Friday, August 12, 2011

ST Forum Page Letter on National Service

Next year marks the 45th year of National Service (NS) in Singapore.

Time flies. I still recall, somewhat vividly, reporting on the opening of the Army Museum during the 40th year of NS.

The letter below on NS from Ms Looi Pek Hong is worth reading and reflecting upon. I am quite sure Ms Looi isn't alone in nursing such sentiments.

One hopes that the Singaporean Ministry of Defence and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will engage NS stakeholders with meaningful activities. These could include dialogue sessions and camp visits as Singaporeans need an opportunity to clear up unfinished business on NS matters such as the White Horse issue and NS deferments.

The Straits Times
Published on Aug 12, 2011

National service: A mother's constant worry

By Looi Pek Hong (Ms)

As a mother of a full-time national serviceman (NSF) who is nine months into his national service and who has just graduated from the Specialist Cadet School, I feel the pain of the parents of Third Sergeant Ee Chun Sheng ('NSF on training exercise dies'; Aug 3).

Each day, since my son began fulfilling his NS obligations, I have lived in fear of the telephone ringing, or of a soldier in uniform calling at my house, to break some painful news.

We can live with the sores and cuts that he comes home with, but we fear the day we will never see him come home again.

Every year, thousands of our boys leave their homes, their studies or their jobs to fulfil their obligations to the nation. All they and we, their parents, ask for is their safe return two years later.

Why are there fatal accidents involving our NSFs almost every year? Why do they happen even after inquiries and investigations reveal that procedures were followed and safety measures were in place?

The Defence Ministry should correct this distressing record. Let us, the parents of current and future NSFs, live and sleep in peace.


Derek Low said...

"Correct this distressing record"? I wonder if she would take the same tone or even write the same letter if there was an actual threat of war at the doorstep.

But there is none.

As a former regular, I used to read such letters with anger. I felt that this was a blatant sign that the generations of men that were serving NS were clearly becoming softer and lacking the sort of 'tough love' treatment that I had received, and even worse so for my father's generation.

I have heard that there was an incident in the 80s where an infanteer was so exhausted and overcome with heatstroke from training that he broke line and stood at his battalion parade square cursing like a madman until he passed out. I don't doubt its truth.

Punishment of soldiers in the past used to involve blatant slapping or physical violence. It wasn't uncommon to hear about commando trainees breaking ankles or fainting from sleep deprivation because of an entire week of 3 am turnouts and fast marches.

I like to believe that we took it as it came because there was a real threat at the doorstep. A real belief that we got to fight and dig in the trenches (whole sheeves of skin were lost from both hands for entire nights of digging). Because there was a threat at the doorstep.

But that attitude is gradually eroding - You see these sort of letters being written nowadays because no one believes that there is a threat at the doorstep. Who the heck wants to go to war? Singapore? Someone wants to attack Singapore? Don't talk cock lah.

Nowadays, the belief is that the war is the economic war. Train your son in finance management and derivative products. That's the real fight. It's sad but unless something really happens, NS is seen as an unnecessary risk nowadays.

And forget nation building. My indian neighbours are scared to cook curry even. PRC next door complain how?

David Boey said...

Hi Derek,
It's not just Singaporean mums who feel this way. If you visit some of the expat discussion boards, you can see the FTs discussing ways to beat the system.

PAFF has three working days to respond, if it deems this letter worthy of one?

A staff officer will probably draft the reply today, get it cleared during Monday's prayer session. Factor in time for refinements etc. Estimated date for a response is probably next Thurs 18 Aug'11.

Length capped at 400 words. Intro to refer to the letter writer/date of publication. To reassure how MINDEF/SAF take training safety seriously. Backstop statement with tangible examples viz no-notice training safety audits, safety workshops, hotlines etc. Express empathy with servicemen who lost their lives, every incident is a lesson for the SAF. To consider acknowledging or praising writer's son for making it through SCS. Manage public expectations by stating that realistic training still necessary. As such, not possible to expect zero incidents despite the best efforts of the system. Thank writer for raising the points. Get DS(P) to approve and DPA to sign off.

Anyone else wanna guess how PAFF will reply?

Best Regards,


Anonymous said...

"Gay Chao Hui"'s remarks on Muslims, Cantonese, Christians and Singaporeans.


Spotter @ Milnuts said...

I feel there is no need to give additional coverage to this letter from Mrs Looi. In my opinion, it's rubbish. Maybe Mrs Looi can petition to have her boy boy join the girl guides instead - just make sure that the needles don't prick the wrong head.

David Boey said...

If there's a segment of society that feels the way Mrs Looi does, then such concerns cannot be ignored and should not be ridiculed either.

If the letter writer wants to "live and sleep in peace", doing away with 24/7 vigilance is the quickest way of robbing herself of that birth right.

We don't even have to talk about JI or extremist threats or a Malaysia gone mad.

The sea robbers would return almost immediately, as they landed on our shores almost at will during the 1980s.

David Boey said...

Hi Anonymous 14 August'11 6:09 PM,
Thank you for the interesting link. I appreciate the alert.

Best Regards,


Anonymous said...

Ms Looi is quite typical of parents nowadays. We as parents are still hand holding our sons even till NS. The more they do this, the more lacking in situatonal awareness that I witness in our army boys. Let them grow up and toughen them up physically and mentally. My father with 4 sons did not even bother asking how was recruit life, what more with me being the youngest son! Boys to men, let them find thir way. And I do agree that NS is not like before with boatloads of foreigners, it's a liability, an unfair competition.

PanzerGrenadier said...

The issue is mandatory conscription amidst Singapore Inc's immigration policies.

Singapore male citizens are subject to mandatory NS liabilities which take them away from school, work or business 2 years full time and 10 years reservist from non-Singaporean male citizens who compete against them directly for jobs, university places and business opportunities.

This NS liability includes the risk of death or injury especially those in combat vocations.

The Government collects enough taxes and Mindef is well funded with $15 billion or so annual budgets. If you tell me with such a budget Mindef cannot transit to an all volunteer professional force for the army especially that takes the bulk of our NS cannon fodder.

It is the mandatory aspect of conscription that irks many parents. Take a male child forcibly to be exposed to risk to defend the motherland. And when he survives the experience to compete with one hand tied behind his back against foreigners, PRs for the limited places in Universities, jobs etc is particularly galling.

Let's streamline the Army into a more professional force relying less on brute numbers for conventional warfare but more a rapid deployment force type of mobile unit e.g. Marines type fully staffed with professionals and adopt Malaysian style territorial army for homeland defence again based on a volunteer system.

Those detractors of Ms. Looi's letter will rethink their views if the one injured or killed because of mandatory conscription in the SAF is their family member or friend.

Majulah Singapura.

PanzerGrenadier said...

Dear David Boey

Why do you equate not having a conscript system for defence as wanting to do away with the need for a defence force.

If you look at the underlying concern, the issue is basically exploitation by the state to forcibly conscript its male citizens into the armed forces. You have no choice as a male citizen born in Singapore (unless you opt to renounce your citizenship and emigrate before a certain age).

If Ms. Looi's son volunteered in a professional military force (e.g. US, even Taiwan is moving towards all-volunteer model and Germany has ended conscription.) that is their career choice and they knowingly undertake the risks of serving their country in the military forces, I doubt the issue would arise.

It's one of choice. Defending Singapore can come in many forms, not just conscription. Just because we started with the system doesn't mean we have to end with it as the only model to serve our defence needs in a changing geopolitical world.

Anonymous said...

Derek, pls dun take it personally. From the first batch of NS conscirptees till today, ALL parents worry for their sons. Its just tht now they are more articulate. They write letters to forum, they blog about it but at the end of the day, they still "let go" (majority got no choice and connections and "know how" - like savvy to see a highly regarded professor to try to sift out some congenitor defeats where no captain/major MOs dare to contradict & the addr is in bukit timah) of their sons into SAF's hands.

From the Napoleonic war to the Vietnam war, young soldiers before they breath their last would often call for their mothers. This bond is even stronger than the rambo who try to act macho. Its no different whether one is in Pulau Tekong (bootcamp) or in the Ia Drang Valley (US infantry) or at Helmand, Afghanistan (British paras), these boys are isolated from their families. At Helmand, young paras shed tears for their fallen comrades, are they sissies? On the contrary! their OCs/CO know how to tape into their comeraderie and "emotions", to give time for grieve and this build cohesion and brotherly fighting spirit! Humans are emotive creatures, and the army who knows how to tape this "emotion" will have won half the battle !

So on SAF day, we shd not forget the parents of these conscriptees.

Anonymous said...

One of the underlying problems is that the people at the top only know how to use negative motivation. Fear. The boogeyman next door who wants to cut the water, sabo the shipping lanes, etc.

Fear works to a limited extent. When life gets better, ppl get more educated and the boogeymen seem too busy to care about sharpening their teeth, ppl would start to question and reflect. Harping on fear is just going create resentment and doubt. Telling the kid that the policeman is going to catch him for bad behaviour is only going to work until the kid is 5.

Rather focusing on fear, what else can the govt and SAF do? Pride, nationalism, family etc. But when ppl openly state that they don't know what they are protecting and the country's leader's response is to write it off, thats when more doubt about the value of NS fester and grow. There is only so much the SAF can do as a military organisation when the political leaders are losing connection with the ppl. The national education unit can only spin so much when the discourse created is creating dissonance from reality.

End of the day, political leaders need to connect with the ppl and ensure that singaporeans feel that the pink ic has value before the ppl sees value in the 11B. When economic interests are making it easy for investors and capital owners to profit while rest of the ppl are struggling to make a decent living, what is there to defend? The 40 over units of condos that someone in taiwan bought?

David Boey said...

Hi PanzerGrenadier,
For reasons which are too long to discuss here and are possibly worth a post on their own, I believe that the SAF's drawer plans cannot be sustained by a professional army.

We will not have the numbers needed for the intended missions.

True, technology and firepower can substitute for mass, but we'll discuss this another time?

Best Regards,


Anti-Aging, Health, Personal Care said...

Can understand how the mother feels here because my mother also felt the same when I was doing NS. But there is not much ways in avoiding deaths in training, only can try as much as possible to cut down these deaths. What you hear about is nothing new, it has all the while been existed since NS started. It is that nowadays, it is more often reported. I'm sure there are many unreported cases. It is often that these reported cases are sons of certain 'top' people. If it involves the sons of ordinary people, it is hush hush!

Who @ MilNuts said...

PAFF just reply today on 90cents forum and they are early by 2 days lol, usual reply and so I shall not repost here

Anonymous said...

Derek Low, any soldier, even the least educated soldier of decades past, knows the difference between tough training and gratutious abuse. Take my father, who was in the first of the first batch of NSF enlistees. He never complained of the pay of $60, or the absence of duty rest (forget duty off, which has recently been banished from Army practice), or last minute sacrifices when exigencies called for them. He and his buddies did however stand up for their rights when they were breached. As for me, if anyone slapped me, I would do a HY or take it to the AFC if need be. On hindsight, I should have taken on that guy who wantonly threatened to charge me.

arora89 said...

there is not abundant means in alienated deaths in training, alone can try as abundant as accessible to cut down these deaths. What you apprehend about is annihilation new, it has all the while been existed back NS started. It is that nowadays, it is added generally reported. I'm abiding there are abounding unreported cases. It is generally that these appear cases are sons of assertive 'top' people in the training Company.