Sunday, August 17, 2014

Success factors for SAF Volunteer Corps need better clarity

When the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) begins inducting around 100-150 people (including women, first generation Permanent Residents and new citizens) into the ranks of the SAF Volunteer Corps in March 2015, the success or lack thereof of the scheme may be used by observers as an indicator of society's Commitment to Defence (C2D).

For a country fixated with using numbers as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), we can expect the number of people who step forward as SAF volunteers to be closely watched.

If the scheme proves massively oversubscribed, then all's well on the C2D front. Or is it?

If wild horses can't drag people to volunteer, then people may see it as a flop. Or does it simply need time to gain support?

Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, has already indicated he is "not aiming for mass numbers". Be that as it may, that "100  to 150" figure is likely to float in people's consciousness. It is also likely to pop up in future as the media revisits the story, thus forming a rough baseline for gauging support for the March 2015 intake.

It is hard enough to generate and sustain support for National Service (NS). Indeed, sentiments earned by MINDEF/SAF seem to go against the grain of prevailing sentiments towards NS in other countries. What more a scheme to enlist support from segments of the population to put their lives on hold to serve the military?

More than just numbers, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF may find its defence information management framework confronting fresh challenges because handling news breaks on the SAF Volunteer Corps may prove more challenging than the current state of play involving full-time National Servicemen, Regulars and their loved ones.

To be sure, MINDEF/SAF has tapped volunteers for decades. But by and large, these individuals possess skill sets in specialised fields such as law and medicine and are inducted into military service in carefully prescribed numbers. Such cohorts join the SAF Volunteer Corps not just with the right skills, but the right motivation too and, in many cases, are probably cherry-picked by MINDEF/SAF.

Next year's plan to enlarge the SAF Volunteer Corps will bring in people from different age groups (which is fine) and motivation (which is dicey) who differ in their ability to not just fit in but contribute meaningfully to the SAF (which is a big unknown).

It would be unfortunate if the SAF Volunteer Corps morphs into a gap-filler for people who are at a loss what to do with their lives. Ditto if it turns out to be a kind of Outward Bound School adventure camp on steroids. There's also the possibility people will sign up, only for MINDEF/SAF to reflect wistfully that the pioneer batch of volunteers is more trouble than they are worth.

Apart from the sign-up numbers, the spotlight will also fall upon the number of individuals who go out of course or fall out from the SAF Volunteer Corps. This is, afterall, a volunteer programme.

Having decided to bite the bullet by opening up this avenue for Singaporeans/SPRs to contribute to national defence, it will be hard for MINDEF/SAF to unplug the effort without any red faces at Gombak Drive.

The risk that the volunteer programme will be forced-fed to cough out success factors, whatever the expense in time and effort, is a troubling one because Singaporean society is simply too small for such machinations to go unnoticed.

People will talk. Pioneer batch volunteers will be courted by the media for their first-person accounts. Impressions will be shaped along the way.

If the way forward for C2D is to boost the ranks of the SAF Volunteer Corps, then MINDEF/SAF may want to articulate its definition of success factors with greater clarity.

It may also need to consider setting up milestones that should be attained as the programme matures. Setting such milestones would give MINDEF/SAF the room to manoeuvre should public reception to the scheme swing either way, because we're now moving into uncharted territory as regards military volunteers and C2D and the last thing MINDEF/SAF needs is to find itself boxed in on a path of no return.

The "lemon law" mindset should apply scheme for SAF volunteers - we hope it will work as advertised. But if it falls short over time despite no lack of effort from officialdom, then the system should be given the leeway to rescind the scheme.


Andrew Leung said...

The SAF Volunteer Corps can be expanded to be like the US National Guard, Air National Guard and Coast Guard. They should be allowed to go for overseas missions deployment to do relief and peace keeping work etc with NATO/UN.

They can get Ex-Generals and Special Forces to help set up the SAFVC and coordinate with other Governments for missions. They should have a 50 years long term vision. A long term expensive project can be to help tackle the Haze problem in Indonesia. Mine clearing in South East Asia, building schools, clinics, toilets and wells etc.

earlyfalloutboy said...

Andrew, because citizen males have to do NS, the pool of eligibles for the VC is small. You won't find enough to form a reserve unit, but you can fill up under strength NS and NSF units for key activities (provided vocations and stage of training cycle match).

Some issues I anticipate:

These are volunteers and must be given their vocation of choice, or close to it. The vocation and whole experience must be satisfying.

Ideally, their vocations should not require a long and expensive training investment. Our NS structure has given us a time-efficient training system
and it's not difficult to train volunteers alongside if the course is already running. Then again, they have jobs and cannot attend full time training for weeks at a time.

You cannot tekan them and cannot let NSFs see that they are treated better. If they fill gaps in units, the difference will be obvious when they are and are not around. Word gets around.

BMT alone is 10 weeks and produces a basically trained soldier who can do little except join a Local Security Company and man a checkpoint (which is what soldiers who are re-vocated after NSF do).

If they come and go, there is a safety issue.

bar code said...

The thing could happen if SAF just chin chye do a watered down version of BMT, get em to put on the no. 4 combat fatigue, slap on a SAR-21 assault rifle for good measure and get them to march in our NDP 2015 to celebrate Singapore's 50th independence day! Our born and bred NS boys and men whom have gave their lives throughout all these years will get up from their graves !

Andrew Leung said...

The Volunteer Corps has a 4 week BMT and 1-2 weeks service per year for 3 years. If they get the ITE/JC/Poly and University female students to sign up, then the core strength should be quite ok. Maybe the PA can get the new citizens and PR to try out. If they are just going to guard Jurong it can be quite boring.

They should set up a SAF VC website and start to get feedback and suggestions for the intake in March 2015. Hopefully they are able to do overseas humanitarian work and feel a more meaningful contribution. The SAF should get some companies to sponsor some humanitarian work. They should be given C-130, Chinook and Joint Mission Ship to travel and help 3rd world countries with regular long term projects.

bar code said...

With just not enough training contact time, we are just waiting for accidents to happen...

earlyfalloutboy said...

To qoute the Straits Times:

For a start, defence planners are hoping to see about 100 to 150 step forward to form the first batch of volunteers. They can choose to serve in two tracks:

-Operations: guarding the Republic’s key installations like Jurong Island and crowd control during SAF-related events
-Specialist: applying their expertise in the legal, medical, psychological and maritime fields, among others.

The second is a wonderful idea, especially if you are upgrading NSmen who have been through full time NS training. The first is the rather underwhelming and should be scrapped if necessary. It is so very limited in scope, probably because the 4 week BMT is not adequate to prepare civilians for the demands of real vocations.

Andrew, I think the VC should not be set up mainly to perform humanitarian work. There are other organisations better equipped for this. They can work with the SAF but the SAF should not be distracted by this activity.

The SAF performs well in HADR because it relies on well developed military skill sets. A civilian HADR organisation will also require good training. You go with a bunch of guys trained for a month, you are not going to do very well in HADR nor give a good impression to other forces, to the volunteers or the beneficiaries.

Andrew Leung said...

If the volunteers are happy to experience BMT and to do guard duty and National Day event quietly or contribute their specialist skills. Then it is another Milestone for SAF.

I fear the initial excitement will be lost and they will be bored and have difficulty getting volunteers. That is why I thought humanitarian projects will be more interesting and meaningful to spend their 1-2 weeks.

There is much political unhappiness now and the Volunteer Scheme will be another hot topic for friendly fire. It will come under scrutiny. PRs/New Citizens and Women getting hurt, injured or death.

Nowadays the people are asking the Government to provide funds for the Palestinians. I wonder if they will ask the SAF to send a Volunteer Team to guard the Palestinian civilians. Probably quite a few hundred will volunteer.