Female Air Force Engineer

If there’s one thing that the recent Barbie movie has taught us, it is that women go through different kinds of struggles every day. Especially for women in male-dominated industries, it can be hard to avoid certain stereotypes and misconceptions. 

Serving the nation in Singapore is often associated with men, who have to join the military for a mandatory two years with the option of signing on. However, ME5 Pauline Ang stunned the people around her when she didn’t hesitate to join the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) right after graduating university at just 24 years old. 

Here’s what her journey is like as a female Air Force Engineer of over 13 years, from taking on various job scopes, to dealing with stereotypes and balancing between her family and work.

Growing up and deciding to join the Air Force

Pauline with her mother at the Honorary Aide-de-Camp (HADC) reappointment ceremony 

“What are you going to do after you graduate?” is a common question that university students hear while anxiously counting down to their graduation date. NGL, back when I was a student myself, I didn’t have an answer to that question either. 

Unlike me, Pauline was sure of her main interest since young: aviation. So it was no surprise to people around her when she chose to pursue a degree in Aerospace Engineering in NTU. 

“When I was doing my degree, I had the chance to experience an internship at a commercial firm. I didn’t really like it because it was a desk-bound job without much interaction with people. That’s when I knew I wanted a job where I could be more proactive, despite being an introvert.” 

It was after this discovery that the RSAF came down to Pauline’s school for road shows. Spurred on by what it had to offer, Pauline chose to sign on instead of going for commercial engineering firms like her peers.

“I didn’t feel the pressure to follow them because I’m someone who doesn’t change my decision once I make up my mind.” 

Pauline’s friends were very shocked by her decision as this was not a conventional route for a female engineer. On the other hand, her family, especially her late mother, was fully supportive. 

Taking on various roles in the Air Force

Female Air Force EngineerPauline (fourth from left) with the air and ground crew of the F-16D fighter aircraft

Now, at 37 years old, Pauline is currently an Air Force Engineer (AFE) at the RSAF. As part of her duties as an AFE, Pauline leads a team to maintain and service aircraft, systems and equipment to ensure operational readiness. She specialises in the F-16 fighter aircraft as well as the G550 Airborne Early Warning (G550-AEW) aircraft. 

While all this might sound very technical, Pauline also shared that she had the opportunity to develop her soft skills too

“Throughout these 13 years, I’ve held many different positions in the 5 Air Engineering and Logistics Group (AELG). The RSAF has really given me many opportunities to grow, and helped me develop leadership skills, which can be applied to both professional and personal settings.”

Pauline with 5 Air Engineering and Logistics Group in front of the G550 Airborne Early Warning and F-16C/D fighter aircraft

It’s a well-known fact that public speaking is pretty much every introvert’s nightmare. During her time as an Officer Commanding (OC) in 5 AELG, Pauline led a team of 70 pax, which wasn’t an easy feat for an introvert like her. Since then, she has overcome many of her personal fears. 

In 2018, Pauline was appointed as an Honorary Aide-de-Camp (HADC) to the President — a role that she was both surprised and honoured to receive. 

“As a HADC, we represent the highest office in Singapore when we perform duties at ceremonial events. The need to display grace under pressure is especially important, as there will be unforeseen challenges during events. 

I also had the opportunity to interact and forge friendships with other HADCs from other uniformed services, such as the SPF and SCDF.”

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry

Female Air Force EngineerPauline at an event with her 5 Air Engineering and Logistics Group colleagues 

Pauline once also had the opportunity to work in the SAF’s Women Outreach Office, which was established as a centralised office to focus on women outreach and servicewomen initiatives. Such initiatives include improving the working environments for servicewomen.

Since there are significantly fewer women in the military, these little details might be overlooked. Pauline’s team has come a long way in implementing policies and initiatives to positively impact the servicewomen at work.

One of the main things that she’s proud of is helping to set up the SAF Servicewomen Network, which aims to build a strong, close-knitted network within the SAF for servicewomen. 

“It’s very heartening to get to know other women who have the same goals, passions and struggles as me. So we often check on each other and share tips to encourage each other.” 

This feeling didn’t come easy for Pauline, as she had to deal with the stereotypes of being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Some of her friends and family members felt that since she wasn’t really physically active in university and was more on the quiet side, she wouldn’t be able to lead others well. 

“But I always believe that actions speak louder than words, so I proved them wrong by performing well in my various appointments.” 

Balancing between family and work

Pauline and her husband, Mr Nick Leow, who was on In-Camp Training

Thinking back to who has been supporting her throughout her years in the Air Force, Pauline didn’t hesitate to name her husband. The pair met in university as coursemates and started dating back in 2006, eventually tying the knot in 2014. 

Apart from her various roles in the Air Force, Pauline also has an extra role to play at home — being a mother. The couple have two sons aged 8 and 2, meaning Pauline has to find the perfect balance between family and work. 

She admitted that this has been her biggest challenge throughout her 13 years of service.  

Female Air Force EngineerPauline and her family

During her time as an OC, Pauline recalls having to wake up at 6am every day to prepare for work, then get her kids’ breakfast ready, before heading off to a long day of work. Most days, she ends at 6pm to fetch her kids from school and then prepare their dinner. There’s no moment of rest for her — just full speed ahead. 

But Pauline’s schedule isn’t always fixed — night shifts and changes in plans are all part of being in the military. 

“I’m really thankful that my husband is so flexible and can hold the fort at home whenever I have changes in my schedule. He has always been so patient, understanding and supportive so I can work with ease.” 

Plans for the future

Pauline and her family at her promotion ceremony in 2016

As of August 2022, Pauline has been pursuing a full-time Masters in Industrial and Systems Engineering, sponsored by the RSAF. Right before starting her Masters, she gave birth to her second child. As she’s currently studying instead of working, she feels that it’s a little easier for her to balance time with her family.

It’s a brand new start, but Pauline is determined to excel in her studies just as she does at work. It was tough to get back to the books again after having been in the working world for a long time, but she has two main reasons why she chose to do so. 

“First, it’s for my personal achievement. And second, I hope to acquire more knowledge to contribute further to my organisation.”

And to other women who are afraid to take the leap of faith to join the Air Force, Pauline wants to encourage them to just go for it

“If you feel that something is worth trying, go ahead and pursue your passion and embrace the challenges as part of your journey. You’ll be surprised at where life will take you.”

Pauline ended the interview with an inspirational quote from Barack Obama that keeps her going — “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. So we are the change that we seek.”

“This quote resonates with me as I always believe in being responsible and proactive so that we will be able to bring the change that we want to see. It’s a call-to-action and self-empowerment.”

Being In The Air Force For Over 13 Years Has Reaffirmed Pauline’s Belief That Women Can Excel In Their Passions

Looking back on her past 13 years in the Air Force, Pauline acknowledged, “I feel really honoured and proud to contribute meaningfully to the defence of Singapore skies. I hope to inspire more women to join through the sharing of my own experiences, the good and bad times, and how I managed to overcome them throughout these years.”

For those who are inspired by Pauline’s journey and are interested to learn more, you’re in luck. This year, the RSAF is celebrating their 55th anniversary with the RSAF55 Open House on 9 and 10 September.

Female Air Force EngineerVisitors will be able to get up-close and personal with RSAF assets

Visitors will be able to watch capability demonstrations, such as the Aerial Capability Display, and get up close and personal with RSAF assets and personnel at the static displays.

On top of that, they will also get to experience interactive exhibitions and try their hand at fun, family-friendly games at the carnival section. The Digital Experience Webapp provides visitors with event information and allows them to participate in missions to earn digital coins which can be used to redeem RSAF55 memorabilia. 

This open house marks the RSAF’s opening of their base to the public again after a seven-year hiatus — an event that aviation fans can’t miss out on. 

Passionate individuals will get the opportunity to find out more about the airmen and women’s various roles. Through listening to their stories, perhaps you’ll be inspired to join them on a new and fulfilling journey. To find out more about the exciting careers in the RSAF, see here.

RSAF55 Open House
Date: 9 to 10 September 2023
Time: 9am-6pm (Doors Open 8.30am)
Location: Paya Lebar Air Base

Find out more about the RSAF55 Open House here!

This post was brought to you by the RSAF.
All images courtesy of Pauline Ang unless otherwise stated.

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