NS: What it takes to get S'pore sons to soldier on

NS: What it takes to get S'pore sons to soldier on
PM Lee Hsien Loong speaking to the national servicemen and their families gathered for a commemoration dinner marking 45 years of national service (NS) on 22 October 2012.

SINGAPORE - I participated in the inaugural strengthening national service focus group discussion on June 22 ("Ideas to make NS more engaging"; last Sunday).

The sharing session reinforced my views that the sole purpose of NS is to defend our nation - everything else, for example, having NS as a social bonding agent, is secondary.

Individual preferences, such as matching personal skills to vocations, should not hinder our basic ability to defend the country.

Recognising our national servicemen is important. Vouchers aside, the authorities can make an impactful stand by giving them subsidies and priority in things that really matter - university places, HDB flat applications and so on.

Senior national servicemen should be recognised too, lest they become "forgotten soldiers".

Yet no monetary compensation can make up for the sacrifices of national servicemen.

The key challenge over the next 10 years is to maintain the purpose and motivation for them to serve, in the face of changing demographics.

This is a larger issue that makes the question "who do we serve" - which I sometimes ask my men before field exercises to motivate them - more complicated.

Engaging families in what national servicemen do forms an important bridge in letting them understand the purpose of NS.

This is equally important because the family forms an important pillar of strength for national servicemen and is itself a motivation for them to serve.

This can be done through public education and engagement, for instance, in events like the Army Open House.

What can really solidify NS at its core is the respect for it as an institution and affirmation of the sacrifices made by national servicemen.

This comes about from a principled approach to NS - equal treatment for all Singaporean sons and a preservation of what and who we are fighting for.

Lieutenant (NS) Paul Sim Ruiqi

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