Enriched by Brunei culture, unwavering friendship

|     James Kon     |

OVERSEAS military personnel who completed the 40-week 7th Royal Brunei Armed Forces Command and Staff Course (RBAF CSC 7) in Brunei Darussalam not only broadened their professional and academic knowledge, but also brought home a better understanding of Brunei’s culture and unwavering friendship.

Major Keiran Vidal of the Australian Army who received the Massey University’s Academic Excellence Award in an interview said, “Doing the course in Brunei has added extra reward for me and family: Seeing Brunei and understanding the local community, as well as admiring the sceneries of the pristine jungle and Kampong Ayer.

Professor Paul Spoonley, the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Massey University, New Zealand presenting the Massey University’s Academic Excellence Award to Major Keiran Vidal of the Australian Army

“During the 10-month period, I have made numerous friends from Brunei and around the world. The experience of Brunei culture and witnessing the Golden Jubilee Celebration of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s Accession to the Throne will be a memory to last for a lifetime.”

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Ng Yen Meng of the Republic of Singapore Navy shared that at first, he was not sure what to expect in terms of adapting to the lifestyle in Brunei. Fortunately, “the students were like an extended family, taking me around Brunei to familiarise the surrounding. And whenever I needed a friend or someone to talk to, they are always there for me”.

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence presenting the RBAF CSC Commendation Award to Lieutenant Colonel Ng Yen Meng of the Republic of Singapore Navy

He expressed he never regretted coming to Brunei. “It gave me a chance to know the Brunei culture. One of the fascinating experiences is the Brunei community spirit.”

Once, during an evening run, “I was feeling very tired, so I took a rest,” Lieutenant Colonel Ng recalled. “A group of Bruneian runners came by and ask if I am okay. It brings warmth and further reinforces the reasons why we serve in the army, which is to defend our family and the country.”

Participants also said they have benefitted from the course.

Speaking about the RBAF CSC 7, the recipient of the RBAF CSC Overall Excellence Award, Major Justin A Hooker of the United States Marine Corps, said the experience “has been incredibly rewarding and a valuable experience in my life”.

The beauty of the course in Brunei “is the size and access one can get”, the major said.

Captain (Rtd) Dato Paduka Abdul Rahman bin Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Haji Bakar, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence presenting the RBAF CSC Overall Excellence Award to Major Justin A Hooker of the United States Marine Corps

With only 30 participants, “We know each other’s strength and weakness, so we can work together to have a really tight working team”, according to Major Hooker. “Today’s ceremony is not about me, but really a reflection of us working together as a team,” he said.

Meanwhile, Major Awangku Haji Saiful Amirul Bakri bin Pengiran Haji Ramlee of the Royal Brunei Land Forces, and recipient of the Commandant Award, said, “Besides the academic aspect, the course is very interesting because we get to share our experience with our international counterpart. It was a mixture of knowledge and experience which will prove helpful in our future endeavour.”

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence presenting the certificate to Major Awangku Haji Saiful Amirul Bakri bin Pengiran Haji Ramlee of the Royal Brunei Land Forces. – PHOTOS: JAMES KON

The course was also held in high regards by its participants.

Major Hooker, who has been in the USMarine Corps for more than 12 years, also underwent a similar course in the US before. “The instructions that I received here in Brunei is as good as what I received in the US, and what make this course different was the access to numerous government departments.”

Lieutenant Colonel Ng, who took home the RBAF CSC Commendation Award, said, “For the Singapore Armed Forces, this is the highest pinnacle professional course to undergo in the military career, so I feel honoured to be here.”

Major Keiran Vidal said the course was not an easy one, where “solid works are needed with lots of hours including weekend and late nights”.

“A lot of work is required to complete the 10-month course… To be able to get the award at the end is wonderful. To complete the course is a key milestone for myself, and having been in the army for some 20 years, I hope that I will get promoted to Lieutenant Colonel soon.”

Major Awangku Haji Saiful Amirul Bakri urged future participants to make full use of the course to learn and gain experience, while Major Keiran Vidal advised them to work hard and maintain the effort throughout the 10 months, adding that “balancing the work with family is really a challenge”.

“The key to success is team-work,” Major Hooker advised. “If there are areas that you are struggling in, you need to go ask for help.”