Tuesday 14 October 2014

SAF Volunteer Corps registration begins 13 Oct 2014

Flexi-terms for SAF Volunteer Corps
Recruits can fit training around their commitments, drop out at any time
By Jermyn Chow Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2014

REGISTRATION for the new Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps (SAFVC) begins today (Oct 13) - and with it, the chance for recruits to decide how they want to serve their stints and contribute to the country's defence.

Women, first-generation permanent residents and new citizens aged between 18 and 45, who are not liable for national service, will be able to sign up to serve from March next year.

The SAFVC will match their skills and job expertise to their military role. Details of the unit were announced last Friday by Colonel Mike Tan who will command the new set-up. It was created following a year-long review into how to boost support for national service.

Volunteers can choose to stay in camp and undergo a four-week course that will familiarise them with the military's modus operandi. If this does not fit around their commitments, they can also spread out their training sessions over several weekends.

They will have to serve just seven days a year, but can drop out at any time when they feel they can no longer serve - though they must give three months' notice.

Early plans for the new corps had specified up to 14 days of annual service and a minimum three-year enrolment.

However, Col Tan, who will also head a newly formed SAF Volunteers Affairs Department, said this more flexible arrangement does not "take away the seriousness of the commitment".

"You are not likely to give your best if you feel you are being tied down," he said.

"If the volunteer is not able to keep pace with training and found to be unable to follow the training, then maybe it's in everybody's interest to allow the volunteer to leave."

Volunteers will get to choose from 17 vocations during their stints. They include roles such as defence psychologists, medical trainers and airbase civil engineers, who can share their area of expertise with their military counterparts.

The volunteers will serve alongside career soldiers and national servicemen in roles such as patrolling key installations like Changi Airport and sailing with the Republic of Singapore Navy's ships.

If one role does not work out, the volunteers will be able to switch to another.

Candidates will undergo pre-enlistment screening and face an interview panel headed by Col Tan, who is on the lookout for volunteers with the "correct motivations, mainly the desire to serve".

"It's an important commitment... I will want to make sure that the person is coming in with genuine intentions," said Col Tan.

Those who complete their training will wear one of four new ranks on their uniforms - SV1 to SV4.

They will also receive benefits, including an allowance or make-up pay during their in-camp stints.

Employers will be required to release staff for the voluntary stints, while volunteers who skip their call-ups will be penalised under military law.

Col Tan said: "The moment you put on a uniform and proclaim that you are ready to be deployed... we will expect you to uphold our ethos and our military professionalism. For any reason, if you are negligent in your duties... military discipline will be administered."

Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang backed the move not to impose a minimum term of service, saying similar volunteer schemes in other countries do not have one.

He said: "If people want to help, the SAF should not turn them away, but if they need to leave for whatever reason, the SAF should just allow them to."

About 100 to 150 volunteers are expected to be enlisted in three batches next year.

The volunteer corps was one of 30 recommendations made by the Committee to Strengthen National Service.

It is one of several schemes already in place for people who wish to volunteer or extend their services to the SAF.

More flexible obligations for volunteer corps
Changes include being able to switch roles midway, no minimum service period
By Xue Jianyue, TODAY, 13 Oct 2014

In a bid to lower the hurdles for those keen to volunteer their time towards the Republic’s defence, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has relaxed the obligations on members of its new Volunteer Corps.

Not only can volunteers opt to switch roles midway through their stint, but there will also be no minimum period of service imposed on them — the SAF had previously set a three-year floor. The number of days they can expect to be called up each year has also been slashed by half to seven days.

In addition, the mandatory four-week training volunteers will have to undergo before they are deployed has been made more flexible: Recruits get to choose between attending modular courses on weekends and in-camp training.

Explaining these changes at a media briefing last Friday, the commander of the new SAF Volunteer Corps, Colonel Mike Tan, said the aim was to allow a wider pool to step forward and serve.

Despite these relaxations, the commitment expected of these volunteers has not changed, he stressed.

“The moment you put on your uniform and proclaim that you are ready to be deployed, we will expect you to uphold our ethos and military professionalism,” said Col Tan at Maju Camp, where the unit will be headquartered.

Similar to national servicemen, volunteers who are negligent in their duties or skip call-ups will be subject to disciplinary action, he added. Deferment requests will be considered under circumstances such as on compassionate grounds, examinations and having a new business or job.

Currently, soldiers who go absent without official leave can be punished with detention at the SAF Detention Barracks.

Applications for the inaugural batch of the SAF Volunteer Corps scheme — targeted at women, new citizens and first-generation permanent residents between the ages of 18 and 45 — open today, with training commencing in March next year. Volunteers can choose to serve in wide-ranging fields in the land, sea and air forces — from operational deployments, such as Auxiliary Security Trooper and Bridge Watchkeeper, to professional roles such as legal specialist staff and doctors — alongside regular soldiers in active units.

The SAF plans to recruit 100 to 150 such volunteers over a year through three recruitment drives.

Outlining the details of the training and deployment for these volunteers, the SAF said all trainees need to undergo two weeks of basic training on soldiering skills and knowledge, including physical training as well as learning to fire an SAR21 rifle and throw a grenade. They must also go through a field camp. In addition, they will be taught basic first aid.

In the second phase of training, which takes one week, volunteers will be prepared for the roles they will be deployed to. For example, a nurse will receive training at the SAF Medical Training Institute.

Those who take on roles that are more demanding will undergo an additional one-week advanced training. Auxiliary security troopers, for instance, will learn weapon handling, marksmanship, rules of engagement and Military Police Close Combat.

All training sessions can be continuous stay-in sessions or modular courses held over a series of weekends. Trainees will also be allowed to drop out if they are unable to take the rigour, said Col Tan. Volunteers who wish to leave the SAFVC can do so by informing the commander three months in advance.

But Col Tan said the motivations of applicants will be assessed through interviews. They must also fulfil prerequisites for the role they applied for and go through a medical screening.

Successful applicants will receive a letter of enlistment and an SAF card and will be required to take an oath of allegiance.

Among the service benefits they will get are meal and transport allowances, and 50 eMart credits — to purchase personal equipment — for every year of completed service.

Volunteers will also be given leeway to change their deployments. For example, an 18-year-old who is heading for undergraduate studies as a medical student can first serve as an auxiliary security trooper. Upon graduation, he could ask to be deployed as a medical officer, said Col Tan.

Singapore PRs plan to sign up to fulfil aspirations
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2014

AFTER hanging up his army boots a decade ago, Mr Calven Bland is thirsting for another spell in the military.

The New Zealand-born Singapore permanent resident (PR), who was a logistician with the New Zealand Army for 12 years before coming to Singapore in 2005, plans to sign up with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Volunteer Corps as a security trooper.

The 42-year-old, and others who are interested in getting a "stint" in the military, can sign up as military volunteers today.

Mr Bland, who is married to a Singaporean, said he is stepping up to be a volunteer as he admires the common bond that Singaporean males share as national servicemen.

"I get a little jealous when they have something common to talk about... after 10 years in Singapore, I would want to be part of the brotherhood," said the business development manager in a marine construction firm.

The father-to-be added: "If I expect my son to serve, as his father, I have to do something that is similar in nature... it's as close as I'm going to get to defending the country."

Vietnam-born PR Dao Tuan Son, 30, who has also been in Singapore for 10 years, said he wanted to go beyond the day-to-day acts of volunteerism to serve the country that has groomed him into what he is today.

The commercial analyst at General Electric Oil and Gas, who is also keen to sign up as a security trooper, said: "Everybody can donate but not everyone can be an SAF volunteer... it's a challenge that is well worth it."

While people like Mr Bland and Mr Son are stepping forward as volunteers to fulfil their personal aspirations, the SAF also benefits from the sharing of their expertise.

Major Alvin Phua, who heads the Air Force National Servicemen Branch in the Air Manpower Department, said volunteers with engineering expertise can act as consultants and share their industries' best practices to "improve work processes" in the air force.

Pharmacist and part-time polytechnic lecturer Jeremy Wong Weng Joon, 29, a Malaysia-born PR, said he is keen to sign up as a medical trainer.

Although he has yet to inform his employer about his intentions, he is confident that he will get the go-ahead. "If they support NSmen, why not volunteers?"

Volunteers in green: Has the army gone soft?
Not serious enough. Too easy. Brickbats have been flung at the military volunteer corps to be set up next year. But such objections miss the mark.
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE'S early settlers set up its first military volunteer corps in 1854.

Amid bloody clashes between rival Hokkien and Teochew clans, the European Community needed to bolster internal security.

The European residents, led by British officers, formed the first corps. The Chinese and Indians also joined the Corps later. Called the Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps, it was initially run on private funds, and members had to use their own weaponry.

Since then, tens of thousands have served in the corps, which was later renamed the Singapore Volunteer Corps and reorganised to become the People's Defence Force.

They fought alongside the British during World War II, repelled the communists during Konfrontasi and helped quell riots in the 1960s. The volunteer corps was disbanded in 1984 due to a lack of resources.

Today, the military volunteer movement is being revived, in the form of the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps.

But this time round, it is not forged out of necessity.

Singapore has been fortunate to have had 49 years of peace since Independence. The Singapore Armed Forces has become one of the most advanced militaries in the region.

Full-time National Service (NS), or military conscription of males at age 18, first started in 1967. Today, 98 per cent support NS, as shown in a recent Institute of Policy Studies survey.

The aim of the SAF Volunteer Corps is to give those who are not liable for National Service but want to contribute to the nation's defence, a way to do so. This includes women, first-generation permanent residents and new citizens who are aged between 18 and 45.

But before it even enlists its first recruits in March next year, some critics have already started to question if the efforts are worth the time and money.

With a fighting strength of 300,000 career soldiers and national servicemen (NSmen), some wonder if there is a real need for the SAF to recruit more people to take up tokenistic advisory roles in airbases and medical centres or carry out mundane tasks like patrolling Changi Airport.

With more than 900,000 young men who have gone through NS since 1967, some say a more flexible volunteer scheme belittles the iconic institution.

Singapore males spend two years doing full-time NS. After that, they are due for annual military training of up to 40 days for at least 10 years.

Volunteers, however, go through only up to four weeks of basic training and are required to serve only up to seven days a year.

They also get the leeway to drop out of the volunteer corps at any time.

Those resentful of first-generation PRs argue that the Volunteer Corps is a piecemeal effort to reduce the perceived inequality between those who do NS and those who do not.

But these objections miss the mark.

Not a must-have

FIRST, the argument that SAF does not need further reinforcements is beside the point. The volunteer scheme is not, in the first place, aimed at bolstering manpower.

While it is true that SAF volunteers are being taught the art of war, SAF volunteers are not likely to be caught in the heat of battle.

This is unlike their counterparts in other military volunteer schemes like the United States National Guard, the Australian Army Reserves and UK Army Reserves, who get called up for active duty in a war or national emergency.

For instance, more than 890,000 reservists - and counting - have been activated for US-led military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

In Britain, defence planners are doubling the army reserves to 30,000 to make up for the shortfall of troops as full-time soldiers are being axed due to cost-cutting measures.

The SAF, on the other hand, will continue to depend on its regulars and NSmen to be the main force defending Singapore, as Singapore has enough of them to make up the full fighting strength. They are also better trained than volunteers can be.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said as much when he first announced the volunteer arm a year ago. Volunteers, he stressed, are not a "strategic asset".

"Whether you have it or you don't doesn't critically determine how effective your military force is," said Dr Ng.

No perks

SECOND, the idea that volunteering is meant to help first generation PRs and new citizens "close the gap" between regular citizens is misguided.

Signing up for the volunteer corps does not entitle them to any additional benefits.

Those working get their salaries paid by the Government when they get called up to serve, while the self-employed get an allowance to make up for lost earnings. But beyond this, they get nothing more than the satisfaction of volunteering. In fact, the converse is true: These people step forward to serve not for benefits, but because they want to feel part of this country and want to contribute.

As Dr Ng put it: If there are individuals who want to contribute, "we should make space for (them)".

Simply put, the SAF Volunteer corps is not a must-have, but rather a good-to-have.

A recent Institute of Policy Studies survey of 1,251 people on NS, showed that eight in 10 said they wanted to serve "in a professional role" or as a volunteer to "help out in NS events".

Good response

THE response has been positive so far. More than a week after registration opened, more than 200 have applied, surpassing the estimated 100 to 150. Among them, four in 10 are non-Singaporeans and a quarter are women.

If these people are willing to don military fatigues and fight alongside career and citizen soldiers, why should they be denied the chance?

As defence strategist Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart put it, "to foster people's willing spirit is often as important as to possess the more concrete forms of power".

Of course, those keen to play a more active role must acknowledge that military service is serious business, in which all servicemen and women are trained to defend every citizen. They should also be mindful that their service as volunteers does not put them in the same category as full-time national servicemen, or NSFs, who go through a lot more.

As it is, a huge amount of money, resources and time will be invested to house, feed and train SAF volunteers going through the month-long course to teach them basic soldiering skills, like firing a rifle and throwing a grenade.

This is part of the reason why volunteers take the same Oath of Allegiance as the soldiers. Once called up for service, they face disciplinary action if they skip duty without a valid reason.

As SAF Volunteer Corps commander Mike Tan said: "The moment you put on a uniform and proclaim that you are ready to be deployed... we will expect you to uphold our ethos and our military professionalism. For any reason, if you are negligent in your duties... military discipline will be administered."

Critics are right in demanding those who step forward must contribute meaningfully.

The last thing anyone wants is for the SAF Volunteers Corp to be seen by parents and teenage girls as an adventure camp to stiffen spines and have volunteers leave once they have had enough of green fatigues. Worse yet, for citizenship-hopefuls to exploit the Corps as an expedient solution to get their pink ICs.

There are some filters that are in place to weed out those looking to exploit the programme. Volunteers have to go through face-to-face interviews that one hopes will be rigorous.

Another suggestion that has been frequently mooted is making volunteers serve a minimum period of, say, three years.

But it is counter-intuitive for a volunteer scheme to impose a minimum term of service if well-meaning PRs or women genuinely feel they cannot put up with more. Putting more roadblocks and tying down volunteers who no longer believe in the cause does not guarantee their loyalty and commitment.

As the SAF celebrates its Golden Jubilee next year, whether it will continue to secure peace for another 50 years will depend on how the SAF can successfully tap into the aspirations of those who step forward to serve.

Even if they join the army for just a brief spell, this new corps of volunteers will leave knowing the sacrifice and privilege of being part of the military service - and just for that, the nation will be better off for it.

Volunteer corps allows more to play a part in national defence

WE WELCOME feedback from the public on the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps (SAFVC) ("Initial success depends on applicants" by Mr Kwan Jin Yao and "Issues with volunteer soldiers" by Mr Lee Yong Se, both published last Monday; and "Transform volunteer corps into military reserve force" by Mr Chew Kok Liang, last Wednesday) and look forward to engaging our future volunteers.

The SAFVC is the first uniformed service scheme that will provide more Singaporeans and permanent residents with the opportunity to contribute to national defence, show support for national service (NS) and deepen their understanding and ownership of national defence.

Other existing volunteer schemes within the SAF allow national servicemen to continue serving beyond their NS obligations, as well as for Singaporeans who are experts from the private and public sectors to serve on the Ministry of Defence's boards and committees.

The success of the SAFVC will depend on the commitment of volunteers to give their best while serving in their respective roles.

Volunteers will be carefully selected, taking into account their motivation, aptitude and experience, to ensure that they are suitable for military service.

Volunteers will also undergo medical and security screening processes similar to those for our national servicemen.

The SAF takes the contributions and proficiency of volunteers seriously. They will be trained to the required standards before they are deployed. This emphasis will ensure that volunteers continually improve their skills in order to contribute meaningfully to our country's defence and security.

In evaluating the SAFVC, the context of Singapore's defence must be taken into consideration. NS is the cornerstone of Singapore's defence, and every national serviceman is an essential part of the SAF.

The training that our national servicemen undertake ensures that the SAF is operationally ready to deal with a range of security threats and challenges.

The roles and expectations of volunteers are different as they will be trained and deployed in roles that support the duties of our national servicemen.

Mike Tan Cheow Khai (Colonel)
SAF Volunteer Corps
ST Forum, 27 Oct 2014

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