Must be more than a million who went before – brothers, cousins, neighbours, colleagues, the guys serving our food, driving our buses, making policies, teaching our children, well almost every male Singaporean over 18 years old – went through NS, a mandatory 2-year military conscription.
Foreign friends are often surprised that our little island state has an army, let alone practises mandatory conscription. By the way, we have a naval and air force too.
But why? You’re not at war with anyone? Why do you need a peace time army? I’m often asked.
Ah, it’s a long story…it began one February morning a hundred years ago when Indian sepoys gunned down British officers and started a mutiny …
Ok Ok I’m not going to bore you with all the history that I claim to know so well.
Fast forward 40 years, post WW2, after the Japanese Occupation and the creation of a new nation in 1965 – The Republic of Singapore.
At that time, the British were packing up to leave the old colony and we had only about a thousand career soldiers and a young growing population to feed, house, educate and provide employment.
Our visionary leaders realized that Singapore cannot become a progressive country without a strong defense to protect the assets of our people and the investors that we need for economic development.
Not getting into the details of NS, it was first and foremost to serve in the defense of our country. Another important role of NS is a social leveling of sorts.
Male conscripts of all races and religions and from different family and education backgrounds come together for their 3-month basic military training. Once their heads are shaven and full army uniform donned, these boys sleep on standard army beds, eat the same army food, share common bathrooms and train under the same conditions. Many of them become friends for life from the bonds they made during this short and intense period of their lives.
Everybody has a NS story. My brothers told me how they were packed on army trucks to camps without the family knowing exactly where and how they would be. Colleagues talked about the inedible army food cooked by fellow recruits. Even the taxi driver who drove me to the camp, gave an unsolicited account of his commando days as if it happened yesterday.
Now my son is part of the NS story. I’m sure he will have his own tale to tell when his service is over in 2 years’ time.
Times have changed of course. Army food has improved, there are stringent checks on recruits’ health and abilities, and even a comprehensive tour of the camp for family members on enlistment day complete with food tasting.
In the meantime, I am told to check out the Basic Military Training Centre Facebook page and LIKE it so I can follow the activities going on in my son’s camp.
Yes, times have indeed changed since the first batch of NS men in 1967.