If you put Singapore Army Captain Jason Lee and his tankees on traffic marshal duty, they instantly become stealth soldiers - present but unnoticed.
Station them in their Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks and they'll be feted like superstars by an adoring public.
That's the reality of traffic marshal duty: It is one of the least appreciated of National Day Parade (NDP) 2010 Mobile Column duties. But it's also the most vital.
Without the traffic marshals, the 210 tracked and wheeled vehicles that make up this year’s Mobile Column will be nothing more than car park residents.
These duties are shared between officers and men from the 41st Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (41 SAR) and the 48th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (48 SAR). Traffic marshal operations in the stadium area are led by Captain Jimmy Goh and his team from 41 SAR. CPT Lee and the tankees from 1st Company 48 SAR shoulder traffic marshal duties from Nicoll Highway onwards.
Week after week, the Armour Formation's traffic marshals transform the mass of tracked and wheeled vehicles into an orderly, parade-worthy display that has dazzled spectators lucky enough to catch NDP rehearsals.
People who have seen traffic marshals in action would realise their duties go beyond simply fanning vehicles along while standing by the roadside.
These traffic marshals are on duty day and night, whatever the weather. The blazing afternoon sun is the bane of traffic marshals. And when they pray for cooler weather, down comes a torrential downpour of such intensity that part of car park Foxtrot was flooded on 17 July.
The tankees ensure Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war machines and Home Team hardware leave their form-up point/holding area in the right sequence, on time, and reach the Padang safely.
This grand sounding job description belies the tedium and mind-numbing monotony of traffic marshal duty.
When it's time to close public roads and highways for NDP rehearsals, traffic marshals will push plastic barriers to block certain lanes to motorists. They will also roll out miles of white tape and plastic netting to screen the car park at Kallang Leisure Park. They do this to maintain a safe distance between curious members of the public and the Mobile Column vehicles.
And while the job can be boring, not all duty stations are created equal. Some duty stations, like the roads close to Suntec City shopping mall, are sought-after because the high pedestrian traffic gives traffic marshals a steady flow of eye candy to look at.
Thus pre-positioned, traffic marshals must steel themselves to the reality that the public hardly notices or cares about them. The traffic marshals who stand there for hours during each NDP rehearsal would be lucky if the man in the street even removes the lens cap from his camera when traffic marshals are within visual range, let alone take a photo of the men at work. They are part of the streetscape, anonymous stealth soldiers whom nobody sees.
To their credit, the traffic marshals know they’re there to support the real “stars” and do their utmost to make sure the Mobile Column puts on a good show. Never mind if even the Combat Service Support field toilets are photographed more often than all the traffic marshals combined. These tankees know they serve a key role getting the show on the road.
Their job includes being part-time tour guide too. It’s quite common for curious tourists to ask why on earth the Singaporean military has war machines on the street. Though there’s scope for rather imaginative replies, traffic marshals are professionals who don’t take tourists for a ride or smoke them by saying there’s a war in progress... at least that's what they tell me. :-)
Less sought-after are isolated duty stations where traffic marshals have only lamp posts for company. Here’s where resourceful tankees make full use of their solitude. They turn themselves into mobile entertainment kiosks/canteens by packing every pocket on their Number 4 camouflage uniform with snacks, a PlayStation/electronic game, book/magazine and sweets of all types for good measure. Some may even have iPod headphones dripping out of their ears when the officers aren’t looking.
If they’re lucky, they may get to practice their people management skills on drivers who, blur like fark and obviously in a hurry, try to argue their way past the roadblocks after failing to see the huge road closure signs.
Still, such arguments can spice up an otherwise boring afternoon.
Roadblock duty demands the utmost vigilance by traffic marshals. They have to look out for unauthorised vehicles and look out for one another.
On 4 June 1995, full-time National Serviceman Private Choy Ying Keong, 19, was killed at 4am in the morning by a speeding car at Fort Road. PTE Choy, who served with 40 SAR, was on traffic marshal duty for the first Army Half Marathon.
HQ Armour has never forgotten PTE Choy's loss. This explains the large number of Ford Everest safety vehicles and other security precautions that screen the Mobile Column from harm.
As we approach NDP 2010, the tankees in the picture below will once again help the Mobile Column form up safely and punctually.
CPT Lee said: "They're the unsung heroes who make things happen. Things have finally settled down and we're looking forward to NDP itself."