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Total defence in every sense of the word

LTC (NS) William Wong reflects on 40 years of total defence and what it means for Singapore.

LTC (NS) William Wong reflects on 40 years of total defence and what it means for Singapore.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA

PHOTOS: LTC (NS) WILLIAM WONG

Four decades on, the term “total defence” is more important than ever, according to LTC (NS) William Wong. “In recent times, there have been no lack of examples to drive home the message of being crisis-ready, be it for a natural disaster or national emergencies,” says the 45-year-old.

One need not look further than the COVID-19 pandemic to observe how the six pillars of Total Defence safeguard the nation. He adds: “To me, Total Defence is about every Singaporean coming together to play their different roles and protect what matters most to us.”

Ensuring Singapore’s readiness for crises and disruptions is the responsibility of agencies such as the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), where LTC (NS) Wong started his career and continues to serve as an NSman.

“Many naturally associate SCDF with firefighting and emergency medical services,” he shares. “But beyond that, there is a huge team of passionate and committed SCDF officers who are involved in other aspects of contingency planning – such as the operational standby for the annual National Day Parade or key events like the biennale Singapore Airshow – to ensure that Singaporeans will be protected against a wide spectrum of potential threats.”

A LIFELONG COMMITMENT

LTC (NS) Wong is one such officer. He began his journey at Central Fire Station in 2004 as a regular officer, before being posted to the elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) unit as a Rota Commander in 2008. “My responsibility was to ensure the team’s readiness at all times. And when we were out responding to emergencies, I would lead them and look out for their safety,” he recounts.

During his time with SCDF, LTC (NS) Wong also had a posting with the Civil Defence Academy, where he had opportunities to share his experience with local and overseas trainees. These rotations helped him to lay the foundation for a successful career in emergency preparedness.

Front row, first from left: LTC (NS) Wong at the opening of SCDF’s urban search and rescue course for international participants.

Today, LTC (NS) Wong serves as the Deputy Director of a division within the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), focusing on crisis planning for maritime incidents such as ferry mishaps and oil spills, as well as addressing emerging risks related to climate change and the adoption of green fuels.

Reflecting on his current role, he believes that he is contributing to the Economic Defence pillar. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we learnt that it was important for the maritime sector to enhance the resiliency of global supply chains,” he explains.

He credits much of his success to his time in SCDF, which has given him the confidence and expertise to manage difficult situations.

“As a Key Appointment Holder, we will naturally take on more roles and responsibilities. Although I started off as very operational and hands-on, my role gradually transitioned to strategic-planning over time – from curating the yearly In-Camp Training (ICT) programme and mission exercise planning to leadership succession planning for our NS officers.”

– LTC (NS) William Wong on his NS journey

NURTURING TOMORROW’S GUARDIANS

Beyond preparing him for a civilian career, SCDF was also where LTC (NS) Wong met his wife, LTC Carolyn Low. Recalling their shared journey, he says, “We were working in the same fire station with good food in the vicinity. One day, I asked her out for dinner and the rest is history.”

The couple have five children, aged between five and 12. Total Defence is a concept that LTC (NS) Wong has strived to instil in them from an early age. He also actively involves his children in grassroots activities such as the Community Resilience Day or Safety & Security Days within his constituency, to imbue these values in them.

“I hope that emergency preparedness will become second nature to them as they grow up,” he explains. “Skills such as first aid, firefighting and CPR – are important as they can make the difference between life and death. If my children can help to save lives, I would be very proud of them!”

From left to right: LTC Tan Jee Piau, Head of the Community Engagement Branch in the 2nd SCDF Division; LTC (NS) Wong; Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Social and Family Development, Second Minister for Health, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs and MP for Tampines GRC; COL Bob Tan, Deputy Director of the Volunteer and Community Partnership Department at HQ SCDF; and Community Emergency and Engagement committee member Avery Hoo during Community Resilience Day in May last year.

COMMUNITY AT THE HEART OF DEFENCE

As the Deputy Unit Commander of Battalion HQ, LTC (NS) Wong oversees the ICT programme for over 200 NSmen. He impresses upon his children that the community plays a key role in emergency preparedness. “I feel that SCDF’s vision of making Singapore a nation of lifesavers is a worthwhile pursuit,” he observes. “To have more responders on the ground, to be able to render assistance to people around us, to bounce back quickly from a crisis, and hopefully be more resilient.”

To support this vision, he also serves as the chair of his constituency’s Community Emergency and Engagement (C2E) committee. C2Es are community emergency preparedness units formed within each constituency to help strengthen community resilience through exercises in operational readiness.

LTC (NS) William Wong (third row, third from left) alongside his C2E committee colleagues (in yellow polo shirts), SCDF officers, grassroots leaders from the Resident Network and staff from Tampines West Community Centre during a fire evacuation drill.

In addition to his civilian and NSman roles, LTC (NS) Wong is also an Honorary Aide-de-Camp to the President of Singapore. How does he juggle numerous commitments, including his five children, his career, community involvement, on top of his NS responsibilities?

LTC (NS) Wong explains that as with most things, time management and prioritisation are key. “I am very fortunate to have strong family support to help with my children whenever the need arises,” he says. “At my workplace, I am supported by colleagues and superiors who are understanding and flexible. In my ICT unit, the officers and men are cohesive and committed, and we are bound by the common mission of making our time at ICT count. And at the end of the day, we want to go home, safe and sound.”

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