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The Straits Times

Committee to Strengthen National Service: Enlisting Views From The Ground

The nature of the contributions, all-round support for this duty, and the manner of acknowledging such service are to be the concerns of the Committee to Strengthen National Service, announced by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen this week in Parliament” (When Doing NS Is Its Own Reward, The Straits Times Editorial).

The Ministry of Defence’s (MINDEF) establishment of the Committee to Strengthen National Service (NS) – as reflected in The Straits Times editorial, “When Doing NS Is Its Own Reward” (March 15, 2013) – should be applauded. Cognisant of the renewed concerns over immigration and the perpetual sacrifices made by servicemen, while many do recognise and appreciate the need for the NS institution, improvements are certainly in order. Because this new review Committee is in a prime position to posit recommendations, I believe a few strategies will enhance the value of the feedback gathered.

The enlistment of views from the ground would yield equally – if not more – constructive perspectives on how operations are actually executed.

1. Full-time (NSF) and operationally-ready (NSmen) servicemen should be invited to share their experiences, as well as to articulate unit-specific suggestions. More importantly, beyond the engagement of regular soldiers or NS commanders, the enlistment of views from the ground would yield equally – if not more – constructive perspectives on how operations are actually executed. One of the reasons for the general apprehension in participating in such conversations, which should not be construed as apathy or lethargy, is because servicemen are worried that they might contravene directives when acting within the public sphere. Representative focus group discussions, like the ones organised by the Our Singapore Conversation movement, would prove to be a good starting point.

Seemingly “trivial” frustrations over matters like excessive or needless regimentation and user-unfriendly online services might appear inconsequential in “the grand scheme of things”. Nonetheless, a lack of attention can amplify negative perceptions or attitudes towards NS.

2. The format of these discourses should be open and spontaneous, with no intimidation. In the first phase, the participants would be free to raise any points they feel are pertinent. Simultaneously, cross-vocation interactions can be encouraged, so that soldiers can get a better idea of the roles and responsibilities of their counterparts. Subsequently, in the second phase, the servicemen would explore individual themes: welfare and benefits, management of servicemen, leadership opportunities, and the length and value of service.

3. Most crucially, the MINDEF bureaucrats and bigwigs should not go into these sessions demanding answers (this strange predilection for results and performance indicators), because the collaborative process – as clichéd as it might sound – should be the emphasis. As the recent commentaries have reflected, questions such as “what recognition do soldiers deserve” and “should we place a price tag on NS” do not have straightforward answers. On monetary incentives: some might feel insulted by hand-outs, others reckon that compensation is way overdue, and a young Singaporean looking to save up for college would appreciate such financial assistance.

The process might be messy, but it will be meaningful when participants gain an appreciation for a plethora of diverse viewpoints. It is a way of telling our servicemen – of past and present – that their viewpoints matter; and that they matter, too.

A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.

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About guanyinmiao

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

Discussion

17 thoughts on “Committee to Strengthen National Service: Enlisting Views From The Ground

  1. Doing NS itself should be a reward … protecting Singapore, love for Singapore blah blah blah. When it comes to Ministers’ and Presidents’ pay, funny how government do not apply the same argument.

    Will there will be article that says:
    “Our Ministers should be be paid a nominal amount because being elected as MP and serving as Minister is a reward in itself. That said, it will be worthwhile to give our MPs and Ministers some further form of appreciation. Let us gather together and talk about them. Just talk. Tell them we appreciate our MPs listening to our dull and boring non-issues like upstairs neighbour hanging out dripping wet clothes during Meet The People sessions.”

    $$ to appreciate Ministers, talk to appreciate NS. Hmmm….. sounds right?

    Posted by bystander | March 18, 2013, 5:49 pm
    • I don’t really see the relevance of allusion to ministerial salaries here. Yes, I concur that their remuneration does not commensurate with the spirit of the public office, but politics and NS are different institutions, methinks.

      And it wouldn’t be fair to posit that “talk to appreciate NS” per se is justified. Precisely because different individuals would have dissimilar opinions on the form of recognition, therefore some form of dialogue with soldiers on-the-ground would be constructive.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | March 18, 2013, 7:32 pm
      • Dear Jin Yao,

        Have you serve reservist recently? The recent few years that I served, there were feedback forms which ask for our experience during ICT, little “goodies” bags one time, “appreciation” party for those who didn’t take MC and pass IPPT. All these small gestures do not mean a thing to me in the bigger context of my life. The disruptions that an ICT can cause: I was studying night classes and had to miss them; my baby’s vaccination coincide with my ICT and I had to beg and arm twist to get office hours so that I can bring my baby to the polyclinic; disruption to work.

        Am I saving the nation while serving reservist? Not in any minuscule way that I can imagine. But I am there to be a cheap labour and help the department/force/unit to meet their quotas for exercises, training targets, roadblocks numbers etc.

        This is my view from the ground. Do I want a enter into a discussion and give feedback? No, let’s save everybody’s time.

        Posted by bystander | March 18, 2013, 11:32 pm
      • If those are the problems on the ground, then it should be articulated. The feedback mechanism you mentioned sounds contrived and redundant, and should be replaced.

        I disagree on the way you have perceived your – or our – service to the nation. While myopic commanders might see the whole enterprise as “meet[ing] quotas for exercises, training targets”, the institution of NS remains relevant, if not pertinent. Things can change (they must change), and perspectives like yours matter. The personal inconveniences you have experienced: these are the views we should hear, no? I understand the scepticism and the possible suspicion of the administration, but there is still value in discourse (and as many have remarked, things are a-changing in Singapore). The worst thing we can do is to sit idly by and hope for change. Maybe I sound like an idealist, but I have faith.

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | March 18, 2013, 11:55 pm
      • Hi Jin Yao,

        (Referring to your second comment below) On one hand you are placing NS on a high and almighty pedestal and belittling my “personal inconvenience”, on the other hand you are asking the affected people to talk about this.

        Firstly, laws are in place that override my “personal inconvenience”. Only full time studies in local uni and polytechnics are officially recognised. Unisim exams, probably can get deferment. But classes no. Part time classes in unisim is not officially recognised, can’t even get time off to attend classes. It’s my minor “personal inconvenience” to you and the mighty NS institution, a sacrifice that a Singaporean has to made?. For My unisim BSc ICT course, I have about 6 lessons for one subject. My ICT last 18 days. I might have to miss 2-3 out of 6 lessons.

        Polyclinic vaccination appointments need to be booked months in advance. Babies need to go for multiple vaccinations in different time frames: first month, second month etc. When I was told to go for ICT, I checked and couldn’t find another available appointment in nearby polyclinic. If I’m working outside, I can easily take child care leave or annual leave. I can’t take any of that for ICT. I can choose to let my wife take care of this and hands off. But I choose not to. I choose to be with my family for this. I beg and cry and coerce to be allowed to bring my baby for vaccination at the appointment time.

        Posted by bystander | March 19, 2013, 10:27 am
      • Belittling the personal inconveniences was never my intent, and no-where in the comment was this perspective reflected; rather, the point made was that your inconveniences should be “hear[d]”. These problems you have identified: if more servicemen reflect these issues, then solutions can be explored to make it better / easier / more reasonable for them to fulfill personal responsibilities or aspirations.

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | March 20, 2013, 9:34 am
  2. As a former reservist who has put in 2.5 yrs fulltime NSF in armoured battalion and another 13 years of ICTs, Mob mannings, stand-to’s, I have to say that NS is a big waste of time that is getting more & more irrelevant in today’s cosmopolitan, urbanly mobile and globalised world.

    Think about it, even my amour training is conducted in terrain and surroundings very different from S’pore — Taiwan open and rolling hills, Thailand rural jungles and villages like S’pore in the 1950s, Australia endless and sprawling sub-desert environment. The type of tactics and training will be useless in defending S’pore unless we want to invade other countries.

    Posted by zzzzz | March 18, 2013, 6:57 pm
    • That’s interesting, because I have discussed a similar question with my friends (that is, when war strikes, how many of us would be ready / prepared to fight or shoot another human being). I am equally sceptical, despite two years of National Service. I can see where you’re coming from: I sent to Taiwan for my reconnaissance training, and the terrain or contexts are quite different.

      Perhaps the bigger point (correct me if I am wrong) you are alluding to is whether NS or conscription is even necessary in the first place. My personal opinion (and taking into consideration the aforementioned) is that the deterrence factor is key, and the presence of a sizeable force is imperative for national defence. There could be ways of improving the status quo (though I am not in a position to comment on the operational settings), but there is an entrenched mentality that NS – as an institution – is integral. And this belief has served us well for the past 40-odd years.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | March 18, 2013, 7:26 pm
  3. NS is certainly as relevant today as yesterday.
    One issue with NS that has never been adequately addressed or more correctly never addressed at all is the impact it has on family members when an NSman is injured or worst paid the ultimate sacrifice during training or actual operations.

    What obviously comes to mind are in three areas:

    1. Compensation and support for the injured servicemen, including lifetime support in case of a serious injury and permanent disability due to service.

    2. Recognition and compensation for family members who have suffered an irreplaceable loss.

    3. Remembering their service and sacrifice on 9 Aug.

    I don’t have the details about the present status regarding these, but during my time, it was quite miserable.

    Posted by George | March 18, 2013, 8:15 pm
    • Thanks George. I believe you’ll be glad to know that medical schemes are in place for injuries or disabilities. However, anecdotally, it has been reflected that the process can be quite frustrating and tough, given the thickets of red tape – naturally.

      Nothing can really compensate the loss of a soldier (you rightly pointed out, it’s “irreplaceable). Therefore, beyond recognition (which, I reckon, is sorely lacking), there have been calls from the public for safety measures to be tightened. It is a tough balancing act between realistic training and ensuring the safety of soldiers, but it has to be done.

      I like the idea of a commemoration day or event. Mr. K.C. Vijayan from The Straits Times penned a nice piece last year (https://guanyinmiao.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/remembering-commemorating-and-honouring-servicemen-who-have-lost-their-lives/).

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | March 18, 2013, 8:22 pm
      • What about the status regarding compensation?
        Also, are seriously injured or maimed servicemen taken care of life-long? Does the govt expect the parents and relatives to perform life-long ‘national service’ of looking after them? The average household consists of two parents and two children. Does the govt expect the surviving sibling to do this? I do not make this statement lightly bearing in mind how financially and emotionally draining this can be to the family and siblings.

        The govt seems to have conveniently closed both eyes to these unfortunate servicemen.

        Apart from the obvious reasons for doing this, I do not believe the govt cannot afford to do this since the number of cases are extremely small in comparison to the number of National Servicemen. Why is it possible to spent millions on SAFRA Clubhouses but not on medical and other compensation on these surely more deserving few?

        Posted by George | March 20, 2013, 1:46 am
      • I’m afraid I don’t have the specifics on compensation. Servicemen are now covered by insurance, and if a service injury report is completed (if a soldier was injured during training), I believe assistance is provided.

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | March 20, 2013, 9:30 am
  4. Recognition of NSmen (& NSFs) is long overdue. In light of a dwindling proportion of males in Singapore who have/are/will be serving NS, the relative costs of NS can only increase.

    Posted by IGoCrazyBecauseOfYou | March 22, 2013, 1:39 am
  5. How? The answer is simple.

    GE MING LO!!!

    Posted by IGoCrazyBecauseOfYou | March 25, 2013, 7:21 pm

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