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National Service Survey

Contemplating The Length Of Service (National Service Survey)

This post is part of my National Service Survey series, titled “The Full-Time National Serviceman: Concerns, Challenges And The Way Forward“. The study was also premised upon three key principles: first, to involve NSFs in the entire feedback process; second, to inform the SAF and MINDEF about these concerns; third, besides the implementation of workable recommendations, this ad-hoc survey can function as a humble starting point for future exercises or studies to evolve from.

Read more about my first attempt at an online survey (here), and feel free to let me know what you think about the discourse.

Contemplating The Length Of Service
Key Qualitative Findings

Respondents highlighted perspectives with regard to the length of service, and justified their propositions through three points: first, the result of bad or negative experiences (general dissatisfaction); second, actual time spent or lost, with comparisons to other countries and new citizens; and third, perceptions of redundant roles and responsibilities during their NS term.

Result Of Bad Or Negative Experiences

Across the board, there was an expression of general dissatisfaction towards NS; and as a result of these negative experiences, respondents were quick to point to the two years of service, and lamented its length. Therefore, varied frustrations over the two years of NS should be taken into consideration more holistically – specifically the poor management of NSFs – and tackled.

Another commenter, cognisant of the additional training required for commissioned officers, asserted that “the length of service can be reduced further, with all non-commissioned ranks serving just eighteen months”.

There were suggestions to reduce the current term of twenty-two or twenty-four months to between twelve and eighteen months. A particular model proposed called for “a reduced full-time service with an added phase (before the start of reservist) of training during [the] school holidays” [A11]. Another commenter, cognisant of the additional training required for commissioned officers, asserted that “the length of service can be reduced further[, with] all non-commissioned ranks [serving] just eighteen months” [A14].

Actual Time Spent Or Lost

Many were conscious of the need for national defence, and comprehended the general importance of NS; unfortunately, voices of unhappiness surfaced when comparisons were made with conscription programmes in other countries, and with permanent residents or new citizens. The actual time spent or lost becomes more daunting when NSFs take into account future academic or work pursuits after they leave the service.

One comment stated that “European countries are already disbanding NS [1] and some countries only require one year [2] of NS” [A4].

Emotive statements like “foreigner turn citizen [do not] need [to] do NS” [A5] were echoed in different ways (“I am extremely upset that new citizens are not compelled to serve NS … [and the] same goes for PRs who keep finding ways and means for their sons not to serve NS” [A13]). Even though it would not be fair to generalise these situations, they should be given due thought and discourse. There was an additional suggestion for new citizens to “perform compulsory community service instead [so as to] foster societal ties and reduce xenophobia” [A3].

Quantitatively, the respondents also reflected that they would like MINDEF to look into the lack of NS equity for permanent residents and new citizens in Singapore.

Besides the comparisons made with external factors, the length of service is frowned upon by Singaporean males because they would be “late for further studies [and] gaining work experience” [A12]. “More efforts should be put in to reduce the disadvantage of being away from studies for nearly three years” [A7].

Perceptions Of Redundant Responsibilities

The general contention was that roles and responsibilities evolve to be redundant in the second year of service (“it seems like an unbelievably large proportion of NSFs spend most of their second year idling” [A1]), after vocational training has concluded (“every … day after completing the vocational training had been a wait towards the completion of my service” [A2] and “pure training of our individual vocations … can easily be done in one year” [A9]).

Servicemen also believed that they are made to do “unnecessary work just to make the training schedule look packed” [A1], and that they are treated as “cheap labour” [A9] for the National Day Parade (NDP) and sai-kang [3]. Thus, without these additional elements, NSFs are of the opinion that the overall length of service can be significantly cut.


Commanders have a predilection for framing the justifications on the necessity of the two years upon a few, broad tangents that are often too vague and nebulous.

1. Greater clarification of roles and responsibilities, and proper explanation of why two years are desired. Commanders have a predilection for framing the justifications on the necessity of the two years upon a few, broad tangents – on the importance of national security, comparisons to the past, operational requirement, the lack of manpower et cetera – that are often too vague and nebulous.

If commanders cannot frame their explanations and expositions clearly, specifically on how the months would work out (and justifying the significance of various activities, such as pedantic parades), disillusionment would certainly continue to manifest. NSFs should have the right to comprehend their levels of involvement, as well as to understand how their participation in the activities would actually be constructive and productive.

2. Differentiating the lengths of service between regular NSFs and commanders. One of the most common propositions, on the maintenance of the present length of service, is the perspective that officers and specialists require more time for the completion of training, and the execution of their responsibilities. If that is the case, it is possible for the terms of ordinary men to be adjusted, to reflect on-the-ground roles and demands; already, different NSFs have varying commitment periods, based on their performance in pre-enlistment physical assessments.

The decision to head for command schools, before the conclusion of Basic Military Training (BMT), is a voluntary one. Therefore, some might worry that having shorter service terms for men would encourage many to take the “easy road out” (not necessarily true in terms of training intensity). However, in my opinion, commanders would then be able to ascertain the commitment of those who do say yes (those who are cognisant of the higher expectations, but still choose to do so), and potentially raise the quality of the graduating soldiers.

More importantly, the number of recruits who feel motivated enough to say yes to command school would then be a more accurate indicator of the training schools’ abilities to umbue their trainees with the necessary physical and psychological traits.

* * *

[A_] For references to the specific comments, please refer to the compiled document (here).

[1] The respondent was probably referring to moves or promises by Germany and Russia to scrap conscription [A4].

[2] Based on the data compiled by the CIA World Factbook on “Military Service Age And Obligation”, Singapore has one of the longest mandatory conscription period in comparison to the other countries listed.

[3] A dialect expression; when literally translated, means “shit work”. It is commonly used to describe menial or hard-labour tasks, which are usually perceived to be demeaning or degrading.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


6 thoughts on “Contemplating The Length Of Service (National Service Survey)

  1. Well-said. I spent the last 6 months of service averaging 14 hours of sleep per day. An alternative to reducing length of service would be to let NSFs stay-out when there is NO GOOD REASON for them to stay-in. This assessment must be done on a day-by-day basis; that is to say that simply giving some ‘global’ reason like “Oh this is a standby/quick-response/etc. unit so must stay-in” should be regarded as bull”. Instead we should be asking questions like “Is there an agenda/specific duties to be done TODAY?” If not, then by default, we knock off at 5pm. If so, then fair enough, stay-in for TODAY.

    Despite MINDEF’s (and especially PIONEER’s) “public image” campaigns, it is no secret that the SAF is a systemically inefficient organization.

    Posted by Joel | February 18, 2012, 1:26 pm
  2. I dont really see that need for a reduction in NS duration, as i believe no matter how…inefficient it may be, it is a measure for our loyalty and commitment we are willing to return to the society. (so all those idiots out there who hate their whole lives n the country for the 2 yrs of service, fk off) However, i do believe that there’s an immediate need to look into the difference between Singaporeans and their foreign counterparts, and the unfair advantage given to the foreign immigrants due to exemption from NS. If they are willing to boost our economy and improve our society (as so someone says), im sure they will be as willing to give up 2 years for their beloved country.

    Posted by Randy | March 24, 2012, 10:30 pm
    • Hi Randy!

      Thanks for your comment. It really is a tough call, and there are trade-offs involved, so I concur with your proposition (in this scenario, I’m really just taking in perspectives from everyone, and it’s interesting to see the diversity). I have served my country with pride, but I’ll admit there were times when I felt my time in service could have been more constructive. Naturally, one could see it as an opportunity to do more within the units (though the incentives were far and few between), or possibly a way to reduce the service term.

      I agree with the point on our foreign counterparts. I’m not sure if this is a widespread trend, but there is the possibility of a foreigner going through the Singapore education system, go off overseas for a college education, before returning to apply for citizenship (of course, without serving National Service). The administration would contend that the children of these individuals would have to serve regardless, but equity is always difficult to achieve.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | March 24, 2012, 10:57 pm
  3. Randy,

    Your comment showed an amazing lack of understanding and analysis. You are implying that you are willing to accept the inefficiency because of ‘loyalty and commitment’, however, have you thought how this ‘loyalty and commitment’ could be shown in other more productive ways?

    If there is a better way for NSFs to spend their two years (I’m very sure they are), we should embrace the benefits of these alternatives and make the necessary changes to our conscription system. Did you know that the time we spend in NS has a negative impact on GDP? And this doesn’t include the intangible factors (not going to go there though).

    So if we can cut short the time spent in NS, it would not only improve the quality of life of our soldiers, it would also improve the efficiency of the SAF and benefit the nation in other ways.

    Posted by iwslwolfie | March 26, 2012, 10:42 am


  1. Pingback: The Biggest Problem That Frustrates Singapore’s NSFs « guanyinmiao's musings - February 22, 2012

  2. Pingback: Improve National Service? It Starts With A Better Understanding Of (Non-Commanding) NSFs | guanyinmiao's musings - May 8, 2018

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