Thursday 10 October 2013

IPS Report on Singaporeans’ Attitudes to National Service 2013

Poll reveals changing perceptions of NS
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2013

WHEN national service was introduced in 1967, its primary purpose was to bolster the defence of Singapore.

Now, a new study has found that many view its main task as being to instil discipline and values into young men.

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) quizzed 1,251 Singaporeans on what NS meant to them, asking them to grade eight different purposes on a scale of one (not important at all) to six (extremely important).

Instilling discipline and values (mean score 4.9) just edged out national defence (4.86), which the study's authors said showed that NS has become a "social edifice".

"Defence is not any less important," said IPS senior research fellow Leong Chan Hoong, who led the study. "But what used to be peripheral roles of NS are now recognised by many Singaporeans as a major contribution."

The IPS was commissioned to carry out the survey by the high-level panel, the Committee to Strengthen National Service. The survey was carried out between July and last month.

Ninety-eight per cent of respondents agreed that NS is necessary for the defence of the country. The strongest support for NS came from soldiers over 40 who have completed their 13-year training cycles.

Eight out of 10 younger NSmen, aged in their 20s and 30s, believe that women and first- generation permanent residents - who are not required to perform NS - should be allowed to do their part for the country's defence as volunteers.

This could include them serving two-year stints or helping out at National Day parades and military open houses.

Entrepreneur Wong Wei Peng, who sits on the committee and whose parents were first-generation PRs, said that while the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) should not refuse anyone who wants to volunteer, PRs must make "meaningful contributions".

The survey also spotlighted areas in which NSmen can be better supported and motivated.

Although employers backed NS, two out of five people believe that bosses prefer to hire people without commitments like annual call-ups for in-camp training. Respondents were also not so convinced that NS helped their career prospects.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said the SAF will have to manage the trade-offs in meeting Singaporeans' rising aspirations and fulfilling defence requirements.

"If you can align them, people will definitely be more motivated to serve," he said.

SAF urged to let first generations PRs contribute as volunteers
By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 8 Oct 2013

The Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) said the Singapore Armed Forces should seriously consider making provisions for first-generation Permanent Residents (PRs) to contribute as volunteers.

It was responding to a survey on National Service conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

In the survey, the majority of Singaporeans said they are receptive to first-generation PRs contributing to defence as volunteers.

The committee which is reviewing the support network around National Service met at the Home Team Academy on Tuesday.

Committee members were briefed by IPS on the findings of the recent survey.

The survey showed two-thirds of Singaporeans are supportive of first-generation PRs to contribute as volunteers in the defence of Singapore.

However, only less than half say first-generation PRs should serve the two-year full time National Service.

CSNS' steering committee member, Dr Lim Wee Kiak, said: "What you realise from this survey is that majority are not asking them to serve the same two years system. In fact, serving the same two years system is a privilege. I'm glad that many people realise that, and that should be a privilege that belongs to Singaporeans. So far as PRs, they acknowledge that 'Yes, we should give them the opportunity to serve but let them serve in a volunteer basis'."

The committee also felt there is a disconnection in the perception of how employers are supporting National Service.

The IPS survey showed that more than four out of five servicemen said employers are supportive of their In-Camp Training.

However, two out of five servicemen pointed out that employers prefer to hire people who do not have National Service commitments.

Wong Wei Peng, steering committee member in CSNS, said: "For companies, our objective is very clear - maximise profits. Sometimes, depending on individual companies they might choose to have preference over others who pose less of a challenge in terms of work arrangements. I find that not hard to accept.

"I think the challenge right now moving forward is how to mitigate that kind of challenges in a way that we find a right balance."

Dr Lim said a ground-up approach is needed.

He said: "There are a lot of suggestions that are coming forward. Some of which we consider transactional, in the sense that if you do this, then I will give you this. I think what we are trying to do is to avoid that.

"We are hoping for more ground-up initiatives like Burger King offering special deals for NSmen. We hope this will be a ground up approach rather than something which is government driven."

The committee said more engagement with employers is needed to get a better buy-in from them on National Service. The key thing is to look at what their concerns are and how to encourage more employers to be National Service-friendly.

In the IPS survey, 98 per cent of respondents regarded National Service as necessary, providing security for the country.

The committee said the report reaffirmed the belief that National Service is a well-supported institution among the population.

Singaporeans want PRs, women to be part of national defence
Study indicates strong support for NS as institution and faith in its safety and medical care
By Kok Xing Hui, TODAY, 9 Oct 2013

The first independent survey on Singaporeans’ attitudes towards National Service (NS) has found that a large majority felt that first-generation Permanent Residents (PRs) and women should be allowed to contribute to national defence as volunteers, with four in 10 indicating that the former should serve two years of full-time NS.

The Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS), which commissioned the study, also revealed yesterday that it is looking at expanding the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) volunteer scheme, to possibly allow volunteers to serve in combat roles.

The survey was conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) between July and September. A sample of 1,251 respondents, representative of the national demographic profile, were interviewed face-to-face. The Ministry of Defence is understood to conduct periodic surveys on public perceptions of NS.

The wide-ranging IPS survey found strong support for NS as an institution and respondents generally indicated trust and faith in training safety and medical care within the institution, the researchers said.

It also showed, among other findings, about 23 per cent of the respondents felt that women should serve two years of full-time NS. In comparison, about 70 per cent said women should serve “in a professional role” or as a volunteer to “help out in NS events”.

Among the women respondents, about 22 per cent agreed with the statement that women should serve full-time NS, but only 9.3 per cent said they will do so themselves.

When it comes to first-generation PRs, a higher proportion of respondents (43.5 per cent) felt that this group should serve full-time NS. More than 60 per cent felt they should serve in other ways, including as volunteers at events.

While the respondents included PRs, their responses were omitted for further analysis by the researchers because the sample size of this group was too small to be meaningful.

IPS Senior Research Fellow Leong Chan-Hoong, the survey’s Principal Investigator, said: “At this moment, I think the large majority of Singaporeans feels it’s okay for women not to serve … but for the first-generation PRs, what we see from the result is it’s okay for them not to serve but it’ll be fantastic if they would serve.”

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Act states that every citizen or PR who is at least 16 years and six months of age can be eligible for enlistment as a volunteer. However, the volunteer scheme is not publicised and it is understood that the number of volunteers — who mainly take on nursing roles — is small.

While the main purpose of volunteers is to meet the SAF’s operational needs, observers TODAY spoke to stressed that expanding the volunteer scheme will not signal a shift away from the primary objective of NS to fulfil critical defence needs.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak, who is a CSNS member and also chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Defence, said: “Opening up the volunteering opportunities … will strengthen NS and not weaken it.”

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Alex Yam, who also sits on the GPC, nevertheless reiterated that “whatever resources we pump into volunteering has to have an outcome in safety and security and not an exercise in integration”.

IPS’ Dr Leong added that it was about striking a balance between “fulfilling a defence mandate as well as social and psychological imperatives”. If Singaporeans start feeling that the system is unfair - in the survey, two out of five servicemen interviewed believed their employers prefer to hire those without NS commitments -- “the legitimacy of the institution will be eroded”, he said.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan pointed out that NS primary objective is very clear to Singaporeans and volunteers could plug any gaps and strengthen NS as an institution.

Committee could propose expanded volunteer scheme

Yesterday, the CSNS held a meeting - the fourth so far - at the Home Team Academy. After the meeting, Dr Lim said that the committee is looking at proposing a volunteer scheme for the SAF similar to the ones being put in place by the Home Team which require volunteers to clock a certain number of hours and to perform the same duties as full-time officers.

He added that discussions are ongoing over what vocations SAF volunteers can take on, how to train them for these roles and how long to train them for. The proposed vocations for volunteers will go beyond nursing, and could include combat roles too, Dr Lim shared.

Out of five Singaporean women TODAY spoke to, four said that they will volunteer for NS - with conditions attached.

Merchandiser Betty Ho, 35, said she would volunteer at NS events on an ad-hoc basis when her children, now one and three years old, enter secondary school.

Polytechnic student Lee Xiaoyu, 19, said she would not mind serving two to three years of NS in a desk-bound role after she graduates.

Public relations executive Valerie Wang, 23, said she will volunteer if her salary can be matched and her deployment takes into account her skills and abilities. In a national crisis, however, she will volunteer to serve without conditions, she said.

Among other findings, the survey also saw respondents ranking “instilling discipline and values among the young” first when they were asked to rank several statements on what does NS mean to them. “For national defence” was edged out in second place.

Associate Professor Straughan said that she was taken aback by this finding. She pointed out that conscription carries a hefty sacrifice for men and incurs a huge expenditure for the nation. “It’s a very expensive endeavour. If we’re losing sight of the purpose and intent (of NS), maybe we need a reminder,” she said.

Women could do their part to defend Singapore: Poll
Eight in 10 would like to give them the chance to contribute to country
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2013

WOMEN should be given the option to volunteer for the defence of the country, said the majority of people in a poll.

Eight out of 10 people would like to give women the opportunity to do their part for Singapore's defence, even though they are not currently required to do so.

Seven out of 10 thought women could serve the armed forces in professional roles such as doctors or accountants, or by helping out in national service-related events like National Day parades and the military's open houses.

Only two out of 10 felt that women should be given the option to serve a two-year NS stint. But only one woman in 10 said they would choose to do this.

The findings were part of the first independent survey on public perceptions about NS, carried out by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and commissioned by the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS).

Dr Leong Chan Hoong, who led the study, said the findings show that NS is a "collective journey".

"It is not just for half the population aged between 20 and 35," he said. "People realise and want it to be about the whole nation."

Even simple gestures from the female population, such as organising lunch for men training in the field, would make a "significant psychological impact", said Dr Leong, an IPS senior research fellow.

The study also found that women had more favourable perceptions of NS than men.

It comes amid ongoing discussions spearheaded by the CSNS on how to beef up support and commitment for NS.

In August, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen indicated that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) may expand its volunteer programme to allow Singaporeans who are not currently eligible for NS to get involved.

Said accounts and administrative executive Cecilia Ho, 56, a mother of two: "There may not be many women who will join initially but as time passes, more women will be more encouraged and brave enough to take part."

Women in NS? What matters is not how they serve, but why
By Kenneth Cheng, TODAY, 9 Oct 2013

Will we see more women donning the green uniform and contributing to national defence as volunteers in the future?

Possibly, if the findings of an Institute of Policy Studies survey released yesterday aimed at gauging Singaporeans’ attitudes towards National Service (NS) are developed into concrete plans.

The study, which canvassed responses from 1,251 male and female Singaporeans, revealed that more than 80 per cent of respondents supported the idea of women serving as volunteers. However, less than a quarter (23 per cent) of the respondents felt women should be made to serve two years of mandatory NS.

These figures are heartening, given that I have female friends who would bristle at the mere suggestion of women serving NS full-time.

“I can’t stand being in the sun and doing physical activity, much less having to train in rugged conditions every day,” one of them said when the topic came up in a conversation over dinner.

Or in the words of another female friend: “It’s a man’s thing to do NS and to carry a weapon, not a woman’s.”

As the survey shows, this is by no means representative of how all my female friends — or more broadly, Singaporean women — view NS. More than half the female respondents (56.4 per cent) said they were willing to volunteer at NS events. A female friend of mine seriously contemplated giving up the comforts of civilian life for the regimentation of a career in the military, but decided against it owing to a lack of support from her family.


During my recently-concluded full-time NS stint, I had the privilege of working alongside a couple of female regulars.

One had served as a nursing officer in war-ravaged Afghanistan, as part of an SAF medical team providing medical treatment to injured soldiers and locals. I was struck by her courage in answering the call to serve in a war zone and her unwavering resolve in going where others — both men and women — have feared to tread.

If she could take that bold first step to serve as a regular, I have faith that other women, too, can play a significant part.

For example, a good starting point might be to tap women volunteers working in allied health professions — such as physiotherapy, podiatry and clinical psychology — for which there is a demand in the armed forces.

Because of the nature of the combat vocations, where servicemen are daily put through gruelling high-risk activities that stretch both physical and mental limits, there is always the possibility of adjustment issues or injury during training. Having volunteers help out on this front would lessen the strain on existing medical resources, and minimise the inconvenience for injured and distressed servicemen, some of whom would otherwise seek treatment beyond their SAF camps, in public and private healthcare institutions.


But making it compulsory for women to serve runs counter to the very purpose of volunteering — it has to come from the heart. They should sign up to serve of their own accord and out of a sense of purpose — with the knowledge that what they can offer contributes to the wider goal of national defence.

It would be pointless and counterproductive if we impel women to serve. It would result in half-hearted volunteers who serve only because they have to.

In reality, women who do not intend to serve as volunteers may already contribute to national defence by taking on important roles as mother, wife, sister and aunt, etc, supporting the men in their family as they go through the trials and tribulations as well as the joys and triumphs that are part and parcel of the NS journey.

Something as simple as offering words of encouragement as the men prepare to return to camp on Sunday night, or sending a text message to ask how training went, can go a long way towards providing them with much-needed emotional and psychological support.

Personally, I would not have been able to complete basic military training without the unwavering support of the women and men in my family. A case in point: my sister, despite being thousands of miles away in London, made a point of writing me postcards to encourage me to soldier on when the going got tough.

Whether it be serving a mandatory two-year or shorter stint, in professional roles or as volunteers at NS events, or simply providing support for their loved ones who are NSmen, women have played — and must continue to play — an invaluable part in national defence. The question now is if they want to step up and be counted.

The writer, who will begin his degree in English literature next year, is in the newsroom on a TODAY Journalism Internship. He has just completed his full-time National Service.

Staff with NS obligations? Not an issue, say bosses
Firms won't turn to foreigners just because of this, say HR experts
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh And Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2013

FEARS that companies here would rather hire people without NS commitments are unfounded, say bosses and human resource analysts.

This should give comfort to a substantial number of employees, who indicated this concern in an Institute of Policy Studies survey published on Tuesday.

While almost nine in 10 employed national servicemen believe that their employers are or were supportive of their NS commitments, two out of five of them still worry that employers would rather hire workers free from NS obligations.

When waiter Saiful Nizam failed his IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test) some years back, he had to leave work early for a few weeks to attend remedial training. "My boss at that time wasn't happy. He kept asking me: 'You're leaving early again?' He let me go, but I was scared he'd fire me," said the 32-year-old.

But for most employers, the survey findings came as a surprise. They told The Straits Times that NS is the norm in Singapore and they have found ways to cope with employees going for in-camp training (ICT) exercises lasting weeks, such as using buddy systems or temporary workers.

"I don't see an issue employing people actively serving ICT. It's part and parcel of life," said Mr Jeffrey Chow, a financial service director who oversees around 60 employees, 15 of whom are NSmen.

Some companies even go the extra mile to support the NSmen on their payroll, doling out incentives to workers for serving their NS commitments.

Amos International, a marine and offshore company, and City Developments Limited (CDL) both match dollar for dollar the monetary awards that servicemen get for doing well in the IPPT. CDL also gives employees half-days off to recuperate after ICT.

Companies with a slim workforce, however, admit to feeling helpless at times.

Mr Elango Subramanian, director of Raffles Corporate Advisory Services, which employs 25 workers, said that he has been forced to adjust by hiring those liable for NS to fill less critical positions. The other posts go to older workers. "It's for a practical reason. We have to make money and we have to pay salaries," he said.

But HR analysts say companies are unlikely to turn to foreigners just because they are free from NS commitments.

Foreigners also come with their own set of "baggage", said Mr Martin Gabriel from HRMatters21. When hiring them, companies have to consider home leave, and support for their family and housing.

Experts also say some NSmen's fear of being replaced usually stems from insecurity - even with supportive bosses.

Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at HR consultancy The GMP Group, said that in times of economic crisis, companies would first unload unproductive workers.

"NSmen may fear that their bosses might perceive their absence from work for (meeting their) NS commitments as being unproductive," he explained.

Still, at many workplaces, the camaraderie among colleagues brings peace of mind to NSmen when they don their uniforms.

When 37-year-old Alvin Ng leaves for ICT, his colleagues automatically work together to pick up the slack. "I never have to log in to my laptop or send e-mail," said Mr Ng, who works in logistics. "I can just focus on national service."

A powerful military and social force
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2013

THAT more than 98 per cent of respondents in the first-ever independent survey on national service support the rite of passage may come as a surprise.

Even the top brass of the Defence Ministry and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), including members of the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS), did a double-take and scrutinised the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey to ascertain its veracity.

After all, the same question on whether respondents supported national service (NS) had scored lower (though still more than 90 per cent) in previous annual surveys done by the ministry itself.

Then there are the anxious parents and disgruntled citizen soldiers - full-time national servicemen (NSFs) and operationally-ready national servicemen (NSmen) who have to be recalled for in-camp training - whose grouses are amplified in online forums and social media.

But even given this popular perception that people are resigned to NS rather than embrace it, National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser wasn't surprised by the findings.

Dr Tan, who was not involved in the study, said Singaporeans rated the value of NS highly because they have accepted it as a Singaporean way of life.

A previous IPS survey had also found that 69 per cent of locals felt having a male child who had completed NS was an important characteristic of being "Singaporean". It is also backed by the 1,251 respondents from the latest survey who thought NS was more about instilling discipline and values in young men than national security and survival.

Despite the 0.04 score difference between both factors, the finding confirms that NS may have evolved to become as important an instrument for social change as it is a war-fighting unit.

After 46 years and more than 900,000 enlisted men, this familiar rite of passage would undeniably mean many things to many Singaporeans.

But young men - regardless of background or status - are no longer reporting for duty just to bear rifles, learn how to shoot targets and overrun battle obstacles. Today, our men in green are stepping into a social distillery, where they spend two years stiffening their spines and learning to get along.

But does the public perception of NS being a social leveller take soldiers away from the core business of military operations?

Not likely, even as CSNS members pore over the findings, mull over and submit proposals to the Government on how to improve the commitment to NS.

Back in 1967, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's pitch to the nation for conscription was: "It will take many years - perhaps five, perhaps seven, perhaps 10 years - before we can get the whole machine into gear. But in the end, every boy and girl here will understand that what he or she has in Singapore, he or she must be prepared to fight and defend. Otherwise, it will be lost."

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has also said previously that NS is meant to meet a critical national need, not fulfil social goals.

In his 2010 and 2011 parliamentary speeches as then second defence minister, he said that extending NS beyond its traditional remit would dilute its core purpose of maintaining national security and Singapore's survival.

But as the SAF continues to tighten its grip on its mission to train warriors and machines to fight increasingly complicated and difficult enemies, it should be aware that it is a powerful engine for social change - a message that could also provide an antidote to any remaining perceptions about NS being a necessary evil.

It seems that the country's first defence minister, Dr Goh Keng Swee, was prescient when, in asking Parliament to pass the National Service Bill in 1967, he said: "Nothing creates loyalty and national consciousness more speedily and more thoroughly than participation in defence and membership of the armed forces."

SG+: Making National Service More Relevant

A nation of improbable but implacable soldiers
National defence may be the primary purpose of NS, but that does not mean that its role in character-building is unimportant
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2013

WHITHER the future of National Service as a credible defence institution?

That seems to be the key poser from last week’s Institute of Policy Studies survey’s finding that national service (NS) means more to citizens as a way of instilling discipline and values among the young than as a pillar of national defence.

The study, which canvassed views on NS through 1,251 face-to-face interviews, found that more than nine out of 10 respondents supported the rite of passage.

It is a clear endorsement in the first-ever independent study to be done after 46 years and the enlistment of more than 900,000 men.

Respondents were asked to grade eight different purposes on a scale of one (not important at all) to six (extremely important).

Inculcating values was rated at an average of 4.9, edging out national defence, which was rated at 4.86. Also ranked highly were social factors such as transforming boys to men, building a unique Singaporean identity and promoting understanding among people from different backgrounds.

This has led to some hand- wringing among older NSmen and citizens. Many now wonder if the NS rite of passage has become a two-year enrichment or character-development course instead.

They argue that the sole justification for introducing compulsory military service in 1967 was to build up a defence force that will provide “maximum security at minimum cost”.

NS, as Mr Gerard Ong argued in his letter to The Straits Times Forum on Tuesday, is meant to train national servicemen to fight to win. Lessons of discipline and values that came with the training were incidental, being part and parcel of military life.

He wrote: “We came in wanting to be fighters, not disciplined team players, which we had already learnt how to be by playing team sports or joining school uniformed groups.”

This, in a nutshell, is the dilemma for NS today. Should it buttress its core purpose of building up a defence force at minimum cost? Or should social factors like instilling discipline in successive generations play a role?

Defence still the core

IN FACT, defence remains the raison d’etre of NS.

That NS is now viewed more as an instiller of social values does not take national servicemen away from the core business of defending Singapore’s shores and borders and guaranteeing the country’s survival.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has said previously that NS is meant to meet a critical national need, not to fulfil social goals.

Indeed, the Republic spends billions of dollars every year equipping a modern “third-generation” fighting force. Besides adding new warplanes and tanks to the arsenal, the government also ensures that soldiers undergo tough combat drills under realistic training environments that mimic today’s battlefields.

These efforts, along with building friendly ties with its neighbours, have allowed Singapore to deter potential aggressors in a volatile region. Invariably, this has also made NS a victim of its own success. National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser noted that most people now perceive the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as a “peacetime army that is dealing with no real imminent threat”.

But despite the more benign environment, people still hold NS and the SAF to its defence edict. Ninety-eight per cent of respondents in the IPS survey agreed that NS is necessary for the defence of the country But even in the 1960s and 1970s, the nation’s defence thinkers had in mind that NS would fulfil more than just military aims.

Dr Goh Keng Swee, in asking Parliament to pass the National Service Bill in 1967, also said the four NS branches – the full-time army, the People’s Defence Force, the Vigilante Corps and the Special Constabulary – do not only teach technical skills to national servicemen but also instruct moral values.

“This will teach them what good citizenship means and explain the nature of their social responsibilities.”

They would also form what then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in a 1967 speech called a “reservoir of people who understand discipline, who know the mechanics of self-defence, and who can in an emergency help to defend their own country”.

Digital native soldiers

GONE are the days when you build a man by first breaking him down. Today’s citizen soldiers are digital natives who are smarter, learn faster and are more adaptive.

They learn values in schools as well as in training sheds, as the SAF is already investing time and resources in character-building lessons, through which commanders instil values such as moral resolve, resilience and self-awareness in soldiers.

These enlistees report for duty with their perceptions and prejudices. So it is, as then Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee put it in his 1971 speech at the Armed Forces Day parade, “silly to do nothing in the hope that the matters will right themselves”.

As borne out by the IPS survey, people expect NS to be more than just a defence deterrent.

As former defence chief Bey Soo Khiang once said, the SAF teaches Singaporeans of different races, creeds, classes and education to train and live together.

If NS is looked upon so reverentially as a rite of passage, then it does not lie far beyond this institution’s remit to shoulder a heavier social responsibility.

Simply put, citizen soldiers are not merely vigilant guardians of the country. They also have to be examples of good citizenship.

Critics also forget that behind every weapon or war machine beats the fighting heart and soul of a committed individual soldier. Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz defined war as a contest of opposing wills. Victory goes to the side with the stronger will to win.

Improbable soldiers

DR GOH once said that his impression of the national servicemen he encountered at the entrances of military camps was that they were “improbable soldiers”.

He concluded in his 1978 introduction to Youth In The Army that they were “bespectacled youth of slender proportions, ill at ease in an unaccustomed environment but trying to conceal it”.

Today, however, NSmen are regarded as thinking, tech-savvy soldiers who are smarter, more adaptive and more confident. They have even made a difference abroad, serving alongside career soldiers in overseas peace support and humanitarian relief missions.

In the last 11 years, many have volunteered for tours of duty in trouble spots such as Timor Leste, Afghanistan and the Gulf of Aden.

Looking back at my own full-time NS experience 13 years ago, I may have been that “improbable” soldier.

As a nervous 18-year-old recruit, I wasn’t the fittest of the lot. I scraped through Basic Military Training and made it to what is known today as the Specialist Cadet School to be trained as a Third-Sergeant.

But an ankle injury put me out and I was medically downgraded. For the rest of the two-and-a- half-year stint, I served as an administrative clerk doing paperwork and being involved in setting up a clubhouse for warrant officers and specialists.

Memories of those brief hot, sweaty training days – which included being dressed down by stern commanders, and endless hours on rifle ranges – have faded. But I remember very well the lessons of discipline, duty, respect, teamwork and of mustering myself, and my relationship with others.

I may have learnt a thing or two about soldiering, but the invaluable character-building lessons are what have moulded me into one of the Singaporean sons who form the backbone of the armed forces.

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