Wednesday 20 November 2013

More regulars needed to train NSFs: Minister

This will free up NSF instructors under proposals to boost training
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 19 Nov 2013

MORE career soldiers will need to be hired to train full-time national servicemen (NSFs).

This will free up the NSFs that are now conducting the training, so that they can take up combat roles in ground units.

As part of proposals to beef up the NS training system, Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing said the army will need 15 per cent more regulars to replace NSFs who now serve as instructors in training schools such as the Basic Military Training Centre.

Today, the ratio of the army's regular corps to NSFs is "extremely low", said Mr Chan, although he did not give figures. Growing a cadre of experienced career soldiers to teach fledgling soldiers will improve the training system "at a much faster rate".

This is because the seasoned hands can incorporate lessons into training quickly, rather than have new NSF trainers "recycle and relearn the lessons all over again", said Mr Chan.

But even as the army relooks its training and manpower needs, Mr Chan said the prospect of getting more people to join the army is a "big challenge" in a tight labour market. The manpower shortage is worsened by the shrinking number of young men enlisting in the coming years.

Adding new hires, Mr Chan said, could include bringing back more retired SAF personnel, and boosting the number of women and civilian contractors.

Today, these three groups serve in roles such as intelligence analysts and shooting range trainers, even as the SAF works to double its female population and farms out more training functions to civilians.

Mr Chan spoke to reporters after meeting members of the Support for NS panel at Paya Lebar Airbase yesterday.

The working group, part of the high-level Committee to Strengthen National Service chaired by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, is finalising its proposals on how to improve and streamline the NS training system.

Other ideas discussed yesterday included how to optimise the "downtime" for young men before and after their NS stints.

Many wait a total of seven to eight months, between school and NS, and between NS and university.

Suggestions included offering short-term contracts to men who have completed their NS stints so they can continue to serve in the SAF, Home Team agencies, or even the upcoming Youth Corps which encourages young people to do community work.

Mr Chan, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development, said a "more eclectic" NS system may be designed to allow those who want fast-paced training to be enlisted earlier.

The aim, he said, is to ensure NS training is more efficient and "meaningfully makes use of their (servicemen's) time".

Student Teo Shaowei, who will be enlisted next year, said instructional stints allow NSFs to pick up people management and leadership skills. But focusing on combat duties will mean learning skills crucial for the battlefield.

"It's about being equipped physically and mentally to do the right thing when faced with a real-life situation," he said.

Earlier Napfa test for pre-enlistees from poly, ITE?
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 19 Nov 2013

NATIONAL service-bound males from polytechnics and institutes of technical education (ITEs) could take the National Physical Fitness Award (Napfa) test a year earlier, under proposed changes to raise their fitness levels.

Those who fail to get at least a silver award - the minimum requirement for pre-enlistees - will be put through a programme to get them in shape before they report for duty, said Second Defence Minister Chan Chun Sing.

Currently, polytechnic and ITE students take the Napfa test in their final year, with some even leaving it till two weeks before they are enlisted.

Mr Chan said the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is exploring with the schools a scheme that could be similar to the military's voluntary fitness programme, which allows less-fit operationally ready national servicemen to prepare for the Individual Physical Proficiency Test. The SAF regime comprises 10 training sessions over nine months or less.

With the proposed extra coaching, less-fit students get more time to train up and meet the Napfa test requirements. All pre-enlistees have to get at least a silver for the Napfa test to skip an eight-week physical training programme, which lengthens their NS.

Mr Chan, who sits on the Committee to Strengthen National Service, said getting pre-enlistees in shape will allow the SAF to use the soldiers' time "more purposefully without having to spend too much time on preparing the person to be fit".

About 60 per cent of final- year polytechnic and ITE students fail to get at least a silver for their Napfa test each year. In contrast, only about 20 per cent of their counterparts from junior colleges, integrated programme schools and centralised institutes fail to meet the mark.

One reason polytechnic students fare worse is that they do not have compulsory physical education classes - unlike in JC, for example - although polytechnics say final-year students can opt for fitness modules or schemes that focus on cardio- endurance and strength conditioning. In Singapore Polytechnic, about 160 students sign up for the hour-long weekly classes.

As part of a pilot programme, Singapore Polytechnic also puts first-year students through a compulsory two-hour-long physical fitness programme each week, said its director for student development, Mr Choo Keng Hui.

The three ITE colleges have also lengthened the weekly one-hour physical fitness lessons to two hours.

Keen to join new SAF volunteer corps?
Duties may include patrolling critical installations and treating wounded soldiers
By Jermyn Chow, The Sunday Times, 17 Nov 2013

Those keen to join the new Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps may have to perform duties such as patrolling critical installations, treating wounded soldiers or managing crowds at major events like the National Day Parade.

The SAF has identified these and other likely areas where members of the Volunteers Corps can help out.

Those with specialist skills in medicine, law and IT may also contribute in their areas of expertise.

Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing told reporters of the possible roles for volunteers after hosting a townhall session yesterday attended by about 90 people, who also offered their views on how the Volunteer Corps should be set up.

The discussion held at The Chevrons clubhouse was facilitated by the Committee to Strengthen National Service, which hopes to finalise its proposals which are due early next year.

While Mr Chan, who sits on the committee, said there is room for volunteers to play their part, he stressed that those who step forward must share the military's common set of values and ethos.

"I think they would mentally be prepared that this will be a much more organised form of activity where there is a very clear purpose and mission, whereby through the process, they will also feel engaged and have a certain sense of mission," added the former chief of army.

The latest news comes after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced last month that a new military volunteer arm will be set up for those who are exempt from national service but want to do their bit for the country's defence.

Women and first-generation permanent residents in their 30s and 40s are among those targeted to play "meaningful military roles" in the Volunteer Corps, said Dr Ng.

Just like national servicemen, volunteers will have to don uniforms, undergo combat training and be available for regular call-up.

Those who are not medically or combat-fit may be assigned to support roles such as logistics.

Mr Chan said yesterday that those who sign up as volunteers will be selected based on their suitability for the different jobs. As volunteers come with different skill sets and abilities, the onus is on the SAF to design a flexible system within the Volunteer Corps for such a purpose, he added.

The SAF is also exploring the idea of giving national servicemen more opportunities to fulfil their aspirations to assume leadership positions such as officers and specialists, said Mr Chan.

He revealed that nine in 10 recruits surveyed have said they want to become commanders.

About 30 per cent of national service enlistees enter command and leadership positions.

But Mr Chan stressed that servicemen, regardless of their ranks, can also lead. "Every soldier is a leader… so it goes beyond the rank. It is actually about the skill set that we want to equip our soldiers with to become a leader when he is called upon."

Ms K. Vataramathi, 50, who is self-employed, said she is looking forward to signing up as a volunteer. "It must come from your heart rather than expecting or asking to be paid or recognised," said the mother of three children.

Artists seeking NS deferment need ‘convincing’ proof of potential
By Kenneth Cheng, TODAY, 16 Nov 2013

Young male artists seeking National Service (NS) deferment will have to “convincingly” show that it is necessary for them to practise full-time and that they have the potential to achieve “outstanding results” at top international competitions for their applications to be considered.

The Defence Ministry (MINDEF) said this yesterday, following renewed calls from several arts practitioners for a more flexible approach to help Singapore produce top-notch talent in the arts arena. The latest calls were made in the wake of last month’s move to grant swimmer Joseph Schooling deferment from NS until after the 2016 Olympics to allow the 18-year-old to train full-time.

Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) for the arts Janice Koh noted that artists — particularly classical musicians and dancers — are “not unlike” sportsmen in that they, too, are required to be in “top physical form” and can find success “at a relatively young age”.

Ms Koh, citing talented young musicians who have attained some measure of artistic excellence in their youth, is of the view that military training during this “critical” period could “potentially disrupt or jeopardise their chances of international success”.

Agreeing, conductor and music director Adrian Tan said the early years of an artist’s development would determine “the trajectory of his career”.

While Singapore has invested heavily in institutions, such as the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, “it takes more than just financial support and education for us to succeed in the arts ... Other aspects of Singaporean society, perhaps including NS policy, should look to playing a part”, he added.

When contacted, MINDEF Director of Public Affairs, Colonel Kenneth Liow, said the ministry does consider NS deferments for “exceptional talents in both the arts and sports who can achieve national pride for Singapore”. “Individuals to be considered will have to show convincingly that the deferment is necessary for them to practise full-time and (that they) have the potential to achieve outstanding results at top international competitions.”

“Individuals who have met these criteria ... and who have been granted deferment in the past were violinist Lim Chun and pianist Lim Yan.” MINDEF said it assesses all such applications in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

Between 1999 and 2009, MINDEF had granted deferments for limited periods on “less than 10 occasions”, said then Second Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in a 2009 parliamentary speech.

Dancer Goh Shou Yi, 24, is one artist who wished he had been granted an NS deferment. Drafted in August 2010, he had to temporarily put on hold his dreams of pursuing a one-year dance programme at Purchase College, State University of New York, after his applications for NS deferment were rejected.

MINDEF has disallowed deferments for university studies since end-2005. Currently, young men liable for NS may be granted deferment to complete their studies up to GCE A-Levels, polytechnic diploma or an equivalent level before enlistment. Before completing NS, Mr Goh re-submitted his applications for admission to Purchase College and a National Arts Council scholarship — and was successful in both instances.

Another dancer, however, would prefer to enlist now, rather than defer for a few years — even though Mr Thaddaeus Low is concerned that military training would put his body, his “instrument”, at risk. The 18-year-old, who is due to enlist next year, explained that it would be difficult to determine an artist’s peak. Unlike sportsmen, he said: “There isn’t a competition or a time in your career when you can define the peak of an artist.”

While Ms Koh does not expect exceptions to be made for all artists, the NMP hopes that “top-tier professionals” could be shown more flexibility when it comes to NS deferment or deployment. “For these gifted young artists, there is ... a critical window of opportunity that could, potentially, be lost forever,” she said.

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