1WO Margaret Leon, 61. (Image by Kenneth Lim / PIONEER, MINDEF)

BMTC’s oldest female commander at 61 is a figure to emulate for specialists in the SAF

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) PIONEER magazine ran a feature on the longest-serving woman in the Signal formation, 1st Warrant Officer Margaret Leon who has now joined the Basic Military Training Centre to train recruits.

The 61-year old, who is also a grandmother, is the Platoon Commander in BMTC’s School 1, Charlie Company. She’s also just as tough as you’d expect, leading route marches with a 20kg field pack on her shoulders and always ready to get down in the dirt to demonstrate skills like trench digging or camping out in the jungle to teach her recruits about field camp.

1WO Leon had joined the military in 1976, working as a clerk for 10 years before becoming a combat trainer and then a combatant. In her long and storied career, 1W0 Leon has served as an Officer Cadet School Instruction, Signal Specialist and Company Sergeant Major in the 8th Singapore Armoured Brigade. She was also deployed to East Timor for three months with 1st Signal Battalion on a humanitarian mission before spending a majority of her career as an instructor in Signal Institute.

Just as she was about to retire in 2013 at the age of 55, 1WO Leon’s commanding officer, then-Major Willam Ong asked her to extend her service. And so she did, first for two years and then another three.

Now retired as a Lieutenant Colonel (NS), he said: “She never gets tired of teaching and always has a passion to impart her knowledge to the guys – that’s what I admire about her.”

In 2018, 1WO Leon ended her 30-year service in Signal when she volunteered to be an instructor at BMTC.

1WO Leon still takes parts in runs and route marches with her recruits. (Image by Kenneth Lim / PIONEER, MINDEF)

“I’ve trained officers, specialists and operators. Now I have a chance to take on recruits. When I leave the Army, I would have completed the full experience,” she said in the article.

Cheekily, the article quotes 1WO Leon saying, “I’m doing the same exercises as my boys, so if they can’t do it, I’ll say, ‘Ancient lady can do, young boys cannot do?’”

“So my weakest boys always compete with me, that’s what pushes them.”

Speaking about how she manages to stay fit, 1WO Leon said it’s all about pure hard work. She earns a gold award for her Individual Physical Proficiency Test every year. On weekdays, She trains in the early mornings before joining her recruits on their morning runs. She also trains with her husband – who she met in the Army in 1986 – on weekends.

Tough and compassionate

However, apart from being a tough-as-nails instructor, 1WO Leon is also described as the “mother goose” to the recruits as one Lieutenant Colonel (NS) Ong affirmed.

The article recounts a soldier coming to her with a personal problem involving his single-parent mother who he was having trouble communicating with. She advised him to take her out for brunch and talk to her.

“He wrote back: ‘Thank you, Ma’am. I am now having this weekly conversation with my mum.’ I was so happy (to see that); I do that for all my boys in our journaling,” she said.

Another soldier, platoon chief trainer 3rd Sergeant Muhd Haziq Mofe said, “If I have family or work issues, I can openly discuss it with Ma’am and she’ll help me out. From working with her, I’ve become more patient and reasonable with the recruits. It’s a totally different approach (from scolding).”

1WO Leon when she was an instructor at Signal Institute. (Image by Signal Formation / PIONEER, MINDEF)

TOC Editor Terry Xu also has memories of 1WO from when he was first assigned to his regular service. She was his Ops Warrant in the Unit.

Says Terry, “It is not a stretch to say that she is a motherly figure to all servicemen, regardless of race language or religion.”

Recounting his experience with her, Terry says she would try her best to address a servicemen’s problems instead of picking on those who flout the rules or are facing personal issues. She listens to their needs and defends them when they get in trouble, even if they are not directly under her command.

Terry added, “When commanders make seemingly unreasonable commands or ill-advised decisions, Warrant Margaret will always be the few who would voice out against them. And because of her experience and ability, commanders would always take her words into consideration and at many occasions, saving servicemen from unnecessary labour.”

He continued, “I am glad that I got to meet Warrant Margaret at the first stage of my regular career to imprint the idea of what it means to be a professional soldier in the armed forces.”

1WO Leon with her husband holding their grandchild, her son and daughter-in-law. (Image from 1WO Leon / PIONEER, MINDEF)

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