Army’s first female Regimental Sergeant Major

NOTE: This story was originally published on the Mindef website at this link. Many thanks go to The WayBack Machine for archiving a copy of the webpage here.

Army’s first female Regimental Sergeant Major
Posted: 02 Jun 2006, 1730 hours (Time is GMT +8 hours)

Report by Laremy Lee
Photos by Lum Ngia

1WO Tan, newly-appointed RSM of 46 SAR. (PHOTO: Lum Ngia)
1WO Tan, newly-appointed RSM of 46 SAR. (PHOTO: Lum Ngia)

Clad in crisp camouflage green, First Warrant Officer (1WO) Jennifer Tan Siang Lang cuts a striking figure as she confidently strides across the 46th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (46 SAR) parade square.

With the black beret she wears and her commanding presence, it would be easy for an observer to deduce that 1WO Jennifer holds an appointment in 46 SAR befitting someone of her rank and stature.

This appointment is one that carries with it the makings of history, as 1WO Tan is not only 46 SAR’s new Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM), but also the first female to be appointed as an RSM in the Army.

Holding the appointment of RSM is one of the highlights of a WO’s tour of duty in the SAF, but 1WO Tan’s route to attaining this appointment was no ordinary one.

1WO Tan gained two years of work experience after graduation in 1984 before deciding on the military as a career in 1986. She names her father, as a major influence on her choice.

“My father was previously in the SAF, which had an effect on why I have wanted to wear ‘green’ since I was young,” said 1WO Tan.

“I consider my father as my mentor as he has guided me all along. I have been able to consult him on matters that I am not too conversant in, such as the pronunciation of drill commands in Malay,” adds 1WO Tan whose father was also an RSM in the SAF.

Interestingly enough, 1WO Tan was initially a Clerical Assistant but opted to switch over to a combat vocation in 1988, citing her interest in “dealing with heavy weapons and large vehicles”.

She served as a combat trainer until 1991 before reverting back to her clerical vocation, as she was ready to settle down and start a family.

Nine years later, 1WO Tan returned to the combat vocation as a Gunnery Instructor at the School of Armour, following which, she was appointed Company Sergeant Major in 42nd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment in 2002.

1WO Tan then served as a Platoon Commander (PC) in School Two of the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) from 2004 until her present appointment.

Throughout this time, 1WO Tan’s family has been unwavering in their support for her, and she does not fail to accord them credit where it is due.

“I am very fortunate to have my parents living with me. They have helped to take care of our children when my husband and I are at work, and it has been their very firm support that has allowed me to place full concentration on my work,” says 1WO Tan.

1WO Tan’s husband has been no less encouraging, as she recalls: “Even when I had to go overseas for exercises, my husband has supported me all the way.”

Despite her commitment to building up her career in the SAF, 1WO Tan has not neglected her family duties.

The mother of three devotes all her time after work to taking care of her family, ensuring that they spend quality time communicating and bonding with each other.

Said 1WO Tan: “When I return home at night and if my children are still awake, we will take some time to talk to one another find out how the other has been, and share any problems we may have.”

Another way in which 1WO Tan also bonds with her children is to run with them in the morning during the weekends. In the evenings, 1WO Tan and her husband make it a point to accompany their children to the pool, where the boys undergo a life-saving course.

But along with the amount of care that she showers upon her family comes an equal expectation of discipline and commitment from them, too.

“I have trained my sons to be disciplined young men. Hence, with my work commitments, they have to help me out with ‘area-cleaning’ at home!” says 1WO Tan.

This aspect of 1WO Tan is consistent throughout, both at home and at work.

Second Sergeant Andy Chan, a Platoon Sergeant in 46 SAR notes: “1WO Tan is a motherly figure who cares a lot for her soldiers, but expects a high standard of discipline and regimentation at the same time. This is good for everyone in the battalion, in terms of soldiering and welfare.”

1WO Tan sees this as an added advantage and shares: “From past experience as a PC in BMTC, people will be more likely to open up to you as they feel very comfortable with speaking to a ‘motherly figure’ in the battalion.”

1WO Tan receiving her pacestick from 1WO Chin, outgoing RSM of 46 SAR. (PHOTO: Lum Ngia)
1WO Tan receiving her pacestick from 1WO Chin, outgoing RSM of 46 SAR. (PHOTO: Lum Ngia)

Evidently, being a female RSM has no gender disadvantages, but more importantly, it is clear that gender in the SAF is not a consideration when it comes to choosing the best person for the job.

1WO Tan is among a rising group of women in the SAF who are taking on roles previously dominated by their male counterparts.

More recent headliners include the SAF’s first female Colonel (COL), COL Karen Tan, Commander of Central Manpower Base, and Major Poh Li San, the first full-time female aide-de-camp to the President.

In this case, has 1WO Tan set her sights on higher appointments?

“Whatever the organisation has for me, I will take up the challenge,” affirms 1WO Tan.

Perhaps 1WO Tan’s father sees the potential in his daughter to climb further in her career, for as she confides: “Right now, I am on a par with my father in terms of rank, but he is wondering whether he will have to call me ‘Ma’am’ in the future!”

1WO Tan assumed her RSM appointment on 1 Jun from 1WO Chin Shai Pin, who will be taking on the appointment of Company Second-in-Command at the School of Infantry Specialists.

About the author

Laremy Lee

A versatile educator, writer and editor, Laremy Lee (李庭辉) has the uncanny knack of being one of the few among his generation in Singapore who crafts compelling stories in different genres.

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