S’porean NSman commander on reservist training: We need a transformation of mindset towards NS
'We understand the fact that this tiny little nation cannot do without an armed force.'
Ever since news of Aloysius Pang’s tragic injury and subsequent death from getting crushed by a gun barrel while on reservist training in New Zealand, Singaporeans from across the island have, apart from feeling outraged and sad, have turned to introspection and reflection.
One of these Singaporeans is Facebook user CHarn Lim, who referred to himself as an eighth-year NSman commander.
Currently on reservist training as well, Lim wrote a lengthy post reflecting on Pang’s death and the reactions he has observed thus far to reports and developments online.
Here are some of the points in his post:
1. There is always danger in training
Lim writes that from the day a teenager shaves botak (bald), they put themselves at risk, and, of course, protecting a country from war is always a dangerous endeavour.
Safety measures, when followed, help to ensure a soldier’s safety, but it’s also important to remember that it is a horizontal effort — i.e. soldiers must look out for one another.
While training-related deaths like Pang’s (and those who preceded him) are preventable, the only way to entirely reduce injuries and deaths to zero is by scrapping National Service altogether, he says.
2. ORD is just the beginning of a Singaporean son’s training, not the end of NS
Lim says the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) has a lot of work to do on this front, in terms of communicating what reservist training is all about and why it’s important.
The prevailing impression, of course, is that reservist is a break from one’s day job, and we often hear stories of plenty of slacking and idling time away, but Lim says for him in particular, it’s vastly different:
“Maybe it’s true for some, but at least for my line of duty as homeland security, we go through more serious trainings as compared to our NS days. The real deal begins here when we are operational ready. We are deployed to protect Singapore with real bullets, simulate real mission if there is ever a war breaking out, or terrorist attack.”
3. We won’t be taken seriously by our neighbours if not for our armed forces
Lim also points out an issue pertinent to recent events happening at our borders: diplomacy is important, he notes, but no country negotiating any situation with Singapore will take us seriously if we don’t have our armed forces — which, of course, includes our NSmen on reservist training and exercises.
“I’m not trying to wayang here, but spirit in my camp is still uplifting; we are upset by the news and we know how dangerous and painful it can be, but there is no mutiny or revolts. There is no call to end our service immediately. We are supposedly ready to go for a live-firing tmr but it’s cancelled.
We understand the fact that this tiny little nation cannot do without an armed force.
Rather, this incident only magnifies the vulnerability of Singapore. If we start placing self-interest over the nation, we will see a very different Singapore. Given a choice, why would I wanna send my son to die? But if he doesn’t pick up that rifle, in his generation or next, perhaps we won’t be a nation anymore.
The reality is we cannot survive without conscription. Even if there is no war, the absence of a strong armed force will plunge us into economic instability because it just gave us less bargaining chips on the table.”
4. Trying to blame MINDEF creates fear, mistrust & more training accidents & lapses
Lim said it’s a natural reaction to blame MINDEF for every training-related death and accident, but doing so is inherently dangerous, he argues.
Firstly, he says, this promotes witch-hunting instead of getting to the root of the issue, and triggers “short-sighted solutions that cover the surface of a larger crack” on the ministry’s part. What he describes as a “blaming culture” also leads to fear and mistrust, which in turn creates negative attitudes that cause even more accidents and lapses — which can claim even more lives.
“Instead of calling heads to be roll, we need leaders to make sound and wise decision for the security of the nation, not quick and rash responses to pacify the anger; we also need a transformation of mindset towards NS and a renewed culture in camps.”
Lim also concludes with the following messages for various groups of Singaporeans:
“For the men who serve like me, be proud and know why you wear that uniform. It’s literally the social fabric that weaves Singapore together. It’s really a chance to meet people from all walks of life, of different SES and of different races and religion.
For the women who have husbands, boyfriends and sons, embrace the fact that they are not just protecting your family, but they are protecting others’ too.
I don’t think I’m the only who feel sad for the loss of Aloysius, and feel worried for our sons who eventually need to serve the nation.
But there is also meaning, and a sense of pride, only if we understand the true purpose of why we are doing this.”
Many Singaporeans resonated with the post, including Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan-Jin.
“It’s a time of grief and also reflection as we mourn the loss of a Singaporean son. Many views are being expressed but I thought this sharing captured the essence of what is at stake here. Thank you to all our servicemen and women who continue serve and to defend our home.
Let us investigate and once it’s clear what happened, address the issues so that we can all carry out our responsibilities as safely as possible. RIP Aloysius. We remember you, your loved ones and also your fellow comrades serving alongside you.”
Here are screenshots of CHarn’s full post:
And his full post here.
More Singaporeans reflecting on the aftermath of Pang’s death:
Top photo via Singapore Armed Forces