In time to come, it is likely that the decade's first open house by the Singapore Army will be known more for its venue at the Singapore Formula 1 Pit Building than the spread of war machines and military technology showcased at AOH 2012.
As the AOH organiser sifts through survey results and feedback on the event, one key question will be whether or not the AOH should return to the F1 site or go back to more familiar ground at the SAFTI Military Institute, where vehicle rides and live-fire ranges promise a more impactful experience for visitors of all ages.
Takeaway 1 - The venue
Having the AOH set up shop at the F1 site classed it more as a large exhibition than an open house and the organiser should have managed expectations better by using the "open house" tagline more selectively. In future, save it for real open days at protected places where people can troop through camp gates for a look at a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) facility.
The venue brought several key advantages compared to SAFTI MI (better accessibility, more parking etc)and a major benefit in the form of the Pit Building. The long Pit Building where racing cars are serviced could house all combat and combat support arms in a large, air-conditioned hall. This setting could have been better exploited. It may be more sanitised compared to SAFTI MI, but it is a more compact and weather-proof location compared to having Army units scattered all over the SAFTI MI parade square in GS tents.
At AOH 2012, everyone was brought together in a long, easily navigable hall where visitors naturally walked from one end of the hall to the other like fish swimming down a river. Such people flow is a marketeer's dream venue - if it was properly set-up.
What we saw from last Thursday to Monday was a hodge podge of individual Formations operating almost independently while attending to their own shop window. There was, in my view, little or no attempt at a coordinated storyline which told civilian visitors what the Third Generation (3G) Singapore Army was all about.
Think of a trade show or school fun fair where you walked past tables and standees describing such and such, with assorted equipment for visitors to handle, gawk at or photograph. This was the shop window at AOH 2012.
For future shows held in such a large hall, I would like to see better coordination between all Formations in explaining what they do and how they combine their warfighting expertise to complement one another. Military operations nowadays are seldom executed singly with just one Formation, but in combined arms and joint ops with the Republic of Singapore Air Force, Republic of Singapore Navy, SAF Intelligence services and the Home Team.
The Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF got the gist of this storyline when it used a graphic to explain how the various combat arms tackled the Enemy through coordinated violence during Exercise Forging Sabre. A similar graphic could have been used to tell visitors calling at the different booths staffed by the various Singapore Army Formations about their role in the projected scenario. Add a river for the combat engineers to better explain assault briding across a water obstacle. A coastline for the Guards to talk about coastal hook and one gets a better picture of how the entire Singapore Army wields its full force potential during a hot war scenario.
Add a few BMS terminals in the various booths and visitors could be shown how army warfighters cooperate and coordinate their operations, wirelessly and securely, across the battlespace in realtime.
Want to explain multi-spectrum? Then have other aspects of the same graphic include peace support ops, HADR/OOTW, counter terrorism ops and so on in a graphical display of the doomsday scenarios Our Army is trained, organised, equipped and supported to execute, 24/7, swiftly and decisively.
By walking around, looking at the common scenario replayed at various Formation and seeing the part each combat or combat support arm contributes to the operation, visitors go through self-paced learning at their own pace.
In my opinion, the 3Gness of the Singapore Army did not resonate in the halls despite the obvious buzz that weapons displays caused among curious/excited visitors. Each booth operated more or less in a silo, caring only about visitors who came to see and play with their exhibits and hear their Formation's story. With small arms on tables and war machines parked by Formation in the static display along Army Avenue outside, this was about as weapons-centric as you could get. Visitors will lap it all up because it isn't everyday you get to pose with a Leopard 2SG main battle tank or Apache attack helo.
But what about the network that links all SAF fighting forces together? The failure to underscore the 3G Army in the first AOH of the new decade was a lost opportunity as the Show Ambassadors were clearly enthusiastic and primed for the job of hosting visitors, having been put through a crash course on hospitality and people management.
Aside from the experiential takeways from visitors who walk away with a better appreciation of the Singapore Army, souvenirs could have been better designed.
In this regard, there was no lack of takeaways from metal badges, collar pins to stickers. Once again, the Show Ambassadors (full-time National Servicemen, Regulars and Operationall Ready National Servicemen deployed for meet-and-greet missions) did a wonderful job handing out these keepsakes.
What was lacking, in my opinion, was proper messaging on these souvenirs. The word "Singapore" was hardly mentioned in the show pamphlet. It was also conspicuously absent on all badges, which had the somewhat uninspiring tagline AOH @ OurCity. Imagine a foreign talent or PR who shows this keepsake to foreign friends - their friends might wonder what is an AOH and which city.
Let's not forget that memories of AOH will eventually get fuzzy over time. This is where souvenirs, however small or seemingly insignificant, serve a role in keeping memories alive with subtle reminders of the time we spent at a certain place/event/person. Without going to Google or checking your files, do any of you recall which AOH unveiled the Bionix IFV? When did the Matador make its AOH debut? Most of us who were there would not remember.
So why not help people along by using the term Singapore Army in giveaways and printing the year "2012" on souvenirs. It would make the badges more meaningful for Singaporeans/SPRs and foreign visitors. Afterall, the acronym AOH has no meaning to all but the most ardent military enthusiast or Army personnel who were involved in the event at some point in their life.
By and large, the exhibits were worth seeing, particularly the one that showcased the SAF in various operations islandwide and worldwide.
The part about crowd management has been addressed in previous posts and from comments from netizens on this blog. It isn't rocket science, so do it better next time.
Takeway 3 - Survey results
I would be careful interpreting numbers from survey forms shoved into the hands of visiting students or replies punched into key pads. Visitors at the event have varying levels of familiarity with the army and if someone with a low baseline of military knowledge is wowed by a rifle, it is possible that wow moment may translate into a transient feeling that he/she has a better knowledge of or confidence in the army. Though accurate, are such findings valid to the litmus test of Commitment to Defence (C2D)?
Visitors should also be quizzed on whether they had attended past open houses before and how this venue compares to past locations. They should be asked if they planned to revisit during the show's duration, how long they spent at the event, whether they made their way to AOH 2012 on their own or as part of a
To conclude, the 6th Singapore Division did a good job planning, organising, executing the Singapore Army Open House 2012 with no prior template for how it should be done.
Public awareness of AOH 2012 seemed strong, despite the temporary halt in all Army-related publicity after the two army-related deaths in the lead-up to the event.
With 20:20 hindsight, people can pick holes in 6 Div's war plan. Given the resources, budget and show concept, 6 Div personnel worked with what they had and produced a more-than-passable show.
The organising committee must be glad it is over and can't wait to file away the after-action report for the next AOH organiser. Good or bad, city venue or SAFTI MI, many netizens who visit this blog will still faithfully attend the next run - this I'm quite sure of.