KUALA TERENGGANU: As a schoolboy, Toh Choon Siang dreamt of leading an army brigade after being fascinated by World War 2 stories told by his elders.
Come Sunday, Toh, now a Brigadier General, will celebrate his 58th birthday by taking command of the 11th Infantry Brigade based at Sungai Buloh, Selangor.
It is also significant as a perfect Malaysia Day (Sept 16) gift for the diminutive, Johor-born officer who is the first Chinese to command the strategic brigade responsible for the defence of Selangor and the federal administrative capital of Putrajaya.
Looking back, Toh has no regrets in boldly quitting secondary school prematurely in 1977, to perform national service.
“This command is a great honour for me, especially for my late father who himself had served the nation in two capacities.
“So did my three elder brothers who did military service during the trying times of the communist insurgency and Emergency period (in the 60s and 70s),” said Toh, a full-blooded ranger.
On Sept 6, he replaced Brig Gen Abdul Kadir Ahmad, who has opted for early retirement, as the brigade’s 21st commander.
Toh was previously the senior director of the Malaysian Institute of Defence and Security’s (MiDAS) Blue Ocean Strategy Centre since May 2014.
Toh paid tribute to his cadet squadmate (Army chief) Gen Tan Sri Zulkiple Kassim for his guidance and advice.
He also commended the encouragement and confidence placed on him by Armed Forces chief Gen Tan Sri Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor.
“Both of them spurred me on to greater heights.
"Affandi, especially, is a firm believer that nothing could beat one commanding a strategic brigade and more so in an effective manner,” said Toh.
Toh is married to Shirley Leong Ay Yong.
The couple have a daughter, Dr Toh May Fern, a scientist with a major pharmaceutical firm in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. Their son Toh Sirn Loong is an information technology consultant in Kuala Lumpur.
Recounting his early years, Toh said that he hailed from Kampung Kastam in Larkin, Johor and later grew up in Penang.
“Just like in Johor, Penang also had a large army camp and I admired the highly-disciplined soldiers who sacrificed life and limb to protect the nation’s sovereignty.
“It dawned upon me to do my part for the nation by answering the call for able-bodied youths to serve the nation, and I opted out of Lower Six Secondary to grab the opportunity,” said Toh, who quit his studies at the prestigious Penang Free School to join the Army in 1977.
Toh’s father is Robert Toh Boon Hock who had served the British Royal Air Force during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, and when the war ended joined the Royal Malaysian Customs Department until his retirement in 1976.
His eldest brother Cdr (Rtd) Toh Tiap Keng served the Royal Malaysian Navy for 33 years, while his two elder brothers Capt Toh Choon Hong and retired Flight Sgt Toh Choon Kooi both served the Royal Malaysian Air Force for 25 years.
Later in service, Toh was selected to graduate from the Queenscliff Australian Army Command and Staff College in 1992 and obtained his Masters in Strategic Defence Studies from the Malaysian Armed Forces Defence College in 2003.
Among Toh’s more notable appointments were as commanding officer of the 8th Battalion Royal Rangers Para Battalion from 1999 to 2002; deputy head of training development at the Malaysian Armed Forces Staff College from 2008 to 2012; and Colonel Doctrine at the Army Training and Doctrine Command Headquarters from 2012 to 2014.
In his earlier years, Toh served in Johor for eight years - first as an instructor, then as dog unit commander at the Army Training Centre, and finally as company commander with the 1st Battalion Royal Rangers Regiment.
During 2005-2006, he was chief military protocol officer with the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monuc).