Being in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is not easy.
If you thought serving National Service was terrible, the Ranger course is even more gruelling.
Yet, Captain (CPT) Yap Hui Jun pulled through the obstacles she faced in the Ranger course.
She is now the first female Ranger in the SAF.
CPT Yap is the First Female Ranger
On 16 October 2023, CPT Yap became the first female to graduate from the Ranger course.
Yes, it is a big deal.
Out of 62 trainees enrolled at the start of the course, only 39 managed to graduate from the batch.
If you didn’t know, the Ranger course is the most challenging course in the SAF.
Trainees have to go through intense missions reminiscent of “war-time” conditions.
For those of us who don’t exercise, the Ranger course would be a nightmare.
After all, missions include airborne and amphibious operations, terminal air guidance, live firing and field exercises.
Trainees have to undergo these missions all while facing food and sleep deprivation.
This is CPT Yap’s second time enrolling.
The first time she enrolled, she failed to make it past the second of three phases of the 65-day course.
Yet, she was undeterred.
The 27-year-old re-enrolled into the 50th batch this year and successfully graduated.
CPT Yap said she previously “wasn’t up to Ranger standards”.
However, in her second attempt at the course, she put more effort into planning and understanding Small Unit Tactics.
Small Unit Tactics refer to how to fight, raid and ambush.
She was also more prepared for the course this time and was thus able to carry more load.
Had to Shave Her Head for the Course
Speaking to PIONEER, CPT Yap revealed that she did not know that she had to shave her head for the Ranger course.
However, she treated it as a “small sacrifice” as she “really wanted to join the Rangers”.
She noted that it wasn’t easy as her hair was long and would take a long time to grow back.
In a video interview with PIONEER, she explained that trainees needing to shave their heads wasn’t to tekan (to bully) them.
There’s a very practical reason behind the baldness.
CPT Yap explained that shaving one’s head for the Ranger course was for hygiene reasons.
After all, Ranger trainees would need to go for days and weeks without showering.
CPT Yap explained that gender “doesn’t come into play in the Ranger course”.
Beyond shaving her head, she elaborated that she had to do the same amount of things that the other male trainees had to do.
She said, “A 20km combat march is still a 20km combat march. You don’t walk less; you don’t carry anything less.”
For context, this includes carrying heavy equipment like the General Purpose Machine gun (GPMG) and MATADOR (Man-portable Anti-Tank, Anti-DOoR), which is a challenging feat.
Furthermore, one must carry these bulky items during a casualty evacuation exercise.
She said, “As a female, you may even face more things (mentally) than the guys because you have to prove yourself worthy of being a Ranger.”
At this point, you’re probably not surprised that CPT Yap is an Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) 100-pointer.
According to her, she has always been athletic.
She was in the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Aquathlon team.
Even though most people stop training after leaving university, she still does her own training every day.
Moreover, as a Platoon Commander with the Officer Cadet Training Wing, Intelligence Officer Cadet Course, she often joins her men in training and exercises.
Most Challenging Part of the Course
CPT Yap noted that the Ranger course is not for the faint-hearted, adding that one had to be “ready for anything”.
She also emphasised that self-discipline was vital in completing the course.
According to her, the most challenging part of the course was fighting the urge to sleep.
On one ten-day mission, the trainees didn’t sleep at all.
She added that the only time trainees got to sleep was in their patrol base.
Even then, they would sleep in shifts.
Some of us can’t even get through the day without a nap in the civilian world.
She added that the trainees in the course only get about 15 minutes of sleep per day.
Why the Ranger Course?
It is no secret that the Ranger course is immensely tough.
So why would CPT Yap do it?
She explained that she came across many Rangers in her unit and was inspired by them.
Thus, she wanted to be part of the Ranger family and challenge herself.
It’s also common knowledge that the number of males in the SAF dramatically outnumbers the number of females.
However, CPT Yap decided to sign on with the SAF as she felt it was her calling.
She stated, “People contribute in different ways to the nation, and I feel that wearing green is my calling.
“This is how I contribute back to society.”
She decided to join the army after graduating from junior college and attending an SAF open house.
Knowing that she had always been passionate about being a leader, she felt the army would be the best place to develop these skills and meet new people.
Speaking to The Straits Times, CPT Yap called her journey of signing on a path of “self-discovery”.
Stating that she felt “honoured” and “humbled” to be Singapore’s first female Ranger, she hopes more women would be encouraged to sign on with the SAF.
She also conveyed her hope that she can impart valuable lessons to her cadets since she has completed the course.
Moving forward, she said she was eager to tackle more challenges ahead.
What is the Ranger Course?
For those unfamiliar with army jargon, here’s a quick summary of the Ranger course.
The Ranger course was introduced in 1978.
It is known to be the most demanding SAF course in Singapore and isn’t open to everyone.
Trainees have to meet three prerequisites before being selected for the course.
Namely, they must undergo a conditioning programme, a medical examination and a selection test.
The course aims to hone small-unit war-fighting leadership qualities.
It also aims to develop physical and mental toughness.
The course is 65 days long and has three phases.
Trainees partake in skill-based training during the first phase, which lasts 20 days.
This includes weapons training, demolition, coastal swims and navigation.
The next phase is also 20 days long and gets more intense.
It sees trainees take part in field training exercises and back-to-back sea-based missions.
These missions usually last from eight to ten hours.
If you think that’s tough, the third phase is even more difficult.
The third and final phase of the course lasts for 25 days.
Trainees must endure longer and further field training exercises, which include executing air-based missions.
Other SAF Milestones
In 2021, the first female fighter aircrew duo for a F-15SG fighter jet participated in an exercise in the US.
Fighter pilot Captain (CPT) Julie Lim and weapons systems officer Lieutenant (LTA) Hannah Teo were the first women fighter aircrew duo to fly the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) multi-role combat fighter together.
In 2015, Colonel Gan Siow Huang became the first female general in the SAF.
She was among the first women to receive the SAF Merit Scholarship in 1993.
While she credited her supportive colleagues and bosses, she stated that having strong family support was “absolutely critical” for her career.
A mother of three girls, her parents-in-law and her husband would help care for the children while she was working.