Photographer captures dual role of S’porean Sons with album that could be an ad for SAF

The album is called 'With our lives'.

By Tanya Ong | February 10, 2018

Since 1967, all able-bodied men in Singapore are conscripted for a full two years of military training once they reach 18.

After serving National Service, these men still need to go through about a decade of reservist before they can transit to the Mindef Reserve (MR) phase.

During this period, civilian soldiers hold full-time jobs. They not only have responsibilities toward their day jobs, but also toward the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as a soldier.

As a civilian & a soldier

The duality in the roles of a citizen soldier in Singapore has been perfectly captured in an album by photographer Koh Sze Kiat.

The album, which consists of photographs of different individuals from his battalion, has a fairly simple but humourous concept.

Each composite image compromises two photographs of the same individual in both civilian attire and military uniform. The attire stands in stark contrast with its background setting.

According to him, these photos are a “celebration of all of our citizen soldiers whose dual roles support a strong economy and military that cannot survive without the other.”

Here are some of the photographs where many different occupations (such as a teacher, hawkerpreneur and personal trainer) are featured.

Photo by Szekiat Koh.
Photo by Szekiat Koh.
Photo by Szekiat Koh.
Photo by Szekiat Koh.
Photo by Szekiat Koh.

Reflection on his NS experience

Koh calls the album “With our lives.” The fact that these are the three words echoed loudest by every soldier reciting the SAF pledge is no accident.

This is because the album serves as a way for Koh to conclude his NS experience by marking the end of his ten-year cycle.

Koh wrote a lengthy reflection on the album pointing out the importance of NS and how it has benefited himself and others.

Despite it being a “bittersweet experience,” he takes an optimistic view, writing that it has taught him about the importance of teamwork:

NS had always been a bittersweet experience for myself. I cannot speak for everyone but surely this feeling resonates very well – the mental and verbal grumbling before every mundane tasks we do in green. Yet at the end of the day we will betray that devil and still gave it our all to get the job done.

Every soldier may not be equal. There is always someone who is more ‘garang’, runs faster than us or is a better leader. There is a purpose for every serviceman in his own role with equal importance in responsibility. We performed well and that was because we worked together.”

He also recognises that each one of these men have different responsibilities outside of the SAF.

However, despite these differences, Koh wrote that they actually embrace the same values and have a common understanding of why NS is necessary:

“As I progressed through each In-Camp Training (ICT), it became evident to me that most of us embraced the SAF core values consciously or not that saw us through the past decade together. Looking back on my personal journey has been the most insightful perspective of NS. The personal sacrifice from everyone and those before us in more ways than one is a necessary cost for peace.”

His album can be viewed at Oddinary or on his Facebook page.

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Top photo by Szekiat Koh.

About Tanya Ong

Tanya knows pi to the 35th decimal place for absolutely no reason at all.

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