Strengthening The Defence Collective

Keloth Sonia Nair went from not knowing a role like hers existed to making a difference in Singapore’s multifaceted defence ecosystem, as a Defence Policy Officer. She now collaborates with various departments under MINDEF, working towards common goals for our nation.

Did you originally plan on having a career in the MINDEF/SAF?

I was not sure what I wanted to do at first. I was browsing through career and scholarship options in several scholarship guides (much like this one) when I came across the Defence Merit Scholarship and the role of a Defence Executive Officer. I did not know such a role existed, and I was immediately intrigued by it. I never thought about how non-military officers could also contribute to Singapore’s defence, and I was glad to have the opportunity to apply for such a role.

Tell us more about becoming a Defence Merit Scholar and how it has helped to shape your thinking.

Becoming a Defence Merit Scholar has definitely been an experience I’m extremely grateful for. In the last few years, even while pursuing my undergraduate degree, I have had the chance to intern in some departments and help out at some events.

I previously interned at the Transformation and Innovation department (TID) where I learned more about the different initiatives aimed at encouraging innovation within the ministry. I also interned at the Manpower Policy department where I worked with my supervisor to explore the pros and cons of different working arrangements. We also explored various methods of encouraging and supporting upskilling within the organisation.

While I was initially quite nervous and plagued with self-doubt about my capabilities, even when I started at my first posting in the Policy and Strategy Division, I have learnt that growing along the way is all part of the process. You may not know everything in the beginning, but slowly with the support of your fellow colleagues and friends around you, you will gradually learn and further develop yourself.

How can a Defence Executive Officer (DXO) contribute to Singapore’s defence and security?

Every single DXO contributes to Singapore’s defence one way or another. All the departments in MINDEF must work well individually and together. There are many projects which will require the different departments to cooperate with each other to be effectively carried out, be it events or policies or even national campaigns. Thus, every single DXO plays a critical role in supporting MINDEF and ensuring our nation’s protection and defence.

What responsibilities and challenges do you expect to face as a DXO in the near future?

The role of a DXO is not an easy one. Depending on the department that you are in – you could be in finance, policy or even the innovation department – there may be different types of background knowledge that you will need to acquire in a short period of time. Furthermore, I believe that developing myself into a good and trustworthy leader would be an important challenge to conquer.

Additionally, as with any job, I am still getting used to the transition from student life to working life.

What makes a good and effective leader?

A good and effective leader is someone who makes their team feel motivated. It is someone who inspires their team to do their best and not give up when obstacles are faced. It is also someone that their team trusts and feels comfortable turning to when they need help.

More importantly, a good, effective team leader is one who is able to identify the various strengths of each member of his/her team and guide them towards achieving their fullest potential.

What do you aim to achieve as a DXO for the Nation?

As a DXO, I hope to be a valuable team member and contribute towards the many different facets of our defence policies and infrastructures. As we will have the chance to be exposed to various job roles, this gives us an amazing opportunity to be able to make an impact in more than one area. We will also be able to learn a lot more about the different departments in MINDEF and how each of them plays an important role for the Nation. I hope to be able to do my best in each department I am posted to and play a part in achieving the departments’ goals and visions.

What do you hope to learn from your MINDEF/SAF career?

I am hoping to learn more about myself through on-the-job experience, such as my strengths and my areas for improvement. I’m also looking forward to learning more about the different areas of defence and seeing how I can contribute in my own small ways.

Through rotations between different appointments, which is one of the key features of the DXO scheme, I also hope to acquire various skills along the way and have a deeper understanding of the whole ecosystem behind MINDEF.

What’s your advice to aspiring scholars who wish to embark on a DXO career?

Just give it a shot! Come over and share what you are passionate about and how you want to contribute! The community here in MINDEF is kind, encouraging and supportive.

If you feel like you have a desire to give back to Singapore, to contribute in some way to this Nation’s security and defence, then this scholarship is the one for you.

2018 Defence Merit Scholarship Recipient
Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences (Honours), Nanyang Technological University
Now: Senior Analyst, Defence Policy Officer