Friday, December 18, 2009

Blue on Blue: Part 13

Prodigal Sons
Singapore’s defence eco-system extracts a heavy penalty from citizens who cross its path because the forgiving spirit engendered by the Yellow Ribbon project seems alien to the defence establishment.

The Yellow Ribbon initiative reminds Singaporeans that they should accept and rehabilitate citizens who once strayed. It is a noble effort that people in defence circles should practice more.

Over decades, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have lost many friends because of the system’s hard-hitting, retributive mindset. In many cases, people turn their backs on MINDEF/SAF for good.

Two case studies will underline this point.

In the 1990s, a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) pilot migrated to Australia. His decision to do so predated the Lion City’s clarion call for foreign talent by about a decade.

It says much about the standard of RSAF training when that pilot was accepted into the ranks of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as a warfighter. As Australia is a member of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), RAAF squadrons routinely fly to Southeast Asia for joint exercises with air forces of the other FPDA members. These are Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

The former Singaporean was among the RAAF pilots scheduled to fly to Singapore for war games.

When his name appeared on the list of Australian Defence Force personnel due to arrive in Singapore, the Australians were politely informed that the ex-RSAF pilot was persona non grata. In short, his presence in Singapore was not welcome.

How would you have felt?

While flying for the RSAF, the pilot put his life on the line every time he strapped in and took to the air to defend Singapore’s skies.

Flying for the RAAF, the pilot was serving an air force whose pilots and aircrew once fought and died defending Singapore. Try telling that to Singaporean bureaucracy.

In countries such as the UK and the United States, and certainly between Australia and New Zealand, it is not unknown for citizens of these countries to migrate and fly on the side of their ally. In many instances, that relationship is celebrated.

I’m guessing that the larger “message” MINDEF/SAF wanted to send to RSAF pilots was the fact that they would be treated as social pariahs if they ever did the same as their former comrade.

Moving on, there’s the case of a Defence Attache who served in a foreign mission. He had chalked up an illustrious career. He had led his unit to win a Best Unit trophy. He is also said to have had an affair. Alas, his operational security was poor and his wife found out.

Now, if you’ve ever been in a relationship, you would know the saying that “hell knows no fury like that of a woman scorned” has more than a ring of truth to it.

Wife allegedly complained. Action was apparently taken. DA is said to have lost his job.

One should not condone transgressions and we all have to pay a price for bad calls in our personal or professional life. C’est la vie.

But every punitive action should be backed by a Yellow Ribbon-style reformative process, failing which the defence establishment will lose a friend.

Add these examples to the painful experiences of dozens of Singaporean families who have lost loved ones in SAF training accidents over the past few decades and the ill-will quotient increases exponentially.

Singaporeans live in one of the world’s most densely-populated cities where gossip spreads like wildfire. Officialdom’s indifference adds more dissenting voices to the bag and the defence establishment loses yet more support.

If you’re one who believes that heartware is as important as defence hardware, you will realize that this is a loss rate we should not tolerate.

In the battle for hearts and minds, every person counts.


Ben Choong said...

once again, a very nice post!

Just curious, if you do give the 'Yellow Ribbon' treatment (or should it be digicam ribbon? :P) wouldn't it be implying that these personnel were offenders to begin with, when some of them might not feel that way? Or should there simply be a more forgiving corporate culture in the SAF?

David Boey said...

"Yellow Ribbon" treatment is an analogy. I know of several talented individuals who fell by the wayside because they were blackballed by the system.

I have a few other examples but did not want to cite them in this post because it would be easy for readers to figure out who the person in question is. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi David, not too sure but I would think that no military would appreciate any of their personnel who changed loyalty, especially one that the Air Force has 'invested in' so much that he is instantly snapped up by other Air Forces.

Supposedly, in an alternate multiverse, this Air Force chap was allowed to fly against RSAF. Would there be any pressure on him? Would he be asked to advice on combat styles and weaknesses of the SG pilots, be it during mission briefing or even at the water cooler?

I suppose the SG Air Force may not have wished to put him in such an uncomfortable position. Even more so, I suppose, if he feels no such discomfort.

The other case of the DA is rather interesting. Not that he lost his job - Any Government would reassign their Ambassadors or Representatives if they are deemed to attract malacious gossip. What is interesting is that the 'scorned wife' was able to use the SG Government to extract her vengence. Females are not the weaker sex - they just have a better image management campaign.

goat89 said...

Absolutely no honour in not welcoming the pilot back. No HONOUR.

xtemujin said...

It's quite common and Israel is one of them where their pilots were from other countries.

Anonymous said...

I find this somewhat arrogant and unbecoming of the defence establishment, considering that the RSAF in its early years had help from foreign (read: ROCAF and IDF) forces. I would expect this treatment to be reciprocated in the future from our allied countries as we get more foreign born soldiers and airmen in the SAF.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the reasoning that the RSAF should condone the ex-RSAF pilot flying for the RAAF. Unlike the other examples cited (e.g., Australia-NZ), there are no arrangements between Australia and Singapore for such transfer of military personnel between the two countries. Singapore and Australia are not allies.

Anonymous said...

Australians have shed blood for Singapore (be it as a Crown Colony). Personally, I call that brudder-hood.

edwin said...

This is one post which I disagree with from the bottom of my heart. I am very disappointed that you do not seem to be able to view these issues from another POV.

In the case of the RSAF pilot, the military profession at its heart must embody loyalty to country, otherwise one would just be a mercenary, no matter how well trained. This pilot is nothing less than a traitor to Singapore for transferring his services and expertise to another country AS A MILITARY PILOT.

As for the defence attache, given the sensitive positions that they are in, as you should well know, any indiscretions are possible means for compromise of the DA, and thus necessitate the removal.

Paranoid? Maybe. But as others have commented, Singapore and Australia may have shared history and some common interests, but no enduring friendship-- no special relation unlike UK-US-CAN where US pilots have held squadron commands in UK or CAN squadrons and vice versa. And when it comes to intelligence, the Israelis would be the first to tell you that even paranoics have enemies.

edwin said...

Going along with your analogy of the yellow ribbon (even though I question the extension of the principle to treason and a lack of integrity)-- the yellow ribbon project aims to re-integrate those who have acknowledged their misdeeds, paid penance and are truly repentant. In neither of your cases have you indicated that all three criteria are fulfiled. The multiple cases where serial rapists and murderers have killed or raped after being released before they are ready shows that idealism should never triumph reality.

Anonymous said...

Paranoid is unbecoming of a moral crusader.

edwin said...

But entirely appropriate for a state interested in survival against enemies and potential enemies.

Anonymous said...

State, perhaps, ex-journalist, now casino operator's underling, maybe.

Anonymous said...

I think the real reason is the fear the this man may conduct espionage since he is and has been a member of both countries' armed forces.
I don't believe its a grudge thing.

Yau said...

People always complain that Singaporeans are kiasu - the fact is the Spore Govt sets the tone and is the kiasu king.

Anonymous said...

I spit on the simple-mindedness of all of you, your belief in whatever you are told to believe, and most of all your cherished notion that Singapore is an exceptional country whose failings are not subject to criticism from those you deem unfit to judge.

Anonymous said...


I believe this attitude will contribute to the downfall of Singapore more than any issue that has been raised in this blog or in the national "discourse". Of course it has never entered the discourse because such exceptionalist pride only plays into support for the regime and because the smart money leaves quietly rather than be lambasted quitters.

I also hope it will be amply demonstrated in future for the sake of all of you simpletons. Pride will come before a fall no matter how prepared you are.