Having been in the Army for 32 years, 3WO Alice Tan is now a proud mother of two sons who followed in her footsteps.
It was a sight rarely seen: two sons fussing over their mother before a photoshoot. Elder son Captain (CPT) Khor Qi Xiong was adjusting 3rd Warrant Officer (3WO) Alice Tan's beret, while younger son 3rd Sergeant (SG) Sean Khor was straightening out her uniform.
Once done, they promptly sat down on the sofa for the photoshoot. With plenty of chatter and laughter throughout, it was obvious that the trio shared an easy-going and close relationship – and 3WO Tan is the bond that holds them.
A love for the military
Since young, 3WO Tan had always admired people who wore military uniforms to work. Although her first job application to the Republic of Singapore Air Force was rejected, she never gave up on her military dream.
In 1988, she successfully enlisted into the Army. After serving as a security trooper under Military Police (MP) Command, she was offered an administrative post in Army Recruitment Centre (ARC) and has been there ever since.
A second home in the Army
From processing the recruitment applications of specialists, warrant officers and officers to becoming a chief clerk and finally taking on the role of a publicity warrant just two years back, 3WO Tan views her office as a second home.
It is this "home” that her sons grew up in as well. When they were young, her husband would pick them up from school and drive them to her office. They would then wait for her to finish up her work before heading home together.
"When I was younger, her office was like an open house! While she was finishing up her work, I would walk around the office, look at the posters and imagine which vocation I will be posted to when I enlist," reminisced 3SG Khor.
The 23-year-old is currently serving his National Service (NS) as a detachment sergeant in 1st Commando Battalion while CPT Khor, 30, is an officer commanding in MP Command.
Not-so-typical military mum
Despite being in the military, 3WO Tan never once enforced any regimentation or military-style discipline on her children. She may be strict, but it was done purely from a perspective of a mother.
"There was no stand-by bed or anything, I was just disciplining them as how a mother would teach her children, definitely nothing military-related," said 3WO Tan, with a laugh.
Nevertheless, 3SG Khor feels otherwise. The "cheeky one” of the family, he would often test the waters during his younger days and would get scolded for doing so.
"When I do something that is not up to standard, she will do it once and show me. If I do it wrongly again, the nagging comes. It's almost like how it is in the Army," said 3SG Khor.
In addition, there is also the "chain of command” that CPT Khor often gets dragged into. As the elder son, he is usually tasked with talking sense into his younger brother when 3WO Tan's words are left unheeded.
"Most of the time when she talks to him, he doesn't listen. So she will 'task' it to me to talk to him and I become more of the disciplinarian to him," said CPT Khor wryly.
When CPT Khor enlisted for NS, all 3WO Tan told him was to just do his best.
The 54-year-old may not have said much, but she often took the opportunity to visit him during his Basic Military Training in Pulau Tekong, and subsequently, during his officer training in Officer Cadet School (OCS).
"Back then, I was doing recruitment talks in ARC and we would go to different SAF schools. So I would go to Tekong or OCS if we were heading there and take the opportunity to find Qi Xiong," explained 3WO Tan.
CPT Khor added: "My friends were surprised to see me talking to a female encik and were shocked to find out that she is my mum. They were pretty impressed too!"
When CPT Khor decided to sign on as a Guardsman in 2010, he also discussed his decision with his mother.
"I told him that this is your career, that once you sign on, this is the job that you have to do every day. You have to like your job. If you're okay with the training and staying in, then go for it," said 3WO Tan.
On the other hand, 3WO Tan had much more to say in the months leading up to her second son's enlistment. As 3SG Khor was overweight, she advised him to lose weight and pass his Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) to avoid enlisting earlier.
3SG Khor chuckled: "So I trained up, lost weight and cleared my IPPT. It was a good thing though, 'cos I ended up in Commandos and the training is very tough!"
A mum's pride
Last December, the trio took a photo together in their uniforms as part of the Army 55 celebrations and 3SG Khor placed the picture in his camp locker.
When his friends saw the photo, they were surprised to find out that the woman in the photo was his mum.
"They will say things like: 'Wah, your mother is a warrant officer? So when you want to sign on?'” said 3SG Khor with a laugh.
He also carries another copy in his wallet, while CPT Khor placed his in his office as well.
It may be a simple photo, but it is a reminder of how proud they are of their mum. For 3SG Khor, it also brings back memories of when 3WO Tan donned her No. 3 uniform while waiting with him for the school bus during his primary school days.
"When I was young, I felt proud that my mum is in the force 'cos it's very rare and you don't really see a woman in green uniform back then," recalled 3SG Khor.
"I remembered there was once my primary school friends asked me why my mother looked so cool wearing the uniform and I told them it's 'cos my mum is in the Army!"
Now that her two sons are all grown up and doing well, it is 3WO Tan's turn to beam with pride.
"Today, we are all in the same Service and all wearing green. One is a Guards officer and the other one is in the Commandos. What more can a mother ask for?"