Saturday, May 21, 2011

Indonesian Navy's KRI 593 Banda Aceh shows how it wins the "hearts and minds" of Singaporeans

Changi Naval Base, 19 May 2011: We arrived onboard the Indonesian warship unannounced, smack in the middle of their makan siang (lunch) and in a platoon-size group.

Duty personnel aboard KRI 593 Banda Aceh did a headcount and herded the Singaporean NS men to the quarter deck. An officer soon appeared and took charge of the situation immediately.

IFF: TNI Captain Marvil (facing camera, centre) and duty personnel aboard KRI 593 Banda Aceh establish the identities of the small group of 20 Singaporean NSmen who boarded the Indonesian LPD unannounced at lunch time. CPT Marvil, Gunnery Officer aboard Banda Aceh, led the military enthusiasts on a ship tour. Much to the surprise of the NSmen, he later apologised for the awkward questions when we boarded. He was an exemplary host and a model example of naval diplomacy personified as he left his Singaporean visitors - many of whom had never come face-to-face with the TNI before - with a positive impression of the TNI's professionalism and mission readiness.  

After some initial probing ("Where is your RSN liaison?"), TNI gunnery officer Captain Marvil realised we were just warship nuts and brought us on a somewhat comprehensive tour of the brand new LPD.

He gave a running commentary in good English of the LCM and two pilot boats in the LPD's tank deck, led the group to the tank deck where he fielded questions from NSmen from Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Armour units, then up to the galley (yes, the crew were still having lunch), meeting room, wardroom and the bridge.

The KRI Banda Aceh was berthed at Changi Naval Base this past week as part of the Indonesian military's contribution to the IMDEX 2011 naval show (18 to 20 May 2011).

By the end of the visit to Banda Aceh, we had a better idea of the LPD's role in protecting the Indonesian archipelago and in anti-piracy sweeps in the Indian Ocean when paired with a Sigma-class corvette.

The LPD's crew had justifiable reason to be proud of their warship. It was kept spick and span, the hangar deck was hand-polished for an evening reception for the Singaporean Navy and build quality was commendable*. The ship also cherished its pioneer batch and had a plaque engraved with the names of all TNI personnel involved with the ship's construction and ICIT.(*Having been aboard many men-of-war, you soon get to know what a poorly-built ship looks like.)

The officer's apology at the end of the trip was as unexpected as it was sincere. CPT Marvil was sorry for the initial hesitation in welcoming the group and wanted to make amends.

And the Singaporean NSmens' unscripted and near simultaneous responses said it all. His apology triggered a chorus of assurance from his visitors that no apology was necessary. Score one point for the TNI.

Back on Singapore soil, across we went to see the stealth warship our tax dollars helped pay for.

Again, smack in the middle of lunch time and we were told to come back at 1400H. It was a 45-minute wait, which was no big deal.

With time to kill, we asked if we could photograph the Seahawk on the helideck and the answer was no. There was no attempt to compromise, exercise some flexibility or engage the group.

Sure, the ship would be open to visitors 45 minutes later. It was not an arduous wait and visits aboard warships are always a privilege, not a birthright.

Lunch interruptus: Singaporean NSmen watch as foreign VIPs are piped aboard RSS Stalwart. Minutes earlier, the NSmen had been turned away from the ship and were told the frigate could not host visitors as the crew was having their lunch.

As the NSmen gathered for an impromptu conference pierside, along came some VIP visitors who were whisked up the gangway and piped aboard with stiff formality.

At that point in time, almost everyone walked away disappointed as we realised the ship had smoked us.

We would have much preferred a straight and direct answer from the warship's crew - that the ship was closed because VIPs were on the way.

And if the message was late in coming - because VIPs being VIPs tend to show up at awkward moments - then one gets the impression that the 3G-ness of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) does not include keeping the door bitch sentry plugged into the info loop.

One also wonders why the RSN was so unprepared to host visitors throughout IMDEX show times. Would staggered meal times have thrown the ship's duty roster for the day out of whack? If other ships can do so, was it so hard to plan for and execute? If the TNI could exercise some initiative to foreign guests, was it so difficult for the best little navy in the world to show even a smidgen of hospitality?

Sure, we could have waited. But after being brought onto an emotional high by KRI Banda Aceh's warm and friendly welcome, the NSmen were given a sharp reality check by their own navy.

We felt this ship wasn't worth the wait and we trooped off and left Changi Naval Base.

Do not expect NSmen to suffer fools. After 45 years of nation-building, thinking soldiers expect and are entitled to seeing competent and confident officers and ratings in the RSN. Singaporeans will prefer a no bullshit, direct answer rather than an excuse that cannot hold water. Dancing around an issue sinks the Navy's credibility and makes one wonder how the organisation is really run.

With the SAF hardwired with this sort of mindset, it will clearly take more than headline-making calls for the civil service to open up and engage Singaporeans before the SAF walks the talk.

And if the RSN feels enthusiastic visitors are not worth cultivating, it may one day realise belatedly that preaching to the converted is a much preferred option to the hard task of engaging the apathetic.

Why bother wasting tax payers money on expensive public relations campaigns to shore up commitment to defence when straight talk and commonsense would do the job?

And you wonder why the Singapore government's attempts to "engage" Singaporeans (engage = a new buzzword) fail so miserably.


Mike Yeo said...

The MN mop-up crew on Friday faced the same issue of sorts. We showed up at 1pm only to be told that due to a expected VIP visit the ship was closed to visitors till 2pm. We tried to explain we only wanted to check out the Seahawk on board, the female "sentry" tried to ask her superiors but the answer was still no.

She suggested we visit the RSS Endurance till the coast was clear, which we did and re-entered the Stalwart without any issues later. Took more photos of the Seahawk than you could shake a stick at after a tour of the ship. The heavens chose to open up then so the MN crew had to seek shelter inside the helideck while waiting for the weather was clear. After a bit the ship's XO suggested we adjourn to the mess hall to wait out the weather in air-conditioned comfort and we were promptly told when the rain had stopped when we were given a choice to continue resting or to leave.

David Boey said...

Hi Mike,
The MN main body on Thursday was told no visits because the crew was at lunch.

As some MNs have noted, they could have simply said a VIP was due onboard and all of us would have understood and steered clear. No issue with that.

I would rather deal with a straight-talker, even if the officer's decision is an unpalatable one (e.g. cannot photograph this or that) than namby pambies who think they are dealing with idiots.


Anonymous said...

Singaporean like to complain lah.....

Anonymous said...

just to add to this SENANG DIRI BLOGGER you are like a guy that I see in this commercial
........ I Want to Complain! Wow with just a few

With just a few sentences in your aircon room you give the RSN a bad name!!!!!!

It lunch time, it VIP visit use your brain your brain go to another ship !!!!!

Wocelot said...

It should be noted that that KRI Banda Aceh just switched on the aircons or lowered the temperatures just to welcome us onboard.

To the Anonymous poster above, the group was just wondering if things could have been handled in a better way. Imagine if the would-be visitors were foreigners. What would they have thought about RSN then?? Of course the group visited another ship. The Russians were honest in telling the group about a VIP visit and they were preparing for it and told the group to come back at 1500. Did the group complain about the Russians? I think the answer is obvious.

Anthony said...

To Anon 11:55, shut up. Adults are talking

Anonymous said...

"Anthony said...

"To Anon 11:55, shut up. Adults are talking"

Yep "Adults" that like to tell people to shut up and thinking that they are the centre of the world and that their views are always right.

They see one wrong and they get jumpy. Always one sided!

Hey Anthony THE man, at the end of the day did u go up to other RSN personnel who were at their posts standing the whole day to offer a word of thanks!

Yep mistakes might be made but there is no need to put the whole RSN down.

btw I am RSN personnel and proud to serve the people of Singapore knowing what I do every day keeps Singapore safe and for the RSN personnel who make the mistake of not handling the situation better. I say sorry.

For the rest of the RSN, I thank you all.

For I know of all the long hours that we put in and trying our very best to welcome everyone.

Thanks to all Men and Women of RSN.

Who @ Milnuts said...

Now wanting to start a flame war but ur sentence of us not going up to days a words of thanks to the RSN personnel on duty , we would says thanks and their hard provided we can board the ship in the 1st place.

To us NS men we were all proud to serve (be it Navy, Army , Airforce) to say the least and need not to be reminded by u,

I guess David blog entry has raise some ruckus at RSN side but take it as a learning cycle, guess most MINDEF staff does come in to read this blog and phone calls did ring to the RSN command

If the RSN officer were forth coming like what the Russian duty officer says that there are VIP coming we will stay clear , I (we) don't expect every officer to be like the TNI officer in welcoming us for the visit but put urself in our shoe what will u think in that instance?

No need to use childish word like " use ur brains go to another ship" Ur r an adult and I shall treat u like an adult , a mistake (depending on which side of the fence) has been done , but hey it is a honest mistake as it is really lunchtime.

Who aka Ling (I shall not hide behind some anonymous entry)
And yes I am the one who took the scandalous photo

Who said...

Sorry I want to say NOT wanting to start a flame war

Anonymous said...

Look at the first post calling someone a bitch Hmmmm.... childish? need i say more?

Anonymous said...

Your family upbringing of addressing someone like that? haiz :( what a family you have. You r not only childish but u have no respect for others.

Poor upbringing.

Anonymous said...

Again I AM A RSN Personnel and proud to be ONE RSN FAMILY !

Who @ Milnuts said...

Don't hide behind anonymous lah. Proud to ONE RSN FAMILY? stand up and don't hide behind anonymous entry.

Make the RSN proud of u standing up the unfair posting by using other than anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Their are around 1000 of us who do you wanna know?

Anonymous said...

ops Sorry :) There are around 1000 of us who do u wanna know?

Who said...

Hiaz my friend u still don't get my post on anonymous comments. It's ok I shall stop here.

FYI you won't get any response as most pp don't response to anonymous posting aka hiding


Anonymous said...

Well at least you know that an RSN personnel stood up for the RSN Family!

Anonymous said...

Whats so great about RSN when its not even battle proven? Hardware and software not tested in real war. Haven't even arrest any pirates in Somalia despite spending more on defence than TUDM. RSN or NCC Sea?

Anonymous said...

This what navy are made of:

Malaysia navy foils ship hijack attempt, seizes pirates

not some wayang exercises and some more lost more crew in accidents( 4 in a day to speak) in peace time than war time. Who's more `Courageous'? TUDM or RSN?

warspite said...

Damn, the trolls have finally invaded this blog...
Please don't feed the troll!

Who said...

yep its bad they troll on forums and now the flamming even reach here. hate those anonymous post

ismail said...

@David Boey
Tolong jangan dikomparasikan secara langsung antara TNI AL dengan RSN mengenai mana yg lebih ramah. Hal ini tidak baik untuk hubungan kedua negara karena dapat menumbuhkan bibit antipati terhadap TNI AL/RSN.

@David Boey
Would you please don't compare directly between TNI AL / RSN's hospitality. This thing could bring some negative effects (example; RSN members or Singaporeans could hate TNI AL because of this)

Anonymous said...

Cannot agreed with david, one tiny incident and you slap the entire RSN and went as far as to question the whole govt of singapore? why not go abit further and blame the entire population of singapore?

Anonymous said...

David, isnt it about time to let your hatred and anger go?

if you look at the whole issue from a different angle, it might make you feel better.

for example, the indonesian hospitality, the indonesian navy is here as guest at RSN hospitality, as singapore guest, obviously when the citizen of the host nation appear, it is only right to do their best to please the singaporeans as a sign of goodwill and as a respect to the host nation.

in the case of singapore ship, please dont we have navy open house? knowing that you are all singaporeans, why cant you people have the graciousness to let visitors and foreign dignitaries have priority?

be gracious, be considerate, for the sake of our country

Anonymous said...

i just want to let boey and his teammates know one thing.

the hospitality you and your team enjoyed on the indonesian boat was because of indonesian respect to the RSN as well as to the govt of singapore.

or do boey believe that he and his team are VVVVVIP?

so its really sad to see him and his team turn around and bite the very people, service and govt who worked hard every day for the sake of all singaporeans.

Anonymous said...

Lunch time lah.
Cannot invite VIP for lunch is it?
You are not invited for lunch so wait lah.

Anonymous said...

Yah eat eat only eat but come to real world mission failed. Despite sending high tech minesweepers to search for black box of crashed Silkair MI185 found nothing. It was the TNIAL divers who found it despite obsoleted equipment years behind RSN. So much so for 1st world hardware run by 3rd world software(people).

Anonymous said...

And some RSN idiot dropped anchor in a clearly marked "no anchor" area in Darwin that nearly caused blackout to whole of Darwin.

Slackers or bo chap?

Anonymous said...

This is not a fair statement David

The RSAF does very well - just look at the open house!