RSAF pilot awarded Southern Star Medal , Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

RSAF pilot awarded Southern Star Medal

Major C. Teeneshwaran is in his element in the sky. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) pilot has been flying the C-130 aircraft for 15 years and knows its controls, throttle and the low humming of its engines like the back of his hand. 

So when he was grounded for 10 months during a military staff course in India, spending most of his time in lecture halls instead of cockpits, there were many times the 36-year-old felt out of his depth. 

“It was academically very rigorous and demanding,” said MAJ Teeneshwaran of his time in Wellington, Tamil Nadu. “Adding on to the need to adapt to a learning environment and the pressure to perform among a diverse group of international peers... I had to maintain a positive and resilient attitude.” 

He started attending the 79th Staff Course from June 5, 2023, at the Defence Services Staff College, one of India’s oldest military institutions.

At a convocation ceremony on April 13, MAJ Teeneshwaran was awarded the Southern Star Medal, which is presented to the best international student officer. A total of 36 international student officers from 27 nations took part in the course.

He is the third Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officer to receive the Southern Star Medal. Typically, one SAF officer attends the course each year, but it is unclear when officers from Singapore first participated.

The honour caught him off guard, said MAJ Teeneshwaran, who was in the middle of a conversation when his name was announced.

“I just focused on doing everything well,” he said of his time in India. “I made sure to do my best and give my 100 per cent for every assignment and, thankfully, that led to me emerging as the top student.

“It fills me with a lot of pride to have the opportunity to make Singapore proud, especially on an international platform. It also motivates me to continue striving for excellence in my future endeavours. It has been quite a gratifying and humbling experience.” 

The course, which aims to develop leadership skills and decision-making abilities, involved a six-day work week, said MAJ Teeneshwaran. It consisted of academic lectures on a range of military topics and simulation exercises. 

He was also required to complete a master’s in defence and strategic studies from Madras University as part of the course, which saw him dive into heavy research for his dissertation, which centred on China’s emerging role on the global stage. 

The most onerous task for MAJ Teeneshwaran, however, was a 25-minute speech that officers were required to deliver before an audience of about 150 people. 

“Speaking to such a huge audience was a daunting task, and from the get-go, I wasn’t very comfortable with public speaking,” he said. 

After a month of rehearsing, MAJ Teeneshwaran delivered his presentation smoothly, speaking about the ins and outs of the RSAF without a single cue card in hand.
His wife, Ms Park Jooyoung, 34, had quit her job as a content policy manager at X, formerly known as Twitter, to accompany him to the college thousands of miles away from home.

He called her presence a “major supporting boost” and said having her by his side was a “huge relief”.

“Anything revolving around the household, she took care of it, so I could focus on my workload.”

MAJ Teeneshwaran, who picked up flying with the Singapore Youth Flying Club while a student at St Andrew’s Junior College, said he immediately expressed interest in attending the course when the opportunity arose.

The business degree holder from the Singapore University of Social Sciences is no stranger to overseas missions. He was involved in search-and-locate operations, such as the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft MH370, as well as humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations following the 2015 Nepal earthquake.

He was also in the cockpit in 2021, delivering oxygen cylinders to India amid its oxygen crisis arising from a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

But he was keen to further develop his skills.

“I felt that an overseas staff course would broaden my perspective and allow me to gain some exposure into the various military strategies and practices,” he said. “I would also gain a deeper understanding of geopolitical dynamics and security challenges that are beyond Singapore’s borders.”

He also felt his existing skills put him in good stead to do well. “I think my experience in the air force provided a solid foundation to really navigate the complexities of the course and excel amid whatever issues or adversities I faced,” he said.

“I think sometimes they (the Indian officers) naturally saw me as one of them because I’m also Indian. So they spoke to me a lot in Hindi, not knowing that I actually didn’t really understand them,” quipped MAJ Teeneshwaran, who studied Tamil in school. 

Back with his squadron, MAJ Teeneshwaran is now ready for his next ascent. An instructor pilot and Officer Commanding prior to attending the course, he is looking forward to his next appointment.

He aims to better contribute to the RSAF and Singapore, starting with inspiring up-and-coming officers. 

“I want to share with the next generation of leaders my knowledge from my experience in the last 15 years, and also from the staff course,” he said. “I believe that developing future leaders is one way to contribute to the long-term strength and resilience of a nation.”