If you’ve watched the Ah Boys to Men 3: Frogmen movie, you’d have a gist of how gruelling the Naval Diving Unit (NDU) training is.
But for one Singaporean woman, being part of this elite team is a “dream come true” for her.
Said formation medical officer of NDU Captain (Dr) Chiew Wenqi, who joined last October: “Since young, I’ve been interested in the military, especially the special forces.”
The 27-year-old, who obtained her medical degree from the National University of Singapore, said that in her current role, she provides underwater medicine support to the combat divers.
“I feel very honoured to be able to play a part by giving medical support to them,” she told Pioneer magazine.
At NDU, she underwent the Basic Diving Course. Apart from that, her other training was more focused on diving medicine, such as the Singapore Hyperbaric and Underwater Medicine Course.
Thanks to this vocation, she was also able to learn more about the operations and training that combat divers undergo, which includes them jumping out of planes and diving into the sea.
Chiew also made history after becoming the first Singaporean woman to undergo the United States Navy Diving Medical Officers’ course.
She was selected to go for the course as she was able to pass the physical screening test.
During the screening test, she had to do a 500 yard swim in 12.5 minutes, 50 push ups in two minutes, 50 sit-ups in two minutes, six pull ups and a 2.4km run in 12.5 minutes.
The course was held in Florida from July to October this year.
This tough course, according to the US Navy Medicine, is spread out across three phases and the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) sends one or two medical officers to attend the course annually.
The physically demanding course has a five-week preparatory phase, and some of the training Chiew had to undergo includes two to three hours of swimming, running, calisthenics, finning, and water confidence training nearly every day.
“It was a very physically challenging course. Nearly every day we’d do physical training,” she revealed.
Chiew added that these also helped her “empathise” with the divers and understand how she can treat their injuries and symptoms, such as decompression sickness.
“I can actually understand their dive profile better and understand what they have done. So, this helps me to make a better judgment and to give a better diagnosis and treatment for them,” she shared with Pioneer.
Other women in NDU
Chiew isn’t the first woman to be part of the prestigious NDU.
Major Esther Tan became Singapore’s first female naver diver in 2001 and she was reported to specialise in search-and-rescue operations and explosive ordnance disposal.
However, she almost did not make it to vocation.
While she finished among the top of her naval officer cadet batch and aced her physical and medical tests, she was not picked for the final interview to qualify for NDU.
So, she challenged the decision and managed to land an interview with the unit’s then-commander.
“I knew I had fulfilled all requirements so I just asked what else I lacked,” she said.
“All I thought was to convince him that I was confident that I could do it.”
Tan retired from RSN in 2017.
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