Our First Malay BG – What was Said and Not Said
Well, the SAF is trying its best to be progressive and move Malays laterally and upwards in the SAF. The SAF since independence, for deep rooted geopolitical reasons, has been cautious about Malays in the military. They finally have a BG, the Malay community finally has a BG and Mindef can puff out its chest and say that they are opening up quite well in redefining the infamously frank machine-gun dilemma (partly borne out of worry that one day Malaysia might carry out its former PM Tunku Abdul Rahman’s threat to cut water supply and bring Singapore to its knees),
“If, for instance, you put in a Malay officer who’s very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine gun unit, that’s a very tricky business. We’ve got to know his background.” Lee Kuan Yew
All good that the SAF has made a Malay and fellow Singaporean no less, a BG. But to be the Devils Advocate, besides looking at what was said, we also have to think about what was not said. What is this BG’s portfolio? Is the answer something that will perpetuate the impression that Malays are welcome and yet not welcomed in the SAF?
SAF’s first Malay general
TO HEAR Colonel Ishak Ismail, 46, tell it, his decision to become a regular officer in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was greeted with some incredulity.
He recalled yesterday that someone asked him pointedly: ‘This is your name – you sure you want to sign on?’
He has replied in the affirmative many times in the last 28 years.
Yesterday, his time in the military was capped in historic fashion – he has become the first Malay general in the SAF.
His promotion marks a milestone in Malays’ efforts to be fully accepted in the military, a controversial issue ever since it was disclosed in 1987 that the SAF adopted a cautious approach in placing them in key positions.
Col Ishak was one of five who headed the SAF’s annual promotion list and attained the rank of Brigadier-General or Rear-Admiral (One Star).
The other four were: Colonel (Dr) Benjamin Seet and Colonel Lee Shiang Long from the Army; the Republic of Singapore Navy’s Colonel Tan Wee Beng; and Colonel Kwek Kok Kwong of the Republic of Singapore Air Force.
The five were among 464 from all three arms – both regulars and operationally-ready National Servicemen – presented with their certificates of promotion at a ceremony at Bukit Gombak Camp yesterday.
The promotions will take effect from July 1, which is SAF Day.
For Col Ishak, moving to the rank of Brigadier-General is reward for what he calls a consuming passion: Developing people to their potential.
Calling himself a ‘servant leader’, he said: ‘What gets me up in the morning and gives me the passion every day is the same reason I became a regular officer: Being able to influence people to something that they may not see themselves accomplishing.’