Happy Mother’s Day, My Dear Sergeant

10 reasons why our platoon sergeants were like our second mothers.

By Alywin Chew        3 May 2021

Most Singaporean men don’t realise this, but we actually go through “childhood” twice.

The first is during the age of innocence when we learn about the alphabet and algebra.

The second is when we’re seasoned adolescents who have to learn about shooting real guns and sometimes replacing real bullets for imaginary ones that come out of our mouths. And, of course, the joys of sprinkling prickly heat powder all over our nether regions during field camp. Yes, I’m referring to Basic Military Training.

At each of these stages, we are guided by the “nurturing hands” of two taskmasters: father and mother; platoon commander and platoon sergeant.

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, my father was more a platoon commander in the family (quite aptly, he was a career soldier in the combat engineers) while my mother played the more hands-on role of the platoon sergeant.

So, as much as the platoon sergeant likes to yell “my grandmother can run faster than you”, he’s actually very much like our mothers.

Don’t believe me? Here are 10 things that mothers and platoon sergeants have in common.

1. They love using the reward system

My mother used to dangle new toys in exchange for good grades. That worked brilliantly, but only for a few years, because I was more interested in finding a girlfriend than toys when I was in secondary school.

In BMT, my sergeant promised canteen breaks if a certain percentage of the platoon completed the 2.4 km run within the Gold standard. That worked brilliantly, but only for awhile, because we soon realised that 5-minute canteen breaks were not fun at all.

2. They never knock when entering the room

You’d think that a mother would practise what she preaches about being polite and courteous, but no. From asking what you would like for lunch to “checking if the air con is leaking”, a mother will always find an excuse to spy on her son.

Platoon sergeants do this all the time too. Why? Because they’re always on the prowl for people doing prohibited stuff (like talking to your girlfriend after lights-off).

3. They love waking you up at ungodly hours

Remember the times when your mother would attempt to wake you at 7am on a weekend by waltzing into your room and switching off the air conditioning? Again, the sergeant does the same but doesn’t need to be subtle about it. He just makes a ruckus along the corridor and shouts, ”Turnout! Turnout! Turnout!”

4. They love asking why we are always tired

Being an adolescent or a soldier is tiring business, but our mothers and sergeants never seem to understand. I remember my mother yelling at me to stay awake as she forced me to revise my Chinese homework. I remember my sergeant yelling, “Recruit! Why you so shag?”, to which I replied, “Because you just made me do 10 pushups in Full Battle Order!” He promptly made me do another 10 push-ups.

I know. I should’ve known better than to talk back, but like the saying goes: “Shag cannot think!”

5. They love dictating what we wear

I remember my mother ordering me to change out of my baggy Alien Workshop jeans into something our relatives would deem decent. I remember the sergeant had on several occasions made us change from PT kit to No.4 and back to PT kit again during “change parade”. I felt like a supermodel rehearsing for a runway show!

6. They both have two words that strike fear into us

My mother’s was “You’re grounded”. My sergeant’s was “Sign extra”.

7. They love forcing you to tidy your room

Let’s face it. Our rooms are never tidy enough by their standards. It’s practically Stand By Universal every day at home.

8. They love making you accountable for what you eat

My mum would scoff if I had even one grain of rice left on the plate. The sergeant would go berserk if any of us forgot to scan our 11B at the cookhouse.

9. They love setting a curfew

I had to be in bed by 2230 when I was a kid. It was no different in the army!

10. They genuinely care for you

Mothers care for you because it’s the most natural thing in the world. Nothing beats a mother’s love. Sergeants care for you because, well, they’ll get into trouble with your real mother if something happens to you!

So, in light of the upcoming Mother’s Day, I’d like to wish all platoon sergeants out there a Happy Mother’s Day!

LOL Mondays is an ongoing series of slice-of-life stories from freelance writer and NSman Alywin Chew. Look out for the humorous tales which will be posted every first Monday of the month, to help you drive away your Monday blues!

Was your platoon sergeant like a second mum? Share your NS memories with us at magnsman@sph.com.sg!