Finding their bearings amid choppy seas

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MEET THE TANKEES
12 Jun 2024 | PEOPLE

MEET THE TANKEES

Brothers MAJ Aaron Tan, 3WO Jarvis Tan and SSG Gavin Tan are all Armour soldiers. Their father, Mr Tan Chin Soon, also used to serve in the Armour formation. Does this make them true TANKees?


//STORY BY TEO JING TING //PHOTOS BY KENNETH LIN & COURTESY OF INTERVIEWEES

The Tan family is no stranger to tanks. It all started with dad Tan Chin Soon, who joined the Armour formation in 1977.

A former tank commander of the decommissioned AMX-13 tank, the now-64-year-old last held the rank of Sergeant and served in the Army for six years.

More than two decades later, middle child 3rd Warrant Officer (3WO) Jarvis Tan signed on in February 2008 under the influence of the elder Mr Tan.

The 36-year-old is now an Intelligence Warrant Officer in 8th Singapore Armoured Brigade (8 SAB) and is trained on platforms such as the Bionix Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV), Hunter AFV, Ultra M113 AFV and the Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank.

Despite joining for different reasons, (from left) 3WO Tan, MAJ Tan and SSG Tan eventually found their calling in the Armour Formation.

That same year, eldest son Major (MAJ) Aaron Tan also joined the Armour family.

An Intelligence Officer in 4 SAB, MAJ Tan signed on during his Officer Cadet Course as he enjoyed how the challenges in the military strengthened his resilience and leadership skills. The 38-year-old is trained on the Bionix AFV and Leopard 2SG tank.

As for Staff Sergeant (SSG) Gavin Tan, this youngest brother was "dragged" to an Armour interview by MAJ Tan in 2016.

The next thing he knew, he was enlisting for Basic Military Training (BMT). [Ed's note: He had served in the Singapore Police Force for his national service]

The 30-year-old is currently a Section Instructor in the School of Armour's Specialist Training Wing. SSG Tan also specialises in both the Bionix and Hunter AFVs.

Get the tea on how the Tan brothers navigate work and family – they are all staying together under Mr Tan's roof with their wives and kids – in our Father's Day special!

Back in the day: Mr Tan (left) with his fellow gunner during his time in 40th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment.

Mr Tan, it seems you had a hand in deciding your sons' career choices to join Armour. Is that true?

Mr Tan: I encouraged Jarvis to sign on as being in the Army was considered a "golden rice bowl" during my time, as long as you don't make mistakes.

Back then, I was a recruit in 40th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (40 SAR) and I bonded very closely with my fellow recruits. So we all decided to sign on together.

Gavin: For me, my dad couldn't take it that I was idling for two years after my NS (National Service) so he got Aaron to set up an interview for me.

I can still remember that morning. It was 9am, Aaron woke up me up and took me all the way to Sungei Gedong where I was interviewed by two Armour personnel. The next thing I knew, I received the letter of acceptance and had to enlist into BMT. True story.

3WO Tan (second from left) with his mum Madam Lee Song Eong (far left), MAJ Tan (second from right) and Mr Tan (far right) during his Specialist Cadet Graduation Parade at Sungei Gedong Camp in October 2008.

Wow. SSG Gavin, did you mind that you had to go through a "second NS"?

Gavin: I actually enjoyed myself in BMT 'cos I'm more of an on-the-ground person. I like sweating it out and being outdoors. Back in my NS days with the Singapore Police Force, I would be sitting in office all week long – it was not really my kind of thing.

The Tan family turning up in support of SSG Tan (second from right) for his cadet family engagement day in December 2016.

So did your elder brothers give you any tips to survive Armour training?

Aaron: We mentally prepared him and shared personal experiences of what we went through as Armour trainees.

And guess what? Jarvis was one of the instructors when Gavin was an Armour cadet in Specialist Training Wing.

Gavin: That was the worst! 'Cos Jarvis was pretty good as a section instructor so the other instructors would hold me to his standards. For example, they will give me an appointment and they expect me to be as good as him, if not better.

Jarvis: As an elder brother, I never teach him how to get things done. It's really more of sharing our experiences with him; he can try other methods. 'Cos everyone does things differently, and my way may be different from his superior's.

Right by your side: 3WO Tan (right) was a section instructor during SSG Tan's time as an Armour cadet in Specialist Training Wing. The latter graduated in February 2017.

What do you like about your jobs?

Gavin: Perhaps my best memory was how I got to fire high-calibre weapons as I used to be from the Gunnery Wing.

I was also one of the first groups to fire the Anti-Tank Guided Missile on the Hunter. We were doing trials and tests on the weapon before the Hunter was ready to be commissioned.

In my current appointment, I'm training Armour cadets. With all the live-firing and high-key training happening on weekends, most of my weekends are "burnt". But because I'm doing this for my family, I don't mind the sacrifices.

Aaron: As an Intelligence Officer, I enjoy the fulfilment that I get from completing my tasks. I also get to be exposed to national-level taskings and learn how to facilitate the battalions.

What I enjoy most is the opportunity to guide the younger officers – I like coaching, nurturing and imparting knowledge to them.

Since you are all still staying in the same house, do you exercise together?

Aaron: All of us have different interests – Jarvis likes doing HIIT (high-intensity interval training), Gavin likes running and I like gyming.

We all do our exercises at different times of the day because we have different work schedules.

But there's one thing we always do together – play mahjong with our mother! We train our minds and psychomotor skills. (laughs)

MAJ Tan (far right) with his colleagues and Commander 4 SAB (centre) at last year's Exercise Wallaby in Australia.

And how are conversations at home? Do you talk about what happens at work?

Mr Tan: Most of the time! (chuckles) During meals, they will talk about their camps or colleagues 'cos they are all in the same formation, so they tend to relate better and know each other's colleagues.

Aaron: Jarvis and I share the same functional group so we tend to help each other with our work…and learn from each other.

But for Gavin, it's more of sharing stories and life advice on handling his cadets.

From taking on new challenges to meeting and guiding juniors, the Tan siblings have found different kinds of fulfilment in their jobs.

What is it about the Armour formation that keeps you going in your jobs?

Aaron: I enjoy coaching my juniors so I spend a lot of time engaging, advising and proposing solutions on how they can overcome obstacles. This is one of the things that keeps me going.

Jarvis: I get to meet people from all walks of life and I've seen how the different generations differ in terms of the way they think and do things, and I like learning from them.

Gavin: I like challenges. Whenever there's a new platform, I'm always the first to volunteer to learn and I enjoy taking on any challenge that comes my way.

A father's pride: Mr Tan is proud that his three sons are in the Army and doing well.

Since it's Father's Day, Mr Tan, are you proud of how far your sons have come?

Mr Tan: Yes, definitely. As parents, you get worried when your sons are young that they will mix around with the wrong crowd. So I'm really happy that they picked Army as a career because it's stable and good.

Ultimately, the path is theirs, and it's up to them on how they want to walk it.

I'm proud to say that all my three sons are in the Army and my circle of friends all know that. I'm proud.

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