Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Maid the news: The online media storm from the infamous image of the S'pore Army boy tailed by a woman carrying a fullpack

A letter published in The Straits Times Forum Page today reveals more instances of pampered Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) national servicemen.

Look at these extracts from the letter by Oliver Michael, who claims to be a full-time NSman instructor.

"Even routine events reveal this mollycoddling attitude, such as when parents fetch their recruit son: it is not the boy, but the maid, who packs the recruit's belongings into the boot of the car."

"Training facilities are treated like secondary schools with parents hounding instructors over trivial issues. Full-time national servicemen (NSFs) argue with instructors, going so far as to threaten to complain to their Member of Parliament over minor matters."

And here's a creative spin at how the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF could have been spared the online media storm. :-)

Read Oliver Michael's full letter below.

NS does not make men, parents do
Source: The Straits Times Forum
30 March, 2011

By Oliver Michael
AS A Singaporean currently doing my national service as an instructor, I must say the baptism of fire that is national service is not enough to change boys into men ('He's in the army... but she has the backpack'; Monday).

National service has long been associated with making men out of boys. However, parents should be aware that they too play a key role in the grooming of boys into men.

As an instructor, I have come across NS recruits mollycoddled by their parents. For example, parents call up to complain about the harsh training despite the fact that training is gentler now compared to years before.

Even routine events reveal this mollycoddling attitude, such as when parents fetch their recruit son: it is not the boy, but the maid, who packs the recruit's belongings into the boot of the car.

While it is understandable for parents to be concerned about the well-being of their son, too much of it would affect the boy negatively. It would lead to a situation where he is unwilling to step outside of his comfort zone and face the real world.

Training facilities are treated like secondary schools with parents hounding instructors over trivial issues. Full-time national servicemen (NSFs) argue with instructors, going so far as to threaten to complain to their Member of Parliament over minor matters.

These attitudes, and indeed those such as letting one's maid carry one's field pack, become second nature only if one's parents allow it. These attitudes take time to form and, unfortunately, do so in the adolescent years.

Parents should refine their balance of welfare and discipline, of care and coddling, lest they distort the definition of NSFs, and men in general.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Singapore's defence burden - Something no maid can carry

Unless you are Prince William, a walk home from camp doesn’t count as a newsworthy event.

For an unknown Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldier, his journey home made the news after the image you see above went viral and ignited debate in Singapore over the mettle of the city state’s citizen soldiers.

This single image has the potential to become iconic. When it does so, it will extract a price from the ongoing efforts by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF to shore up public support for, and confidence in, the Lion City’s armed forces. Swift and effective remedial action is critical by MINDEF/SAF spin doctors, but more on this later.

The picture of an SAF serviceman, presumably a full-time National Serviceman (NSF), trailed by what one assumes is his domestic helper (or unloved gf?) sums up what the SAF’s detractors have long argued and what local authorities have taken pains to correct – that Singapore’s national servicemen are soft city boys. Spoilt softies, pampered by mummy and daddy, fussed over by a domestic helper, unfit for battle, potential liabilities in combat clearly not up to the mark for the rigours of warfare. You don’t need a picture caption to figure this out, do you?

Few SAF images have stirred emotions among Singaporeans as much as this image because it shows what many have suspected and are too polite to say.

Even if the image was posed - as some establishment and MINDEF/SAF types might vainly argue - the strong sentiments it has triggered is a red flag that highlights the fragility of the SAF’s image as a ready, relevant and decisive fighting force. In my opinion, all it takes now is a training incident right smack in this unfolding hullabaloo for Singaporeans to once again question if NSFs can really do the job.

Singaporeans should be grateful that their government does not trust its citizen soldiers enough to allow them to carry their personal firearms home, just as NSmen in places like Israel and Switzerland routinely do. Nothing is more frightful than an image of a domestic helper, laden with war pack and SAR-21 5.56mm assault rifle, yomping resolutely behind her young master with Hobbit-like determination.

Security obsessed Singaporean authorities would probably fret about maids hatching a Spartacus-like rebellion if their young charges outsourced the carriage of their SAF paraphernalia to their paid labour.

On and offline, Singaporeans have reacted to this incident the usual way. Many have done so by calling for the Government to step in to punish the soldier.

Singapore already has a reputation as a “fine” city because you can be arrested and slapped with a monetary penalty (i.e. a fine) for picking flowers in a public park, for gathering in groups of more than five (deemed illegal assembly) and numerous other misdemeanors. It would be most unfortunate if the hauling of Singapore Army full packs is also deemed a felony. You see, what good is a paper deterrent unless it can be enforced? And by whom? Legions of plain clothes sleuths from Military Police Command who, in this day and age of post 9/11 heightened vigilance, probably have a gadzillion better things to do than spot, arrest and fine the NSF-porter combo?

And where would MINDEF Legal Services draw the line? If maids cannot help their masters carry SAF kit, would it also be illegal for maids to also help NSmen launder their uniforms, polish their boots? That said, I am waiting for the first SAF officer stupid enough to allow his maid to hand wash his MID numberplate staff car in public. I am sure netizens will not disappoint and will know how to capture that Kodak moment, when it happens.

In the longer term, it would be far better for Singaporean society to proactively police itself by drawing up social norms for citizen soldiers. Singaporeans have themselves to blame if the image of their Army takes a knock should it become socially acceptable for SAF servicemen to walk around with baggage porters in tow. Society needs to do some soul-searching whether or not such acts should be condoned.

Singaporeans, like most Asians, hate losing face. If society frowns on such behavior and corrects errant soldiers harshly in public, most self-respecting males would (one would hope) know the proper thing to do. (As an aside, we now see more examples of commuters who believe that the price of their bus/train ticket entitles them to a seat for their bum and assorted shopping bags. In most cases, commuters would rather just keep mum, preferring a non-confrontational approach than causing a ruckus on the bus/train and complaining later there are not enough seats.)

Lessons for DIMs
Whether or not the image is real or staged, it shows the impact that a single NSF can have on the image of Southeast Asia’s best-equipped armed forces. The unknown soldier is the strategic corporal personified, the warfighter at the bottom of the pecking order of rank-and-file who exerts an influence far out of proportion to his rank’s status.

Defence information managers at MINDEF/SAF walked this road before. In September 2007, NSF Corporal Dave Teo Ming fled his camp with his SAR-21 rifle and ammunition while on guard duty. His night time escape led to an island-wide manhunt and gave him more media coverage than the interview with then Chief of Army, Major-General Neo Kian Hong (now Chief of Defence Force) just a week before. Do your own informal street poll and you will find that the number of people who remember the Dave Teo incident will outstrip the number of people who remember the former COA’s talking points on the Third Generation SAF.

The job of shaping public perceptions goes beyond convincing Singaporeans that their men in green won’t turn yellow before their first taste of battle. This is because the SAF's value as a deterrent against military aggression will be compromised if Malaysians and/or Indonesians potential aggressors believe that Singapore's NSmen are soft city boys who will prove a walkover in combat.

MINDEF/SAF is likely to argue that the soldier is an aberration, an atypical example of NSFs who are fully committed to defending their country. A survey of sorts could be used to prop up this assertion. They could trot out NSmen who extended their compulsory NS stint of two years or Operationally Ready NS duty who ran the extra mile for the country (some do so for personal reasons, like getting a free trip to the United States to join a live-fire exercise). Oodles of information of the SAF’s successes in HADR ops and PSOs could be bandied about, as if these missions are leading indicators to the SAF’s performance in a real war (they are not). Some big wig will make a snide comment or two on the picture and then hope the storm will pass.

Shouldering the Defence Burden
Between convincing Singaporeans the SAF is up to the mark and convincing Jalan Padang Tembak foreign defence observers of the same, the second task will prove the more challenging one.

It is critical that MINDEF/SAF not drop the ball on this issue because any hot war scenario is likely to be preceded by a period of tension (POT) during which psychological games will be used to unnerve the Lion City’s citizen soldiers.

As stated in an earlier post, the SAF is more vulnerable than an all-regular force during a POT because its citizen soldiers must be convinced to 1) mobilize 2) equip for operations 3) deploy 4) fight. During peacetime, NSmen may reason (correctly) that it is more worthwhile reporting for a mobex than paying a fine or spending time in jail.

In a hot war scenario or during a situation when a clash of arms seems more than likely, the NSman’s sense of self-preservation may see him fall out at any of the four stages mentioned above.

Remember too that the numerical superiority of the SAF means nothing if the SAF cannot mobilize its full strength because scions of well off families are flown overseas during a POT and thus escape any call up. Once this flight to safety begins and once NS heartlanders see its end result from thinned-out ranks of mobilized units primed for war, it is only a matter of time before a hollowed out Army collapses in the face of a determined opponent.

The will to fight is something the "hearts and minds" campaign will seek to poison and undermine during a POT before the bullets fly.

This defence burden is one that only Singaporeans can carry - because no maid in the world will carry this burden for you.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Singapore Army's leadership renewal

If you get the chance to visit the ante rooms to the offices of Singapore's air and naval chiefs, look at the portraits of their predecessors hanging on the walls.

Long before foreign talent became a buzzword in the city state, Singapore's defence establishment had shown its readiness to cast its net wide for its military leaders. Singapore's fledgling air arm was led by a Taiwanese colonel in its early years after officers from Britain's Royal Air Force laid the groundwork. A New Zealander led the forerunner to the Republic of Singapore Navy.

After 45 years of independence, the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have many local options for leadership positions. It thus has little need to look abroad for the unconventional - to put it nicely - move of having a foreigner lead a military Service. (That said, the SAF still relies on consultants from a certain foreign country for their military expertise. And let's leave the unique role of the Singapore Police Force Gurkha Contingent out of the picture... if not the argument gets somewhat convulated.)

Last Friday's leadership transition in the Singapore Army, after a retired general was brought back to its top post, shows how far the army has grown as a national institution.

Every SAF Service practices a policy of training-up-training, where a second and even third in line is spotted and groomed to take command. It is a prudent move for a professional of arms. During operations, the command structure could be left in a state of flux if key commanders are left out of battle through enemy action (eg GGK raid) or Murphy's Law (3G command network breaks down).

In earlier leadership transitions, rank-and-file had more success predicting their next Chief of Army (COA) than forecasting soccer scores for the next Premier League match.

Not all who are Service chief material (according to the gossip mill's Table Of Precedence) eventually make the grade. One is said to have faltered after a drink driving incident. Another general is said to have left for the private sector after missing out on the top post during a promotion exercise. Another well-regarded general left to join a bank.

With former COA Major-General Chan Chun Sing and former Commander Training and Doctrine Command Brigadier-General Tan Chuan-Jin pulled offline out of the blue, the Singapore Army's succession plan has been disrupted somewhat.

But this is the sort of situation which underlines the Singapore Army's coming of age as an institution. After decades of leadership development sparked off by the 1970s Goh Keng Swee-era Project Wrangler, the SAF has a pool of commanders ready to take command should the need arise. Among the 700,000-plus Singaporeans who served or continue to serve as SAF Operationally Ready National Servicemen, BG Ravinder Singh answered to call of duty.

With BG Singh as COA, MINDEF/SAF has a stellar example of how an Operationally Ready NSman really is at the forefront of the SAF and shares the same risks, duties and operational responsibilities as SAF regulars. In this regard, the system seems to have forgotten its own propaganda. All that press coverage in the mid 1990s that celebrated the change in nomenclature from reservist - which to soccer mad Singaporeans connotes a bench warmer reserve player - to the mouthful of an acronym ORNS seems to have been forgotten by new generations of journalists who make much ado about an NSman stepping up to the plate.

MINDEF/SAF's carefully calibrated succession plan appears to be a victim of its past year successes. Defence observers expect a smooth leadership transition for each Service with as much certainty as changes in the season. In the past, observers could indeed mentally map out the second, third and even fourth in line to the throne with some degree of assurance the plan would pan out as predicted. This mindmap no longer applies to the New Economy where the lure of the private sector and a more discerning MINDEF/SAF leadership appraisal structure has thinned the ranks of potential Service chiefs.

Much ado has also been made in the local press of a retiree coming back to active service. Remember that before the Military Domain Experts Scheme (MDES) came along, to retire in the SAF's context meant that an SAF serviceman would leave the military in the early to mid 40s for a second career. This timescale is way ahead of the statutory retirement age of 62 years, which means an SAF "retiree" - assuming one's career path led to the 40+ age exit - still has some mileage to offer.

The readiness of former commanders to return to take charge - as BG Singh has done - reflects that the Singapore Army's former generals have never fallen out of sight of the Army command. It also indicates that the Army Family embraces those in and out of uniform, because if MINDEF/SAF so desired, they could have cherry picked from within. (Indeed, a certain newspaper has practised a similar leadership renewal strategy by bringing in civil servants from outside the newsroom with no journalism background to be groomed as newspaper editor and editor-in-chief. *wink*)

The SAF's policy for leadership renewal recognises that the armed forces of a city state with a small population should be prepared to share its human capital. Movements of career officers from the SAF to the Admin Service reflect this reality. Implicit in this sharing process is the fact that human capital (ie. people) can move both ways, as BG Singh's move back to the Singapore Army readily demonstrates.

It is thus perplexing to see today's Sunday Times remark that the new 46-year-old COA "is in good company" on account of his age. This ignorant thought-provoking statement goes on to cite the case of United States General David Petraeus who was 51 when he led a US Army division to war with Iraq in 2003. If Singapore's oldest COA is "in good company", does this mean all previous COAs were odd balls because of their youth?

Surely the writer would know that the career trajectory of SAF commanders moves them at a faster clip than their opposite numbers elsewhere? Which other country (apart from out of whack countries like North Korea) appoints generals at the age of 33 (current PM Lee Hsien Loong). The point is that the national paper should not play up the COA's age to justify his appointment as a sound decision to the detriment of previous SAF Service chiefs. Doing so casts a shadow on previous chiefs who did not have the benefit of "good company" because they assumed command in their late 30s or early 40s. (Another peeve: the over-used imagery of an Army general stepping in and out of uniform, boots and helmets, almost like a strip show. The analogy was used four times. We get the point already.)

Examples abound of older and younger generals who aced their opponents in combat. In World War 2, Allied reversals during the early years of the war saw many retired men in uniform called back to active service. Many led with distinction. In my opinion, the 700,000 former NSmen bring an immense and hitherto untapped value to the SAF as old soldiers, sailors and airmen are seen largely as old fogeys fit only to spin yarns at gatherings or for their quaint value as members of the SAF Veterans League (but more on this on another occasion).

The choice of a COA goes beyond book smarts of an SAF scholar or the street savvy of a commander who can relate to men and women under his command.

No less critical is the job of strengthening defence relations with Singapore's immediate neighbours with whom the SAF trains closely with, and with extant and emerging power houses farther afield such as China and India.

With some Indian newspapers (I mean the country, not Tamil Murasu) already commenting on BG Singh's link with the mother country, one would hope the current COA will be a driving force behind defence ties not just within ASEAN and with Pacific Rim partners but also those in India and beyond. Look at the response from The Times of India, which gushed on 5 March 2011 that BG Singh is the "first Sikh in nearly 30 years to be given the force's baton". It added: "A Singaporean of Indian origin, Singh is currently Deputy Secretary (Technology) at the Defence Ministry. He joined the Singapore Armed Forces in December 1982."

The Indians will likely welcome BG Singh as a former son of bharat who made good. Just wait for the editorials there when he makes his first official visit as COA. And the mainland Chinese will doubtless be keen to suss him out firsthand to see his impact on SAF-People's Liberation Army ties.

So a lot is expected of BG Singh's appointment.

In this regard, I believe the system has made the best of the current situation.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Singapore Civil Defence Force Operation Lionheart search team wraps up operations in Japan

All home safely. Reporting teams from 90C and CNA have also pulled out.

Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Search Team Returns From Japan
Source: SCDF, 17 Mar 2011

Update No: 4

The SCDF search team comprising 5 search specialists and 5 search dogs left Japan at 2331 hrs yesterday evening. They arrived at Changi International Airport at 0635 hrs this morning.

2. Major Tan Loo Ping and his team were received by Mr Masagos Zulkifli Bin Masagos Mohamad, Minister of State for Home Affairs and Education, Commissioner SCDF, Commissioner Peter Lim, Japanese Ambassador to Singapore, His Excellency, Yoichi Suzuki, and SCDF’s Senior Management. His Excellency, Yoichi Suzuki, expressed his appreciation to SCDF for sending a search team to Japan.

3. This news release (update no.4) is the final update.

Note: All timings are based on Singapore time

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nuclear energy for Singapore? A second look at Singapore's information management and PR strategy for nuclear energy

The "pre-feasibility study" on nuclear energy is said to walk the ground covered by an earlier document.

If the hearsay is true, the Singapore Government should declassify its earlier study on nuclear energy as this would help Singaporeans understand the issues involved. Declassifying the rumoured document would give credit to the team of civil servants who assessed the issue in-depth, and would honour the memory of one who rose to become a minister of state and has since died.

Saying the decision on nuclear energy will take "a long time" and having our Prime Minister envision that a nuke power station would be built within his lifetime sends mixed signals. In politics, nothing is carved in stone but it does not help when the same PM ruled out nuclear energy in 2007. For more, please click here. This sort of public relations flip flop leaves people feeling confused and taken for granted.

No nuclear energy plans yet for S'pore but study in the works
Source: Today Online 04:46 AM Mar 17, 2011

Responding to MediaCorp's queries, Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) reiterated that it "will be a long time" before the Government makes any decision on nuclear energy.

According to MTI, the Government was in the midst of a "pre-feasibility study" on nuclear energy. The pre-feasibility study is to explore whether Singapore can even begin to consider nuclear energy.

The MTI said: "Safety is a very important consideration and is one of the key areas being studied."

It added: "We are closely monitoring and learning from the developments in Japan."

Last November, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said that while a nuclear power project was not scheduled to start any time soon, a nuclear plant could be built in Singapore "during my lifetime". ESTHER NG

A note to readers: 26 February'11

Hi Everyone,
I am aware that a number of you have been searching this site since 26 February 2011 for postings on Second Lieutenant Daryl Loh.

The memorial notice was noted on the day itself and Mr Lawrence Loh, Daryl's father, is touched that the 10th anniversary was remembered by the Singaporean Chief of Navy in command at the time of the incident.

Mr Loh has granted permission to share this with Daryl's friends: "Yes, I saw the In Memorium ad placed by Tuck Yew. I was both impressed and very touched. It is amazing that after ten years, he can still remember. On my part, I was of two minds about placing an ad. On the one hand, I thought that the 10th Anniversary was a milestone date of sorts, but on the other, I was afraid that the ad would attract another round of phone calls, emails and SMSes from friends, which may trigger another bout of pain. So I decided not to."

The recent memorial marker placed by the Men of Steel has also been noted.

The date 26 March will also be remembered, not just because of Operation Thunderbolt.

Thought for the day: Make training safety your top priority.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

25th anniversary of the Hotel New World disaster

Today's marks the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Hotel New World, a building structural failure that killed 33 people close to the heart of Singapore's city centre. Seventeen people trapped under the rubble were rescued.

Twenty five years ago, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was inexperienced in urban search and rescue and British engineers digging underground train tunnels were brought in to probe the rubble of the collapsed six-storey hotel.

Today, the SCDF's range of core capabilities, readiness state and experience levels have transformed Singapore's fire and ambulance service, and civil rescue teams beyond recognition.

That the SCDF has transformed itself in the space of 25 years reflects the drive and vision of pioneering SCDF officers, many of whom have since retired. If you think such transformation is automatic, take a peek into fire stations in some overseas countries next time you walk past and you may be surprised by the archaic equipment in their vehicle sheds.

Barely three months into 2011, the SCDF has lent its expertise to two oveaseas rescue missions.

At the time of writing, a team of five SCDF officers and five sniffer dogs trained to conduct Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) are on active duty in Japan. The Lionheart team is deployed alongside Japanese rescuers for quake and tsunami relief work. Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions spearheaded by the Home Team are assigned the operational title of Lionheart.

Here's why the Lionheart deployments in 2011 are milestones for the SCDF.

1. The Lionheart deployments to Christchurch, New Zealand, and to Japan marked the first time since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that the SCDF had Lionheart teams deployed in two countries concurrently. In January 2005, the SCDF had Lionheart teams deployed in Sumatra, in Indonesia, and in Phuket, Thailand.

2. The Lionheart team now in Japan is the northernmost deployment for SCDF officers. This is believed to be the first time SCDF officers are in Japan for a HADR operation. Incidentally, the record for the highest altitude (as opposed to latitude) deployment goes to the SCDF team that helped with the Nepal quake relief mission.

3. The Lionheart team that wrapped up the mission in Christchurch is - you guessed it - the southermost deployment ever staged by the SCDF. Any farther south and they would be in Antarctica. This year's Lionheart deployments show the range of latitudes and climates that the SCDF is prepared to send its people to. (One hopes the Home Team gives its officers a decent cold weather clothing allowance.)

4. The Japan Lionheart team is one of the smallest the SCDF has deployed for a rescue. It also has the highest rescuer to rescue dog ratio of 1:1. Sniffer dogs sent by Singapore give Japanese rescuers that extra edge when combing collapsed structures for survivors. The value of the J-Lion contribution therefore goes beyond the headcount and tonnage of supplies airflown from Singapore.

As we remember the victims of the Hotel New World disaster and recent natural disasters in the Pacific Rim, we should also treasure the contributions of the Lionheart team and SCDF team members who are on call 24/7 and train hard for every 995 call.

Best of luck to the J-Lion team.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan's earthquake and tsunami: Media issues to think about

All of a sudden, the crisis in Libya has been knocked off the nightly television news.

The media has zoomed in on Japan where the twin perils of a massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan's Honshu island on Friday afternoon are making headline news around the globe.

The killer waves that resulted in Japan's pain are possibly the most televised tsunami in history; the Boxing Day tsunami was filmed to a lesser degree than the footage available on YouTube that shows the moment the tsunami flooded Japanese coastal areas.

Media watchers familiar with the Boxing Day tsunami would recognise several parallels in the way the media is covering the story in Japan. Some points worth noting:

1. The scale of the disaster will be more apparent from aerial surveys and satellite images. The media is likely to use before/after satellite images of Japan's eastern coastline to show the extent of the devastation. Stories are also likely to touch on how the post-tsunami coastline has changed.

2. Agricultural experts may talk about how crop growth will be affected as a result of saltwater leeching into the soil. The high saline content makes the soil unsuitable for planting food crops and this is a story the media may explore. This was experienced by farmers in Sumatra.

3. It is only a matter of time before journalists address whether the ocean's catch is safe for consumption. In the wake of the Boxing Day tsunami, some seafood lovers shunned Sri Lankan mud crabs and other seafood as they feared the crustaceans may have eaten corpses washed into the sea. With seafood forming a large part of the Japanese diet, this topic could surface in the media soon.

4. The psychological impact of the disaster is a ticking time bomb that suicide statistics in coming months may reflect. Disaster relief agencies deployed for the Boxing Day tsunami recognised that survivors are not the only ones vulnerable to post-traumatic stresses triggered by a natural disaster. First responders, care givers and even journalists who witness the tsunami's aftermath can likewise carry emotional scars from their experience in and around the disaster zone.

5. Japanese authorities will have to impose some form of air traffic control in the airspace around the disaster zone. Free wheeling media choppers may have given the world a firsthand look at the tsunami, but uncontrolled and unregulated use of airspace is a danger to flight safety. In Sumatra, Indonesian authorities worked with the Singapore Armed Forces to introduce air lanes off Meulaboh that replaced the see-and-be-seen flight profiles.

6. Watch your local bookstore. Instant books and special edition magazines on the tsunami will soon appear, as was the case for the Boxing Day tsunami when publishers produced quick turnaround books packed with pictures of the disaster.

7. The rapid change of media attention underscores the fragility of the so-called media offensives and agenda-based journalism. Newsmakers who can weather media attention for two weeks' or so will outlast the attention span of media agencies. Singaporean actors embroiled in extra marital affairs have learned this. So too have repressive regimes around the globe. Case in point: We hardly hear about the situation in Bahrain anymore. Stories on Myanmar, for example, pop up every now and again but seldom command sufficient interest among media agencies to fund the freelancers who provide the backbone of their news coverage. And once the story is downgraded from headline material, even top-ranked parachute journalists and leader writers will look for bigger fish to fry.

That two-week window has direct relevance to SAF war planners as a hot war scenario that deploys the full force potential of Singapore's war machine will have to wrap things up within xx days. This falls within the 14-day window of media attention, which means the situation in the SAF's zone of operations will continue to command foreign media attention from the first shot to ceasefire.

Singapore's quake relief team returns from New Zealand

Homecoming: Corporal Muhammad Hasif greets his loved ones at Changi Airport after his return from a military exercise turned quake relief operation in New Zealand. (Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore)

Singapore contingent returns from Christchurch

Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore
Posted: 13 Mar 2011, 1910 hours (Time is GMT +8 hours)

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) team which was deployed to assist with the earthquake relief operations in Christchurch, New Zealand, returned home this evening after successfully completing their mission. 70 SAF personnel, together with 30 members from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) urban search and rescue team, were welcomed home by Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General (LG) Neo Kian Hong at a ceremony held at Changi Airport Terminal 3. Also present at the ceremony were Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, family members of the returning personnel as well as senior SAF and SCDF officers.

Speaking to the SAF team at the reception, LG Neo said, "I congratulate you for successfully completing your mission. You have demonstrated professionalism and commitment in the disaster relief effort to help the people of Christchurch. I thank you and your families who have supported you throughout this deployment."

The 116-strong team began assisting the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and local authorities with rescue operations and providing humanitarian aid to victims of the earthquake in Christchurch on 23 Feb 2011. During their 17-day deployment at Christchurch, the SAF personnel worked closely with the NZDF in conducting cordon operations in the city centre to ensure the safety and security of the residents whose lives and homes were affected by the earthquake. They were also deployed to remove debris in the suburbs, set up water purification units and tents, and provide primary healthcare at the welfare centres. Besides the SAF team, two RSAF C-130s and one KC-135 military aircraft also evacuated civilians, and airlift humanitarian aid and supplies to victims of the earthquake. The aircraft have since returned to Singapore.

The remaining SAF personnel will return to Singapore tomorrow. They will be received by Chief of Army Major-General Chan Chun Sing, senior SAF officers and family members. In Christchurch, the SAF-led Disaster Victim Identification team continues to assist local authorities in forensics work to identify victims killed in the earthquake.

Who watches the Watchers?

Among the comic capers national servicemen are capable of pulling off, the one where Singapore Army soldiers turned a car yard into a Daytona circuit while deployed for Operation Bascinet must rank as a classic.

This incident shows that despite all the high tech wizardry of the Third Generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the drive to develop the SAF's people, warfighting concepts and defence technology counts for nothing if warfighters entrusted with national security operations treat their time on duty as a joke.

The nocturnal adventures at Sembawang Wharves, where factory fresh cars offloaded from Ro-Ro carriers are temporarily stored, came to light last week when their court hearing was reported by the Singaporean media.

Here's what we know of the case:
The soldiers were assigned protection of installation (POI) duty to guard Sembawang Wharves. This former Royal Navy dockyard is classified as a key installation as the RN has berths there and United States Navy personnel use facilities at the sprawling yard on the northern shore of Singapore island.

On the night of Friday 6 August 2010, Army regular Third Sergeant Chiam Toon Chong, 24, and full-time NSmen (NSF) Lance Corporals Tan Yong Cheng and Tan Fu Ning, both 21, were on duty near the car yard where new Kia Koup cars were parked with doors unlocked.

This was no ordinary Friday. It was the eve of a long National Day holiday weekend when corporate Singapore would have shut down for a long weekend.

3SG Chiam is said to have suggested that the trio play with the cars. Press reports state that the group took three Koups on a 15-minute joyride, during which two collided.

3SG Chiam returned to the sleeping quarters around 10pm but the NSFs went for another joyride in two cars. They are said to have gone for a third spin and it was then that the wheel of one Koup was damaged when it went into a drain.

The soldiers returned the cars to the yard and parked the damaged cars out of view. But their game was up when a wharf employee reported the night time antics.

In December 2010, the trio were slapped with detention sentences ranging from nine and 15 months.

From a defence information management perspective, mitigating potential public relations damage from this incident goes beyond ensuring that Army recruitment ads do not coincide with coverage of the case.

One would hope that every serviceman and servicewoman deployed for Ops Bascinet will not fall prey to vigilance fatigue.

The run up to major national holidays must be seen as a critical time for our security forces. Just ask the SAF serviceman who served during the Malindo Darsasa 3AB period of tension in August 1991. There was no time for fun and games.

As the SAF guards against intruders, one cannot realistically expect warfighters to remain on heightened alert for days on end for that one time breach of security that may never come. With nerves kept taut, SAF servicemen may end up like a watch spring that is wound up too tightly - they will feel the strain and eventually break. This is why security battalions and combat units deployed for POI duty should be regularly renewed to keep morale and alert levels high.

Antics among NSFs are not confined to the SAF. The Home Team has its fair share of personnel who make the news for all the wrong reasons.

Managing public perceptions must therefore take into account how our neighbours will view Singapore's NS system.

Many officers in the Malaysian Armed Forces I have spoken to have a high regard for the SAF's battle technology. But when the chit chat shifts to defence manpower matters, that's when their perception of the SAF as a citizen's army of soft city boys sometimes clouds their analysis.

We find the same behaviour among the Indonesians. At the Safkar Indopura war games, TNI warfighters love showing off their jungle survival skills and this includes macho displays of killing and eating assorted jungle wildlife - the kind of stuff known to make some city boys cringe.

The Sembawang Wharves incident makes sad reading because it shows the amount of work needed to ensure that those watching out for us are really doing their job. It would almost be funny if translated into a movie storyline and reading about the case gives one a mental picture of how vigilant that unit really was.

I have heard stories of how guard duty at Changi Airport is sought after by SAF servicemen because they prowl the airport terminals in air conditioned comfort. Another perk: they get to ogle at eye candy as Singapore Airlines flight attendants in tight sarong kebayas saunter past.

The Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) should keep their morale up by ensuring their essential duties are properly publicised from time to time.

When I was an NSF with PIONEER magazine, we received a letter from a group of storemen whose sole responsibility for 2.5 years was to make wooden pallets. It was dreadfully boring. They felt overshadowed by the frontline roles and asked if PIONEER would consider writing about their low profile role. The magazine obliged and the short story boosted recognition for their critical role in supporting the shipment of SAF material.

During my time with 90C, a photographer and I spent New Year's Eve on Jurong Island with troops on POI duty. We had a warm reception at each guard post we toured and the next morning's newspaper run was something the soldiers looked forward to. It was apparent during the interviews that many of the soldiers had never ushered in a new year away from family and friends before and that point was reflected in the 90C story. That morning's press call and the impending visit by then Chief of Army to Jurong Island made New Year's Eve special for those on the duty roster.

With this argument in mind, the stories showcased by PIONEER about lesser known SAF roles such as vehicle mechanics and air force navigators are welcome. The tricky bit comes with sustaining reader appeal with fresh angles, pictures and perspectives so that the umpteenth behind the scenes story doesn't end up as a page turner as readers second guess what the story is trying to say.

The final point about the Sembawang Wharves incident touches on the SAF's people.

The SAF's value as an instrument of deterrence and as an operationally ready fighting force is only as strong as its weakest links.

On Friday night on 6 August last year, the three SAF servicemen at Sembawang Wharves showed that even those watching out for us, need to be watched sometimes. At that point in time and space, they were the SAF's weak links and they have paid a price for their folly.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Singapore joins quake and tsunami relief operation in Japan; Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) team now airborne on SQ 12

A rescue team from Singapore is currently en route to Japan to join earthquake and tsunami relief operations there after killer waves swamped parts of Japan's eastern seaboard yesterday afternoon.

The mission, codenamed Operation Lionheart, is believed to be the first time a rescue team from Singapore has been sent to Japan for quake relief work.

The Lionheart Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team comprises five personnel and five rescue dogs from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). They are led by Major Tan Loo Ping. All but one of the SCDF officers were in Chrischurch, New Zealand, recently on a previous Lionheart mission after an earthquake levelled parts of the city.

The team took off from Changi International Airport (SIN) aboard Singapore Airlines Flight SQ 12 and is expected to arrive in Tokyo's Narita Airport (NRT) just before 5pm this afternoon. The SCDF Lionheart team will then work alongside Japanese rescue forces.

SCDF Deploys Search Team to Japan
Source: Corporate Communications Branch, Public Affairs Department, SCDF
12 March 2011
Update No: 1

SCDF has deployed 5 search specialists and 5 search dogs to Japan to assist in the search operations following the 8.8 - magnitude earthquake that occurred on 11 Mar 2011. The SCDF officers are from the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) contingent, codenamed Operation Lionheart.

Led by Search Platoon Commander, Major Tan Loo Ping, the 5-man team comprise experienced officers. Members of the team have all participated in past overseas search and rescue operations. MAJ Tan, including three of the officers, have just returned from Christchurch, New Zealand (NZ) on 6 March 2011 after participating there [NZ] in the search and rescue efforts.

The SCDF search team left via commercial flight (SQ 12) today at 10.44am (Singapore time). The team was sent off by the Senior Director of Emergency Services, Assistant Commissioner Eric Yap. Upon arrival in Japan, MAJ Tan will coordinate with the local authorities as to the areas to be deployed.