Real war stories to inspire new generation of NSmen

SINGAPORE - Navy veteran William Wee, 76, can still remember the hair-raising moments nearly 50 years ago when he came face to face with Indonesian insurgents and heard their rifle bullets whizzing past his head as he patrolled the waters along Telok Ayer Basin.

He was on the front lines of Konfrontasi, conducting patrols during the troubled period from 1963 to 1966, when Indonesia opposed the newly formed Malaysia, which Singapore was part of.

Travelling in fast boats, the invaders were trying to infiltrate Singapore to set off bombs and destroy targets.

"Some of us were hurt and some of our colleagues died, but we had no time to worry about anything. We couldn't... It was our duty to remain resilient, or else why be in uniform?" said Mr Wee, who was in the fledgling Singapore Naval Volunteer Force in 1966.

Veterans like him may have hung up their combat boots, but they are now being called back to help guide and inspire upcoming generations of soldiers and strengthen their commitment to national service.

These "Commitment to Defence Ambassadors", who are mostly between the ages of 50 and 70, will, for instance, recount how they fought alongside the British during World War II, repelled the communists during Konfrontasi and helped quell riots in the 1960s.

The engagement efforts, which start next month, are being led by Nexus, a Defence Ministry department responsible for total defence and national education, and the SAF Veterans' League.

Nexus director Roland Ng told The Straits Times that the volunteers will comprise members of the SAF Veterans' League and NSmen who have "served with distinction in their military careers, and experienced various significant military operations and historical events".

The Singapore Armed Forces will pick 100 ambassadors and train them on how to present themselves and speak effectively.

They will share their stories during more than 300 sessions a year at the Singapore Discovery Centre, SAF's leadership institutes such as the Specialist Cadet School and Officer Cadet School, as well as schools.

For their efforts, the ambassadors will likely be paid a token allowance. There are also plans to produce video clips featuring in-depth interviews.

The initiative was one of the proposals mooted by the Committee to Strengthen National Service last year.

Then, Second Defence Minister Chan Chun Sing highlighted the need for a more systematic way for veterans to share their experiences with young people. Current engagement efforts have been ad hoc.

Mr Wee, who spent more than 40 years in the navy before retiring in 2002 as a senior warrant officer, is keen to inspire tomorrow's soldiers.

"You can show nice videos and photographs, but nobody can be more convincing than someone who has seen real action and is standing in front of you, talking about it," he said.

This article was first published on Jan 12, 2015.
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