SINGAPORE - Before Private Marcus Chin enlisted for national service, his uncle, engineer Lee Hong Cheng, 32, seldom shared army stories with him.
But yesterday morning, Pte Chin, 19, got on stage at the Marina Bay Floating Platform to receive the national flag from his uncle, also in uniform, in front of close to 20,000 spectators.
They were part of the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) first integrated military parade.
It involved some 4,200 recruits graduating from their Basic Military Training (BMT), most aged around 18. Another 600 operationally ready servicemen (NSmen) from the 452nd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment were standing down after reaching their early 30s.
The event is a first for the SAF, which normally conducts such parades separately, and on a smaller scale.
NSmen "stand down" after completing a 10-year operationally ready national service training cycle and then join the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) Reserve.
The uncle-nephew duo of Pte Chin and Corporal (NS) Lee were selected for the flag handover as the gesture is "symbolic of the handing and taking over of NS duties from one generation of NSmen to the next", said Mindef.
"I was proud to have this privilege but also emotional because doing it meant that my NS cycle has come to an end," said Mr Lee. "Too many memories."
The early drizzle did not dampen the spirits of audience members who pulled on raincoats and took out phones and digital cameras to snap photos of loved ones.
Technician Muhamad Mansoor, 48, and his wife, accounting coordinator Samsiah Kaharudin, 46, braved the rain to cheer on their son, Pte Syazwan Muhamad, 21, who was named best recruit in his BMT company.
"I got up at 4am to make breakfast for the family because I was too excited and couldn't sleep," said Madam Kaharudin.
As the ceremony ended, cheers filled the air, as did jockey caps flung by some newly minted privates.
Others, like Pte Abu Bakar As-Siddiq Azmi, 23, even somersaulted in elation.
Mr Lee had a few wise words for his nephew, an aspiring pilot: "Look forward to life after BMT, the soldiers you meet are those you will go through everything with."
This article was published on April 13 in The Straits Times.
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