Military recruits enlisting at the Basic Military Training Centre's (BMTC) Cougar Company will find a grandmother who runs faster than them. First Warrant Officer (1WO) Margaret Leon, 61, has been platoon commander to seven batches of recruits - around 1,800 men - since joining BMTC in 2016.
She is also the oldest woman commander in the army, having extended her contract thrice since she turned 55, which is the retirement age for Singapore Armed Forces warrant officers.
Asked what keeps her going, she said: "In the army you never grow old. The boys get younger."
For 1WO Leon, the joy of working comes from meeting recruits. "When they enlist, they become my children because the parents trust us," she told reporters at BMTC on Pulau Tekong yesterday.
"So I treat them like my own son, and if I scold them I say: 'Your mother scolds you, right? So Madam also scolds you to put you on the correct path'."
In more than four decades of service, 1WO Leon has been, among others, an instructor at the Signals Institute and the Officer Cadet School, and company sergeant major in the 8th Singapore Armoured Brigade. And while she is described by her men as a motherly figure, this does not mean she goes soft on discipline. "I do scold my boys if they go out of line. I give you chance first week. Second week I'll also talk to you, but third week, no, I'll nail them," she said. "I won't punish them so hard because in BMT, the boys don't see the mainland. So I try not to confine them, but maybe I'll give them extra training."
When she is on duty, she wakes up at around 5am. She goes for a run and a workout, before joining her recruits for their physical training.
"So when my boys ask: 'Madam, you have so much energy?', I say, 'Just to prove to you guys that old people have lots of energy, so you guys better buck up'."
One of the men under her, Recruit Mohammad Nur Rafizan, 21, said he felt embarrassed when he realised 1WO Leon was fitter than him. "Sometimes when I'm jogging and I'm really panting, she's just talking beside me and looks so calm. That made me think: 'Why can't I be as fit as her?'," he said, adding she has been a "motherly figure" since he enlisted last month.
His platoon-mate, Recruit Lim Cheng Zhi, 21, said he was surprised to see her introduced as their platoon commander on enlistment day, as there are not that many women in the army.
Asked if he ever felt conscious that a grandmother is fitter than him, he said: "All the time."
But this has spurred him to do better. "When doing physical training, the mindset or goal that we have is to outdo Madam Margaret."
1WO Leon believes that to motivate recruits, she has to keep fit herself. She still attains a gold award for her Individual Physical Proficiency Test every year. "If I can do it as a 61-year-old woman, I don't see why they can't. If they say they are old, then I'm ancient!"
While she will work for as long as she can, she said she will consider retiring when her current contract ends in August 2021. 1WO Leon, who has one son and a grandson who just turned two, will be 63 then. "When my husband retired as a warrant officer, he wanted me to retire too. But I said no, I still got some fire burning inside me. As long as the army wants me, I will still perform," she said.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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