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Singapore’s first bronze star awardee, Brigadier-General Cai Dexian, reflects on leadership, afghanistan, and cultural bonds

Brigadier-General Cai Dexian, the first Singaporean awarded the Bronze Star Medal, reflects on his Afghanistan deployment.

Leading the 3rd Singapore Division, he emphasizes cultural connections with chicken Bak Kwa, underscores leadership in developing personnel, and motivates soldiers through meaningful engagements like the National Day Parade



Brigadier-General Cai Dexian

SINGAPORE: Brigadier-General Cai Dexian made history as the first Singaporean to be honored with the Bronze Star Medal, a prestigious military decoration awarded by the American military.

This decoration is bestowed upon individuals who have demonstrated heroic or meritorious achievement or service in a combat zone, marking a significant recognition of Cai’s contributions.

Currently serving as the commander of the 3rd Singapore Division, Brigadier-General Cai Dexian recently took the opportunity to share insights into his experiences in Afghanistan through a video posted on The Singapore Army‘s Facebook page.

Brigadier-General Cai Dexian spotlights diversity and dedication in the 3rd Singapore Division

The 3rd Singapore Division, as outlined by the Ministry of Defence, operates as an interdisciplinary combined arms unit encompassing Infantry, Armour, Artillery, Combat Service Support, Combat Engineers, Signals, Intelligence, and Air Defence.

This diverse composition reflects the division’s comprehensive approach to military operations.

Brigadier-General Cai Dexian, the division’s commander, emphasized a distinctive aspect of the 3rd Singapore Division—its status as the army’s unit with the highest number of active units.

He highlighted the significance of this feature, underscoring the division’s substantial contribution to the overall military capability.

In addition to active servicemen, the division is predominantly composed of National Servicemen (NSmen).

According to Cai, this diversity in personnel brings together a wealth of talents and a variety of interests within the division, creating a dynamic and multifaceted environment.

Brigadier-General Cai further pointed out that some senior NSmen within the division go above and beyond the statutory requirements, choosing to continue their service driven by pure passion, a sense of duty, and a commitment to responsibility.

Notably, their contributions extend beyond formal roles; they also serve as mentors to younger NSmen, providing valuable guidance and support.

Brigadier-General Cai Dexian’s Afghanistan deployment: A personal journey of learning and recognition with the bronze star medal

At the age of 27, shortly after getting married, Brigadier-General Cai embarked on a significant chapter of his military career—a six-month deployment to Afghanistan as part of the Multinational Coalition Force.

Reflecting on this experience, Cai expresses a blend of fondness and nostalgia, particularly recalling the celebration of his 28th birthday alongside colleagues in the challenging terrain of Afghanistan.

Despite the camaraderie, being newly married posed a considerable challenge for Cai as he grappled with the separation from his wife during the deployment.

Nevertheless, he acknowledges the profound impact of the deployment, describing it as an incredible learning experience that allowed him to apply his skills and training in a combat operational environment.

In a 2013 interview with The Straits Times, Cai provided insights into the harsh realities of his time in Afghanistan, revealing that not a week passed without experiencing incoming rocket attacks.

Cai played a pivotal role in coordinating crucial information, aiding commanders in making decisions on the deployment of tens of thousands of troops each day.

Cai’s dedication and contributions did not go unnoticed, as he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal at the conclusion of his six-month tour.

However, Cai, known for his humility, refrains from viewing it solely as a personal achievement.

He attributes the recognition to the collective efforts of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers who, over the years, have played vital roles in the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

Cai acknowledges the legacy of capable officers who preceded him, emphasizing the SAF’s commitment to building upon the foundation laid by those who came before, viewing it as standing on the shoulders of giants.

Using chicken bak kwa to foster connections and bridge gaps in Afghanistan

Upon his arrival in Afghanistan, Brigadier-General Cai Dexian faced the challenge of establishing connections with his fellow comrades.

In a thoughtful and culturally inspired approach, Cai took the initiative to bring along chicken Bak Kwa as a means of breaking the ice and fostering camaraderie.

For Cai, this traditional Singaporean snack became a valuable tool in his efforts to connect with others.

Describing its significance, he emphasized, “The most useful and most helpful to me in my work was this thing called chicken Bak Kwa.”

During meetings or encounters with new acquaintances, Cai would present them with chicken Bak Kwa, seizing the opportunity to introduce both the snack and himself.

Using this simple yet effective gesture, Cai found a way to bridge cultural gaps and offer a glimpse into his origins.

By sharing the chicken Bak Kwa, he not only extended a warm introduction but also provided a tangible connection to Singapore, his home country.

This thoughtful approach served as a unique and successful method of breaking the ice, fostering connections, and creating a sense of familiarity in the challenging and unfamiliar environment of Afghanistan.

Providing opportunities and aligning military personnel’s aspirations with organizational goals

In discussing the development and leadership of individuals within the military, Cai highlighted a crucial aspect of his approach.

He stressed the significance of providing opportunities for personnel to upgrade and develop themselves.

Moreover, Cai emphasized the importance of helping them comprehend the array of possibilities available to them and aligning their interests with the organizational needs.

“I think one really important part in developing our people is in giving them opportunities, exposing them to opportunities, to upgrade themselves, to develop themselves, to get them to understand what’s available out there, and try to match their interests with what the organization needs.”

Cai’s perspective underscores the commitment to nurturing the growth and potential of individuals under his leadership, aligning their aspirations with the broader goals of the organization.

Nurturing soldiers’ purpose and pride through events like the National Day Parade

Brigadier-General Cai shared his insights on the aspirations of the younger generation of soldiers, emphasizing their desire to comprehend the meaning and purpose behind their military service.

In response to this, Cai and his team at the 3rd Division invest considerable effort into conveying this significance to the soldiers under their command.

To illustrate this commitment, Cai pointed out that participating in events like the National Day Parade serves as a valuable means of imparting the importance and meaning of their work.

He acknowledged the substantial dedication involved in such endeavors, with soldiers investing weekends and Saturdays in rigorous preparation, rehearsals, and execution on the actual day.

Cai underlined the transformative impact of understanding the broader significance of their efforts.

When soldiers grasp that their involvement in the parade contributes to instilling confidence and pride in Singaporeans about their country, it becomes a powerful source of motivation.

Cai expressed this sentiment, stating, “When you are able to convey to the soldiers that it’s really important because it gives Singaporeans confidence, it gives them pride in their country, then that really motivates them. And you can see it on their faces every time that they’re involved because they understand why it’s so important.”

This insight highlights the profound effect of connecting soldiers with the meaningful impact of their service, fostering a sense of purpose and pride in their roles.

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Another paper general in the making. But then again, if their path is not defined, which youngster will join the army for a career?

Don’t know this BG Cai Dexian. Why name tag is not Chua something??? New citizen holding high post in SAF??
I only know Ye Dexian, who won Golden Horse award before…

No doubt, another BG primed for high office, … somewhere within Sg Inc.

For a nation that rarely sees combative action, apart from arresting singular individuals with placards or raiding activists or strong arming juveniles, … the red dot inexplicably churns out shed loads of Brigadier Generals per capita !!!

Well, I suppose you can’t have too much of a good thing, right ?!!! !!!

Did he mentioned every year many citizenships were given to foreigners without serving National Service?

Many jobs given to foreigners? What do you think?

next will be in white party? what do you think?

Last edited 6 months ago by john lim

Congras to this Cai guy.

But where is the Leadership part in his story? What specifically did he do to earn that medal – saving someone under fire, being wounded 3x still walking, carrying balls during his Afghanistan tour (the usual pappies’ way), etc.?

who? and USA’s Afghan war was a failure.