My sayang, my backboneChildhood sweethearts 3WO Hilmy and SSG Farah share how they keep their relationship strong 15 years later and two kids on, while supporting each other and serving in the Army.
// Story by Benita Teo
// Photos by PTE Amos Chew & courtesy of SSG Farah
As a couple who've been together since they were both 16, you'd think that 3rd Warrant Officer (3WO) Muhammad Hilmy Bin Mohamed Ismail and Staff Sergeant (SSG) Nur Farah Atiqah Binte Mohamad Ah Halim decided to join the Singapore Army together.
But SSG Farah had actually gone behind her husband's back to apply, and only broke the news of her successful application to him during their honeymoon!
Now, 15 years older and parents to two little girls – Azraa, four, and Amira, two – the pair say that it's their grit and love that have enabled them to build a happy family while juggling demanding jobs in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Take us back to when you were 16 – how did you guys meet?
SSG Farah: We were both in Sembawang Secondary School, but I never knew he existed until a friend tried to play matchmaker in Secondary Four and introduced us. At first, I told him I wasn't interested because I wanted to focus on my studies but, in my heart, I was thinking, "Okay, this guy is really trying his best, let's see how far this goes." Slowly, I opened up to the idea of a relationship with him.
3WO Hilmy: I'm the one who persisted in chasing her! We started out quite rough, but I die die had to win her over. And it worked!
We heard you have a cute proposal story!
SSG Farah: We were riding on his bike around this area (where our house is). At that time in 2013, this place was just a jungle. When we rode past, he said: "This could be our house." And I replied: "Maybe, maybe."
3WO HIilmy: Then I told her to go apply for a BTO (Built-to-Order) flat, and she was so confused. So I said: "I just signed on. Let's start our lives together from here." And that was my proposal!
SSG Farah: He's not the romantic type to go on one knee. Neither am I. I'm very practical, I don't expect him to buy me flowers and rings. But that's what I like about him, that he is goal-oriented and has plans. We got engaged in November 2013 and held our wedding in July 2016.
3WO Hilmy, how did SSG Farah break the news of her Army application to you?
3WO Hilmy: The story is quite funny. We were on our honeymoon in Thailand when she received the news that her application to the SAF was successful, and would be signing the employment contract in a week! We'd just got married three months earlier and were still in our "honeymoon period", and now she was going to have to go for BMT (Basic Military Training) and all that!
SSG Farah: I've always been interested in the Army – my grandfather used to be in the SAF Band, and many of my relatives joined the Home Team. And hearing Hilmy's stories made even more determined to sign on. I used to work in admin, but a desk job definitely wasn't for me. I need to be on the move all the time!
3WO Hilmy: I've been a Regular since 2013, so I understand the challenges and demands of being in the SAF. I was supportive of her decision though! But a part of me was also like: "No need to be in the same line as me lah, don't come and kacau (disturb) me!" (laughs) But she's in a different vocation – she's a supply specialist while I'm a Military Police (MP), so it worked out well.
How do you make time in your busy schedules for each other and your daughters?
SSG Farah: Hilmy's a trainer at the Island Defence Training Institute now, so his hours are different from mine but, when we can, we'll seize the chance to go to work together. Our camps are side-by-side (I'm in Kranji Camp II and he's in Mowbray Camp), so we also try to grab lunch together whenever we can. That's how we make time for each other.
3WO Hilmy: The key to our success is communication. We talk things through and discuss how to manage and spend time together. Now, with kids, it's even more important to plan our time. I believe we need to be open about our career goals, so when Farah said she was signing on, we sat down and planned out our future.
SSG Farah: Sometimes, (either one of us have to cancel) our weekend plans due to duties, but we rarely get angry over such things (because) we know it's the requirements of the job. Or we cannot pick up our daughters together and when we're back, they're already getting ready for bed. But we're blessed to have strong support from both our parents. This allows us to concentrate on our jobs.
What's it like working together in the Army?
3WO Hilmy: Farah's knowledge as a logistician is really very helpful to me. I can always turn to her for advice.
SSG Farah: Same for me. As an Ops Warrant at Supply Base Central, I manage our servicemen's soldier fundamentals. Hilmy's an MP, so when I need advice about discipline, I talk to him.
I also like how professional we are at work. Whenever I need advice, I will drop him an email. And we don't call each other "sayang" (dear in Malay); instead, I will say: "Hi Encik, I need your advice on something."
15 years and two kids on, what do you appreciate most about each other?
3WO Hilmy: Her patience and understanding. I don't think many people can handle me because of the amount of time I spend at work. And she's always supportive of my decisions. I'm blessed to have her, she's my backbone.
When I'm busy with work, I know that she's at home taking care of the family. So I repay her by getting up at night when the kids get up. Even if I get home at 2am and they wake up at 3am, I will still get up to take care of them. It's a partnership, we don't complain.
SSG Farah: Whenever I get a bit slothful with the chores, he will quietly get it done. And when I want to go do it, eh it's already done! He never complains about things not being done, he will just do it.
He's also always been a very disciplined and systematic person, even when he was a student. That's what I like about him, he knows what he wants. That gives me a sense of stability.
3WO Hilmy: Another thing is that whatever she wants, she will make it happen. Her grit and determination have been as strong as when I first knew her – that's how she ended up signing on! She makes things happen for me, for her family, and for my family.