New scheme allows SAF to tap civilian skills

New scheme allows SAF to tap civilian skills
Military Expert 4 (ME4) Teng Han Leng and ME4 Kirsten Yuan were among 41 newly minted senior military experts who graduated on 15 July 2011.

Professionals - such as lawyers, doctors and communication specialists - who have completed their national service cycles can now volunteer to contribute in their areas of expertise, the Defence Ministry said yesterday.

Under the new Expertise Conversion Scheme, they will be given Military Expert (ME) 4 ranks.

"With the need to conduct a full spectrum of operations, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is seeking to expand operational capabilities, especially in niche areas of expertise," Mindef said in a statement.

Operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) will be able to take on roles such as legal advisers, dentists, nurses and radiographers in the SAF.

The scheme is mainly intended for warrant officers, specialists and enlistees who have fulfilled their NS commitments. However, those with existing commitments will also be considered on a case- by-case basis.

Interested parties can register with their NS units and will be assessed to ensure that they have the relevant specialised professional qualifications. They must also have "sound leadership qualities" and "good character attributes", Mindef added.

They will then attend training sessions over several years to hone their professional, leadership and job skills.

Depending on operational demands and availability, up to two batches of NSmen will be converted to military experts every year.

More details on the training duration will be made available after the first cohort, which is still being trained, is inaugurated later this month.

Like officers, newly converted experts must serve until they are 50. They will be required to serve in their new ranks and roles for at least three years, and can be called up for up to 40 days a year.

The new scheme is an addition to those currently in place for people who wish to volunteer or extend their service.

One of these, the Reservist On Voluntary Extended Reserve Service (Rovers) scheme, allows key appointment holders - such as brigade commanders and regimental sergeant-majors - to continue serving until 50 years of age, for officers, and 40, for specialists.

Beyond that, they must serve under the SAF Volunteer Scheme.

Women, new citizens and first-generation permanent residents can also volunteer their expertise as specialists in legal, medical, psychological and maritime fields, under the recently announced SAF Volunteer Corps.

Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang said the new scheme is "an efficient form of military manpower and resource management".

"Volunteers will be able to hit the ground running with little additional training and feel appreciated as experts in their respective fields," he said.

Lawyer Ranjan Indiran, 33, who is now in a support platoon doing administrative work for his reservist training, said he will consider converting. "I don't mind serving for a longer period, as long as I'm comfortable with the work and can contribute meaningfully."


Q&A with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen

What can be done to tighten the lapses in protocol when dealing with servicemen with mental health problems?

The basic principle is that if the psychiatric board assesses that the person can serve a vocation in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), we will deploy him and we will enlist. If he can serve a meaningful role and a vocation in the SAF, and safely - to himself, as well as to others - we would deploy him like other NSmen.

What do you make of the conversations about NS on social media?

(Social media) doesn't completely represent the entire population and we don't, shouldn't let that drive our considerations for main policymaking. And even if you say social media, there is a broad spectrum of voices. What we do is to try and take from the broad society, not only from polls but face to face, through different communities, and then see what the general view is.

What is the risk of Singapore citizens becoming self-radicalised?

It's a very globalised world. You can pick up not only ideas but be further radicalised and pick up expertise. I'm not at liberty to share details but this is an area of concern...As you know, we've had, even in Singapore, people who were self-radicalised on the Internet. And that in itself was obviously a risk.

How satisfied are you with the progress of Malays in the SAF?

I'm race-neutral... If you believe in the defence of Singapore, we want you, whatever the colour of your skin. While others have encouraged (the senior) Malay commanders to step forward (and be identified as Malay), some of them have been reluctant to do so.

They say: "Why should I do it? Because, you know, I'm put in this position, not because I'm a Malay, so why should I come out as a Malay?"

I will respect that but neither am I discouraging them from coming out to say so.

How far will recent proposals by the Committee to Strengthen National Service go to foster goodwill and increase support for national service?

All our changes are made on the premise that NS is a duty, that this is for the collective good, for defending our way of life, of what we treasure. And practically responding to the needs of NSmen when we think it is reasonable, simplifying things, and taking this approach, I would say that I think this is one of the reasons why we have been able to have such strong support for defence.

This article was first published on JULY 1, 2014.
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