Sunday, December 13, 2009

Defending What's (Y)ours! National Service Deaths and Grievances

The following letter was sent to me on Nov 18 from MINDEF.

I refer to your email dated 1 Nov 2009, requesting for clarification on whether MINDEF would be able to pay for your school fees in the event that you are unable to complete your course.

National Service (NS) is a duty to the nation. MINDEF recognises that it is not possible to fully compensate every National Serviceman (NSman) for his sacfrifice and commitment towards NS. Nonetheless, as mentioned in our earlier reply, MINDEF recognises NSmen’s contribution by providing them with service pay for each day of call-up, and make-up pay if they suffer a loss of income due to the call-up. NSmen also enjoy additional allocations in growth dividend schemes such as the Progress Package. MINDEF also tries to minimise any inconvenience to our NSmen by providing them with up to six month’s notice on their NS training.

We understand that you were called up for a two-and-a-half-week training which had caused some disruption to your thesis research and writing. For this reason, you had request for MINDEF to pay for your school fees in the event that you are unable to complete your course. MINDEF recognises your sacrifice made for NS but this sacrifice would be applicable to every other NSman as well, though they may be in other forms. We regret to inform you that MINDEF is unable to accede to your request.

XXX for Permanent Secretary Ministry of Defence

In other words, NO.

The abovementioned logic would be like the following: Well, I recognise the sacrifices made by the PAP for this nation, but I regret to inform the PAP that I will not be voting for them.

I read the news of Alex Tan of the Young PAP being banned from Facebook. I think what is worse is the knowledge that he was put into the detention barracks for five days, for allegedly blogging about (alleged) operational matters.

I guess the number of NS deaths is more an operational matter than public opinion.

What is certain is that you cannot and must not criticse National Service, SAF and MINDEF when you are in uniform! It is a cardinal sin. Like WWE’s/WWF’s icon Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock, you must “know your role and shut your mouth”.

Look at the rank on your sleeve/shoulder and shut up. When someone of a higher rank asks you for your opinion or feedback, you should just shut up. When you want to criticise the military, you do so in the capacity as a tax-paying civilian, and not as a member of the military.

You should not talk about operations, reveal your rank, your unit, the names of your superiors, but focus on the matter at hand instead. If the contention is with policy, stay on the path of the discussion. Don’t stray and twirl around the mine-field. The rules of confidentiality (breaches) are like huge nets that serve not only to protect training and operations confidentiality, but also double up as public relations/communications management. When we talk about public relations/communications management, it is about safeguarding MINDEF from embarrassment, erosion of public trust, faith and confidence in the organisation.

Singaporeans are the biggest stakeholders in MINDEF and national defence. In order to “make” them trust and be confident of the organisation, information needs to be controlled. You don’t need to fabricate or tell lies; you just have to disseminate the favourable bits of information to the public. Yup, favourable information, favourable truths – like enhanced safety procedures and serviceman welfare systems (despite the presence of injuries, deaths and suicides and the follow-up cover-ups, which is an unfavourable truth), or the Malay Brigadier General (despite their continual disproportionate representation in the army in general).

The problem is that critics of National Service often have the wrong or no rules of engagement with the institution of National Service. You just do not tell (true) stories of what happens in camp or during training to the public. MINDEF will definitely find a way to punish you, by saying that you have compromised confidentiality.

You should engage policy. Engage the nature of unfair treatment, bullying or torture. Do not engage personalities, because the government always prowls the internet for such things, which is very ironic. The government is funded by Singaporeans to spy on Singaporeans.

If you feel national service is a waste of time, you should say so out of uniform and make sure your name is not preceded by a rank. Make an argument without any expletives. Criticise with simple words and short sentences, so that the government will be able to engage you. Number your points, so that the government will be able to answer your questions and address your points, although they only care about the buzzwords being raised, rather than the questions themselves.

If you want to write a long essay expressing your loss of faith in NS, don’t do it. Just put all your feelings into one sentence, like “I don’t like the idea of NS, don’t support it, and have no faith in it” for example. Wow, that’s really strong. (But personally, if National Service was voluntary, I would have considered serving. But my national service experience is fraught with budget constraints, bullying, time-wasting, poor communications, threats, etc. such that being proficient in something takes probably 10 times the time it would normally take)

National Service is such a touchy thing, because it protects itself and its interests. The only way to beat it is to outgrow it – grow old.


utopia said...

I see otherwise, NSFs should be encouraged to speak up if they dislike NS. it is only through criticisms that the SAF will mature and strengthen. we don't want to have conscripts firing at their own commanders or form regenade forces to fight the SAF in times of emergencies because the SAF system has screwed them real bad during peace time.

Sam Ho said...

that's when the rule will kick in and the NSF who gives "feedback" will be, for example, charged of insubordination.

it's ridiculous but scary

conscience said...

Don't blog about it. Just cc mails to all the ranks up to ministerial level. At least you won't get thrown into barracks. Punished for blogging about operational matters and get it publicised and smeared by the young PAP as if you have committed some crime. Geesh. They forgot Tharman himself breached the OSA!

PanzerGrenadier said...

To me, NS is fast becoming an anarchonism in today's world of globalisation and connectivity.

How are we NSmen to compete effectively in what the State has made a open global market in labour when my productivity as a worker was hampered by annual 2 days to 3 weeks ICT, annual IPPT, operational manning, etc.

The State opened the floodgates that basically see intense competition for jobs in most sectors and virtually all levels and ranks. As an NSmen, I am DISADVANTAGED because employers see my annual ICT as LIABILITIES to the organisational productivity and effectiveness.

For all companies lip-service about being supportive of NS, which company is happy to let his key people go away for 2-3 weeks while the project gets delayed, dealt with poorly by the people temporarily covering for the NSmen who is away playing soldier for the State in Lim Chu Kang?

One of the happiest days of my life besides seeing my daughter born was my Mindef Reserve date.

Majullah Singapura.

raynorgan said...


The reason why MINDEF cannot possibly reimburse you on your studies is largely because of limited resources. Frankly speaking, reservist without disruption is impossible. To reimburse everyone who's affected is simply ridiculous. There's no one-size-fits-all policy that will satisfy everyone.

In your case, MINDEF cannot give your a blatant NO for obvious reasons. I'm sure you're capable of understanding this rationale.

As for blogging on military life and providing feedback, I'm sure one can do so in the capacity of a soldier.

The military have to be harsh on soldiers disclosing operations because doing so can reveal sensitive training areas, training methodologies and equipment.

Then again, this entry veered off point from unpleasant military experiences to government criticisms. The SAF and government should be viewed as separate entities.

True enough that the government's policies affect the SAF's policies directly, but it will be inappropriate and unfair to attribute every fault to the SAF directly eh?

I agree that perhaps it will be better if we do not have conscription in place. Conscription is here to stay because of obvious economic reasons as well - we do not have enough manpower and resources to support a full regular force.

Personally, I don't believe in individuals claiming to serve the military when given a choice. They may well be interested to serve today and recant the very next day.

There are sound reasons although not necessarily most acceptable for certain things to happen that way, e.g. having a Malay Brigadier General or having enhanced safety procedures.

But what will you do if you were the one making decisions?

Sam Ho said...

interesting point about globalisation and NS.

raynor, what will i do? sounds like what a seasoned politician will ask.

i'll give myself the reimbursement to back up the rhetoric of "recognition" and "appreciation".

the SAF and the govt are separate, but when you have high-ranking NSmen in parliament, the lines become blurred. categorically heterogeneous entities may have their interests bleed into one another.

it is unfair to attribute everything to SAF. we can't give it too much credit any way. did i make it look like that? sorry.

we should just save up the 6% of our GDP for like 5 years and make a fat-ass nuclear missile, and turn woodlands into a silo with laser turrets guarding it. then we can get the gurkhas and other foreign talents to run on the treadmills that power the facility. defence of singapore FTW

raynorgan said...

I count myself lucky for the times when I have superiors who are receptive to feedback coming from junior servicemen. I also realise that in order to effect changes, it will be easier to convince them with suggestions rather than voicing out discontent, otherwise, feedback will reduce to a cacophony of complaints.

I can't help but think that financial constraints are genuine reasons why MINDEF couldn't reimburse your school fees. We could argue paying the ministers less and topping up on the incentives to show more appreciation and recognition.

But we know it wouldn't happen. It's akin to asking the University not to charge a single cent for education in the good spirit of continual learning. We just know it wouldn't happen that way.

There just isn't the right solution, just make the best out of what we have.

Sam Ho said...

true. touchy topic on university fees and education in general.

i'm all for free education! free health-care too! if me and my family get these things, i'll serve NS with a smile! heck i'll be first in line to in-pro!

Rational Scientific Economist said...

What you guys seem to miss out on is if there is no compulsory NS, who would actually sign up to protect our nation?

Already most Singaporeans lack a national identity much less pride and loyalty to defend our homeland.

Sacrifices must be made and it is our 'loss' for someone's 'gain' but the bigger question is why are we so calculative? Kindness, selflessness and gallantry are so lacking in modern Singapore.

@ raynorgan, the SAF and the government CANNOT be viewed as unrelated entities because they are one and the same! In fact the culture of politicians are quite similar to military personnel.

Alvin said...

Well written article. Sums up precisely what I feel about NS/MINDEF. Waste of time. Arrogant. Out of touch. Refuse to engage. Refuse to communicate. Hide behind military laws.