Sweeping changes are afoot to give national servicemen more leeway when serving National service, while at the same time, saluting those who have done, or want to do, their part for the country’s defence.
One key proposal to ease the stress on servicemen is to stop the current standard practice of notifying the Defence Ministry or the Home Team when they leave the country for more than 24 hours. Instead, only those who will be away for more than two weeks will need to inform the authorities. If approved, only one in 10 overseas trips will require official notification.
Another key change: giving servicemen up to 24 months to pass, or work out to scrape through, their annual Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).
These are among 30 proposed changes, announced on Thursday by the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) after a year-long review, that are aimed at fixing the shortfalls in NS training that many servicemen have complained about. The panel, led by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, canvassed for feedback and views from more than 40,000 participants in focus group discussions and townhall meetings.
To boost buy-in for NS among servicemen and the community, the CSNS, among other things, also want to:
- Give and redistribute more monetary rewards and benefits for those who have served their NS obligations or have done well during their stints;
- Shorten the waiting time for half of Singapore’s NS-bound young men so they do not wait more than four months before they begin their full-time stints;
- Set up the new Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps targeted at women, first-generation permanent residents and new citizens who choose to pitch in for the country’s defence.
The recommendations will be tabled in Parliament next week, with MPs debating on them. The proposals are expected to be approved next month.
Every able-bodied man and woman, who is exempt from National Service, can choose to do their part to defend the country when the first-ever Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps is set up in the middle of next year. Women, first-generation permanent residents and new citizens, between 18 and 45, will be the target of the new military corps.
For a start, defence planners are hoping to see about 100 to 150 step forward to form the first batch of volunteers. They can choose to serve in two tracks:
- Operations: guarding the Republic’s key installations like Jurong Island and crowd control during SAF-related events
- Specialist: applying their expertise in the legal, medical, psychological and maritime fields, among others.
After signing up, they will have to wear military fatigues and undergo a four-week course to familiarise themselves with the military’s modus operandi. "They will have to understand the culture and know-how to behave in a military environment which is very different from the civilian world,” said Colonel Goh Si Hou.
Like every Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (NSmen), volunteers are liable to be called up to serve for up to two weeks every year, for at least three years. Employers will be required to let them go and the volunteers will be given an allowance during their in-camp stints. The Enlistment Act will have to be amended, which The Straits Times understands, will make it mandatory for employers to release volunteers for their stints.
The topic of women and first-generation PRs volunteering attracted intense discussion in recent focus groups led by the Committee to Strengthen National Service.
To increase support for and commitment to National Service, a high-level panel has come up with 30 suggestions to help motivate people, so they can better defend the country. The Straits Times highlights the top five changes most likely to affect you:
1. No need for NSmen to notify the Defence Ministry when going abroad, unless it is for more than 14 days
Currently, travel abroad past 24 hours requires notification.
2. Given up to two years to train for or pass your Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT)
NSmen will have a year to clear their IPPT, and another year to complete remedial training. Currently, they have nine months to pass their IPPT, and three months for remedial training.
3. NSmen will get $3,000 at each of three milestones
The milestones are: the completion of their full-time NS, the mid-point and end of their 10-year NS training cycle.
Two-thirds of the $9,000 will be credited into their Ordinary accounts and can be used for housing. The other one-third will go into the serviceman’s education account. An additional $6,000 will be credited into their Medisave accounts over the NS training cycle.
IPPT incentives have also been bumped up by $100. A Gold achiever, for example, will get $500, while a silver award winner will get $300.
4. New SAF Volunteer Corps
Women and first-generaton Permanent Residents and new citizens can soon serve alongside regulars and citizen soldiers, as the SAF sets up its first Volunteer Corps. Those who sign up will undergo a four-week basic training course, and will be called back to serve for up to two weeks annually, for at least three years.
5. More efficiency in training
The SAF will hire a cadre of 1,100 career soldiers to train NSFs, and widen its pool of commanders (specialists and officers) by 10 per cent. It will also accredit skills picked up in NS like driving and leadership to support post-NS transition.
Women and new citizens could soon be serving alongside National Servicemen in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), if a recommendation to establish a Volunteer Corps by the Committee to Strengthen National Service is accepted. The Straits Times sums up the key mechanics of the scheme:
1. Volunteers will enlist under the SAF Act, and serve four weeks of training to gain basic military skills and values, and be orientated to their roles.
2. Thereafter, they are called back to serve one to two weeks every year, and commit for a minimum of three years.
3. Volunteers can opt for either track: Operations or Specialist.
4. Those in Operations can be trained and deployed in tasks like protecting key installations like Jurong Island and Changi Airport, and access control during events such as the National Day Parade.
5. Specialists can contribute their expertise in the legal, psychology, information, medical, engineering and maritime domains