Laurence Goh

As one of the National Servicemen in the Army of Singapore Armed Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Laurence Goh Eng Yau is an ex-NPCC member and the advocate and solicitor at Laurence Goh Eng Yau & Co. He was awarded with the Military Commendation Medal for the National Day Awards 2004. He is being featured in the "Army Museum of Singapore - Personal Stories" posted on 08 May 2007 as follows:

A Passionate and Dedicated Soldier: LTC (NS) Laurence Goh

Many of our NSmen lead fulfilling lives, balancing NS commitments with their demanding civilian careers and family lives. LTC (NS) Laurence Goh Eng Yau is one such man. A practising lawyer since 1990, he and his wife run their own law firm with two other associate partners. Besides his busy schedule at work, LTC (NS) Goh actively contributes to the defence of Singapore through his legal expertise. Some of LTC (NS) Goh's appointments include lecturer for criminal offences, SAF offences and disciplinary proceedings at OCS and legal adviser to the Chevrons. He also serves as a general committee member of the National Service Resort & Country Club for NSmen. Although his schedule is invariably packed, LTC (NS) Goh still finds time for family where they enjoy outdoor activities such as swimming and cycling. Recollecting memories of his NS days fills him with pride and happiness ...

LTC (NS) Laurence Goh enlisted in December 1982, a month after his GCE 'A' levels. Contrary to the reluctance typical of his peers, LTC (NS) Goh was in fact eager to join the ranks and to fulfil his duties to the nation as soon as possible.

My birthday is actually at the end of the year, so I didn't qualify to be enlisted in December and was due to report in March next year. I actually made a request to MINDEF for early enlistment at age 17 and they said yes...I was looking forward to it [enlistment day]. I was the youngest in my platoon when I enlisted.

Many Singaporeans can probably relate tearful memories of their day of enlistment but LTC (NS) Goh describes it as an enjoyable day. His younger days in the National Police Cadet Corps and dragon boating had prepared him physically and psychologically for communal life in the Army. Moreover, his elder brother, Fred, who enlisted two years earlier often related his experiences in the Army, fanning the flames of passion for National Service (NS) in the young LTC (NS) Goh's heart. Stories of tough training conditions did not deter his enthusiasm for NS; instead they made him all the more determined to prepare for enlistment into the Army.

"Instead of conceding to a demoralising situation when you hear a lot of stories about being "tekkan" if you are not fit…it actually increases the determination not to get "tekkan”. So you train...go and run and made sure we do well in our IPPT."

Back in the 1980s, enlistees reported to the Central Manpower Base at Dempsey Road on the day of their enlistment. LTC (NS) Goh was no exception. He recounted how new recruits like himself had to be transported from place to place to collect their Temasek green uniforms and other issued equipment, unlike the recruits of today who receive their equipment in a neatly packed carrier bag.

We would go into different 3-tonners and be transported from one place to another to collect our clothing...queuing up here and there ...trying out sizes ... being shouted left right centre by the fierce corporals and sergeants ... pushing our clothing and equipment into our ali baba bags ... But it was all great fun!

The trip onboard the Ramp-powered Launch (RPL) chugging towards Pulau Tekong seemed to last forever especially when there was no shelter from the scorching sun on the barge. Yet, there was not enough time to be acquainted with all the new faces around. After a good forty-five minutes under the blazing sun, the RPL finally docked at Pulau Tekong. From there, it was a long march for the new recruits to their barracks. LTC (NS) Goh was posted to Foxtrot Company Platoon 23.

For some of us, marching was okay because of the training in NPCC (National Police Cadet Corps) or the NCC (National Cadet Corps). But there were some who had never marched in their whole life. It was such a comical sight because some would be marching with both their left or right limbs swung out while others were hopping around trying to get the timing right.

The clumsiness of the new recruits contrasted with the proficient and confident citizen soldiers they would later become after two and a half years in NS.

The opportunity to wear the Temasek green for the first time was what captivated LTC (NS) Goh the most during his Basic Military Training (BMT).

There is uncertainty when you wear a uniform because you didn’t know what was to come. You will expect and look forward to it but once you put it on, what is going to happen next?

Putting on an army uniform awakes a young man to his responsibilities towards his country. According to LTC (NS) Goh, BMT is an initiation process to orientate the young men of our country towards national defence. It is also a period to establish self and mutual respect for each other, working towards cohesion and unity. In the barracks, however, initiation more often than not took on another different meaning.

One of our recruit mates, he was so shy. He would not shower with us all and would wait for all of us to sleep before he quietly sneaked to the toilet with his towel. One of us decided to make him get used to the communal lifestyle and the whole platoon agreed. One night, we pretended to be sleeping and while he was bathing alone, we sprang a surprise on him in the toilet. The whole platoon had gathered to watch him bath. He was so surprised and embarrassed that he covered his backside and private parts using his hands while turning red in the face. But after the incident he was alright. He bathed with us all and joined the whole platoon in our activities. In fact, he did very well in his BMT and was one of the best recruits.

BMT was filled with both laughter and hardship. Memorable experiences included a 'clean freak' LTC (NS) Goh remembers as "Ah Teh". He would have more showers than anybody in the platoon because of his skin condition. Ghost-hunting was another favourite past time in his recruit days. A few of them would arm themselves with broomsticks and pans and wander around the Standard Obstacles Course (SOC) ground which was rumoured to be haunted, challenging the ghosts to appear by shouting loudly.

After he completed his BMT, LTC (NS) Goh was posted to Foxtrot Company, Officer Cadet School, for his Infantry Officer Cadet Course (IOCC). It was a very challenging period for him as the cadets were pushed to their limits by the demanding instructors who had very high standards. Competition between platoons and between Delta and Foxtrot Companies was also very intense. Good performance was rewarded with highly sought after long-weekends and cadets were ever eager to please their instructors.

While the nine months of cadet life in OCS were very challenging, there were still humorous moments. Despite the packed curriculum, cadets like LTC (NS) Goh still had the appetite for light-hearted moments during training. Hilarious scenes of cadets struggling in the swimming pool, trying their very best to get across the pool to pass the much-dreaded swimming test topped the list of funny moments during the IOCC. Perennial favourites such as Peng Kang, FOFO Hill and Rambutan Hill surfaced vividly in his memory as he recalls how the cadets were made to 'double up' the knolls as punishment in their painstakingly starched and ironed Temasek No. 3 uniforms.

Through it all, strong bonds were forged amidst the pain and laughter. Even today, officers from the 1/83 batch of IOCC remain in contact. Such is the strength of their friendship, moulded during the short nine months in OCS. LTC (NS) Goh was elated when he was appointed the editor of the IOCC magazine which meant he would be able to shape the Delta Foxtrot chapter and seal the memories of his OCS batch into a book that would be read by all cadets in his course, and to be shared with their families years on.

After graduating from OCS as one of the top cadets and sword winners, LTC (NS) Laurence Goh, then a 2LT, stayed on as an instructor for nearly a year before undergoing the Company Commanders' Course at the School of Advanced Training for Officers (SATO). Upon completing the course, he was posted to the 6th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (6 SIR) for his unit tour as a Company Second-in-Command (2IC). Alas, unit life was thoroughly different from instructing officer cadets in OCS. He remembers making a fool of himself on the first day of his unit tour when he told the men:

I am LTA Goh, the Company 2IC. Got any troubles my door is always open… God bless you all.

Friendliness was unfortunately mistaken for tolerance of misdemeanour in the unit. Thereafter, the young LTA Goh quickly learnt his lesson after his soldiers refused to clean the weapons after a live firing exercise, thinking that their Company 2IC could be taken advantage of. Acting upon the advice of his Company Sergeant Major (CSM), LTA Goh lambasted the disobedient soldiers with a series of carefully rehearsed and colourful tirade of vulgarities. Realising that their 2IC was not to be trifled with, the soldiers obeyed his orders promptly and all went well from then on.

From this incident and others that followed, LTC (NS) Goh gleaned an important insight. Despite superficial differences, the 'Hokkien peng' were just as motivated as officer cadets or specialist trainees. While their roles differed, the desire to serve their country remained the same. LTC (NS) Goh's soldiers' strong sense of camaraderie, respect and support for one another, as well as their commanders moved him greatly.

My birthday fell near a weekend and I kept it from my men as I like my privacy. However, on Sunday evening, my CSM called me and asked me to return to camp. I initially refused as I was to return to unit only on Monday morning. My CSM insisted that there is something urgent in the camp and I was needed as it was an emergency. I drove back immediately. Reaching the company line, I saw my entire company booked in and assembled. They brought a cake out and sang me a birthday song.

Returning from his overseas law studies at the end of 1988, LTC (NS) Goh was first posted to the 83rd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (83 SIR) as the Officer Commanding (OC) of Alpha Company. He then went on to 84 SIR as OC Bravo Coy where he rose to become the battalion’s 2IC. He eventually returned to his first NS unit, 83 SIR, as its Commanding Officer (CO). During his tours as OC, battalion 2IC and CO 83 SIR, LTC (NS) Goh witnessed the fine qualities of our NS soldiers. The spirit of commitment and self-sacrifice for our nation's defence are best exemplified in the attitudes of his staff officers and men alike.

LTC (NS) Goh was the force commander when he undertook standby duty on behalf of a fellow Commanding Officer who had to defer due to urgent matters with justified reasons in September 2001. It is a date he will never forget as the day he took over command of the standby force was September 11, the day the twin towers in the USA were attacked. The calmness in which the soldiers reacted to the news and the subsequent added measures to increase their preparedness for any eventuality during their duty proved that NSmen were more than willing to rise up to the challenge if the security and defence of our country were threatened. The atmosphere was very tense during the period of standby but the men were ever ready to react immediately should they be activated.

Another case of total commitment - putting nation before self - was epitomised by CPT (NS) Chew Chong Kiat, the Battalion Intelligence officer (S2) in 83 SIR. In October 2001, 83 SIR was placed on standby during its scheduled In Camp Training (ICT) which happened to be just after 9/11. Unfortunately, CPT (NS) Chew's father passed away just before his ICT. He was allowed to defer for the entire ICT by LTC (NS) Goh, then a MAJ, to attend to his father’s funeral arrangements and spend time with his family members. To LTC (NS) Goh's surprise, CPT (NS) Chew only asked for about two days off and insisted on returning to his duty. He told LTC (NS) Goh:

Sir, my father has already passed away. My family and I are saddened by his demise and we are trying to move on with our lives. There is nothing we can do about it. But now our battalion is on active standby. If the button is pressed and we need to be activated, I got to do my duty....in any event Sir, you cannot do without a S2 to help you plan and it is part of my job to ensure that the Battalion can function fully and efficiently and I cannot let our Battalion down.

Such was the high level of total commitment and unqualified dedication from an Operationally Ready National Servicemen, a citizen soldier.

Another unforgettable tale of camaraderie took place during LTC (NS) Goh's tenure as the 28th Singapore Infantry Brigade’s Second-in-Command. One of the soldiers from the Brigade Reconnaissance Company (BRC) collapsed and fell into a coma in the midst of a mobilisation exercise. His buddies from the company took turns to visit him very frequently even after the completion of their ICT. They also provided financial and material help for his family members while their fellow soldier remained in a coma. When he finally regained consciousness, his comrades continued their routine in order to help him regain his memory. A year later, the soldier was finally able to recognise his wife, children and some of his buddies.

Besides commitment and camaraderie, the tenacity of our NS units is a characteristic LTC (NS) Goh remains proud of after spending many years in NS.

When 542 SIR was having its ICT on Pulau Tekong in 2003, which was during the SARS period, the battalion S2 developed a high fever. We checked his family situation and found that both his parents were admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for suspected SARS. My Brigade Commander, COL (VOL) Sng Cheng Keh, a very dedicated and committed NSman, consulted the Chief Army Medical Officer (CARMO) and immediately activated the evacuation of the S2. He had to be literally dragged to the ambulance bound for Tan Tock Seng Hospital as he refused to go since the Bn was still on exercise. As a result, the Battalion HQ and Brigade HQ were 'decimated' and quarantined. Despite all these things that happened, the remaining officers, specialists and men of the battalion held themselves together and did well for the training. One of the main reasons given by them was that they had to fight on for their fallen comrades and not give up easily. This goes to prove the strength of our NS orbat and their strong spirit and determination to fight on even during the midst of a crisis. Unfortunately, while the S2 recovered from his fever, his parents succumbed to SARS.

LTC (NS) Goh thoroughly enjoys his time as an NSman. For him, the Army is a big melting pot where people from all walks of life come together to create a common identity and share a common positive experience. He still remembers the days as a recruit when two Platoon Commanders in his company were very close friends even though one of them is the son of a former Chief Justice and the other is the son of an opposition politician. Ultimately, we are all Singaporeans who are entrusted with the sacred task of defending our homeland.

I am very pleased and proud that we have an excellent and proven NS system. Although NS is being frowned upon by many young Singaporeans, it is unavoidable as the stability of our nation through the efforts of the government results in a comfortable lifestyle for everyone. The negative feeling will always be there during the 2 to 2 ½ years of NSF life. But when they ORD and embarked on their higher education and careers and return for their ICT, you can feel that their patriotism and natural protective instinct grew over the years. I used to ask them, "Eh can fight or not?" These soldiers will answer "Sir, you see us round round fat fat IPPT sometimes can pass sometimes cannot pass, but you press the button we will fight one. If we don't look after our country and families, who can?

LTC (NS) Goh is currently the Brigade Commander of the 30th Singapore Infantry Brigade (30 SIB) and he is still serving to the best of his abilities with the same enthusiasm and interest he showed when he was a recruit. He continues to contribute to the needs of NSmen by sitting in the National Service Working Committee and is one of the SAF National Education (NE) Facilitators. He also shares his experience during Battalion Commanders Courses conducted for incoming Commanding Officers. He hopes to carry on with his passion and commitment towards the defence of Singapore and the military as long as he can.

I just passed 40. It has been more than 20 years since I enlisted and today, apart from many of my school mates who are regulars in the SAF whom I meet regularly, I still bump into my former soldiers, specialists and officers all over the place in Singapore and when we meet, the smiles that come onto our faces as we rekindle our friendship and comradeship with the strong bonds that we have developed through the years in National Service tell more than a thousand words and the silent understanding and pride within us swell.

Most heartening is the fact that these stories come from our NSmen. It is this dedication to duty that makes our Army tick. With such committed men among its ranks, our Army is truly a force to be reckoned with.

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