qian and I believe in spending quality time together, especially when foreign exercises and operational patrols with the Maritime Security Task Force cause us to be away from home periodically. Family is important to us because they are the reason why we serve and defend Singapore.
Military Expert 2 (ME2) Leow Bing Qian
What are the development opportunities that the Navy has given you?
Bing Qian: The Navy sends us for various courses to deepen our expertise and leadership skills. For instance, I attended the Basic Specialisation Course before assuming my first appointment – this course taught me basic naval knowledge as well as more specialised, on-the-job training to prepare me for my role as a Navigation Systems Expert. More recently, I attended the Intermediate Specialisation Course that taught me organisational and planning skills, which have served me well in my current supervisory role.
These courses provided me with a sense of progression and enabled me to constantly test my operational knowledge against my peers. I have learnt just as much from my developmental courses as I have from my operational time at sea, and each course's learning is designed to be directly relevant to the challenges of your next job. The Navy prepares you well even as it expects more from you at every juncture in your career.
What are some of the memorable highlights of your career so far?
Pearlyn: For me, it's being part of the pioneer crew of RSS Independence, the first of our locally designed and built LMV. As the ship was brand new, we had to establish and practise new procedures for every operation – especially more complex ones like anchoring, fuelling, and helo-deck operations. We also had to plan, conduct tests, and integrate shipboard systems from scratch. After two years of hard work, we were finally deployed for our first overseas exercise with foreign navies. My crew's efforts paid off as we performed well at the exercise and this gave me a strong sense of satisfaction. This remains as one of the most satisfying moments of my career thus far.
Bing Qian: Some years back during one of our patrols in the Singapore Strait, I sighted a sinking trawler whilst keeping watch on board the bridge. There were five fishermen standing on a sinking vessel, desperately waving to us for help. As the nearest RSN ship, the patrol vessel I was on responded. We quickly moved to rescue the fishermen and administered first aid. I still remember the gratitude the fishermen expressed towards our crew – it brought home the importance of being vigilant and operationally ready even on seemingly routine patrols.
Any advice for those looking to sign on with the Navy?
Pearlyn: A career with the RSN is a challenging but fulfilling one. You will get to take part in exciting things no other jobs can promise — sailing to many countries, working with foreign navies, and helping to defend Singapore's maritime trade.
Bing Qian: Extraordinary things will become common to you, but they also will demand a high level of commitment and determination to accomplish mission success. The first challenge for some of us will be seasickness, but just like many other obstacles, you can overcome it if you set your mind to it.