'Ah girls' to women: A-level grads sign on with army
Childhood friends offered scholarships with SAF
The day before they picked up their A-level results, Miss Sharmaine Koh and Miss Jade Phua were on a 16km route march.
They are undergoing Basic Military Training (BMT) as Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) recruits.
The friends, who were in the same class from Primary 4 to Secondary 4 and in the humanities programme in the same junior college, each decided on joining the military without the other knowing about it.
"We just met one another at the reception of one of the recruitment talks," said Miss Koh.
Miss Phua added: "When we saw each other, it was like, 'You're signing on?'"
The Hwa Chong Institution alumni, who both obtained seven distinctions for their A Level results released last Friday, have been offered provisional scholarships with the SAF.
Miss Koh, who volunteers at grassroots organisations and Homework Cafe regularly, had always nurtured a passion for the community.
"I think entering public service is a direct way to give back to the community," she said.
Miss Koh, whose extended family is filled with men, grew up hearing their stories of National Service (NS).
As a young girl, she asked her mother if girls could go to NS and was met with a resounding no. But she yearned for the adventures she heard of and as she got older, thought about going to the Volunteer Corps or to BMT for fun.
Her thoughts turned more serious when she saw a documentary on females in the military in Singapore.
She recalled: "I started to see that this was a real thing and began to research a bit more. Then I thought, if I'm already thinking of going to the volunteer corps or BMT, why not go all the way?"
Originally interested in technology, Miss Phua entertained thoughts of working in the tech industry.
An internship at a start-up changed her mind after she spent 12 hours a day sitting in her chair coding.
She said: "I could feel myself rotting away. My muscles ached from sitting so much. I decided then I didn't want a desk-bound job."
A military experience camp she attended in junior college got her seriously interested in signing on with the military.
Miss Koh encouraged her to also apply for the SAF scholarship.
Miss Phua, who does not have an athletic background, said her parents worried about her fitness.
Miss Koh, who is the eldest of three children and has a brother much younger than her, said: "My mother didn't think she would have to go through the whole send-my-children-off-to-Tekong ritual so early in her life."
Mrs Mandy Koh, a housewife, has since come around. "We feel proud of her for choosing to serve the country," said Mrs Koh.
When TNP sat down with them last Friday, the pair recounted stories of shellscrape digging and mealtime training.
Miss Phua lost her voice while singing songs during the route march. "We were literally crying as we were walking and when it got really hard at the end, all of us were linking hands," she said.
"The sense of fulfilment when we finished it and the camaraderie is really something I had not experienced before."