Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Say again, over."

This blog isn’t about language matters. But the grammar police came out in full force after reading the post titled, Form over substance.

Good grammar, ungarbled sentence structures and proper pronunciation, they argued, are crucial in military operations.

One observer pointed out that one only has to listen in to a voice-tell during a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) exercise to see how well command decisions are relayed, understood and executed when the situation is “non standard”.

He added:“A simple description may have to be repeated several times.”

Officers who find it a pain when their superiors edit their drafts should understand that badly composed staff papers sent up to higher command reflect poorly on their Service, Formation, or unit.

When the SAF goes into operations, more than just bruised egos are at stake if SAF personnel cannot communicate intelligibly.

As the SAF exercises frequently with foreign partners, it is all the more important that SAF personnel learn to speak clearly and write well when the occasion demands. Are they speaking English? A comment from a South African.

The problems of communicating with the spoken word may be solved to some extent by datalinks, automatic target designation/handover and Red Force Marking. But non standard situations or fast-developing kinetic operations often call for voice-tell to convey command decisions rapidly.

When I attended Exercise Wallaby in Queensland, Australia, some years ago, I heard an instruction repeated nine times (we counted). The exchange revolved around a conversation where one callsign asked the other where Captain so-and-so's location was.

We had a good laugh, as one callsign struggled to understand the other in Singlish liberally peppered with “har?” and “say again”. The exasperation of the callsign become palpable over the airwaves as the instruction was repeated.

This was a peacetime administrative matter, yet it was so difficult.

One need only wonder what would have transpired if bullets were flying and clear comms was urgently required to save lives?

Furthermore, if the Australian Defence Force had been monitoring the ether, I wonder what their communications intelligence folks would have made of the exchange.

The point about PIONEER magazine forgetting the contribution of flag-carrying UH-1Hs at National Day Parades of yesteryear saw the spotlight cast on the SAF’s historical awareness.

A number of SAF retirees lamented how younger officers tend to forget or look down on contributions of those who have served before them.

I recently asked one retiree - until recently quite senior in the pecking order - if he would attend the Army Open House (3 to 7 September 2009).

He replied:”No. Not invited.”

I tried making him feel better by pointing out that he had attended the anniversary parade of an SAF Formation as a special guest.

Though he did not say it, I could sense his disappointment after he learnt that his invitation arrived in the mail only after the mass invites had gone out.

Looking at me straight in the eye, he gave a one word reply:”Afterthought.”


xtemujin said...

During the 2007 Army Open House, I saw General(Ret)Winston Choo with his grandson.

Anonymous said...

"A number of SAF retirees lamented how younger officers tend to forget or look down on contributions of those who have served before them."

This is disgraceful. If only these officers understand they see further only because they sit on the shoulders of those before them.

IMO, the pioneer batch were definitely more resourceful as they had to make do with very little