Everybody’s Favourite Punching Bag Series: National Service

I regret not doing much better during NS 20-odd years ago.

I regret not distinguishing myself during BMT. I regret not becoming a commissioned officer. I regret not trying to get a Sword of Honour.

I had the opportunity and I just let it go.

Of course, my reasons at the time were understandable and no different from the other guys.

I hated NS. I resented having to waste 2.5 years of my life in NS. I was angry at being delayed three years into NUS while the girls in my class forged ahead and got a headstart in their careers.

And I hated everything about the Army.

I hated the food. I hated the physical exercise. I hated the drill. I hated the SOC. I hated the Rifle PT. I hated the Log PT. I hated the IPPT, especially the Standing Broad Jump.

I hated the area cleaning. I hated the inspections, the stand-by-beds, the knock-it-down pushups.

I hated the heat. I hated the smell. I hated the sweat. I hated the mosquitoes. I even hated my BMT POP Function because I had no girlfriend to bring with me.

I hated the stupid SAF procedures, processes and paperwork. I hated the 1206, which I had to sign numerous times because I lost things. I hated the punishments– extra drill, extra guard duty, extra daily reporting– that I incurred.

I hated the officers and NCO’s in Tekong who were there just to torture us during BMT. Later on, I would also hate the politicking regulars in my unit, who were always just playing games to try to advance their “careers” while trying to “siam” the annual IPPT and SOC tests.

I really hated how they always threatened to “charge” me for any infraction.

Even after my ROD, I continued to hate the SAF because I had to serve all my high-key and low-key ICT while other guys I knew went straight into the Mindef Internal Holding Lists and never heard from the SAF for years. In contrast, my first high-key training took place during my NUS 1st year vacation, barely nine months  after ROD, and I completed my 13-year cycle by the time I was 35.

Of course, I also hated those who “deferred” or “disrupted” for both full-time NS and reservist, because my disruption and deferment requests were never approved.

I also hated the recall manning and mobilization exercises.

In short, I hated everything there was to hate about the Army. So I definitely would not have accepted a commission, even if they gave it to me on a silver platter, because I believed it the height of stupidity to stretch my reservist obligation to 50 when I could end it at 40.

But I see now that I was wrong to have such a negative attitude towards NS.

True, I did not volunteer, I was conscripted and compelled to join the Army. But everybody was–even those who deferred or disrupted were eventually called up.

True, if I’d made it as an officer, I would have had to shoulder more responsibility, carry greater accountability, book in earlier and book out later than the rest of the men, serve more reservist training and stay 10 years longer in the reserves than them.

But if I’d made it as a commissioned officer, my life would likely have changed for the better. I would be a better leader and better manager of men, I would be mentally and physically tougher, I would know how to plan better, I would know how to play office politics better, I would be more self-confident, I would have got a headstart in my career relative to other guys.

And if I’d distinguished myself, eg by winning the Sword of Honour, my career would really have taken off– and I don’t just mean getting a President’s Scholarship.

Because being an officer is really about distinguishing yourself, showing to employers that you are the top 10% of all the (male) fresh grads that he could possibly employ. And if you can show that you are elite– by winning a Sword of Honour or even just getting into West Point or Sandhurst through an exchange programme– then you move yourself from the top 10% to the top 1%.

In the US, they have an all-volunteer force, and those who graduate from West Point proudly put it in their CV’s as a mark of distinction. And if they have combat experience, medals and honors, they put that in too. Companies like that, because it shows patriotism in a candidate. It also helps in the future too, should they ever decide to join politics.

But I didn’t understand these things when I was 18, and I had no one to advise me. All I saw was the never-ending obligation, the meaningless drudgery of Army life, the unfairness of it all simply because I was born a Singaporean. I never saw that I could use my time in the SAF to distinguish myself and leapfrog over other guys in my career.

Now, 20-odd years later, young Singaporeans’ attitudes towards NS have changed somewhat. I assume most guys still hate NS for the same reasons I did. But more than that, they question why we can’t shorten NS, and they are pissed off at how NS handicaps them against “foreign talent” in the job market.

Some even feel that because they have done NS, they should be entitled to more benefits from the Govt, and they are particularly angry that they can’t get university places despite having done NS while the Govt gives so many scholarships to foreign students to study at NUS and NTU.

Lim ZiRui even made his famous “I don’t know what I’m defending any more” speech, which showed the angst young Singaporeans feel at doing NS in country where more than 20% of the resident population are foreigners with no such obligations.

From a political writings perspective, I can only say that times have changed, that young people expect more nowadays, and that young people question more nowadays.

They still resent NS, but it is different from my kind of resentment 20-odd years ago. They blame NS for handicapping them in job opportunities and promotions against foreigners. They feel that the Govt has made use of them, but given them nothing in return relative to what PR’s get– no guaranteed HDB flats, no guaranteed university places, no legislation to stop employers from discriminating against NSmen who have to disappear for a few weeks each year to serve their reservist obligations.

What can the Govt do to regain young people’s trust when so much resentment, so much frustration and so many sensitive but unrelated issues have been thrown into a volatile mix?


Can these young people ever understand that NS has nothing to do with NUS or even NTU? Can they accept that how many graduates Singapore should have each year is not a function of how many young men have served NS, and that serving NS is not an entitlement for a university place?

Rightly or wrongly, the Govt has set a target of 25% of each cohort to receive a public university education, and the cutoff for that target has nothing to do with who served NS.

Most of the men I served with 20-odd years agowere Hokkien-peng who would never have linked even primary school admission with their National service.

Can these young people accept and understand that?

Rightly or wrongly, the Govt has decided that once the 25% target is met, other places can go to foreign students, many of whom it invites here through scholarships. The Govt does this not because it wants to deprive Singaporeans of university places, but because it wants to get these foreign youngsters to work and sink roots in Singapore, this is one of its strategies to correct Singapore’s aging population problem.

I am not an educational expert, I don’t know whether the right number should be 25% or 75%, but can these young people accept and understand this? Can they understand that giving foreign students scholarships is not depriving them of university places, because the 25% target is already reached before such places are given out?

Can they understand and accept that NS has nothing to do with university education?

NS and Career Handicap

As far as the NS handicap on young people’s careers vis a vis foreigners, I think it’s no different from what I experienced 20-odd years ago. I had to compete against girls who graduated three years ahead of me, and who had no reservist obligations to speak of.

I did not believe that employers discriminated against me then, and now having been on the hiring side of an interview, I certainly know now that there are no HR policies to prefer the hiring of foreigners vs Singaporeans at any level in the companies I’ve worked in.

It is always about who’s the best man for the job, who has the right knowledge, skills and experience, who can conduct himself well during interviews, who can be trusted and relied upon. And sometimes, it is also about who can fit the budget available for the position.

While I don’t want to downplay the concerns of young Singaporean job seekers, I think they are making NS a bigger “issue” in their job search than it really is.

There certainly is a lot of foreign competition for jobs. I know because whenever I put out a job ad, I get inundated by CV’s from Indians who graduated from universities I’ve never heard of, along with a smattering of PRC scholars and Filipino applicants. 

The foreigners actually outnumber Singaporean applicants, and they are actually more flexible, eg more willing to take on contract positions. They are also cheaper than Singaporeans, sometimes.

But to say that employers discriminate against male Singaporeans because of NS is stretching it. 

Shortening Full-Time NS

How long NS should be is a difficult and sensitive question, but one really should not mix the length of one’s full-time service with how much the Govt “owes” someone for doing NS.

Some countries have NS for only six months, some have one year, some have two. But every country faces a different and unique security climate, and one cannot justify how long NS in Singapore by using other countries as benchmarks.

Notwithstanding the above, I find it remarkable that the length of national service has not been changed in over thirty years, despite massive changes in the military, political and technological environment we face. I thus believe there should be a full study, by a panel of military and defence policy experts, to determine if we still need NS at all (ie can Singapore rely on an all-volunteer force), and if so, what the right length should now be.

However, I think whatever number the study produces– six months, one year or five years– will not make young Singaporeans any happier for long. The problem they face is not how long full-time NS delays them from entering the workforce, but how the continuing reserve obligation affects (or is perceived to affect) their career path, and how this obligation disadvantages them vis a vis foreigners.

More importantly, some young Singaporeans think that because they’ve done NS, the Govt owes them in some way, and the longer the full-time NS, the more the Govt owes them.

That’s flawed thinking.

NS is not about how much you owe the country or how much the country owes you. 

Go ask the Israelis, Koreans, Taiwanese, Malaysians, Egyptians, etc whether they are entitled to any benefits for their national service.

NS is simply an obligation on your part, as a citizen, to contribute to the defence of the country. When the Govt gives tax relief, CPF top-ups, etc to NSmen, it is a recognition to the sacrifices NSmen have made, but is in no way because the Govt owes them anything.

Frankly, the Govt cannot compensate me enough for my 2.5 years of lost youth, nor my 13 years of in-camp training.

In any family the burden of raising the family, ie making sure everyone has enough to eat, that the children are looked after and educated, that the house is in order, etc is typically distributed unevenly. Those more able assume a greater burden, but they do not say, I deserve to eat more just because I’m taking on more burden. Because that’s what being a family means– doing whatever you can for your family.

It is the same with a country. The burden of its defence falls on male citizens because society thinks that men are more able and appropriate to take up arms. One therefore does not say that one deserves more, just because of NS.

If you think the Govt is doing something wrong (like bringing in too many foreigners or giving them too many benefits, too many university places, etc), you should vote against it, and encourage others to do the same. But to say you deserve more because you did NS– that’s not right. By that logic, disabled people shouldn’t be entitled to anything, because they’re not contributing at all to the country.

NS for Foreigners

Finally, the more important question– the one alluded to in “I don’t know what I’m defending any more”– is whether Singaporeans should defend foreigners who are just freeloading in Singapore, and whether we should make all new citizens and PR’s do NS.

As far as PR’s are concerned, the answer is really quite obvious. No country in the world requires foreigners to serve in their military. It’s obvious why, isn’t it? Why would any country want to divulge its military capabilities, processes, procedures and possibly military secrets to non-citizens? Why would any country believe that it can rely on PR’s, who are citizens of a foreign country, to defend it in a time of war?

In this respect, Singapore’s requirement got second-generation PR’s to serve NS is really quite unprecedented.

To make new citizens and PR’s serve NS sounds very good from a “being fair to the rest of Singaporeans” perspective. But if you think about it deeply, it will kill off immigration. Why would anyone come here, renounce their citizenship to get a Singapore passport, only to be conscripted into the military for two years, even if they are above 18 at the time of citizenship?

Let’s be honest about this: Singapore needs the new citizens more than the new citizens need Singapore. Anyone who is contemplating giving up his passport for a Singaporean one is already asking whether it is worth it. If you force NS on them, they will almost certainly choose to stay as PR’s, and our target of growing the citizen population will never be achieved.

The same goes for new PR’s. Notwithstanding whether we can rely on PR’s for national defence in the first place, the same arguments apply. People apply for PR only because they want to work here, and more importantly, because the Govt thinks they can make an economic contribution here. Who will come if the cost of PR is two years of military service? Assuming what the Govt says is correct– that we need foreigners to boost our workforce because we don’t have enough– such a policy just goes against the strategic objective, doesn’t it?


In summary, young Singaporeans’ resentment of NS is real and different from 20 years ago. Their resentment has been heightened by the huge numbers of foreigners competing with them for university places, jobs and even HDB flats. Unfortunately for the PAP, young people can’t see that these two should not be mixed. The Govt owes me-mentality of the younger generation also creates new demands of the Govt to compensate them for NS. 

Everybody’s Favourite Punching Bag is a series centered on the things Singaporeans love to hate.

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66 Responses to Everybody’s Favourite Punching Bag Series: National Service

  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 03 Jan 2012 « The Singapore Daily

  2. bluex says:

    Not everyone likes to be taken for granted like you.

    • visakanv says:

      That’s not the point- the point is, if you’re going to be taken for granted anyway, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to whine and bitch, or make something of yourself?

      • bluex says:

        It’s simple – if you disagree with being taken for granted, you should voice your disagreement and doing so should not be labelled as “bitching” or “whining”. The problem with many Singaporeans is that they don’t even have the guts to voice their opinion or to even dare have an opinion. And when they do, they are labelled as whiners. Saying that there’s a need to modify or even revamp national service to treat servicemen more fairly doesn’t equate to saying that those who have to serve under the current model should give up on themselves and not make good use of their time. You sound confused about what the issue is here.

  3. HKPeng says:

    well, won’t replacing it with a professional or all volunteer military, save the pounding of this 2,000+ words “justifications”?

    Btw can also ask the Israelis, Koreans, Taiwanese, Malaysians, Egyptians, the % of FT, PR and new citizens they let piggy-back on their NS sacrifice or their country’s immigration policies or hiring preferences in their work place…..

    20 years ago, no one bat an eyelid “protecting” the Malaysians, Bangladeshis or ang mos, living and working in our midst …. what gives ?

    • Thanks for comments. But you miss the point. This is not a justification piece. It’s to help people understand issues clearer. Too often Singaporeans mix issues when they are pissed off. If you have a stomach ache, you don’t go see a dentist, do you? Then why is it when you are unhappy with the no of foreigners here, you complain about NS?

      • HKPeng says:

        sure, but if the “stomach ache” is still there and/or gotten worse, after seeing many doctors and what not …. may be the root cause is in the teeth ?

        Nobody was unhappy with the no of foreigners here and nobody had big complaint/issues with NS or reservist, 20 years ago …what gives ?

      • The problem is not with the teeth. The problem is you got a toothache, and you got a stomach ache, but you think the two are related and you say that it’s the tooth ache that’s causing the stomach ache.

        Let’s put it this way: I think the girls are just as unhappy with foreign students getting scholarships, with foreigners getting PR’s and work permits competing against them, with foreigners buying hdb flats. But they can’t use NS as a reason why they should get more. So when you say, I did NS, the govt is not fair to me, are you saying girls have no reason to complain? Are you saying the problems that affect you don’t affect girls?

        So is the problem NS, or is the problem something else?

        If the latter, why complain about NS?

        Or are you saying males deserve more than females because they do NS?

  4. John Muhamad says:

    A 6 month NS is sufficient.

    One can be a better person or a better leader without having to go through 2 year NS stint.

    There are Sporeans who have NOT benefitted from the system. Many of them come from the bottom 30% of our society. They’ve have been shortchanged because those who have not had done 2 year of NS have managed to extract benefits at the expense of those who have loyally complied with the law to do the 2 year NS. Poorer sporeans who have done their NS cannot marry work permit holders but the rich can simply deposit money and be eligible for a PR or citizenship without doing NS. This is unjust and goes against the grain of the Pledge we recite in school.

    The elite do not feel this injustice because they and their families have been well taken care of.

  5. John Muhamad says:

    “NS is simply an obligation on your part, as a citizen, to contribute to the defence of the country. When the Govt gives tax relief, CPF top-ups, etc to NSmen, it is a recognition to the sacrifices NSmen have made, but is in no way because the Govt owes them anything”

    I do not agree with your statement above.

    LInking one’s NS commitment to government actions and policies is fair because we do NOT defend a mythical nation built on good intentions. The govt provides the perks you mentioned because the perks compensate for the loss young men endure in doing 2 year NS and the annual in camp training. These perks however are cosmetic. A 6 month NS or perhaps a 1 year NS is enough of a contribution to the nation’s defense.

    What sort of a nation are we fighting for? A citizen has a right to question his commitment to military service if the nation he is fighting for practices double standards. We defend a nation built on policies and laws promulgated by an elected goverment. And when those policies and laws promote injustice then we have a right to question one’s 2 year commitment to NS and to lobby for change, be it through the ballot box or through intense lobbying.

    • Thanks for comments, but looks like we must disagree. I do not agree with you simply because, with or without foreign workers, with or without scholarships for foreign students, with or without hdb flats for foreigners, the need for national defense does not change and thus the basis for NS does not change.

      We can argue whether NS should be 6 months, 3 years or 5 years. But that is separate from whatever unjust policies the pap, or even another party in power, may choose to implement in housing, education, health care, etc. As I said in my piece, I think there should be a real study to determine the length of full-time NS. Not just you pluck a number from the air.

      Actually the length is related to the number of men we want to have under arms on a ready basis, ie the size of the army less reserves. Hence it really becomes a question of how large a standing army we need to have, given so much has changed in the last 30 years. This is something we need military experts to study, not just pluck a number from the air.

  6. Remy says:

    I am not sure if any Singaporeans happen to experience employers passing bad and discriminating comments about employing male Singaporeans. It happens to me as a graduate twice in the past 3 years while searching for a full time job. I shall not go further into that because it is extremely angry and painful.

    National Service is just one of the many issues that make most local males unhappy. It is not appropriate to generalise that Singaporeans males making national service a “scrape goat” of all the unhappiness. Like, citizens generally have a opinion that foreign managers working in Singapore would prefer to work with their own national, national service is just one of those many reasons that disadvantage the Singaporean male. Within my social circle, it is valid and agreed by many.

    I would like to point out is Singaporeans went to ballot in GE and PE that already shows a stronger negative opinion on the current policies. It signals that more Singaporeans are agreeing that the current policies are working against the interest of Singaporeans.

    I would then like to DISAGREE with you that National Service is Singaporean favourite “Punching Bag”. Should this issue not look into seriously; a disturbing and disastrous chain reaction would be seeing more and more Singaporeans opting to move out of Singapore.

    • Thanks for comments. Yes I understand people want to work with their own kind. But that would mean female singaporeans are also discriminated against, hence nothing to do with ns right? In the same way, Singaporeans also prefer to hire Singaporeans, no? That’s discrimination too, or at least, preference.

      There is a structural change in the job market, where many jobs are now contract positions, yet Singaporeans, esp recent grads, are not willing to take up. There is also a trend towards having double degrees, or even a bachelors and a masters, when applying for a first job. Foreigners seem to adapt to these trends better.

      I humbly submit that these are more immediate reasons for Singaporean grads lack of competitiveness than NS.

      • AJW says:

        The question thus becomes who created the structural change? The influx of graduates who have the extra 2 years to pursue another degree or a more specialised education? Why are Singaporeans not willing to take up contract jobs?….I think that question is quite straightforward, we live in a society where the costs are constant and not ad-hoc, to purchase a standard family 3 room flat is quite expensive, based on median income levels now, the cost of a home is almost 10-15 times a yearly salary not including the day to day costs of raising kids. IN that scenario, a Singaporean worker needs more than a foreign worker(who shares a flat with 5 people), it makes him more inflexible than a foreign worker(we don’t want absentee parents) and it means he has more responsibilities than a foreign worker(+NS). To say that a Singaporean is not disadvantaged(lets not go into CPF contribution) in a one to one comparison with a foreign worker is delusional. YES, I agree that NS might not be a prime cause, but it certainly is an issue of import that should be studied.

        Personally I’m totally for NS. I believe that the 2 years is actually too short and a 2.5 year timeframe is probably best, judging by the fitness of recruits today.

        But the government and government policies have to take into consideration the difference between a citizen and his family, that has served NS, and a NEW citizen and his family that has not served. Because at the end of the day ONE MAN does not serve national service, HIS FAMILY does too.

      • How should govt policy take NS into account? Discounts for flats, based on NS served? More tax relief for NSmen? More hospital subsidies for NSmen? More cpf top-up for NSmen?

        None of these can help NSmen find a job compared to a foreign worker. Can you see that?

      • remy says:

        I would let the general public to evaluate on your reply. Your reply is irrelevant.

      • remy says:

        Thank you for your reply. I think your reply is irrelevant to what I am pointing out. I will not write in length as that is a waste of time. In my opinion, I am still going to disagree with you. Think Singaporeans first, I would say. National Service is a duty of all Singaporeans to serve and Singapore has the duty to take care of the its citizen. It comes in both ways.

        It is simple Singaporeans takes care of Singapore. Singapore takes care of the citizen. Please do not complicate thing such as bag pucnching. Till then you are free to believe in what you believe. Its the perception of each individual.

        Should the massive foreign influx continues and “hurting” Singaporeans like the last few years, 2016 election Singaporean will go back to the ballot box and we shall see what will happen next.

      • Everyone is free to believe what he wants. That’s not the point.

        If you think someone is wrong, irrelevant or just speaking nonsense, it’s incumbent upon to justify your assertion, so that the audience can judge and make up their own mind, decide who is right. If you say, so-and-so is speaking rubbish or being irrelevant, but you don’t want to waste time showing that he is speaking rubbish or being irrelevant, I don’t think you have any credibility at all.

    • Remy says:

      credibility… Hmm… I say black is correct. You say white is correct. You gave few examples that make white seems to be more correct. I can as well give pages of example which prove white is less correct. You can as well. The ball goes on. That is a waste of both of our time. Now you label me as in-credible. That is a laughing matter.

  7. WBTan says:

    “Rightly or wrongly, the Govt has decided that once the 25% target is met, other places can go to foreign students, many of whom it invites here through scholarships. The Govt does this not because it wants to deprive Singaporeans of university places, but because it wants to get these foreign youngsters to work and sink roots in Singapore, this is one of its strategies to correct Singapore’s aging population problem.”

    I think the policy to cap 25% of the population to have university education is not in tandem with the policy of shifting from “low-value” manufacturing/services to “high-value” manufacturing/services. The need for skilled labour will increase. If companies are unable to find enough locals with the necessary skills set because of the quotas set in place by the education ministry, then these companies will naturally find foreign talents to fill in the manpower gap.

    Regarding the offering of scholarships to foreigners for them to work and live in Singapore, I do not think that such a strategy will work. I do not think that most of the scholarship recipients will want to stay and work in Singapore permanently. They might not have developed a sense of belonging in Singapore while studying in Singapore. Next, foreigners might treat Singapore as a stepping stone to migrate to other countries, like the USA. Having a Singaporean passport instead of their native country’s passport, it is easier for them to apply for a working visa and subsequently, a permanently residency in the US.

    • Thanks for comments. I do not disagree with your comments, but my point is that the target has nothing to do with NS, thus for youngsters to link it to NS is counterproductive.

      And by the way, 25% is a target, not a cap; it can be changed from time to time. When I was in University, the target was 20%. Now the govt has plans to build a 5th university which will enable a higher target in future.

      As far as stepping stones are concerned, that could happen but don’t you think the Govt must try something? Can you propose something that 100% foolproof, no leakage?

      • WBTan says:

        Regarding the issue of foreigners using Singapore as a platform in aiding them in migrating to western countries, I’d guess that the Govt must be doing something about it.

        I can propose some measures that the Govt can take but they are not 100% foolproof or original.

        Tighten the criteria for issuing citizenship to foreigners. Currently, the criteria for obtaining permanent residency is quite lax. Perhaps the Govt should standardise the minimum period that a PR must reside in Singapore in order to apply for citizenship. From what I know, there are certain schemes in which the Govt accelerates the application for citizenship based on talents, like academic qualifications and sporting skills. A long time is needed for new citizens to develop a sense of belonging in Singapore. Also, the Govt implement a test on Singapore’s pop culture and history. This is embarrassing but as a Singaporean, I do not fully know about the history about Singapore. Such tests are administered in Australia and USA.

        What do you think?


        2) Make Singapore a more desirable city to live in.

      • Yes. Tightening citizenship and PR criteria should be done. We have prostitutes who come here to get PR and that’s really weird.

        But if we get super-qualified applicants, won’t they be even more likely to use singapore as a stepping stone?

  8. Roy says:

    Great post!!!

    Appreciate he perspective and input, hopefully people see things from a more objective pov
    NOTHING’s perfect, so i stand with you to make the best out of the GIVEN situation.

    Grass is always greener on other pasture, S’porean youths will look to go overseas but im sure they’ll face other forms of difficulties and soon come to realize there’s no perfect gov’t.

    Takecare and all the best, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    • Thanks for comments. This post is not about justifying pap policies or even just accepting that there is no perfect govt.

      This post is about understanding issues better. Specifically, what has NS got to do with all the angst over education, foreign workers, housing, etc, what has NS got to do with how much the govt owes you, etc.

      Unhappy is unhappy, one should do something about it, change the govt if necessary. But to be confused and unhappy is a double tragedy. Because you can’t get rid of your unhappiness unless you know what caused it, what is related to it, and what is not related to it.

  9. Fredrick says:

    Though I somewhat agree with the OP when he mention abt how some young pple adopt the entitlement thoughts since they served NS, I have to disagree on the things said abt employment opportunities when local male compete with female or foreign workers.

    There have been confirmed and reported case where employers dismissed locals male due to their reservist commitment. And everyone deep inside knows that they better pray hard that there is no recall during probation period. I went through interviews with human resource asking whether I have been recalled for reservist for the year.

    Now u mentioned in other countries, duties for the nation is a brownie point for their citizens and are valued. May I ask the author wad brownie points we have in Singapore. like u I have a strong sense of national service. But my country dun wan me even I wan to volunteer for another ten year reservist due to the fact I am fat and a troublemaker. However I can understand why some choose to think they r being shortchanged cause government dun act even locals are sideline in some clear cut cases. Remember the MOM magical word – advisory guideline only.

    Who think that NS is a plus for employer kee chiu? Even if the author or some employer choose to kee chiu and talk all they wan over internet how they support us, the reality is different. For some reason, the “majority” as shown in any online poll, becomes the “minority” in real life.

    In ancient Rome, citizen has a special place. They do their part as Roman Citizen and throughout Roman Empire, petition has to be entertained if a citizen revealed to the local governor he is a Roman Citizen and he demand justice in Rome.

    But wad do we have here? I understand wad the author is saying abt taking personal pride in wad we r doing, but seriously, it would be nice if it is widely recognised.

    • Thanks for comments.

      If you have applied for govt jobs as a fresh grads, you might know that there is a difference in starting salary for those with NS and without. Of course, it may not beat three years of annual increment the girls get because they started earlier, but that’s something, isn’t it?

      That is one example of how the govt tries to compensate NSmen. But the govt cannot force private companies to pay NSmen more. However, by this action, the civil service sets a benchmark and companies who can’t follow the govt.’s lead lose out.

      If you have a problem with being dismissed due to reservist, you should complain to mom. It is the same as those women who claim to be dismissed due to pregnancy. You raise a stink, the company will likely settle, because they don’t want the bad publicity in the media.

      The point is that companies will do anything– even when there is a law that states they cannot dismiss women for reasons of pregnancy after a certain no of months, some companies still try their luck. What more for NS if there is no law forbidding them? But you have to take matters into your own hands, not just bitch about it.

      I’m not saying that companies love NS or give preference to people to have NS obligation. But by and large, when a person is hired, it is always about what the person can do for the company, is he the best of the lot of candidates, etc. It is never about how many years of NS obligation does this guy have left.

      • Fredrick says:

        In the past, there are many employers and yes even the SMEs put clearly in their hiring adverts stating the difference between NS and non NS pple. In the past, if my memory serve me right, ladies are classified under non NS scheme. Currently I think only in certain big cooperations and government sector has such distinction.

        So wad happen between these time? There is a diminished appreciation of wad locals do here. The attitude (i mean attitude and nothing else) is liken to French government telling their Algerian veterans that they dun deserve their pension for reasons only they know.

        It is true many men in Singapore tries to shun NS, but ur article did not even attempt to understand why the attitude is being adopted.

        On top of that, ur reply abt seeking help from MoM shows how detach you are from the real situation. If our MOM and Unions really that effective, we would not have such a situation here. Well, at least it wun be so bad.

        And by the way, it had been found out that many sickness and like stomache and calcer r linked with oral health. So to find out the cause of the problem, the GP may need to consult a dentist or oral health specialist.

      • Thanks for reply. Nice sarcasm there, the part about French veterans. FYI, US Vietnam vets feel the same thing.

        I wouldn’t know why people “shun” NS. Why don’t you enlighten us? I’d have thought it was obvious. I certainly hated NS enough.

        Let me reiterate three points:

        1. NS is not an entitlement for university places, hdb flats, job opportunities, etc. You may feel you deserve something for your sacrifice, but if you think about it clearly, that cannot be the case, unless you think you deserve more than Singaporean girls just because you deserve NS. On the other hand, if you just feel Singaporeans deserve better, than by definition it is just about Singaporeans vs foreigners, not Singaporeans with NS vs foreigners.

        2. If you feel you are discriminated because of NS, why shouldn’t you complain to mom? What’s so detached for me to say this? I’ve said a few times I’ve never seen such a situation at work, but if you have, then that is your reality and you should take action. If you feel mom is ineffective, there is the industrial disputes arbitration panel, the subordinate courts, etc. But to just say that your complaints are real and that anyone who doesn’t see your situation is “detached” doesn’t cut it.

        Have you heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act? How do you think it came about? Because President Bush had a brilliant idea one day? Or because lots of people pushed hard for it a long time?

        Discrimination or not, NS is not the cause, it is employers who are the cause. You cannot ask to do less NS or ask the govt to give you more privileges because of that, even if it did occur.

        3. There is no such thing as an “appreciation” of what locals do. As far as companies are concerned, anyone who can do the job best will be hired. If you think that, either by doing NS or by being Singaporean, you should get some preference, you will be frustrated for a long time to come. As it is, the higher starting pay for fresh grads with NS in govt jobs is already unusual. There is no reason for companies to give NSmen any “appreciation”, as they pay people for what they do for the company, not what they do for the country.

  10. GZ says:

    Just speaking from my own experience.
    To me, NS is something in life which can’t be avoided so just do it and move on. I got into the CDO unit and I must admit, I questioned my existence at least twice a day everyday once in the morning and once at night why of all my peers I got in and they didn’t. But looking back now, I think it’s a pretty damn good experience. Although ppl may say that it’s a waste of time, I think I really learnt many things; things you dun learn in school, things you don’t learn from reading a book.
    For me and my peers, it’s just this lack of appreciation that bugged us.

    The issue with not being able to secure a place in a local U because of NS is not really valid. There are other factors which may have affected the result such as number of applicants, the performance of the cohort applying. For me I was born in the Tiger year so the number of ppl applying to NUS, I think, is much lesser than the ppl who were born in the year of the Dragon. And I though you could apply for a space in the local Uni before you enlist, ya? So lucky for me, I got in without having to compete with the Dragon girls who took their “A” Levels 2 years later. My point here is that if you can’t get in, don’t blame the FTs. Even if the gov, reduce the intake percentage, there will still be ppl left out and then they’ll complain so the issue is not solved at all. Completely eliminating the foreign student intake is also not good too. As much as I’d grumble and whine about it, I must admit that the competition is good for us too.
    How much to cut I don’t know but I think that trying to lure FTs to become citizens in this manner is not really working… My faculty is filled with Chinese, India Indians, Vietnamese, Malaysians, Indons.. Many times, I had asked them casually if they plan on staying in Singapore but most of them say they prefer to settle down in their home country. Many of them also site cost of living as the main reason.

    So far, my seniors have not complained about being dismissed from a potential job due to his NS obligations. I do agree, though, that reservist is a pain in the ass. Perhaps the reason why employers ask about this has got to do with the nature of the job. Maybe the job cannot allow for the 2 weeks absence so FTs are preferred. Only way around this is to have a full fledged professional arms forces. No conscription. Haha But that’s not possible today due to our low birth rate…

  11. Ah Kow says:

    Maybe we should make NS voluntary?

    There are many Sporeans who want to do NS for 2 years. Let them have their hearts content at doing NS.

    Those who wish to opt out for NS should be allowed to do so.

  12. unluckid says:

    First and foremost, great post about NS. Secondly, I’m afraid I’d have to disagree with what you said, simply due to the fact that you neglected to mention one key thing about NS. The injuries sustained and the subsequent care taken of the injured.

    I’m sure you have noticed the rise in reported deaths of NSFs and Regulars in the news in recent years. Sadly, this does not indicate a rise in deaths as many of them are simply swept under the carpet if deemed ‘spoiling the army’s image’. There are boxes somewhere which contains all of the information (not allowed to divulge under ISA). So there’s that, a simple loss of life.

    But what about the injured? Injuries aggravated in NS are treated by the MOs, who we must remind ourselves, are simply recently graduated medical students. Misdiagnosing and subsequently inadequate or even wrong care given are commonplace. A real example would be a person with a shoulder problem. A senior MO misdiagnosed him as a ligament problem, and basically asked him to ‘work it off’. And so he did. 2 years later, his shoulder started getting worse, and he had to see a private doctor, who diagnosed it as something else (not sure what), serious enough to warrant an emergency operation, which wasn’t covered by the SAF as he had already ORD-ed. Cost him a bomb, and his shoulders still get sore from time to time. This is a very specific example, but just one of many. This is obviously just a reason among others, but its one of the main reasons why serving NS just doesn’t cut it for me.

    • Thanks for comments. This is one area where people have to take matter into their own hands. If one believes it is a service injury, one must sue the govt to obtain redress.

  13. Richard says:

    Well written or Too Simplistic article?
    Agreed or Not?
    Sarcasm or Irony?
    I am not sure about my parent feeling then, had voted and agreed with the policy or not?
    30 years ago, when I was in NS, there for 2years and seldom booked out.
    Trying to survive on $90, $125, $190 allowances per month.
    $0 for my parent.
    My camp located deep in Seletar Air Base (forest).
    Saving after 2 years in NS $0.
    When I ROD my parent die, unable had time understand hate it or love it.
    That is it! Then.
    Now, 30 years later.
    My two sons had sever NS (after complete Polytechnics ). Which one had just ORD – Operationally Ready Date (formerly “ROD”)
    Trying to survive on $250 – $500 allowances per month as 7 X 24 high security guard.
    $0 for the family.
    Deep in forest camp which required taxi transport on most reporting.
    Saving after 2 years in NS $0.
    What next?
    Go to NUS, NTU,SMU with the NS saving.
    (Think about it. Forget of linking NS with university studies)


    Today, if you ask me how I feels?
    My heart was jilted, that it!
    But please ask those who make the ultimate sacrifice of their sons.

    • Much as I sympathise with you, it’s called an allowance and not a salary for a reason. Regulars get paid market rate salaries, NSmen don’t. Of course, everyone wants more money– even pap ministers– but it cannot be “market” rate unless one signs on to be a regular.

      • Richard says:

        I see!
        You had prompted me to re-read this article again and all comments.

        The bitterness or sweetness that felt by all NS men that were enjoyed or resentment in since 1967(45 years ago ) or
        today are almost the same.

        But the world had changed, so as threat(*).

        “Regulars get paid market rate salaries, NSmen don’t.”

        In NS
        All NS men and their regular counterpart do the same tasks.

        eg. A NS men perform 24 X 7 shift guard duty or Airport/Transport hub armed patrolling.
        A regular will get had their career pay + rank + allowance + shift duty + responsibility + CPF ++
        NS will get allowance that include(rank + shift duty + responsibility + no CPF + ++ ) and subsidies from parent.

        In our business world.

        Companies today resolved to employing

        Temp workers in factories,
        Temp hourly rated tasks in restaurants /hotels / kitchens.
        Ghost workers for CPF to popup permits
        Multi-tier sub-contracting , sub-sub contracting works or tasks in offices and factories.
        unage children for distributing leaflets.
        These works or tasks are no different from any regular employee tasks but it was there since the operation.

        But the major different are:
        These are CHEAP LABOURS without CPF , liabilities, safety-gears, accountability, safety-head count and so on.

        We don’t needs any sympathise from anyone or pay a million $ for a NS private.
        All I want you to include the big picture in understanding of NS itself.
        Maybe someday you will understand after discussing with your sons about *.

        Sign off

        PS recommend you for further analysis

      • Thanks for comments. While I understand your personal feelings, my point is always the big picture.

        1. Do you know that even prisoners are paid an allowance when they work in prison (ie wash bedsheets, etc)? Have you ever asked why prisoners don’t get market rate salaries? Why is it an “allowance” and not a market rate salary for NSmen? Very simple– because NSmen are not working, they did not choose to work for the govt, the are in “service” to the nation. In other words, the law says males are supposed to give two years of their lives to the country, no questions asked, nothing needs to be given in return. In fact, if they paid a salary, it would no longer be “service”, it would be a contract for employment.

        Your analogy of temp workers is thus not right. In any case even your assertions (eg no cpf, no safety, etc) for temp workers is not right. The same regulations on cpf, safety, cdac contributions etc apply to temp workers. If you know any employer who violates this, please report them to mom, cpf, etc.

        The simplest analogy is that your parents gave you an allowance for school lunch and pocket money. Whatever you do for them– clean house, wash clothes, fix broken appliances, etc– is out of your filial duty to them. You do not ask for market rate salary.

        Same for NS. They expect you to do the NS because of love for the country, and they give you just an allowance.

        2. Even bigger picture view is that professional armed forces are expensive. Imagine if all SAF servicemen were paid regular salaries. Manpower cost would increase five times! Notwithstanding that the enlistment act does not require this, I ask you who will pay for this? You? From your piggy bank?

        One of the reasons why countries resort to conscription is because they cannot afford to maintain a large professional army. They know conscripts will never be as motivated or well-trained as regulars. But they have no choice.

        If you say everyone should be paid market rates, then you are calling for a fully professional army. Because the cost of NS then is the same as the cost of maintaining a full time professional army. So might as well scrap NS right?

        Is that what you are advocating? Scrap NS and increase taxes by a lot so we can maintain a regular army of the same size?

        Ps NSmen don’t do the same duties as regulars. I don’t understand how you get the idea. Sure, at the lower ranks the may do so at the start. But all the regulars I’ve seen are senior NCO’s and captains and above. That makes sense because no one will want to sign on for six years as a chow private. And SAF not so stupid to pay high salary for low quality soldiers. Those who can make it will become senior NCOs or senior officers holding key appointments, and even the lower ranked regulars receive advanced training to become specialists in their own fields, be it aircraft engine maintenance or combat medicine. They do the higher-end stuff and farm out the donkey work to NSmen. I’m surprised that is not your experience.

  14. Richard says:

    Thanks for your points are the only big picture here.

    1. If you choose to compare “allowance” given to NSmen, prisoners, housewives and own children are
    in “service” to the nation or filial duty or duty and so on.

    THIS IS AN INSULTS PLUS MYOPIC VIEW OF THE TERM “allowance” reply analogy by the author here.

    1a. Ask NSmen and prisoners what are the differences?
    1b. Ask a family court judge how much “allowance” if you choose to divorce your wife?
    1c. If you die now. Ask yourself about the your wills on insurance, cpf , properties and so on or donate everything.

    2. Safety in NSmen. Just google NSmen at works! building staging / shipment video. Just made a safety audits. You know what I mean.
    3. Please visit MOM daily, you will amuse with the numbers of FT (temp) workers are protesting in small groups.
    Sometime you may had luck to stumble on a large group. Which their employers are exploiting them.

    4. “Professional armed forces are expensive” Just look at the defense budget spend on new toys.
    Your simplest analogy is give your parent $1 per meal per day,
    spend $70K on COE and $1.5M for Lamborghini for 10 years and $1.5M for 1000sq ft box for 99 years on yourself.

    5. “They(regulars) do the higher-end stuff and farm out the donkey work to NSmen(chow private).”
    “And SAF not so stupid to pay high salary for low quality soldiers. ”

    THIS IS A DISTASTEFUL SARCASM REMARKS ON “…NSmen, …(chow private), …low quality soldiers” reply analogy by the author here.

    5a. Ask those senior NCOs and captains / Lts what happen to their sign on expired at age 45.
    (I will not likes to insults them, by listing career choices that left for those above 40 in Singapore).
    5b. Ask those LTC/COL what happen after their sign on expired. Some will asked to be SA.
    5c. Ask those BG and above what happen after service expired. (GRC’s election).
    5d. Ask those advanced trained specialists on Aircraft about their list of contractors and sub-contractors does the major tasks for them.
    5d. Ask “NSmen, (chow private), low quality soldiers” family of 28-year-old Li Hongyang,
    a security trooper from the 62nd Combat Service Support Battalion, of his death 2 days ago.


    Yes, I advocating higher pay or end of service gratuity‎ for NSmen to further Education or future Housing needs as a start kit,
    also short NS.

    I guest the author here still stuck in Arctic Circle, having Cold War mentality.

    • 1. It appears you do notmunderstand the difference between allowance and salary, despite my clear explanation. Too bad, no one can help you when your skull is so thick.

      Yes, I know you want more money, everyone wants more money. And NS allowance has been increased over the years. But when you ask for “market rate”, when you say pay NSmen same as regulars, you are asking for. Them to be paid the same salaries as regulars. Which logically cannot happen because then we might as well raise a full-time professional army. If you can’t understand such a simple thing, no one can help you.

      Yes, conscription means forced service, they call it National service but it is really just forced service. You expect the govt– any govt, not just pap govt– to pay market rates for forced service? Which side of the planet were you born in?

      2. There is no need for me to google anything. I’m sure there’s situations where NSmen have been exposed to danger. The problem is that people like you think it’s taking advantage of them, when the reality is that it is the commanders on the ground who do not have the right safety knowledge and don’t know what to do properly. If you just sit here and complain, nothing will change. If you start to make official complaints, maybe things will get better.

      There is a reason why SAF instituted water parades, having safety vehicles during exercise, etc. It’s not because of you writing in other people’s websites. It’s because of actual incidents and complaints.

      In any case, I don’t see how this has to do with pay.

      3. So what is your point? Don’t visit mom? Just keep quiet?

      4. So what? Weapons are expensive. In any case, you haven’t refuted my point in 1. That is, if I pay everyone full-time salary, might as well give up NS.

      5. I don’t see what’s distasteful. How many regulars do you know are still privates after six years? They all want to advance in their “careers”, don’t they?

      Whatever happens to them at 45, whether they were lucky enough to get a pension or whether they have to do early retirement, what’s it got to do with how much NSmen are paid? What is your point?

      BG’s getting into politics at 40? so? What’s your point? What does this have to do with NSmen allowance?

      Death of servicemen– so? What’s your point? If I increase the allowance by $100 it wouldn’t have happened? Or that the parents would have been happier?

      What has service injury and service deaths got to do with pay or allowance?

      You are filled with anger, as I once was. But the difference is, you confuse the issues. Safety issues, regulars’ career/lack of career issues, bg’s entering politics issues, mom ineffectiveness issues. All of them are issues in their own right. But they have nothing to do with NSmen allowance.

      Your fundamental call is for NSmen to be paid same as regulars for doing the same job. I have refuted you very clearly. No country in the world will do such a thing. Very simple reason– it would not be conscription any more. What is your counter? What is your response? All the above are genuine grouses but they do not constitute a valid response.

      Do you have anything else to say?

  15. AJW says:

    politicalwritings says:
    04/01/2012 at 8:30 pm

    How should govt policy take NS into account? Discounts for flats, based on NS served? More tax relief for NSmen? More hospital subsidies for NSmen? More cpf top-up for NSmen?

    None of these can help NSmen find a job compared to a foreign worker. Can you see that?

    Sorry, can’t seem to reply directly, so I quoted your follow-up question to me here if you don’t mind.

    I think discounts for HDB flats would be a good start for certain, because if you want people to fight for something , the home where their family lives in is a good motivation. I’m not saying give it to them FOC. I think a model for new couples buying flats to get a 50% discount if they can produce upwards of 2 children in the first 5 years of buying the flat…and increase the mandatory holding time to 10years. This might seem like social engineering and to some extent it is, but something sort of attempt must be undertaken to fix the social experiment of “stop at two”.

    On the point of jobs. I think the government should take a more active role in making sure that NS eligible men get jobs that they are qualified for over foreigners. If 2 guys apply for the same job, and I’m able to pay the foreigner 15% or more less and still get an advance degreed worker(using your anecdotal evidence), then as a businessman I would obviously hire the foreigner. This is one of the reason why engineering jobs in Singapore pay so low, because we are allowing a flood of foreign engineers who are willing to work longer for less because they have no family to support in the Singapore environment. I do think this is an issue that MOM should address…and they have to some way with the FW caps, but I personally think the caps are a bad idea because they cut across everything and don’t give leeway for skills that we might desperately need like nurses in hospitals for example. There has to be a flexibility built into the system, not a rigidity to the dogma of each man for himself.

    My 2 cents.

    • Thanks for reply. I think some of your suggestions are not practical, eg. the social engineering one.

      I’d also like to say that it is not possible for the govt to interfere in how much companies pay their candidates, whether they have served NS or otherwise. What they can and should do is what other countries do, ie employers have to prove that they have exhausted all avenues and no suitable local worker can be found before they can apply for a permit to hire a foreign worker. And even then there is an annual quota for foreign workers for each industry.

      However, do note the above is not directly addressing NSmen issues. It helps all Singaporeans, male or female, NS or no NS.

      Hence, I sill do not see any proposals just to address NSmen’s issues.

  16. skdlfj says:

    I think you miss the point completely. I agree NS is tend to be used as a ‘scapegoat’, and easy target to vent against government policies. But I would attribute that to people not being articulate about their views. The bottomline is, if many of the supposedly unjust government policies, namely the excessive influx of foreign ‘talent’, not many people will complain about NS. NS is just ONE of the factors, but as I’ve mentioned, it is an easy target.

    As you mentioned, 20 years ago, nobody made such a link. Yes, it is inevitable that it will be a bit unfair to singaporean men, but most people see it as a necessity, or rather a small sacrifice. Its akin to an ant’s bite. Irritating, but you can just shrug it off.

    Fast forward 20 years, its a different scenario. Many singaporean, male or female, feel that they are disadvantaged. NS is ONE of the factor. Now its much more painful, and you cant just shrug it off.

    You cant deny that there is some disadvantage for NSmen. If you are an employer, between someone who does not have reservist commitments and one who has, who would you rather hire? And I believe if we want to actually solve the problem, all aspects has to be tackled, including NS.

    Inherently, your argument is wrong. NS, while not the ONLY cause, nor the biggest cause, is not totally unrelated to the problems faced.

    • Thanks for comments. I do not agree I missed the point completely. Indeed, it is because I hit the point– that unhappiness over foreign workers has been mistakenly lumped with NS obligations– that it’s exposed the false arguments of people like you.

      You can only blame NS if only NSmen are affected by the influx of foreign workers. But you know that’s not true. All Singaporeans, male or female, NS or no NS, all are affected.

      Hence, you have have no stand. That’s why you admit it is just a scapegoat.

      Notwithstanding the choice of terminology, there is a lot of unhappiness Singaporeans have over foreign workers, and it is one reason why PAP lost the election.

      The reason NSmen are pissed off is because they feel they gave 2.5 years of their youth + 13 years of miserable in-camp training to Singapore, but Singapore is not shaping out to be what they want.

      The answer to the above is not to diss NS, but to take it out on the PAP.

      NS is an institution greater than all of us. Until the military experts conclude that Singapore can rely on an all-volunteer force, it will continue with or without the PAP.

      People who are angry tend to machine-gun everything in sight. Don’t be one of them. Don’t be so ignorant. I assure you that, based on your level of unhappiness, even if Ns was removed tomorrow, you would still be pissed off.

      • skdlfj says:

        Again, i reiterate, nobody is ONLY blaming NS. My point is some people are less articulate and its easier to TARGET NS, not necessarily making it the ‘scapegoat’. Scapegoat implies people are totally blaming it on NS. Yes all singaporeans are affected, but that does not mean NS is NOT one of the factor. Your cause-and-effect is too absolute. Maybe you have come across people that only blames NS, though I personally have not met people who ONLY blames NS. I agree with most of the things you said, just not the premise you are making these remarks.

        As you’ve mentioned above and in some of the comments, we aren’t debating about the necessity of NS. So I really don’t get much of your reply anyway. And being pissed of about excessive influx of foreign workers and “pissed off is because they feel they gave 2.5 years of their youth + 13 years of miserable in-camp training to Singapore, but Singapore is not shaping out to be what they want. ” may not be mutually exclusive, but is not exactly the same. Maybe I have misread or something, correct me if I did, but from your reply, I still am not sure. Are you talking about the former or the latter? It’s wrong to make sweeping statements. I was replying assuming you only meant the former. If it’s the latter, well, then its much more subjective.

        And lastly, its wise of you, to speak with more humility, and not with some superiority c complex, accusing people of being ‘ignorant’. Because you did not refute my points. Saying I’m ignorant does not refute my point. Just like you said people do, you yourself don’t machine-gun everything in sight too! We are all here (well, most of us. I do not represent the others.) for a civil discussion. Noone is claiming to be totally right or wrong. But your passive-aggressive style, good command of the english language, may make you seem ‘civil’, when you are in fact not, but just come off as angry, like what you accuse people of being “exposing FALSE arguments’, ‘ignorant’ – trying to make me come off as adverserial, when you are in fact the one.

        Again, I agree with alot of what you said. In fact, to a certain extent, I’ve enjoyed NS in some ways with regards to character building and exposure. The necessity of NS is another issue. NS is NOT mistakenly lumped with unhappiness over foreign workers. It’s not a direct link, cause-and-effect, like most things arent. If you actually read what I wrote, I’m merely saying it is a small issue with regards to the big picture. While I favour an approach that tackles all issues, tackling the main issue alone would also silence such complaints about NS.

      • I am humble to those who are humble. I am civil to those who are civil. But I will bite back at those who are here to attack me.

        All my posts (over 100 of them) and my comments are here, on this site, for the record, so everyone can judge whether I live by those words.

        Whether I have refuted your points, everyone can read and judge for themselves. No need for you to trumpet.

  17. Concerned Singaporean says:

    “True, if I’d made it as an officer, I would have had to shoulder more responsibility, carry greater accountability, book in earlier and book out later than the rest of the men, serve more reservist training and stay 10 years longer in the reserves than them.

    But if I’d made it as a commissioned officer, my life would likely have changed for the better. I would be a better leader and better manager of men, I would be mentally and physically tougher, I would know how to plan better, I would know how to play office politics better, I would be more self-confident, I would have got a headstart in my career relative to other guys.”

    You have been sorely out of touch with reality. It does not take a commission from the President of Singapore to make one a “better leader and better manager of men”. If that were the case, then would it not be better if all politicians worldwide be made to attend mandatory military service? There are countless excellent leaders that have not done a stitch of military service. Ditto for other professions.

    And what of non-commissioned officers (today branded as “Specialists”)? Can one not learn to be a better leader and manager of men by being a non-com? I will be frank, you comments about commissioned officers and presuming that by being thus they will have some kind of a head start smacks of elitism. Just remember, for every former officer who has ‘made it’, there are a couple more who are stuck in mediocre jobs.

    Also, being an officer does not automatically grant one a “headstart in (one’s) career relative to other guys”, especially if one is hunting for a job in the private sector, because sadly, our NS transcripts and testimonies and what have you are really only looked at when applying for public sector job, and even so, it does not count for much. As for your comparison with the US:

    “In the US, they have an all-volunteer force, and those who graduate from West Point proudly put it in their CV’s as a mark of distinction. And if they have combat experience, medals and honors, they put that in too. Companies like that, because it shows patriotism in a candidate. It also helps in the future too, should they ever decide to join politics.”

    Please remember where we live! We do NOT live in the US, where serving in the military is a source of pride, distinction, and patriotism! We live in Singapore, where sadly, doing one’s duty well gets you labelled as “siao-on” and “garang” (used in a negative sense), and you face discrimination by your peers. Having ORDed only a couple of years back, I can tell you this is the dismal reality of NS life today: hard work and dedication to duty goes unrecognised, while scoundrels get away. This is one of the other reasons why some of us from the younger generation are disillusioned with NS, the lack of basic pride in serving one’s nation.

    • Thanks for comments. Unfortunately, you are wrong in your first assertion. I was speaking of myself, I know myself better than I did 20 years ago, so I know for certain I’m right when I say that I would have been a better manager and better leader if I’d become an officer.

      I reject your notion of elitism. There is a reason why there is a rank structure in place in any organisation, whether it is the SAF or a private company. Barring any information to the contrary, one must start with the assumption that the organisation places people correctly, therefore those of higher rank must have better leadership and managerial capabilities than those below.

      It does not mean that the lower ranks are useless or stupid, but we entrust leadership, strategy and management to those at the top, and thus unless we have info to the contrary, we must assume those at the top are better leaders, managers and strategists than those at the bottom.

      Getting a headstart does not come a piece of paper from the SAF, but how the experience changes you. If you have become more confident, calm under pressure, developed initiative and are articulate and present yourself well– as a result of your experience as an officer– don’t you think it will show in your interviews, even in the way you walk, talk and greet your interviewers?

      Re the testimonial SAF gives you, I read it like a reference letter from a past employer. I’d expect your senior officer to say what you did well, what your strengths are, etc. If you have done well, and your senior officers speak good of you, I don’t see why it can’t help you in your interview.

      And if you have won a Sword of Honour, that is another talking point for you in the interview. IF you don’t know how to use that, you probably couldn’t win the Sword in the first place.

      Look, if two equally academically qualified candidates came to me for a job, I’d choose the one who is more confident, calm under stress, who can present well, who displays initiative. Why would I choose the private over the officer, all else being equal? This is not about elitism, it’s about making the best choice for the company.

      Last, you are mistaken in thinking yours is the only generation disillusioned by NS. Every generation is. It has nothing to do with how many foreign workers Singapore imports, or whether they are stealing jobs for us. Just watching the girls get ahead, just watching the guys who keng and go to Medical Board to get downgraded and go to 9 to 5 vocations where they can book out every day is enough to make me sick.

      You have a choice– try to do the same (ie keng and siam and try to get away with as little as possible during NS), or try to excel and get ahead. I chose the former, but I would now choose the latter. Not because I love Singapore or the SAF, but because it would make me a better person, and I would learn more in my 2.5 years than if I just keng and siam.

      Hopefully one day you’ll see this.

  18. J says:

    One observation i made is the low number of PhD students or graduates who are Singaporeans. Especially for the NS males, there could be less tendency to pursue postgraduate studies after spending 2 (used to be 2.5) years in the military. This probably stems from the mentality that males are already several years behind in a career compared to Singapore girls and foreigners; opportunity costs during the NS stint; and concerns about joining the workforce closer to the 30-year-old mark.

    Recently, i made the decision to pursue a Master degree overseas after working for several years in Singapore. I was already 30 years old comparing to some of my British house mates who were about to complete their PhD studies at the age of 25 or 26. Personally, I would like to pursue a PhD after this Master degree if given a choice. However, the thought of completing the PhD and rejoining the workforce at the age of 34 years old and lack of savings (absence of savings during the 2.5 years of NS) struck fear.

    My own conclusion is that the NS stint may be an indirect reason why many Singaporean males do not consider about postgraduate studies. This probably led to the outcome of many foreign PhD graduates plying their trade in Singapore and Singapore universities.

    • Thanks, NS could be one reason but I don’t think it is the prime reason. In fact, I come across many CV’s from Singaporeans who have three degrees before their first full-time job: a double undergrad degree (eg engineering and bizad) plus a master’s degree (eg MEng, MEcons). Yes, they are typically scholars, but scholars too have to serve NS.

  19. skdlfj says:

    “I am humble to those who are humble. I am civil to those who are civil. But I will bite back at those who are here to attack me.”

    Yes, and i in no way attacked you in my first comment, but yet you attacked me.

    I find it odd that I cannot reply to what you have replied me. Maybe its a system thing, but nevertheless, i think you somehow work to prove me right? I’m not expecting you to reply to every point, but surely claiming you did when in fact you did not (again), and trumpeting “oh people can see it for themselves”? Because, well, i don’t see it. (For some comments yes, but specifically, not for mine). Trumpeting your past accomplishments does not make you right when you did not do it for my case (and in any case, I was only referring to my comment and your reply.)

    I find it odd that you are machine-gunning everyone down even when I agreed with you all but one point. Instead of replying with substance, you attack the person.

  20. Cat says:

    I’m totally in support for NS. Be it 2, 2.5 or 3years.

    The only problem is the 10 cycle ‘reservist’ that every male has to go through. It is extremely disruptive to work, especially when one is a key appointment holder within the company. The Gahman merely ‘compensated’ us by giving us back what we lost in wages. There are many other things which cannot be ‘compensated’.

    Eg. after a 3week reservist, went back to working finding that all projects under you are now under another person. And these projects are crucial for your performance report and affects your standing in the company.

    Companies cannot handle an employee leaving for so long without someone else there to take up what they left. This is where a Singaporean Male will lose out to the FTs. You can argue that companies are given ample time to prepare as the Mindef sends out notifications 6months prior to training, but in the commercial world a lot of things do happen over the half year. You can’t just tell the employer “Hey we are recalling back this guy, please lower his workload, but do not fire him.”

    Why would an employer choose a Singaporean over a foreigner when the former already has so many ‘pitfalls’ prior to hiring?

    1) Salary comparison (Employer has to take into account of the extra CPF he needs to pay)
    2) Leave (Annual leave, medical leave, and NS reservist ‘leave’, up to 40days a year)

    I’ll rather serve a 3,5year NS than have a 10cycle reservist coming back to haunt me every 1-2years, disrupting my career every now and then.

    • I appreciate your points, I hated reservist myself, but we still see near full-employment in Singapore, and I see many many Singaporeans who reach senior positions within their companies.

      Frankly, at senior levels (eg $10K per month and above), CPF is a very small portion of the equation, and most foreigners competing for such jobs will be PR’s anyway, so they would also subject to CPF.

  21. Chop says:

    Hi politicalwritings, I admire your patience and objective perspective in responding civilly to arguments. I know it can be really trying. =)

    I agree with your position that NS should not be linked to the recent unhappiness we experienced as a nation. The rationale is simple: NS is a matter of National Security and hence demands utmost dedication and sacrifice. How can we have a progressive country if we do not have a stable platform to build on? How can we raise families when we are constantly under external threats? NS is a fundamental requirement for our survival as a sovereignty and must be addressed as such, regardless of the influx of FT, political changes and whatever other issues.
    I have served my 2.5 years and found it to be a very positive experience in my life. As compared to my father’s generation of NSmen under the Israeli trainers, I think I’m already having it easy, and thus, have no complaints. Yes, there are tough moments, but I think it was good for character building and help develop other qualities such as leadership, personal management, self-confidence, responsibility and discipline. (I’m only a 3SG, by the way) These became very useful when I subsequently worked overseas for 3 years after my ORD. Without NS, I would probably have a much harder time assimilating into a new life in a foreign place.

    The only disruptive element about NS is the annual reservist, mobilisations, as well as the physical compliance like IPPT, RT or IPT. These can certainly pose challenges at work, and result in some unhappiness if your employers are not understanding enough. But if the day ever comes where we have to defend Singapore, I’ll be most glad that I have the capability and knowledge to defend my country!

    Recently I’ve been reading a book by Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki titled Why We Want You to Get Rich. Within, they were talking about this entitlement mind set where Americans expect the government to take care of them. I found this to true about Singapore as well. We are increasingly expecting our government to take care of us, but we have neglected this fact: nothing is fair, and free, in this world. Compared to other countries, Singapore already enjoyed many years of peace and stability. Can we possibly achieve this if Singapore is constantly under security threats? Can our children live in peace if we do not have NS? I am not a PAP fanatic. I belong to the 40% that cheered when WP won Aljunied. But I do not see NS as an exclusive PAP policy. Yes, it was implemented by the ruling party when Singapore gained independence. But again I need to stress that NS is integral for our nation’s survival, and thus, must rise above political differences.

    • ns46 says:

      I will smash your perspective once and for all

      Purpose of NS : defence and deterrence

      To defend/deter against what? External threats

      agree with me that patriotism/nationalism must be before NS? Agree?

      NS = A nationalistic cause to defend/deter against external threats correct?

      U tell me how is there NATIONAL IDENTITY where close to 50% of population are foreigners/ PRs?

      Dont tell me about external threats when the government invited them in

      Worse of all, have you in your deceitful fantasy ever heard of NS for singaporeans, jobs/scholarship for foreigners? That serves to further weaken the already fragile national identity

      POINT is, NS has lost the reason for existence.

      And your apparently civilised manner of replying cannot cover the insecurities you bear in regards to your view, such that I can see everytime someone refutes your point, you immediately went into shoving up your oh so rational points up the other party’s throat, and mobilised yourself into selective take in of information, and barging out any counter argument in full force.

      • vepture says:

        I absolutely agree with you ns46. It seems that the author tends to take selective viewing of arguments and more often than not, attach an offensive comment to the refutation. Personal attacks are immature especially after putting together such an impressive and civilized arguments in the first place. Now I speak to the author himself. I have read through your arguments. Rather impressive if I should say so the least and congratulate you upon putting it together. However, I do have a few questions and this will concern getting oneself distinguished in the military. First of all, do you know how hard it is to earn the Sword of Honor? Do you know exactly how many people are even able to earn an officer’s commission and enter the officer’s course? This is certainly a minority, and even though I believe in how hard work can help you achieve great things, this just seems rather impossible. Next, on your support regarding the US. I have been deployed to the US and talked to them regarding such details. West Point is an elite academy for future commanders and officers and the ability to even attempt to enter is exceptionally difficult. Talking about a Singaporean to enter it is near impossible. This applies exactly the same as how we send our Naval Diver Unit elites to the US Navy SEALs and Marine training course. Chances of getting thought = about 0.1%. Even our elite of the elite are barely able to get across and get distinguished. Next, if one were to be selected as an officer, you still need a university degree and due to those few years lost, you have lost out to “foreign talent” your own age. I agree with you concerning how PRs should not serve due to us divulging secrets to foreigner, entirely understandable. But concerning new citizens. Has it ever occurred to you that these new citizens must be provided for and take up the same burdens on the government budget? Then why should they not serve? You brought up in a side-argument that it would discourage people from becoming citizens, but is that not a worthy test? If they really wish to settle down, let them experience the Singapore lifestyle. If they do not like it, then Singapore should not be their choice of country. This technique practiced by the government is also called selectively choosing of talent. They absorbed as much monetary burden as us, but they don’t serve their responsibilities. You say all citizens have responsibilities and if these new citizens are not willing to take up these responsibilities (like NS) which comes with picking up a Singaporean passport, then too bad. Singapore is not for them. So I do not get your argument attempting to refute the common one of how new citizens should serve. It is not developed well enough. I look forward to more insight and a possible rebuttal to these areas I have brought up.

      • You know who I hated most during my time in BMT? It wasn’t the mighty officers, it wasn’t the tekan sergeants, it wasn’t the corporal instructors. It was my fellow recruits!

        Specifically, it was the ones whom we called ‘siau on’. The guys who volunteered for everything, and sometimes got my platoon to do more than our fair share of duty and work. The ones who had good ‘attitude’. The ones who always cheered loudest and sang loudest during exercise and route marches.

        Guess where they went to after POP?

        As I think back on those days, I realise the opportunities I let go. I was an ‘air’ level just like them. I could have made it as far as anyone else. But they went on to OCS. Whereas I went on to be a chow medic.

        Just last week, a colleague complained that she was seated too near the boss so she couldn’t do as she pleased because the boss could see everything on her screen.

        Does she realise that being seated near the boss is a chance to be close to the boss? That instead of trying to ‘siam’ everything, she should actually volunteer to do more? She should volunteer for extra assignments, learn more and do more. Because like my hated platoon mates 30 years ago, that’s the way to get recognized and be promoted!

        I hope this illustrates what I mean. It is not about the Sword Of Honour per se. I know it’s difficult, and only one cadet per service per batch is awarded the honour.

        It’s not about whether Singaporeans can get to West Point or make it thru a SEAL course.

        The point is not the winning, it’s the attitude of winning, of wanting to do your best, that matters.

        If I had the right attitude 30 years ago, don’t you think my life would have changed course thoroughly?

        For as long as the PAP is in power, NS will stay. Young men therefore have two choices: Hate it like I did, try to do as little as possible like I did, and end up nowhere like I did. Or take NS with a positive attitude, become an officer and a leader, learn as much as you can in two years, and hope that experience changes you.

        All the complaints about foreigners, while valid, do not change this stark choice. It is a choice between personal growth vs personal withdrawal.

        Which do you prefer?

        As for new citizens, what you say is not wrong but will not give PAP the results it wants, which is to bring in as many people as they think can contribute to the economy. If a policy cannot achieve its objective, the PAP would be dumb to persist with it. Say what you want. PAP is not too philosophical about it. If you are into marketing, this is the switch and bait technique– get the 1st generation in now and give them a waiver on NS, and you get the rest of the generations free of charge for NS.

  22. nuffsaid says:

    like you said, you hated ns too..

    the only reason why you had a change of mind was probably you are already out of ‘that’ cycle =.=

    say what you want to say,
    say you wish you can do NS again,
    but be realistic, you knew its not gonna happen..

    so you can be like, ‘oh I wish I do more NS’, ‘oh, NS is good’.
    Don’t give us the crap when you are done with it..

    • Read more carefully. I never said NS is good or that I wish I could do more NS or that I want to do NS again.

      What I said was that if I’d done better at NS, my life would have been completely different.

      As to whether youngsters should distinguish themselves in NS, they can take the points I brought up into consideration, and weigh that against the heavier responsibilities and longer reservist obligations that come from being in the officer corps.

  23. jhteo says:

    hi admin, i chanced upon your article and i also share the same thoughts as you. i hated used to hate NS. but i realised that i have given up learning opportunities as a result of hating NS instead of embracing. i posted my story regarding my “fear in life” on my fb and i would like to share it with u as well.

    Hi everyone, I am writing this note to share with everyone the regrets I have in my life at the age of 25. I hope my experience will encourage you not let your fear rule your life. I have decided to share this after watching jack neo’s ABTM 3 as I realised I have given up plenty of opportunities in my 25 years of life.

    Pardon my language as I do not speak fluent English. Some of you probably will not understand what I am trying to say after reading this, but feel free to clarify with me if you have problem understanding.

    When I was in primary school, I was often ranked at the bottom few when it comes to academic ranking. I was never interested in studies, all I enjoyed was playing LEGO whole day long and also hoping that I would fall sick and get MC. Fortunately I manage to scrap through primary school days and managed to maintain at EM2 at primary 6.

    I was unlike primary 6 students nowadays who will go for endless tuition and all they had every day was homework. No doubt I do have tuition classes at that time, I was never paying any attention during tuition lessons. I failed 3 subjects in the beginning of primary 6 but I was fortunate enough to get into express stream in secondary school with a mere 191 points for my PSLE.

    Secondary school days were my proudest moment as I studied hard in secondary 2 after failing 5 subjects during first continuous assessment. I studied hard as the 5 red marks on my report card serve as a wake-up call for me. After getting scolded from my mum for such horrendous results that she has never seen before and sensing the disappointment in her eyes, I decided to study hard so as not to disappoint her again.

    Every day after I reached home, I would start studying from 4pm till bedtime. This goes on for half a year and in the end, my effort paid off when I was ranked 5th in class. I was proud of myself because I have never gotten into top 10 positions in class in my life. From that day onwards, I told myself that I will never fail any subjects ever again.

    I mugged hard through secondary 3 & 4 and managed to get 1st in standard throughout my secondary 4 for 2 semesters. My proudest achievement came when I got a raw score of 10 points for my O level exam in 2006. From that day onwards I feared the day I would fail because that would mean I am back to square one, also disappointing my parents and crushing the hopes my parents have in me as I was the only one among my siblings who made it to JC.

    In AJC, I mugged hard every day for subjects I took except GP and Geography because the latter 2 subjects were my most dislike subjects. During my time in AJC, there was this exchange program to Cambridge University for about 1 week (If I never remember wrongly). I was approached by my mathematics teacher regarding whether I would like to go for the exchange. I politely rejected that offer immediately as I feared my results would suffer because of my absence in college.

    Fast forward to JC 2, the time where boys in the class had to go for NS medical check-up at CMPB. I was given PES A by the MO. Guess what? I was even selected for vocational assessment for NDU at Sembawang naval base.(yeah, the NDU in ABTM 3) At that time I was so terrified that I went googling ways to avoid NDU and I found from online that I would just need to tell them that I am water phobic and they will reject me immediately.

    I never pass my napfa in my life and I feared that I will not be able to take the training and feared that my muscle will ache every day if I were to say YES to NDU. In addition, I just want to serve my 2 years with minimal efforts. So during the interview with the warrant officer at NDU, I expressed no interest and indicated that I am water phobic. However, the warrant office did not give up. He said to me “imagine your girlfriend fell into the sea, will you save her?” Tough question indeed, luckily I was quick witted at that time and I replied “I do not have a girlfriend now so I do not know”. My answer was brilliant! I evaded his question successfully.

    Fortunately I was thrown back to Tekong for BMT. I heaved a sign of relieve! So I did my minimum during my entire NS days, never wanting to take up leadership roles in NS as I feared punishments.
    My mother is one who strongly believes that boys should serve army instead of police because she believes that boys should learn to take hardships. Till the day I ORD, I still cannot understand why my mum was so different from other parents who would wish that their son to get a “ senang”(good life/easy) posting in NS.

    Fast forward to first few years in university where I would join special projects in NUS community service club but I never took up any leadership roles in that club as I feared of the extra workload that would be imposed on me and affecting my grades.

    My ideology remains the same until my internship at construction site last year. One day my intern boss said to me “ if you are always doing simple things, then you are always there” . This statement strikes me hard throughout my internship. I did quite a lot of work for my boss during the internship. The most memorable task given to me was to take picture of the ceiling outside lift lobby at level 1 & 10 for 11 condominium tower blocks in 1.5 hours. At that time when I receive this task, the word “IMPOSSIBLE” just appear in my brain because the time needed to wait for passenger hoist is just damn long.

    I knew I still have to get the task done. In the end, I climbed the stairs for all 11 blocks of condominium and completed taking all the photographs in 1 hour, clocking an average of about 5 minutes per block. It was a task well done for me because I did not expect myself to be able to achieve such feat when I first receive the task considering that I climb using my legs non-stop for that duration.

    The entire internship made me understand that if we are always comfortable with where we are now, we will always be there. We have to move out of our comfort zone to learn new things, never be afraid of failure and most importantly never let my fear control me (I had to climb external scaffolding when I have slight phobia of heights).

    Therefore I decided to move out of my comfort zone in year 4 when I took up Indonesian language module. I used to hate humanities and languages in the past because I think will definitely fail the module. I fear failing the module as it would mean that my CAP will be affected. But I took the Indonesian language as a challenge for myself to move out of my comfort zone in Engineering, a challenge against my own ideology. The entire semester of learning new language taught me something. That is not to tell myself that I will not succeed even before I try because I am now taking the second level for Indonesian language module.

    And so I watch ABTM 3 during recess week The scene when recruit ken said “ I hate tyre PT” and the instructor replied “ you don’t have to like it, you just have to do it”. These 2 statements leave a deep impression on me such that I reflected about my life for 1 week after watching the movie.

    I realised that in life, I have many things I hated, fear or even dread. I can either chose to continue going against them or embrace it by “I don’t have to like it, I just have to do it”. I think by choosing the latter will enable one to learn more in the process because we will learn to be adaptive.

    Now I swim every day, I am not that water phobic after all. Fear can be conquered. My regret is to allow my fear to stop me from trying out things. My fear has not only controlled me, it has also force me to give up learning opportunities that is associated with each task.

    I realised that one will grow in the face of hardship and adversity, just like how plants grow better when cow dung is thrown to it. The director for NUS Engineering Science Program Prof Wang said during an interview that there are few born leaders. But leadership can be trained, we all learn on the job.

    I realised my fear of failure was cultivated along the way after I tasted success because I will never want myself to fall back to where I came from. I realised that hatred can be tamed, just like how I accepted learning a new language with an open mind.

    Lastly, I finally understood my mum’s stance that boys should serve army. She wanted me to experience hardship as my life was too smooth sailing. It took me 4 years after I ORD to understand this.

    If only I was daring enough to go for exchange during JC , I would have experienced life in other countries. If only I was daring enough to tell the warrant officer I am willing to give it a try, probably I would have passed my IPPT now. If only I was daring enough to take up leadership roles in university, probably I will have better interaction skills. If only I was daring to try and not let my fear control me. If only I could turn back time.

  24. Jason says:

    nope, it’s not “the government owes me mentality”;
    it is “what the fuck we owe everyone else”; we were happily going about our lives, minding our own business till the f***ing tyrant decides to own oir bodies for 2 years and more.

    Get your facts straight.

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