At 12, I joined the National Police Cadet Corps. Now at 18, will I be okay if I have to do NS?

AsiaOne intern Shanmuga Prathaa (first row, far right) and her squad at a passing out parade in 2019
PHOTO: PHOTO: Shanmuga Prathaa

As a 12-year-old stepping foot into my then-new secondary school six years ago, I scanned every booth at the Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) fair.

The National Police Cadet Corps (NPCC) looked especially cool back then, especially the part about practising with real guns.

Initially, I was hesitant to join but a push from my family to try something outside of my comfort zone made me finally sign up and I was ready to try something new.

Fast forward four years later and I left NPCC as a sergeant.

Looking back now, I faced many challenges during those years and I've learnt many important life lessons along the way.

This is why I paid special attention when Members of Parliament (MP) Poh Li San and Carrie Tan in Parliament today (May 9) asked about enlisting women into National Service (NS). 

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in his response, cautioned that enlisting women into NS would delay their entry into the workforce, and this would have the immediate effect of accentuating a decline in the local manpower pool and a reduction of household incomes.

"The societal cost of enlisting women into National Service (NS), even for non-military roles, would far outweigh any benefits," he added. 

Students getting a feel of some of the weapons in April this year.
PHOTO: Facebook/ The Singapore Army

The discussion in Parliament got me thinking about what my life would be like if I have to serve NS and would it have drastically changed?

During my four years in NPCC, I took part in countless activities, learnt about crime scene investigation, adventure and survival training camps, first aid training, law enforcement and self-defence.

All these, I feel, are useful life skills that women should know, especially self-defence and first aid which could prove useful at crucial moments. 

I also learnt about discipline, teamwork and leadership.

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A common saying in this CCA is that "if one of you goes down, all of you go down" meaning that my entire batch of 30 would be punished for one person's mistake. This somehow helped us form bonds between each other and to always help one another.

I sometimes hated how strict this CCA was, from the proper way to braid one's hair to a correct way to polish our boots properly.

I didn't like that I had to follow so many rules and regulations but these things taught me discipline and perseverance.

There were many days I had panic attacks and broke down crying because I felt like I could never be as good as my squad mates, even though I tried my best.

I hold these bad memories as efforts that I tried and that I should never give up no matter how discouraged I feel.

In secondary three, I finally became a cadet leader, learning how to take responsibility and finally got more courage to speak up to train my juniors.

Members of the public trying out the standard obstacle course at Maju Camp in 2018.
PHOTO: Straits Times

This concept of women getting conscripted has been debated in Singapore as early as 1967.

I understand why some women would be opposed to NS, seeing it as unnecessary or deterring them from their future plans.

Other women might think that NS would be too physically taxing for them, that they may not be able to handle it.

Some of my friends told me they are afraid of others judging them for straying away from the typical path they are expected to take, be it getting married or furthering their studies, if they join military service.

If this is what women are afraid of, what if NS was whittled down to just 6 months?

Maybe that would definitely encourage more women to think positively about NS, maybe as a break before the next stage in their life. 

While the government currently has no plans to make women serve NS, I don't think women should be afraid to enlist due to society's perception or the fear of the training.

Given my NPCC experience and knowledge about the basics of military training, I know I wouldn't mind enlisting into NS especially if I can take on roles like being a pilot or a naval officer.

One of my female friends, currently in the Singapore Armed Forces, regularly posts on Instagram, allowing me glimpses of what life is like for her as an army personnel. 

She often talks about how she is surrounded by a wonderful group of friends whom she connects with very deeply.

As I think back on my experience in NPCC, I know exactly what she means by "connection" as at the end of my four years, I had formed a unique bond with people in my CCA.

I truly admire how she is enjoying herself and maintaining a positive attitude.

* Shanmuga Prathaa, 18, is an intern with AsiaOne and is currently studying Communications and Media Management at Temasek Polytechnic.

shanmugap@asiaone.com