HE IS more than a dozen years older than most of his peers. And Specialist Cadet (SCT) Yong Heng Soon was also ahead of them in clinching the Golden Bayonet award at the 23rd Specialist Cadet Graduation Parade yesterday at Pasir Laba Camp.
The 35-year-old was one of 1,003 Specialist Cadets from the Singapore Army, the Republic of Singapore Navy and the Republic of Singapore Air Force who graduated after completing a 22-week course.
Only 21 cadets received the coveted Golden Bayonet, awarded to the top 10 per cent of all Specialist Cadet trainees.
Said the father of two children aged two and four: "I didn't really expect it - I came here with the objective to get the Third Sergeant (3SG) rank, not to fight for the Bayonet."
Having joined the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as an enlistee in 1999, SCT Yong worked his way up the ranks until late last year, when he was chosen to go for training at the Specialist Cadet School. In contrast, most cadets are full-time national servicemen picked after basic military training and are aged between 18 and 22.
The 22 weeks of training to attain the rank of 3SG were challenging but his time in the SAF had taught him perseverance.
"As a commander, I have more freedom, but also more responsibility," he said.
The experience has also broadened his perspective. "Last time I was (an enlistee), now I will be a Sergeant... Now I know how the Sergeants felt when they led us, what lines we cannot cross," he said.
However, one of his toughest moments had nothing to do with the training. His wife and children fell sick when he was training in Thailand.
"I wanted to give up, to go back and take care of them. But we encouraged and motivated each other, and got through it," he said.
SCT Yong said his age and experience made him a natural guide for the younger trainees.
He hopes to continue his SAF career, eventually becoming a Warrant Officer if possible.
The parade was reviewed by Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah.
Addressing the cadets, she said: "You are now entrusted with the heavy responsibility of leading men and women into battle... lead them by example and with conviction."
This article was first published on June 26, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.