Confinement has become the dreaded C-word among some citizen soldiers these days, as they grumble about how the Singapore Armed Forces is cracking the whip on those who repeatedly skip the mandatory military fitness test.
Under the revised three-strikes rule that kicks in from January, those who skip the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) three times will have to pay a $100 fine and go through a five-day fitness boot camp.
Now, the SAF fines recalcitrant offenders $100 or throws them - albeit rarely - into detention barracks, the army's equivalent of prison.
So instead of putting those who have gone absent without leave (AWOL) for the IPPT behind bars, military commanders would rather confine them in camps.
They can then teach them how to run faster, jump higher and do more push-ups, before making them undergo the fitness test.
Those who oppose the stay-in rule say it is "too draconian" and harsh on operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen), who may have given the IPPT a miss for justifiable reasons such as work commitments or an injury.
But they might be missing the point.
Instead of being overly harsh, the SAF has made bold moves over the past five months to get rid of pain points in its physical fitness programme to make it easier for NSmen to keep fit as they juggle their jobs, family and NS commitments.
First, they are given up to twice as much time to pass their IPPT or clear remedial training.
Second, the NSmen will, from April, take a simpler IPPT with just three stations, instead of the current five-component test.
Third, they are given more say in where to train for the fitness test, with the IPPT Preparatory Training programme offered at more venues that are closer to where they work and live.
Lastly, those who attempt and do well in their IPPT will get an extra $100 incentive.
Given the increased flexibility and cash incentives, what can these NSmen grumble about?
If such niceties still do not work, it makes good sense for the SAF to get tougher with those who think they can skip the IPPT not once or twice, but three times.
Offenders can benefit from staying in camp and undergoing a structured fitness programme.
While a five-day crash course will not make someone fitter immediately, it can be a chance to cultivate good habits such as keeping fit.
Besides putting them through rigorous workouts, commanders will also teach them how to eat right and healthily.
As the army's assistant chief of staff (training), Colonel Ng Ying Thong, said, the SAF aims to partner NSmen to lead healthy lifestyles and the fitness boot camp is a "constructive programme aimed at helping NSmen train for and do well in their IPPT".
Ultimately, how well one does in the IPPT is no small matter.
After all, the IPPT is the baseline measure of a serviceman's fitness and he must be fit enough to perform his operational role.
It will be the soldier who can take one more step, fire one more shot and run faster than the enemy, who will survive the heat of the battle.
And it is all the more crucial for a conscript military such as the SAF to stay fighting fit, especially given that citizen soldiers form four-fifths of its total fighting strength.
This group, incidentally, also makes up the bulk of IPPT failures, though exact figures are not available.
The most recent figures given in 2010 by the Ministry of Defence showed that the test is failed by half of the 116,000 NSmen who take it every year.
To be sure, only a small number of NSmen repeatedly skip their IPPT, Colonel Ng told The Straits Times.
But this is not good enough for Singaporeans, who expect nothing less than a fighting fit and motivated military to defend them and the country.
As Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said during his SAF Day interview in July: "We want a fit SAF, and a fit SAF is a desired goal and a good goal for all Singaporeans."
Taking to task those who do not want to play by the rules and who think they can get off the hook is doing right by these Singaporeans.
And if confinement helps less disciplined NSmen become fitter and healthier in the long run, it is doing right by these NSmen too.
This article was first published on Nov 7, 2014.
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