KOTA SAMARAHAN: Career army officer Mejar-Jen Datuk Toh Choon Siang has notched up one achievement after another since enlisting straight out of school in 1977.
He is currently the commander of the 1st Infantry Division based here – the third non-Malay and first Chinese to hold the post.
Before this, he was 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.
“Well, I always say that I’m a special masonry nail,” he said.
Coming from a military family, the Johor-born Toh had always wanted to join the Armed Forces.
His father served in the British air force during the World War II, while his eldest brother joined the navy and two other brothers joined the air force.
Toh applied to join the army after Form Five in 1975, but was turned down as he was only 16.
“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 told The Star in an interview.
As a two-star general holding one of the top 14 positions in the Malaysian army, Toh hopes to encourage more Chinese to join the armed forces as they currently make up less than 1% of the personnel.
His a far cry from 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 promotion. The Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association is also going all out to conduct publicity and recruitment drives,” Toh said.
He also said ongoing efforts were needed to change perceptions about career prospects in the army.
“Chinese youngsters want to be somebody in five years’ time, but in the army you have to work your way up, so that’s not encouraging for them.
“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 observed that the new Federal Government was changing perceptions by appointing Liew Chin Tong as the first Chinese Deputy Defence Minister.
“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.
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