Now that we’re living in the new Malaysia, it seems that many new milestones are being made along the way. In yet another achievement, we have our very first Chinese commander of the 1st Infantry Division in the army.
Career army officer Mejar-Jen Datuk Toh Choon Siang was promoted to the position of commander of the 1st Infantry Division, another achievement for him ever since he enlisted straight out of school in 1977.
According to The Star, this was an even greater milestone to achieve because he is the third non-Malay and first Chinese to hold this post. Prior to this, he also made history by being the first Chinese to command the 11th Brigade in Selangor.
“There’s an old Chinese saying that good iron doesn’t make nails and good men don’t make soldiers,” he said.
“Well, I always say that I’m a special masonry nail.”
Johor-born Toh always wanted to join the Armed Forces as he comes from a military family, and applied to join the army after Form Five in 1975. However, he was declined as he was only 16 years old.
“I had to go back to school and do Lower Six for one year. After that, I applied again and got in, though I was still underage and was only commissioned when I was 18. This is now my 42nd year in the service,” Toh said.
His eldest brother joined the navy and two other brothers joined the air force, while his father served in the British air force during the World War II.
With the Chinese making up less than 1% of the personnel and Toh being a two-star general holding one of the top 14 positions in the Malaysian army, he wants to encourage more people to join the armed forces.
This comes as something very different compared to his time when he was among 36 Chinese out of 160 new recruits.
“Nowadays, to get this percentage, the recruitment department has to work extra hard.”
“We have to publish more in Chinese newspapers and go to Chinese villages to carry out promotions. The Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association is also going all out to conduct publicity and recruitment drives,” Toh said.
He also said they would need to work really hard to change deep-rooted perceptions about career prospects in the army and explained that usually Chinese youngsters want to have a good position in five years’ time, but in the army, they would have to work their way up which deters them from enlisting in the army.
“What we need to do is instil a sense of pride and patriotism and show them that joining the army is a noble profession. We also have to show them what advantages they get in the army.”
“For instance, the pay now is very good. A private soldier gets about RM2,000 a month in training,” he said.
Toh then acknowledged that the new Federal Government has made the right move to change their perceptions by appointing the first Chinese Deputy Defence Minister, Liew Chin Tong.
“Hopefully, this will disprove the perception that the Chinese cannot get promoted and will change their perceptions of the uniformed bodies,” he said.
Toh, who will be retiring next year, said he could look back with pride at his career.
“If my father were alive, he would be very proud. Looking back, I think I’ve achieved a lot. It should be a motivation to the Chinese in the army to continue serving,” he said.
Congrats Toh Choon Siang! We hope you will be an inspiration to others who wish to join the army.
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