Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Singapore Army Open House 2012: Key takeaways

Now that the Army Open House (AOH) staged by the Singapore Army is over, a key test for AOH 2012 is how much visitors remember about their time at the event.

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.

Takeaway 2
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 forced compulsory show face then you can fallout from there organised visit, and if they would visit AOH again in future. Results, if heartfelt replies are shared, would be interesting.

Parting shot
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.

Republic of Singapore Navy regular at top Australian military academcy suspended for alleged acts of indecency committed in Oz

The Passage: Singapore Navy regular, Benedict Ang Yong Chuean, has his day in court in Canberra. (Source: Canberra Times)


Navy regular suspended following alleged indecent acts

By Monica Kotwani Updated 04:35 PM May 29, 2012
Source: TODAYonline

SINGAPORE - A regular in the Singapore Navy has been suspended following charges of alleged acts of indecency, committed in Australia.

The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said 21-year-old Lieutenant Benedict Ang Yong Chuean was training at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

Australian media reports said Ang was arrested on Sunday after he allegedly entered the room of a female cadet in Canberra on May 6.

Ang has been charged with two counts of indecency without consent.

He pleaded not guilty to both charges today in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Magistrates Court.

Reports said he has been granted bail, on the condition that he not make contact with five other cadets at the Academy.

MINDEF's director of public affairs Colonel Kenneth Liow said Ang was scheduled to appear again in court on Aug 9. CHANNEL NEWSASIA

Monday, May 28, 2012

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Special Forces physical training guide; Joint Special Forces Selection Test


As visitors scouted Singapore Army exhibits at the Army Open House, recruiters for SAF Special Forces eyeballed visitors for a few extraordinary people with the makings of elite soldiers.

The four-week physical training programme you see above is part of a recruitment brochure for SAF Special Forces. It has been suggested for individuals who wish to whip themselves into shape.

Four weeks of training is intended to prepare individuals for the SAF Joint Special Forces Selection Test (JSFST).

"The SAF Special Forces are the Elite Soldiers of the SAF," the brochure said.

"Special Forces troopers are specifically trained to conduct highly complex operations and are capable of operating over land, air and sea. They are extraordinary people who are nurtured to perform exceptional feats of daring. They are ready at a moment's notice to respond to the operational demands of the SAF and the Nation. Being a Special Forces trooper is not for the faint hearted. Special Forces troopers cannot be mass-produced. Quality, not Quantity, is what counts."

Looking at the demanding programme, I reckon I'd barely get by Day 1.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Singapore Army Open House 2012 - Revisit

Just back from second visit to the Singapore Army Open House, which ended its two-day exhibition for the public today.

Comments as follows:

1. Queue management for the Military Show with pyrotechnics, scheduled for 7pm, could have been better executed. The sinuous queue behind the seating area confused visitors walking in from the Grand Entrance as the zig zagging line merged with walk-ins and gave people ample opportunities to queue jump by blending in with the line.

There were also two queues: One started near the Leopard 2 Biber bridgelayer and the other was to the eastern side of the Dynamic Show Arena.

Queue management could have been better because standing in line for 30 minutes or more did not guarantee visitors a seat. If this was the case, the organiser should have proactively cut off the queue when the max seating capacity was more or less reached. The max capacity would be known beforehand and if the width of the queue was better marked, you can estimate the number of people per metre of the queue line and work out where to cut off the queue.

Turning a visitor away when you know the seating area cannot take more visitors is a better option than letting visitors kill time in the queue, only to eventually find out their time at the AOH could have been better spent.

Suggested solution: It is understood that some of the Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) deployed for the AOH are from one of the 800-series SIR battalions. Task them to manage the queue on Monday just as they would during CMR ops. Getting civilians to stand in line and obey orders during AOH is, generally and simplistically speaking, similar to getting them to stand in line for food, water or shelter. Teach them to work out the crowd size by estimating number of people per metre of queue and cut off the line proactively.

Tomorrow is Army Family Day. Botched queue management for Army family members is not the kind of image a ready, decisive and respected organisation should project.

2. If AOH literature stated the closing time for the Public Day event as 8pm, why make the duty personnel cease fire at 6:45pm? Visitors were also turned away from the rides a full hour before closing time. No visitor would begrudge AOH duty personnel from keeping their exhibits as we would understand they had a full day on their feet attending to thousands of visitors. But it would be good to indicate last entry on all AOH collaterals for future events. It is also good to indicate that exhibits will be closed up for the night from xx time to help visitors figure out how much time they should spend at the event.

This isn't a show-stopper. But full disclosure adds to visitor satisfaction.

Let's Bin It! Is this how the Third Generation Singapore Army treats its weapons? Disassembled firearms left on a trolley next to a trash bin. Yes, context is important but if a wide angle image is posted, you can tell immediately which vehicle it was and how far duty personnel were from the most heavily armed trolley in Singapore.

Still on show closing protocols: Weapons security for arms stripped from one vehicle during closing time was abysmal. Which army allows heavy machine guns and GPMGs to be lumped onto a trolley and placed unguarded next to a trash bin in a blind spot that duty personnel cannot see? It may be closing time but, in my view, the safety and security of controlled items is paramount.

3. Good to see that the AOH ambassadors were trained in the basics of hospitality: Make eye contact, smile and be proactive by approaching a guest and initiating conversation. This doesn't come naturally to all of us and it was heartwarming to see the AOH duty personnel step out of their comfort zone by making visitors feel welcome.

Both visits were worthwhile. Had an enjoyable time and met some old contacts. Have mixed feelings about the venue though and am unsure the 3Gness of the Army was adequately conveyed. Will post full report after Army Family Day is over.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Singapore Army Open House 2012 - First impressions

Note: I realise this post lacks images. My Canon PowerShot conked out and I'm going to get a replacement. May choose another brand this time. Many thanks to Jon who T-loaned his camera yesterday. : )


Strictly-speaking, a display of war machines and weapons outside a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) camp counts more as an exhibition rather than an open house.

With that context in mind, the Army Open House (AOH) 2012 which you can visit this Saturday and Sunday may give you the impression that it lacks the punch that previous editions of the AOH packed when the event was staged at the SAFTI Military Institute and SAFTI live-firing area in Pasir Laba.

Military enthusiasts would probably still troop down to the event anyway, so here's a suggestion of things you can see and do at the AOH.

New sniper rifles
Location: Pavilion Display at the Infantry booth

The 9th Singapore Division/Headquarters Infantry presents new small arms that will allow Singapore Army snipers and marksmen to deliver precision firepower during gunfights, day or night. Visitors are invited to handle three sniper rifles and learn firsthand what's so special about the Knight's Armament M110 semi-automatic 7.62mm rifle (USA), Sako TRG-22 .308 bolt action rifle (Finland) and the Accuracy International AX50 12.7mm bolt action anti-material rifle (England).



These weapons are not known to have been shown in public before.

Special Operations Force (SOF) military equipment display
Location: Pavilion Display at the Commando booth
Weapons fans will get an armful of special forces small arms borrowed from SOF weapons racks to photograph, handle and drool over. These include the Heckler & Koch HK416 5.56mm assault rifle, the ever popular MP5-series in various guises, FN P90 personal defence weapon, FN Five seveN pistol, FN Minimi 5.56mm light machine gun, assorted shotguns and more.

Anonymous personnel on duty - dressed in civvies like private security contractors - will patiently explain why the SOF small arms collection reads like the weapon menu of your favourite online shoot-em-up multi-player game.

Spoiler answer: The SOF has to be ready to configure itself for a host of mission requirements.


There is also a ghost grey jet ski thingy (serial number 04) that would not look out of place in a James Bond movie. Strangely, the machine had no info board to explain its role.


Big cats - New additions to the Armour Formation's Leopard main battle tank family
Location: Army Avenue along the F1 Pit Building
Making their AOH debut are the German-made bridge-layer and armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) variants of the Leopard tank family. The bridge-layer can span a 25-metre wide gap with its Leguan bridge and is known by its German name as the Biber (Beaver). The Biber's two-person crew can execute an assault bridging mission while under fire, all the while protected by the armour of the Leopard tank chassis. Unlike scissors bridges which have a higher profile because the bridge is raised to half is max length when it unfolds, the sliding Leguan bridge allows the crew to lay a bridge more discretely. When all else fails, they will fire off their smoke dischargers and make a run for it.

The ARV, known in German army service as the Buffel (Buffalo), is designed to keep Leopard 2SGs battle ready under combat conditions. The Buffel can change the Leo2 engine and carry out assorted maintenance tasks too lengthy to type out on this blog. Ask the full-time National Servicemen or regulars on duty to find out more.


Info display on SAF past and current operations
Location: Pavilion Display
The SAF and Home Team agencies have had a busy time in the past few decades in security operations in Singapore and in support of Singapore's part as a member of the international community.

Take time to learn about the SAF's involvement in United Nations missions around the globe as well as peace support operations and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief taskings over the years.

This info display is quite comprehensive and should be kept somewhere even after the AOH as the historical information is timeless and allows the display to be reused at other occasions.


AOH suggestions:
1. The V200 at the entrance lacked its barrel for its 20mm Oerlikon. Am surprised the vehicle was allowed to be displayed this way as no war machine should be shown as an exhibit incomplete.

2. The duty personnel stationed alongside various vehicles and equipment along Army Avenue have no shelter and will get sunburnt should cloudless skies crown the AOH show venue this weekend. At previous SAF Open Houses - be it for the army, navy or air force - all such displays had shelter of some sort to protect duty personnel and keep them show-ready to answer a blizzard of questions from curious visitors. This is a heatstroke hazard waiting to happen.

3. Queue line management at the NS45 Showcase should be geared for a large number of visitors. A common practice in theme parks is to keep visitors in the queue engaged by theming the queue line. This could include pictures or simple info boards about the exhibition they are about to see, in this case the indoor exhibition on National Service (NS).

This has two purposes. First, visitors are prepared for what they are about to see and experience. Second, the theming gives them something to do while waiting in line so time appears to past quickly and the visitor will not feel it is a waste of time standing around idly. All movie theme parks do this.

I felt the NS45 exhibition was comprehensive but visitors guided through the exhibition may not have time to read and reflect on the stories and pictures inside. At future shows, some of the pictures and story boards should be used to theme the queue line as it gives visitors something to do.

For a quick fix, why not have mascots stalk the queue line at intervals. You could deploy a sniper team, a pair of POI troopers, an MP with dog, Spike missile crew, a GMPG crew at intervals. I can almost guarantee the people in line will happily take pictures as the line inches forward. Before doing so, please see below.

4. Several Singapore Army personnel roamed the grounds fully armed to give guests photo opportunities. At theme parks, such "mascots" are always accompanied by one or more "performer escorts" who help with queue management, phototaking and time keeping (if not, the endless queue of people will keep the mascot out all day).

At today's AOH, the personnel tasked with photo ops did not seem to have any performer escorts to explain to guests that they were actually there for guests to take pictures. Some soldiers looked like they were on prowler duty and guests were hesitant to approach them. The lack of such escorts also made photo ops messy when visitors discovered what the "mascots" were there for. Without a proper queue, a scrum soon developed as people swarmed round the "mascot". This is really a quick fix and getting some fatigue party personnel who are proactive and can guide guest into a queue line (Something like: Hi folks! Stand in front of me.The line is this way!) and take photos for visitors is all that's needed.

Rule of thumb: Avoid keeping mascots on show for more than 20 minutes. Anything more and the mascots will be fatigued. This is why the performer escorts have to know when to cut the queue line and do so tactfully. Your visitors will complain if this is not handled properly as nobody wants to be cut off from the line and will insist on being allowed to join the last person in line.

5. As a final point: I fail to see why the AOH literature does not mention Singapore when it talks about the Army. You can brand the AOH as people may be familiar with the event. But we should say Singapore Army at every opportunity as it strengthens the branding for Our Army.

And the AOH literature should also say the event is held in 2012. Why does the Show Schedule mention date and day without the year? Visitors do keep this sort of literature as a souvenir. In years to come, visitors may forget what year this landmark event was held unless they perform mental sums and figure out that the 45th year of NS was celebrated in 2012.

Good luck with crowd management tomorrow. If the PAFF publicity plan works as intended, you'll need it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Who will stand up for Singapore? SCDF fire fighters douse flames in real world; syndicate of discontent fans flames in cyber world

If some Singaporeans find it so tiresome living in the Lion City, it's a fair bet they won't die for it either.

The chorus of discontent from (mostly) unnamed voices in the cyber world must make sobering reading for defence and security professionals tasked with making Singaporeans feel that this city state is a place they can truly call home.

Visit any discussion site on Singaporean affairs and you will find it doesn't take long for the topic du jour to develop into yet another bout of Establishment bashing. Before anyone concludes that nothing seems right for these commentators or that this island nation is on the brink of a social implosion, it is worth remembering that trolls are not unique to Singaporean affairs nor are these trolls any less vicious on websites elsewhere.

This past week, a news portal reported a collision between two United States Navy vessels while refuelling at sea. That story triggered a flood of comments directed at the American military. Not all were objective nor complimentary. Some appeared to be planted on the discussion board as flame bait, which are Internet comments maliciously written to provoke, insult, irritate or hurt another party.

Netizens familiar with US Navy operations and friends of the USN warships involved in the collision, USS Essex and USNS Yukon, also said their piece.

"A routine refueling operation at sea, and due to a steering malfunction, a minor collision occurs.. I've never seen such asinine comments as ones I see here... " Rick, 17 May'12

"I love stories like this as it presents an image, guage (sic) if you will, of the direction of this country and the world. When an article is obvious to the most causal (sic) observer, even those that read with their lips, and I see the comments, then I know where we stand as a nation. An article like this screams to me to reinstate conscription. At least these kids will have to put down their video games, turn off the TV for 2 years, learn responsibility and get a decent education at the same time." - James, Charlotte, North Carolina, 17 May'12

The remark from Rick could also apply to replies directed at all things Singaporean. Toxic comments are not unique to the land of the free as we get our fair share of barbs.

Awas: Foreign Trolls
In this regard, Singaporeans must be mindful that the borderless nature of the cyber world makes it all too easy for anyone, anywhere to plant flame bait. These nameless typists can do their deeds anytime of the day and bitch about any topic. It can even be on blogs about obscure topics, like the blog on lighthouses that seredipitously popped out from nowhere some years ago with an agenda that Singaporeans found suspicious.

Not all netizens are Singaporean or have this country's interests at heart. Some are foreign nationals or foreign talent on their off day out to stir shit. They pepper discussion sites frequented by Singaporeans with flame bait that Singaporeans find irresistible.

We unwittingly fall for such traps, taking a handful of negative comments authored by people you cannot verify to be reflective of an educated society numbering more than three million souls.

Taken to extremes, toxic comments make this country look like it is a socially dysfunctional, morally bankrupt nation run by fools which is on the brink of an Arab Spring-type collapse.

Before we go into overdrive bashing Singapore for all it's worth, give credit when it is due. Learn to be thankful for little mercies that have made tiny Singapore and all its citizens who live on this 20km by 40km  island live and work as a team. We are an anomaly in a precarious region in which nation states are a new concept. We are the smallest, most resource-deprived yet the most economically prosperous in Southeast Asia. No one owes us a living. Yet the jobs we have are coveted by foreigners.

When threatened with water supply restrictions, we put our minds to making our own through desalination or recycling water for industry as NEWater.

When airspace restrictions threatened to clip the wings of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), we took our training elsewhere to places where friends made us feel welcome. Along the way, plans, programmes and procedures for moving RSAF combat and combat support squadrons long distances, at short notice, with or without mission rehearsals, were refined and improved upon. Our Air Force is the only one in SE Asia and one of the few in the world that trains in a range of countries around the world, all this while deployed for operations in exotic airbases near the Gulf of Aden and in Afghanistan.

This globe-trotting readiness proved invaluable when RSAF airpower was tasked for deploy to Indonesia and Thailand to work in partnership with military forces from the TNI and armed forces from the Thai kingdom during the tsunami-relief mission in 2004.


Give credit where it is due
But some netizens are so obsessed with milking political capital from any and every incident in Singapore they fail to give thanks where it is due and make us seem more inept/inadequate than we really are.

The blazes fought by Singapore fire fighters earlier this month (see clipping above) underline the professionalism of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). But surf to discussions on the incidents in places like Yahoo News and Hardwarezone.com and one gets a sense nothing is ever good enough for these anonymous netizens.

The fact that the SCDF responded to the heartland fires quickly and evacuated residents decisively is lost amid all the net chatter from jabbering netizens falling over themselves to find fault with officialdom.

Town council was slow? How about some good old gotong royong where community self-help is marshalled and deployed to remove real flame bait - in this case discarded furniture that is a fire hazard? Have Singaporeans been so spoiled by years of self-governance we would rather sit in our flats and risk being roasted alive than help ourselves when officialdom is seemingly blase or inefficient?

Who cares that the SCDF has the training, equipment and command and control apparatus that ensures a response time of around eight minutes from the time of activation?

Did anyone credit fire fighters for handling the nocturnal high-rise fires professionally and with zero fatalities among residents and the SCDF personnel who responded to the incidents? Many were full-time National Servicemen. Yet the unnamed voices who condemn NS are possibly the same ones who expect other people's sons to turn out quickly and professionally when they dial for help.

Why do we blindly assume that the SCDF will magically appear when we need them? Without the necessary funding, training, equipment and motivated fire fighters and ambulance personnel, such routine emergency calls could make headlines for the wrong reasons.

One supposes that crediting the Establishment for doing a good job in keeping Singapore's fire and rescue services at the cutting edge is too much to ask from certain netizens.

And so, despite the successes in urban fire fighting, we hear hardly a word of thanks from netizens. Not a squeak.

Just as the Home Team hardly earns credit for its professionalism, the thousands of professionals who toil to ensure we receive clean water drinkable from the tap, sewers that work and household and industrial rubbish is cleared and disposed of despite land constraints (it takes forward planning to develop infrastructure like the Semakau landfill and incinerator plants) are taken for granted.

Also swept under the carpet are efforts to help our various racial and religious groups - bloodied at one time or another in our short history through racial riots - integrate and live in harmony.

Alas, nothing on this Little Red Dot is good enough for some people. Every fault - man-made or act of nature - is blamed on the Establishment. Certain netizens love nothing more than using the (supposed) anonymity of the Internet to share their bigoted, politically-inspired, self-serving and unsubstantiated points of view to one and all.

It is so easy for the syndicate of discontent to complain and gripe about everyday issues, making this island nation appear to be one of the most angst-ridden and pitiful countries on this planet to live in. This negative mindset poisons Singaporean society, making us overlook successes and positive aspects of life here that other societies hanker for and may never achieve.

The worst sorts are those who cannot or refuse to see the positive aspects of Singaporean society while constantly bleating about life's ills, challenges and misfortunes which are neither uniquely Singaporean nor absent in other developed societies. Constructive feedback isn't in their dictionary.

To be sure, there are some Singaporeans who are tired of this place because living in a city state is just not for them. These are the ones beyond help of any National Education campaign. No amount of National Day sing-alongs, fancy fireworks displays or heart-to-heart chats will anchor a person if his/her heart is set on migrating elsewhere. If these souls feel constrained by Singapore's limited land area, urban density, hot and humid weather, perceived lack of job opportunities or growth potential and prefer the beautiful four seasons, wide open spaces of a foreign land, then nobody should stop such wanderlust.

People movements flow both ways. Some former Singaporeans will discover the hard way that school systems in other countries have their fair share of challenges. Others will find that religious tolerance and racial tolerance are not one and the same. Yet others will fail to find their dream job and learn why personalities like Eduardo Saverin moved from the US to this maligned little island (his move here is worth a blog entry on predatory FTs).

Our island nation isn't perfect. Which social or political system is?

But if we ourselves fail or do not want to stand up for Singapore, who will?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) calls for training halt: Driving home that training safety message

All the training halts in the world will not help the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) improve training safety, until and unless everyone in uniform takes that message to heart.

SAF regulars, Operationally Ready National Servicemen and full-time National Servicemen can achieve impressive results in training and workplace safety as shown by the clean record of zero training deaths that every active and NS personnel achieved in 2010.

The drive to do so again cannot come top down. Putting aside the image of the SAF, the effort of every person in uniform in observing the safety first mindset will prevent heartbreaks among camp mates, family and friends. 

Safest year for SAF despite high ops tempo
The safety milestone in 2010 was achieved despite a high operational tempo in Singapore and training arrangements for SAF land, air and naval forces in faraway places that resulted in some form of military training taking place round the world and round-the-clock every day of the year. Some training took place in harsh environments with weather conditions that Singaporeans are not used to. War games, some of which included combined live-fire exercises, were carried out with foreign forces that SAF personnel did not know personally. Despite thousands of live rounds being fired, the SAF's intensive training calendar never resulted in a fatal incident in 2010.

Add to this operational deployments in places like Afghanistan, where SAF personnel had to contend with an unfamiliar area of operations and hostile forces out to kill without remorse. But all who served came home safely.

On home ground, the Ops Bascinet deployments in 2010 safeguarded key installations such as our airport, port and oil refining infrastructure and other places of vital interest. Singapore Army units tasked with Protection of Installation and coastal surveillance were armed with live ammunition and shoot-to-kill protocols. But every Bascinet patrol was carried out safely that year.

The year 2010 also demanded an increased SAF presence when thousands of foreign visitors flew in for the Singapore Airshow and the Singapore Formula 1 night race. In addition, SAF and Home Team forces provided security cover for defence chiefs from the region and nuclear-armed powers when they gathered in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue. National Day 2010 at the Padang was another security tasking, not just at the NDP venue but island-wide as celebrations moved into the heartlands. Countless hours of preparations by declared SAF units such as CBRE forces and low-key units helped keep the island safe during these taskings.

Our armed forces paid a heavy price to achieve that unprecedented safety record in 2010.

The year 2009 was a tragic year for SAF training safety with an all-time high of 10 training deaths recorded from January to December 2009.

So what is the secret behind this dramatic drop in training deaths from a most tragic year to the safest year on file?

Could it be that the steady stream of death announcements turned out to be an effective wake-up call for the SAF? Alas, the NSFs who served in 2009 and 2010 have all left the SAF, taking with them precious lessons that the current batch of NSFs are learning once again.

How many times do we need to sit down and reflect on training safety before that message is driven home?

Would an online repository of past training incidents, BOI/COI reports as well as near misses help Singaporeans learn, absorb and apply that safety first mindset better?

Training time-out
The ongoing training time-out is an invaluable opportunity for all in uniform to think about their responsibility to themselves, their co-workers and loved ones. 

Helplines for soldiers who have personal problems, if not dialed in, are of no help to those in distress. After 45 years handling NSFs, almost every personal problem and crisis you can think of has been heard by sympathetic professionals who are trained and have a proven track record in mending broken hearts and unsettled lives. So help is at hand for those who need it.

Whether you believe our fate on this planet is determined by God, kismet or the brutal statistics of number of fatalities per training hours, your personal commitment to safety is something well within one's control.

When that training time-out expires, SAF personnel must put in their best effort in improving the safety culture.

This best effort will not guarantee zero training deaths. But it will at least help SAF personnel avoid the pain, tears and tragedy of preventable accidents.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Singapore Armed Forces versus cynics and critics in the halcyon days of peace

Not everyone will love thy neighbour.

Love 'em or hate 'em, it does not matter for Singapore's citizen soldiers. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is bound by oath to defend Singapore all the same.

SAF warfighters can choose their targets but not whom they choose to defend. From a tactical standpoint, it is impractical for Singaporean soldiers deployed for action to single out individuals, property or grid squares of Singaporean real estate they will hand over to the aggressor(s) willingly without a fight.

The sad truth about people like Melvyn Tan, who defaulted his full-time National Service and turned his back on Singapore to build his career in London, and Zheng Huiting, who became a social pariah after she made a remark discrediting Singaporean soldiers, is that they may have the last laugh as they still enjoy the protection and services provided by the SAF and Home Team.

If and when they are in town and are in peril, the SAF will not turn its back on such people.

When the SAF swung into action in March 1991 to rescue passengers and crew aboard the hijacked Singapore Airlines Flight SQ117, Special Operations Force commandos made it a priority to rescue every friendly soul aboard the airliner regardless of their political affiliations, feelings towards the SAF or level of commitment to defence (C2D). Even the most fervent and acid-tongue critic of the SAF would have been saved from harm by the SAF during Operation Thunderbolt.

The mission to evacuate Singaporeans from embattled Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in 1997 during Operation Crimson Angel also made no distinction between the level of support for C2D. A Singapore passport was all that was needed for Singaporeans to book a seat aboard the stream of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130s sent for the non-combatant evacuation operation that flew them home.

Singapore Army warfighters tasked to form a contact tracing cell during the SARS crisis in 2003 performed their duties professionally and diligently without caring a hoot whether or not Singaporeans appreciated their efforts. The soldiers, many of whom were full-time National Servicemen trained as intelligence specialists, planned, conceptualised and implemented a process to trace people who were thought to have come into contact with carriers of the deadly SARS virus. The NSFs did so without the benefit of any template and got better at the no-notice, no rehearsal task as the life-saving operation unfolded.

Despite all this, Singaporeans are all too quick to bitch about, abuse and criticise the national defence apparatus that has been the silent sentinel responsible for the Lion City's security, survival and success. We have made an art of heaping scorn and ridicule on anything SAF-related, happily exerting brain cells to come up with the most witty or sarcastic retort to official statements or policies while exposing a child-like naivette about political undercurrents that swirl around our island nation.

We do not seem to care that the joint Malaysian-Indonesian airdrop during the Malindo Darsasa 3AB war games, done within sight of Woodlands on National Day in 1991, was the kind of madhouse political brinkmanship that would be replayed time and again if not for the SAF's readiness for operations.

Scores of SAF regulars, NSmen and NSFs who stood on guard during Indonesia's amphibious landing exercises on Pasir Panjang on Bintan island in the 1980s knew the true meaning of siege mentality that Singaporeans love to sneer at. Live ordnance hung from RSAF warplanes with pilots at immediate readiness for takeoff as the SAF tracked Indonesian amphibs to see if they made landfall in their own territory or steamed further on within striking distance of Singapore's coastline.

No one appears to be bothered that interceptions of sand and granite barges in sea lanes around Singapore could have presaged interceptions of vital supplies, if not for the SAF's air and naval forces that kept potential aggressors from provoking Autostrike.

The tenor of critics is directly proportional to the amount of pluck commentators get from dishing out their anti-establishment tripe from the (supposed) anonymity of Internet pseudonyms. When corrected, many slink away quietly and surrender the argument, brittle egos intact as they never had the conviction to put their name to the arguments in the first place.

Many would bitch and do so with alacrity and colourful language, but few would dare stand up and take responsibility for their points of view or for the consequences of a certain course of action.

Our society's complacency, fortified by more than four decades of deceptive peace, has made the job of defending the Lion City all the more challenging as the SAF fights to explain its relevance with no immediate conventional threat on the horizon.

In halcyon days of peace, our biggest enemy is our own complacency.