Imagine you were a platoon instructor of Platoon 3 from Bravo wing in Officer Commanding School. Together with you, there are 3 other platoon instructors and a platoon commander making up the instructor corp for your platoon.

There are 3 platoons in Bravo wing. That equates to 12 platoon instructors and 3 platoon commanders, including you. A platoon warrant officer shares the same office, coming under the command of the wing sergeant major. If you’re still following, we have 17 commanders at this juncture.

You also have the company quartermaster sergeant (CQSM) taking charge of all the commanders’ and cadets’ logistical requirements. He has about 4 privates and corporals under his command to assist him.

In charge of Bravo wing is the wing commander and his right-hand man, the wing 2IC (W2). The wing commander, W2 and wing sergeant major makes up the ‘big 3’ and everything Bravo wing-related is their responsibilities. In all, there are 20 commanders who play different roles and would have different tasks for the officer cadets who are undergoing their 9-month training in Bravo wing.In summary, the chain of command can be illustrated as follows:

Wing Commander > W2 > 5 pPlatoon 1 commanders + 5 platoon 2 commanders + 5 platoon 3 commanders

Wing Sergeant Major > Platoon Warrant Officer + CQSM

With the potential for occurrences due to conflict of interests, there is a system where a platoon instructor acts as a wing duty instructor (WDI) to take charge of the wing’s daily activities. He has the authority to influence the day’s activities in order to abide by the predetermined training program and he acts as the sole point of contact for the cadets. In theory, anyone (regardless of rank or position) who has a message for the cadets, has to go through the WDI so as to minimise confusion. However, following through with the system is much harder than it appears.

Exhibit A.

I was in charge of the signals and optics equipment in Bravo wing. On that very day, I had to allocate time with some cadets to test the signals and optics that we would receive so that they can be locked up and be ready for transfer to Changi Airport’s cargo complex a few days later. This was in preparation for our upcoming overseas training in Brunei. To do this I required:

  1. The WDI’s cooperation to pull out some cadets to transport all the required equipment from the main store to Bravo wing.
  2. The WDI’s cooperation to pull out some cadets to assist me for at least an hour.
  3. The WDI to be present for us to access the storage room for all the equipment.
  4. The wing commander/W2’s permission to allow some cadets to go to bed later, if necessary (keep in mind that the army is very strict with the amount of rest that soldiers receive for safety reasons).

Meanwhile, challenges that I had faced include:

  1. Cadets woke up at 5.30am and are scheduled to go to bed by 10.30pm.
  2. A tight training program that included an endurance run after breakfast, a written test to qualify the cadets for the overseas training and some tactical planning for their overseas missions.
  3. Cadets were to be released in batches to the medical centre for their vaccinations.
  4. I required some cadets to assist with transporting all the signals and optics equipment to Bravo wing, followed by testing and further rectifications, if necessary.
  5. Cadets were granted the opportunity to head to the E-Mart to get any missing personnel equipment as part of their packing for the overseas training.
  6. Cadets were to collect personal equipment from the CQMS in batches.
  7. Some cadets had to present their tactics for their missions to their respective platoon instructors at different timings and locations.
  8. The wing commander conveniently ‘requested’ for some time to address all the cadets prior to flying off to Brunei. (We instructors discovered this when he was already in the midst addressing the cadets.)

I hope that I was able to encapsulate the utter chaos and complex communication process that we instructors (and cadets) had to endure and overcome. It was indeed a day that I find hard to forget especially with the pressure of limited time and resources, and the addition of unforeseen circumstances. I barely managed to maintain a calm facade during instances when I felt out of depth. I could also tell from the day’s WDI that it was the worst day ever to be in charge of the cadets.

On that very day, all 20 commanders have different priorities as we sought to complete our tasks that would ultimately add up to our common goal: to be prepared for the overseas training in Brunei. On that very day, I kept asking myself: What should I prioritise? Do I still follow the system and seek the WDI’s approval for everything that I needed to do? Can I be more effective while benefiting everyone if I skip the chain of command? Do I tell the wing commander off for skipping the chain of command? Do I deprive the cadets of their sleep? 

What would you do?

Posts read and commented: Lee Simin, Lee Qian Hui, Chua Hong Yi, Darren Sze, Eline Lee, Gan Shi Hui, Cai Xianda.

Dedicated to 1WO Victor Arulmani. Rest in peace, Encik.