With the proliferation of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) related events and corresponding news articles preceding the SAF Day, I believe it is worth thinking about the National Service (NS) mechanism, and provide some personal opinions – without compromising classified information – on how the NS experience can be enhanced. Whereas I had – previously in a post – focused on more macro recommendations, such as gradually reducing conscription years given the advances in mechanisation, I will share comparatively micro concerns in this commentary.
Increase Family Involvement In The Engagement Process
Even though it is the young Singaporean male who shoulders the greatest responsibilities when it comes to NS, his family and friends are crucial pillars for emotional support, and the shaping of expectations. Therefore, strengthened partnerships between the serviceman’s unit and family can increase parents’ comprehension of their son’s day-to-day military commitments, and also consistently encourage him to go through the challenging NS journey with a positive mindset.
These processes can be facilitated through two primary means. First, the family camp visit concept should be expanded beyond the Basic Military Training (BMT) and command schools frameworks; at the same time, parents should be allowed to visit bunks and non-classified training areas periodically. Second, besides the major open houses organised, respective units can individually coordinate family days or events to promote engagement and facilitate indirect modes of communication for interested stakeholders.
Ultimately, it is about having the ability to draw a clear line between the soldier’s development of independence or maturity, and the presence of effective support structures outside of the army’s hierarchy.
Render Information More Centralised And Accessible
Entering the service straight after graduation from school can be a considerably daunting prospect for a multitude of individuals; even for those who might be physically fit or prepared. The SAF did attempt to create an online NS portal to guide to-be recruits on key aspects, but the fact is that the information and content do not go beyond the BMT phase, and the air of uncertainty adds to the anxiety and inconvenience.
Administrative hassle can also be minimised if aspects such as the Physical Employment Status (PES) descriptions, Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) standards for the appropriate categories, vocational explanations et cetera were centrally made available through a virtual platform. Existing pages are unfortunately messy, cluttered, and sometimes even painfully difficult to locate.
Develop Social Media Efforts To Be More Sustainable And Constructive
The fact that the videos from the “Our Army” advertisement series were ruthlessly parodied and laughed at can be attributed to the lack of understanding of the sentiments held by full time NS men about the service. Social media has the ability to bridge this disconnect, and allow people inside and outside the service to connect and interact (most of the time along common threads of experiences or memories).
Based on these observations, the success of the “Every Singaporean Son” series does not come as much of a surprise; in fact, along the same tangent, the SAF’s media teams can expand their videos to include episodes with trainees from the other units (current clips are comparatively less detailed and emotional). Besides using FaceBook for random news clippings and giveaways, they can be used to: i. gather opinions on general defence or NS-related developments; ii. connect long-lost counterparts who used to be in the same companies or battalions; and iii. heighten cross-unit or vocation interaction by having representative servicemen pen their thoughts and reflections.
Heighten Cross-Unit Or Vocation Interactions
Other than the online methodologies, it would also be greatly beneficial if servicemen had the opportunities to physically visit the different vocations – even beyond the army into the air force, home team, and the navy – to experience first-hand the activities and trainings catered. These exchanges would go a long way in raising the individual’s appreciation of the defence network as a whole, which can have positive effects in exercises and even within the civilian world.
Creation Of Platforms For General Policy Discourse Or Feedback
The SAF has instituted a plethora of ways and incentives to promote innovation and financial efficiency within the organisation; nonetheless, I feel that the focus on hardware improvements overshadows the necessary focus on the heartware. The presence of the chain of command system provides adequate resources and manpower to help the serviceman resolve personal difficulties with his family or within the unit, but there are no platforms for general policy discourse or feedback.
Though not all might be interested in suggesting recommendations to enhance the NS or army experience for all, there is a significant population of soldiers that would like to do otherwise. In my perspective, battalions can be encouraged to partner voluntary welfare organisations (VWO) to assist in fund-raising or direct services; and special education courses organised to prepare soldiers for university or vocational jobs in the future. Who knows; there might be an assortment of productive suggestions just waiting to be uncovered?