ATM’s first Dayak commander wants nothing more than to ‘serve his country’

Mundaw attributes his achievements to ‘being lucky to be in the right place at the right time’.

KUCHING (July 22): When Lt-General (R) Datuk Stephen Mundaw joined the army after completing his Form 6 studies, it never occurred to him that this was his true calling.

At the age of 20, he applied for all kinds of jobs including positions in the police force, Land and Survey Department and Forest Department, and at the same time, he intended to enter tertiary education.

“After completing Form 6 at SMK Simanggang, I applied for many jobs but the Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM) was the first to respond. So, I was interviewed in Sibu, and immediately started working in 1978.

“The main thing that influenced me to become a soldier at that time was to serve my country. I never looked back, and I have no regrets,” said the retired commander, who is a native of Sungai Melaban, Pakit sa Sri Aman.

However, it was only natural for Stephen to be in the armed forces as he was brought up in an environment surrounded by members of the security forces – many family members and close friends were in the army or police.

Growing up during the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation was also a strong influence.

Stephen was enlisted at the Sebatang Karah Camp in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan in 1978, where he underwent three months of ‘Officer Cadet’ training, before being selected to attend the Officer Cadet School in Portsea, Australia.

He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1979, and was posted to the Sixth Battalion of the Royal Ranger Regiment as a Platoon Commander based at Oya Camp in Sibu.

After serving for over 30 years, Stephen was promoted to Brigadier General in 2010 and took command of the Ninth Infantry Brigade in Sibu.

He is the first Dayak Iban to reach such a rank in the history of ATM.

“Before being promoted, my commander asked me if I was worthy – I told him I would prove that I was better than any of his brigade commanders.

“So, when I was commissioned, I felt that I should do the talking to ensure that the Ninth Brigade becomes the best brigade in the Malaysian army, and that’s what I did.

“I must say that I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Coincidentally, they were looking for an East Malaysian to be promoted to general, especially from Sarawak because there were no (other candidates) at that time.

“There was simply no other officer to be promoted – everyone my age had left, and so I was a ‘lone ranger’ at the time, so they had no choice; so I got promoted.

“However, looking back, I’m glad I was noticed for my abilities and like I said, I always wanted to be the best.

“I think my record stands, my record shows it all, that I was probably one of, if not, the best of all the colonels at that time,” he said. The Borneo Post.

Stephen, a Masters in Strategic Studies graduate from the United States War College, was promoted to Major General in 2014 and appointed as the Commander of the First Infantry Division, based in Sarawak.

Later, he became a Lieutenant-General and in 2018, was appointed as the Commander for the Eastern Field Command.

He retired on May 31, 2019 after serving in the armed forces for ’41 years, four months and 24 days’.

“What motivated me throughout my military career was that I always put myself to be the best in everything I did. Even during my school days, I always competed to be the best and to be top of the class.

“I am also very inspired by the success of our Iban Trackers, known to be the best in the world in terms of jungle operations, as well as the stories of the Sarawak Rangers being the most successful fighting unit since Charles Brooke’s time.

“I am also very proud of our First Ranger Battalion, as they were the first to be trained by the British and were part of the Sarawak Rangers before being converted to the Malaysian Rangers.”

At the time of retirement, Stephen was offered a four-year contract in the Sarawak civil service as a ‘Special Task Officer’ in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Urban Development, focusing mainly on enforcement tasks.

That contract ended on May 31 this year.

Stephen said that passing through different levels of command in the military gave him many bitter memories.

“As a young officer and a platoon commander, I slept, ate and fought with men – we were close and knew each other well. We looked after each other and worked as a team.

“This type of environment we refer to as the ‘buddy-buddy system’ and it remains one of the experiences that is still fresh in my memory, and that I cherish the most,” he said.

Stephen and his wife Datin Jacqueline Peris are blessed with two children, Faustino Mundaw and Elgernon Mundaw.

With his victory as the first general of the Dayak Iban army, he cannot express in words how much it means to him.

“I remind myself to always be exceptional because I am not only representing myself, but also the Ibans, and the Dayak community as a whole.

“I must reach a level equal to other military officers, especially those from other countries – this is what I always strive for.”

Stephen showed a page from the book ‘The History of the Sarawak Rangers 1862-1963’, which describes the uniforms worn by the Sarawak Rangers in the past.

Looking back on his experiences, there is no denying that Sarawak Day has a special meaning for Stephen.

“We should rejoice and celebrate this day because we have come a long way since 60 years ago.

“Freedom is something that is very important in our lives, where we can interact with each other and develop together to a higher level of success – all this is the freedom that we all enjoy today.

“We also need to honor our ancestors, the heroes and the accidental heroes; their courageous contributions, hardships, sacrifices and commitments, all of which have enabled us to move forward and live richly.”

Now 65, Stephen advises the younger generation to always stay positive and be appreciative of what they have now.

“We must preserve the peace, unity and harmony that we have today, which is very important.

“We must take care of them; we must be willing to make sacrifices to protect our sovereignty.”

Stephen, a firm believer in the Royal Ranger Regiment’s cry ‘Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban’ (keep fighting as long as we live), went on to remind today’s generation to always respect and understand each other to enable the state to progress further.

However, he also emphasized the importance of promoting and strengthening the spirit of patriotism in every Sarawakian.

“Remember that Sarawak belongs to all of us. We must be proud and always protect Sarawak.

“That is the direction in which we must go from here, and therefore, the younger generation must not give up.

“My hope is for Sarawak to ride the waves of development with other countries, and be at par with them.

“To all Sarawakians, Happy 60th Sarawak Independence Day!

“Stand up and be proud to be a Sarawakian!” Stephen said.







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