Friday, February 07, 2014

National Service- Major review of this "Sacred Cow" is needed


National Service ( NS): Time to Review this national sacred cow?
Introduction



National Service (NS) came into being after the National Service (Amendment) act was passed in Parliament on 14 March 1967.  NS has often been touted as a “rites of passage” when boys become real men.


However, many feel that amongst national “sacred cows”, this is one that deserves a serious look.

NS a bug-bear for many



For many Singaporean men, NS is a major bugbear as they feel that in the scheme of things, this “patriotic” duty has become too onerous and has even become a disadvantage. The Singaporean man’s life is put on hold for 2 years in the prime of his life ( not to mention the decade of reservist obligations after that). All this time while they are serving their nation, their fairer sex counterparts ( women) and non-Singaporeans are overtaking them in terms of seniority in the universities and at their work-place. Second generation male Permanent Residents (PRs) are in a different predicament but for the sake of simplicity will be treated here together with Singaporean men.



Whether we like to recognise it or not, there are employers who, all things being equal, would prefer an employee who does not have annual reservist obligations.



There is also a special breed of Singaporeans whose chosen careers value youth most eg sportsmen/ arts and culture, and for them, spending 2 years away and not being in touch regularly with their sports or artistic environment is as good as ( or as bad) sounding a death knell for them. Imagine Ian Thorpe or Nadal in uniform for 2 years and you know what I mean.  It is more than just allowing one Joseph Schooling postponement of NS as  there are many Schooling “wannabees” out there in our schools and perhaps out of 100 talented sportsmen, only a handful will eventually emerge to have the potential to be a champion.


It is (in a way) a numbers game.

Pertinent questions that need answers

Before I discuss my proposals, a few questions need to be answered:



1. What is the optimum size and composition of the SAF, taking into consideration Singapore’s geo-political situation and its demographics? Can either or both of SAF’s active and reservist components be smaller than its present configuration?



2.Is each National Service personnel (active and reservist) utilised optimally? Can we say (hand to heart) that the training schedule (barring unforeseen contingencies eg weather ) has been refined to such an extent that any reasonable person  who was to go through the same program would find that the time and effort spent on it as worth the sacrifice  

My proposals:



I postulate that with increased productivity and better planning, a smaller but just as effective SAF can exist without compromising national security:



1.  NS be shortened to 1 year with BMT of 3 months. For the majority of NS conscripts, the remainder of the year will be to equip him with the skills to be an integral part of a effective unit. Better pre-enlistment planning by Mindef will reduce time wastage before and after NS so that he can go to university with the maximum hiatus of one year.



2. NS allowance should be pegged to market rate, perhaps this should commensurate with what a polytechnic graduate can expect to get ie $1500-1800. This puts his economic status at near-parity with his cohort.
The  increase of the allowance to market rate may encourage PR’s who are sitting on the fence to volunteer (first gen PR) or at least deter others from renouncing their PR prior to NS.



3. Those who have been selected ( or volunteered) for Officer Cadet School /senior Non-Commissioned Officer school will need a longer NS liability of 1.5-2 years ( as responsibility is greater)  but will be compensated with market rate allowances of $2300-2800 to better reflect society’s meritocratic values.



4. Courses conducted in the NS should be validated by international accreditation bodies (eg ISO) so that any certification is portable for the servicemen’s future be it in the university or the workfloor. This may even shorten university courses or help in career advancements.



5. Reservist training should be short but efficiently administered (Short and Sharp) so that each year’s training is like a continuation of the previous year’s so that a “Band of brothers” camaraderie can be forged over time. This is possible with good commanders and planning.

Implications for smaller SAF ( ie less bodies in each unit)

Are there implications of having less bodies in the SAF units? Of course there are but these are not necessarily negative.



1. Less bodies will make SAF commanders cognizant of the real world and remind them that every soldier is a valued asset that has a definite cost and that these men should never be viewed as just a digit or just a photo in an ORBAT (Order of Battle ) chart. Each serviceman should thus be trained to be a productive member of a closely knit unit or else the unit will be dysfunctional.



2. Less bodies will mean that servicemen should only concentrate on being a part of an effective SAF to fulfil its primary mission of defending our nation. They should no longer be used as cheap labour for sports events or other national celebrations. If there is only 12 months to train a soldier- he is unlikely to spend 6 months preparing for the next NDP- even if his commander is the officer in charge. 



I am a Singaporean and proud of it. But SAF can be better.



I have done a 2.5 year NS followed by 13 HK and 4 LK reservist in-camps!


But it need not be a case of equal misery.



Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Manpower planning and allocation can be improved. NSmen should be trained for roles that are required only for wartime - simply said combat roles. Ever noticed that some reservist combat units operate at one third strength while many NSmen never actually get recalled back.

Dr Huang said...

How true!
It's ok not to call them back if there is no need. It would be worse to call them just to fulfil some paper schedule.

John (LTC) (Retired) said...

Potential officers (especially the more scholarly ones) would rather skip it if they were to serve one more year.

On the other hand, half-baked soldiers with nothing better to do will be happy to serve an additional year as officers.

So... what kind of rubbish army will you end up with?

John (LTC) (Retired) said...

Moreover, if you cram 2-years of training into one, the training will be doubly-intensive, or doubly long. Resulting in less rest and recovery time, and more injuries, more deaths.

Really, is that what you want for Singapore?

nofearSingapore said...

LTC John, thanks for your thoughtful comments. You and I know that none of us wants a “rubbish army”of “half-baked” soldiers. I am sure you know that increased length of service is no guarantee of lack of injuries etc. Many factors are involved in service injury /deaths. In my time as MO SAF- I have seen many deaths and I am sure as a commander, he have too ( or at least sit on BOI/COI).
That is why my questions were that , in view of our situation/constraints ( manpower/budget/ geopolitical environment) is there serious thought at MINDEF to reduce/re-structure further NS.
If you feel that Singapore NS is the pinnacle of efficiency/utilisation of citizens and that it is fair compensation for all, then ok… I accept your position and agree to disagree…
But… if from your point of view as a commander- NS can still improve or even be shortened etc then why don’t we put on our thinking caps and think about these possibilities?
I want to cut to the chase and look beyond slogans and consider if the time that my sons ( already served) have gone through have been time well spent. It is difficult for each of us to see the POV of the other… Each stakeholder has his POV ( or some say agenda).
Stakeholders:
Govt/Mindef/SAF commanders/ NSF/NSmen( reservists)/ new citizens with obligations for their sons/ PR’s who don’t feel the commitment etc/ employers/ colleagues of reservists etc etc
The lists goes on because the impact of this is great. Not to mention the budget of MINDEF…
So- any room for improvements?
Dr Huang

Anonymous said...

I have served 2.5 years as a platoon commander in an infantry battalion in the 1980s & also as a reservist KAH in an active army brigade. SAF likes to mix reservists with regulars & NSFs in their active units, that we all know the reasons which we will not go into here. From my observations, I always prefer to use the best reservist officers/specialists and units to perform critical roles where I want to see fast results rather than active NSF units more often than not. Perhaps, it's because those ''old soldiers'' have all gone through 2.5 years of NSF under the old SAF NS service length where officers/specialists/men are really well trained enough in the various exercises & where nothing will ever replace actual boots on the ground and doing it the hard way .. sweat, blood and all that computer simulations, war-gaming and other gizmos can only carry you so far. Something that is critically missing in NSFs and new reservists where they have only undergone 2 years of service and cannot really complete all the pre-requsite exercises & training before their ORD (or ROD in those days are called) is up! I really shudder to think what will happen if/when Singapore cuts down to 1 year of NS .. it is really impossible to train a citizen-soldier adequately within this time and let's not fool ourselves that it can be done with ''technological advances''! The question must be on whether we want to rely on a conscription army model that was created post Singapore-Malaysia separation in 1965, or do we progress to a professional army instead. An alternative will be ''different track'' NS regime where enlisted young men at 18 years old can choose/volunter for the Army track (and vocation perhaps depending on their ability to be selected), or other appropriate tracks to be created. They will all not be equal in length to be realistic, and neither will be the ''rewards'' that can come with pay, recognition and even incentives like taxes, and other schemes to compensate based on the tracks served. - Spyglass

patriot said...

Much as me finds your suggested tweaks to NS much better than the Current System, I think it is time to do away with conscription.
The Budget Allocation for Defence is and had been the Highest every year. Reason appears to be expenditures for high tech, sophisticated war wares, army logistics and high pays for high rank regular commanders. And this is where a highly professional Defence Force should be the Way to go.
Many young Singaporeans could be in the Army as regulars for a career. They must be prepared to be trained to the most professional standard to remain in the Force and be rewarded for it.

With professional and dedicated long(time) serving soldiers, it is definitely better than unwilling soldiers and worse those that fulfill the Obligation grudgingly. During my NS Days, my personal observation is that few felt happy about NS. How good can one be a good soldier in 2 or 3 years and subsequently a week to a month of in-camp training?

Me was of the View that NS was probably needed in the early days of autonomy as there was no local force then. Now that Sin has the Latest War Gadgets with many highly qualified Commanders, IT IS TIME TO DO AWAY WITH NATIONAL SERVICE CONSCRIPTION.

patriot

patriot said...

Dear Dr Huang;

Now that the Medishield Life Scheme is soon to be implemented, may I implore You to tell us your opinion of it.
As a medical professional, You are likely to understand the importance intricacy and implication of the Scheme. Your readers will benefit from your insight and take of the Scheme.

Hope to read Your view here soon.

Yrs Sincerely:
patriot

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Patriot
Your wish is my command.
http://nofearsingapore.blogspot.sg/2014/07/medishield-life-singapores-obamacare.html
Beware what you wish for !
Dr Huang

Anonymous said...

Thank You very much Dear Good Doctor.

Read Your Write-up minutes ago. Will re-read to grasp as much as I can. Hopefully, the Scheme will be as beneficial to the Public, as It is touted to be.

Once again, sincere thanks for obligng.

patriot

osman ahmed said...

Do you need a Loan?
Are you looking for Finance?
Are you looking for a Loan to enlarge your business?
I think you have come to the right place.
We offer Loans at low interest rate.
Interested people should please contact us on
For immediate response to your application, Kindly
reply to this emails below only
easyloanoffer1@gmail.com

LOAN APPLICATION INFORMATION FORM
First name:
Middle name:
Date of birth (yyyy-mm-dd):
Gender:
Marital status:
Total Amount Needed:
Time Duration:
Address:
City:
State/province:
Zip/postal code:
Country:
Phone:
Email ID.....
Mobile/cellular:
Monthly Income:
Occupation:
Which sites did you know about us.....
easyloanoffer1@gmail.com

osman ahmed said...

Do you need a Loan?
Are you looking for Finance?
Are you looking for a Loan to enlarge your business?
I think you have come to the right place.
We offer Loans at low interest rate.
Interested people should please contact us on
For immediate response to your application, Kindly
reply to this emails below only
easyloanoffer1@gmail.com

LOAN APPLICATION INFORMATION FORM
First name:
Middle name:
Date of birth (yyyy-mm-dd):
Gender:
Marital status:
Total Amount Needed:
Time Duration:
Address:
City:
State/province:
Zip/postal code:
Country:
Phone:
Email ID.....
Mobile/cellular:
Monthly Income:
Occupation:
Which sites did you know about us.....
easyloanoffer1@gmail.com