When my friend gave birth to her only son fifteen years ago, she took steps to migrate to Australia as she does not want her son to serve National Service. I have another friend who has five sons now living in New Zealand yet have taken the bold or may I say practical decision to ensure that all her five sons will serve national services.
I read with anguish the pain that Clifton Lam’s mother must be going through now. Although the Pilot Officer Cadet fulfilled his dream posthumously to be a pilot, I am sure that his family would rather he be alive.
If our sons and soldiers were to die in the line of fire or while on duty serving our country it might not be as painful as having them die from routine training. The sense of uselessness and futility is compounded and the search for answer must be forth coming so that the faith we have in the National Service system can be regained and rebuilt.
I must confess that I was tempted to follow my friend’s footstep and migrate in order that our sons need not go through National Services in the past.
But National Service is the backbone of our defense strategy. As our population is small, we do not have the luxury to have a large professional army. Singapore depends on her citizen army to defend and protect her.
When my husband was enlisted over twenty three years ago, we were only allowed to see him off at a community center. For the next three weeks, his mother and I were in limbo as we do not know what kind of life he was going through.
Now parents are invite to Pulau Tekong to see the facilities and living conditions that their sons will be in before they start Basic Military Training. Food has been out sourced so that they are more edible now then before, they are provided with trolley bags with wheels so that they need not carry the heavy Ali Baba bags like in the past and they are transported in air-con comfort unlike before where they have to endure the boneshaker.
Yet two training fatalities in two days have result in a seismic shift in our trust in the training regime and system.
There is a need for the mothers and fathers to be convinced that there are system and check in place that will ensure that our sons do not die from a simple yet preventable ailment like heat stroke.
According to Dr. Bernard Loo, a specialist in defence studies at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, safety regulations in the Singapore Armed Forces were already one of the most stringent in the world.
What more could the SAF do to re-assure parents that their sons are in good hands? Perhaps it is time to change the mind set of the training system. Maybe our soldiers must learn to draw the line and learn to say no when they do not feel well.
When I was growing up in the 1970’s there was this pop song with this lyric
Perhaps it is now time to look at the attitude and beliefs of our soldiers and trainer officers towards training. After all,training systems, regulations and procedures are run by people.
Are there too many “heroes” in the SAF?
The writer is a mother of six and believes that NS a vital part for the survival of Singapore.