| Singapore | 4 July 2017 | Asia Samachar |
Attending school, playing football barefoot on the streets and scraping toe nails and catching fish in drains with the children in the neighbourhood is how Colonel (Retired) Sukhvinder Singh Chopra remembers his early childhood years.
Growing up in his early years in Jalan Setia off Macpherson Road, Sukhvinder spent most of his childhood in a carefree village-like lifestyle. Apart from roaming around his estate, Sukhvinder was an avid reader. This was probably due to his exposure to a wide range of books as his father was a publisher. One of his favourite collections was the Enid Blyton series. Fortunately for Sukhvinder, in his formative years, he was guided by his parents, particularly his father, whose clear thinking and no-nonsense attitude shaped Sukhvinder’s outlook on life.
At the age of 18 years, Sukhvinder decided to sign a pensionable service/life-long contract with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). Although it was then rare for the eldest son from a business class family to make such a move, his father was very proud of his decision and said: “You will go through many ups and downs but stick to it and see it through with conviction”. (1) Sukhvinder can still visualise his father giving him this important advice.
When he was 24 years old, Sukhvinder was given the honour and challenge of being the Commanding Officer of a warship even though he had only served six years in the RSN and was the most junior of all the Captain-ranked officers on similar ships. This was an important recognition of his capability and leadership. Although humbled by the experience, it was only the first of many milestones in his career as a naval officer. A combined international Task Force, led by the United States invaded Iraq to overthrow President Saddam Hussein’s regime. The aftermath of the 21-day war witnessed the highlight of Sukhvinder’s naval career and one that put Singapore’s navy on the global map. Singapore was invited to contribute to the reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Sukhvinder was chosen to command a Task Group as part of a multinational force in the Arabian Gulf in 2003. The mission was unprecedented for the RSN and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Sukhvinder commanded the Task Group on Singapore’s RSS Endurance, a multi-purpose ship which was the largest in the RSN fleet. Sukhvinder and his team were responsible for providing security and protection to Iraq’s sea-borne assets and provide logistics support to the many assets operating in the Northern Arabian Gulf. The Al-Basrah Oil Terminal, a deep-sea offshore crude oil terminal, was one of these key assets as it was a life- line for Iraq. Their other operational activities included managing anti-smuggling operations.
The mission was fraught with dangers. Following the fall of the Iraqi president, the country went into turmoil and the sea lanes and oil refineries had become targets of sabotage by those loyal to the deposed president.
Sukhvinder’s Task Group, working closely with the Task Force, was steadfast in its mission, which was extremely successful and paved the way for subsequent deployments by the RSN in the Gulf. Sukhvinder’s leadership was recognised by the SAF and the United States navy which led the multinational force. For his role in the Gulf, Sukhvinder was awarded the SAF Overseas Service Medal.(2)
Sukhvinder continued to play an active role in the RSN and rose through the ranks. He went on to discharge other principal duties in the RSN. By the time he retired in 2006, he had attained the rank of Colonel and commanded a squadron of ships. In recognition of his exemplary skill in leadership and management during his military career, Sukhvinder was awarded the Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Public Administration Medal) (3) for distinguished and meritorious service in military command and staff work.
“Sukhvinder’s significant contribution in commanding naval operations in the Gulf laid the foundations for further such deployments by Singapore. United States Admiral James Stavridis, the Force Commander in the Gulf then, described Sukhvinder as a highly capable commander and a super star.
Sukhvinder served the SAF with distinction over a span of 28 years and he personied the Sikh virtues of truth, compassion, contentment, discipline and contemplation.”
– Rear Admiral (Retired) Sim Gim Guan, Former Chief of Staff – Naval Staff Republic of Singapore Navy
Although Sukhvinder witnessed many successes in his naval life, he experienced tragedy early in his personal life. He became a widower at a young age of 33 when he lost his sweetheart to cancer. His one and only child, his son Karan, was just short of two years old then. His son is one of the most important people in his life. And just like his father did decades ago, Sukhvinder beamed with pride when his son became an SAF officer.
JOINS SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY, TEMASEK
Following his military service, Sukhvinder was appointed as the Director of Administration and member of the leadership team at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) at the National University of Singapore. The school was only two years old, and for five years thereafter, he helped to strengthen the administrative foundation of the School in a variety of functions, ranging from human resource management to finance and donor relations. Whilst the environment and scope of work was quite different from the RSN, he adapted and contributed – the School gained global recognition as a leading school of public policy.
After leaving LKYSPP, he went to work with the Temasek Management Services Group, a wholly- owned subsidiary of Temasek Holdings. He now collaborates with international development advisory and implementation firms. He has worked in Afghanistan on a World Bank project to spearhead the development of a roadmap to build the country’s civil service capacity and he oversaw its implementation in phases.
Sukhvinder has been busy on many fronts. He has become a qualified Executive Coach and an Associate Leadership and Change Management Trainer at various Institutes in Singapore and abroad, and collaborates with international development advisory and implementation firms. He believes deeply that mind-set change, a never ending process, is at the core of change management. Deep conviction, more than knowledge or skills, is needed to bring about change. When all is said and done, Sukhvinder’s view is that one has to accept the current realities, not be-labour the past, learn earnestly and forge ahead together.
Sukhvinder has been an active volunteer for over 20 years. He is a member of grassroots organisations and holds leadership positions. He has also served with the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, a Ministry of Education’s School Advisory Committee and various fund raisers.
He is also committed to reducing poverty through his work as a board member of a non-government organisation called Solutions to End Poverty (STEP) which focuses on community development of the very poor in Asia through customised systemic change programmes that empower the community to sustain the developments. As part of the initiative, Sukhvinder supports the Change Makers Pathway (ChaMPs) for youth which aims to develop enterprising community leaders. ChaMPs participants immerse in the ‘Smile Village’, STEP’s ‘ground-zero’ pilot project in Cambodia and they return to Singapore impassioned and equipped to serve the community here. The final outcome is to nurture life-long learners and volunteers in Singapore.
Sukhvinder grew from a young boy scrapping his toenails on the road whilst playing football to become a commander of a warship. Although he has gone through his share of ups and downs, he went on and about to do his best and serve. Professionally through
his tour in the Singapore Navy, Sukhvinder’s name is etched in the annals of the SAF as the first officer and first Sikh to assume a significant command role in the conduct of naval operations in the Gulf.
1 Interview with Colonel (Retired) Sukhvinder Singh Chopra, June 3, 2015.
2 This award is given to a member of the SAF who has served in an area outside Singapore after 9 August 1970 when engaged in operations involving the keeping of peace, restoring of law and order, provision of humanitarian aid or rescue, or relief operations in support of any foreign government. See www.mindef.gov.sg.
3 The Pingat Pentadbiran Awam was instituted in 1963. There are three grades of the Medal, namely, gold, silver and bronze. The Medal may be awarded to the following persons for outstanding efficiency, competence and industry – a public officer; officer employed by any statutory authority; any person who is or has been in the service of any organisation rendering services in education; or any person employed in any company which is wholly-owned by the government and which is carrying on business mainly as an agent or instrumentality of the government. See here.
[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published in 2015 by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]
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