Women supporting women in the force

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08 Mar 2022 | PEOPLE

Women supporting women in the force

This International Women's Day, we take a look at a female mentor-mentee duo who serve in the Military Police and find out how they’ve made a difference to other women in the force.

Story by Thrina Tham / Photos by Amos Chew

Though they've never served in the same unit, MSG Sheila (left) often turns to her mentor, 1WO Nora, when in need of help.
English Melayu

1st Warrant Officer (1WO) Noraisah is a warm, motherly figure to many. But that doesn't mean she's not fierce – she once shouted at a newly minted specialist from across the canteen, asking her to fix her attire.

Master Sergeant (MSG) NurSheila Zuraidah, the specialist in question, recalled: "I was in my Number 3 (the SAF's office or admin uniform) and my shirt wasn't tucked properly into my skirt."

"1WO Nora didn't just tell me the issue, she fixed it for me on the spot," MSG Sheila added.

While 1WO Nora, 51, admitted that she did not recall the incident, she said that her fierce demeanour was part of setting the right discipline in the Military Police (MP) Command.

"She was a strict mentor but she would always engage the female MPs and, after a while, we formed that (strong) bond," added MSG Sheila. The 27-year-old is now a Platoon Warrant at the Island Defence Training Institute.

The bond was apparent. When left alone for a few moments, the two easily broke into endless conversations about life, marriage and friends.

1WO Nora (right) and MSG Sheila first met in 2013 when the latter was enquiring about being a female in the military. The two have kept in touch since.

Mother hen to the female MPs

The two first met during an Army Women Recruitment Fair in 2013 – MSG Sheila was thinking about signing on; while 1WO Nora shared honestly about her experiences and the Army's work expectations.

1WO Nora was the one who conducted MSG Sheila's first job interview, and the two have kept in touch since then.

MSG Sheila's mentor has proudly watched her progress in her military career: "She achieved Platoon Best in her Specialist Cadet Course, and was part of the Colours Party in the 2018 National Day Parade.

"This young lady has both charm and commitment in achieving her goals."

As for 1WO Nora, she joined the Singapore Armed Forces in 1991 and took on various roles in the MP Command before being appointed as Section Head in the Special Investigation Branch's Liaison Office.

During her time, she also completed the Jungle Confidence Course in 2003 and was the first female MP to score in the top 10 percent of her Joint Warrant Officer Couse in 2008.

A mentor to the female MPs, 1WO Nora often catches up with her female juniors and keeps in touch with them via a group chat.

She is also a mother hen to all the female MPs – a role she voluntarily took on about seven years ago.

"As new girls were coming into MP Command, I felt they needed somebody senior to advise them on important things and guide them on attire," said 1WO Nora.

Under her brood, the female MPs – though posted to different camps and bases – continued to stay close to their formation.

In fact, the 22 of them share a group chat where 1WO Nora keeps updated on their well-being and finds out if they are facing any issues.

"She's really the mentor and role model to all the female MPs," said MSG Sheila.

"If there's anything I'm not sure of, I will ask her; there's no one else I would rather ask," she added.

MSG Sheila briefing her MP specialist cadets on security check and access control. Apart from training cadets, she also looks after the female trainees as they are assigned to her platoon.

Making a difference

One example was when MSG Sheila wanted to make alternative bunking arrangements for female cadets staying at Mowbray Camp, home of the MPs.

While a specialist cadet six years ago, MSG Sheila was the only female among the MP trainees. That meant that for three months of being in training school, she was the only person living on her entire floor, while her male counterparts were two floors down.

"I didn't mind staying alone, but (it could be tough) when there was a blackout a few times," she said with a chuckle. "So I did not want the other females joining in to have that same experience."

She spoke about the matter with 1WO Nora. Together, they got the support of their formation Sergeant Major to make changes for the ladies staying in.

Now, female trainees bunk in at the MP headquarters – just opposite from the training school – where there are other female Regulars staying in as well.

1WO Nora (centre) and MSG Sheila (on her left) at an Army recruitment event in 2016. Having a strong network of female Regulars is helpful to women in the force, says 1WO Nora.

Women's network in the Army

On her leadership style, MSG Sheila said that she takes influence from her various commanders to build her own style as a Platoon Warrant.

"I see Ma'am Nora as one of my role models; she finds that balance of being strict while also being comfortable to talk to," she said.

"When it comes to work, you have to be strict. But when it comes to admin time, you can talk to your trainees as friends or colleagues."

1WO Nora added that she did not have a female role model figure until she met Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) (Ret) Jennifer Tan – who became the SAF's first female CWO in 2018.

"She inspired me in many ways and showed ability to manage her busy schedule of work and family," said 1WO Nora.

With CWO (Ret) Tan's encouragement, 1WO Nora pursued a part-time Diploma in Policing Security Studies at the age of 46.

"When I could, I would also gather our MP ladies to engage her and for her to share about her challenges and advice. Having this female network in the Army is something that benefits all of us."

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