Keeping NS and citizen soldiers in step

Keeping NS and citizen soldiers in step

What will national servicemen grumble about now?

Many of their pet peeves have been addressed in a sweeping review of this 47-year-old rite of passage for Singaporean males.

They may no longer have to notify the authorities when they take a short holiday overseas. Only those who will be overseas for more than two weeks would have to do this.

The responsibility for their fitness could also pass more squarely into their own hands, if the recommendations made by a high-powered committee that aims to improve the NS experience are accepted.

Operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) will be given 12 months instead of the current nine to pass their annual Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT). If they fail, they could be given up to another year to raise their fitness levels - perhaps, even at private gyms.

Currently, they have to attend 20 remedial sessions packed into three months to get their fitness up.

Another key proposal: Able-bodied individuals who are exempt from NS (women, first-generation permanent residents and new citizens) but still want to pitch in for the country's defence can join the newly formed Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps, when it enlists its first batch of volunteers in the middle of next year.

As for Singapore's NS-bound young men, the wait may be shortened. Currently, many wait for up to eight months to enlist. If accepted, the wait will be no longer than four months for 90 per cent.

To make their NS experience more meaningful, efforts will be made to match the skills and expertise of full-time national servicemen (NSFs) to their vocations.

The suggestions, which resulted from the most comprehensive review ever undertaken of national service, were announced yesterday by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who heads the Committee to Strengthen NS (CSNS).

Dr Ng said that the CSNS aims to ensure that NS remains relevant and responsive to a new generation of servicemen who have "no direct memories of our early struggles".

The CSNS also suggested increasing and redistributing monetary rewards and benefits for those who have served their NS obligations or have done well during their stints, so they can make better use of the bonus for housing, medical needs and education.

The proposals come amid widespread support for NS, with more than 98 per cent of respondents in a recent Institute of Policy Studies survey on NS agreeing that it is necessary for the defence of the country.

While paying tribute to NSmen, the Government threw out suggestions such as increasing NS allowances, giving priority in Housing Board flat allocation for first-timers and paying the employers' Central Provident Fund contribution for those called up for in-camp training.

Senior research fellow Leong Han-Hoong from the Institute of Policy Studies said he was glad the CSNS efforts did not come down to monetising NS.

He also noted that NS, as a national institution, has moved on to the next phase of development.

"NS has become more entrenched and matured...there is greater trust and understanding between the organisation and servicemen that they will not abuse the system."

NSman Jeffrey Lee, who recently completed his fifth in-camp training, said: "I feel like they have heard our views and are helping to make NS less of a chore and more enjoyable."

The recommendations will be tabled in Parliament next week, with MPs debating on them. The proposals are expected to be approved next month and implemented within the next two years.

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