“Good iron doesn’t make nails, good men don’t make soldiers.”
That is the old Chinese adage which is still probably true especially for the Malaysian Chinese today. It is the same adage that the late Lee Kuan Yew lamented about in one of his memoirs. The participation of the Chinese community in the Malaysian Armed Forces is still poor despite numerous recruitment drives done to get them to join.
In 2010, out of an approximate 100,000 men and women of the Malaysian Armed Forces, only 0.2 percent of Chinese joined the Malaysian Army, 0.3 percent joined the Royal Malaysian Navy, while 0.4 percent joined the Royal Malaysian Air Force. For the Indians, the numbers are 0.7 percent, 1.1 percent and 1.7 percent for the respective branch of the Malaysian Armed Forces.
It may be on the extreme end to say that the Chinese probably feel that it is far more important to make money than to play a role in defending the country, but the notion that I get is that they probably feel you cannot prosper working for the government.
It could also be due to the unwillingness of the youth nowadays to undergo hard training no matter how good the pay is. But that does not answer why the number of Malays are more in the Malaysian Armed Forces.
As a result, the Malaysian Armed Forces is overwhelmingly Malay. Hence, in any leadership line up you would see more Malays becoming senior and star officers compared to the non-Malays.
This lopsided scene is then misinterpreted as the non-Malays do not stand a chance to rise and make the ranks – a perception that is played by those irresponsible to instill an anti-establishment feeling among the non-Malays.
Let us take the RMAF, for example, where the organisation has four non-Malay star officers (Brigadier-Generals and above) out of a total of 47. That represents 8.5 percent of the total number of star officers compared to the 2.1 percent of total non-Malay participation in the RMAF, which is looking at increasing the number of non-Malays to a minimum of 20 percent of the total strength.
It is also important to note that among the operational officers, two non-Malay lady officers stand out the most. They are Major Patricia Yapp Shau Yin RMAF and Major Teoh Siow Ling RMAF.
Major Patricia Yapp who hails from Sandakan, Sabah is an examplary Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) who is the world’s first female pilot to fly the Russian-made Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29N.
When asked if there is discrimination in the RMAF towards women or the non-Malays, she said the men and women all do the same field training, physical training and flying training. Women don’t get special treatment and are all evaluated by the same standard and are given the same opportunities. The key is to never give up trying after each failure because it has taken her a lot to be where she is now. It is all about discipline, courage, teamwork and commitment.
She is saddened though that during one of the recruitment drives in her home state of Sabah, she waited for half a day for Sabahans to turn up but none did during the second half of the day.
Major Teoh Siow Ling RMAF also attributes her success to discipline, determination and hardwork. The Melaka-girl is aware that some non-Malays say that she would fare better elsewhere, for example, in the Republic of Singapore Armed Forces.
“It is not true that there is discrimination against the non-Malays in the RMAF,” she said. “There are those who are my seniors who are Malays who still hold the rank of Captain. Race has nothing to do with it.”
“It is only because the number of non-Malays are small that you do not get to see a huge number go up,” she added. “If you don’t work hard, you will not go up and it doesn’t matter what race you are. If you do not shine, no one will see you and you will remain where you are.”
The RMAF has had many pilots flying the fixed and rotary winged aircraft in its inventory since its establishment. Not once has the RMAF barred any non-Malay to be involved in handling any sensitive equipment or information. The Army has, if my memory serves me right, produced 29 non-Malay star officers, the RMN 22 while the RMAF 19.
Compare this to our Southern neighbour. The Malays have only been accepted into the Armour Formation two years ago. In fact, the Singapore Armed Forces used to have or still has a discriminatory policy towards the Malays, not allowing them to hold sensitive key positions thus depriving them of promising careers in the SAF.
Such discrimination does not exist in the Malaysian Armed Forces, which have produced 70 non-Malay Generals and Admirals. All is especially fair in the RMAF.
Therefore, there is no reason for the non-Malays to shy away from joining the Malaysian Armed Forces. There is also no reason for the people of Sabah and Sarawak to feel as if they would not be able to compete against those from the Peninsular. After all, Major Patricia is from Sabah.
And the current Chief of the RMAF is from Kuching, Sarawak.