Heart and Heartware: Vitals in Valerie’s Army Journey

Sep 01, 2021   |   Yogaraj P

Share this post:

Since secondary school, Valerie Wee had always wanted to join the army. What was just an idea in Valerie’s head quickly became reality after her time volunteering with Heartware Network during the National Day Parade (NDP) in 2019.

Valerie, part of the Youth Planning Committee (YPC) in 2019, said: “That was the year that pushed me to sign on with the army.

“The NDP especially was the point that gave me the green light. Seeing so many female soldiers taking part in the NDP and doing so much for the nation, I thought to myself ‘why not?’.

“I spoke to a few of the female soldiers there, hearing about how they took a leap of faith and that was the push I needed to sign on.”

Two years later, the Second Lieutenant passed out of Officer Cadet School (OCS) in June this year with a Best in Knowledge award.

Likening her time in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to her days with Heartware, the 23-year-old said: “As a volunteer, you serve the community and in the army, you serve the nation.

“In both situations, you have to commit yourself and have the passion to do what you set out to do.”

While volunteering as an Operations Committee Member in YPC during 2019, Valerie was also part of the “Youth Meet You” initiative that year. Then, Valerie was still working full-time as a project executive in the business events industry. After nearly two years in the field, the tourism and resort management diploma holder transitioned to life in the SAF in March 2020.

Recalling her first time volunteering with Heartware in 2013, Valerie said: “I was a general volunteer and I always wanted to volunteer for NDP. I did ushering and spectator management, and that experience ignited my passion for events management.”

The Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate added: “Volunteering for YPC in 2019 gave me the opportunity to take the lead. It required leadership as well as the knowledge for planning, from managing and training the volunteers to handling the public.

“My time at YPC taught me a lot because I was putting in so much time and effort, and I was also away from my family a lot. Things like that build up your maturity and your mental strength, and you learn that you cannot give up so easily.”

Now serving as an army intelligence officer, Valerie is still putting what she learnt as a Heartware volunteer to good use. “In my role as a commander, I still work with youth and have to take care of my NSFs (full-time National Servicemen),” Valerie said.

Working with soldiers whose ages can range from 18 to 24 years old, Valerie went on to say: “It is important to understand how to communicate and deal with different individuals.

“One thing I learnt from Heartware was how to communicate and work with different youths, in a manner that suits their needs. Over at Heartware, you work with so many people from all walks of life. That’s something I was able to translate to my army career.”

The army is generally a male-dominated environment and in Valerie’s case, it was no exception; she was only one of two females in her platoon in OCS. Nonetheless, she still kept up with her male counterparts and always felt equal to them.

“No one looks down on you just because you’re a female. What I do in training is exactly what the guys do as well. The males I trained with pushed me and they were really encouraging,” said Valerie.

Adding on, she said: “The journey wasn’t easy but the people around you make you want to work harder and complete the course with them.”

Thankfully, Valerie’s hard work and dedication paid off when she was honoured with the Best in Knowledge award. According to Valerie, the achievement was “unexpected” but it assured her that hard work will always pay off.

(Photo Credit: MINDEF)

Valerie noted: “I worked very hard throughout the course, and I also struggled at times both physically and mentally. However, it takes time to learn and hard work will eventually be acknowledged.

“Achieving this award encouraged me to do better and it has pushed me to work harder as a commander.”

Besides breaking down barriers in the army as a woman, Valerie also needed to overcome an obstacle close to home; her father’s traditional mindset. When Valerie’s elder sister expressed her desire to join the air force years ago, her father was against the idea because he felt the military is “not for females.”

While her sister was unable to fulfil her wish, Valerie was not ready to let go of her dream – even if it meant she had to do it without her father’s knowledge.

Explaining her precarious situation, Valerie said: “I signed on without letting my father know because he still had the traditional mindset that females shouldn’t do these kind of things.

“I only told him after I signed the contract and initially, he wasn’t that encouraging. He didn’t understand why I wanted to sign on because he thought I was doing well in my events career.

“Then, he finally saw that I was capable and that I was enjoying myself in the army. That was when he gave me his fullest support.”

According to the Ministry of Defence in 2019, women make up eight per cent of the SAF’s Regular force. This includes about 1,500 women serving as officers, warrant officers and specialists, and military experts.

For this number to increase, Valerie hopes more women can be inspired to join the army but also reiterated the importance of finding one’s purpose to do so.

She said: “You need to figure why you are signing on: is it for the money, the love for your country or do you find that it’ll be a fulfilling career?

“You must ensure that you truly have the passion and want to do something for the country. There’s a lot of sacrifices you need to make and you need to know what you’re getting yourself into.

“You must have the confidence in yourself and be open-minded. Don’t unnecessarily give yourself high expectations just because you’re a female. It’s more important to be very sure on why you want to sign on, and have the passion to serve the nation.”