|Defending What's Ours |
CyberPioneer, Saturday, 3 January 2009
Story by Sheena Tan
Pictures by Chua Soon Lye, Chai Sian Liang and Aloysius Tan
Not everyone is a soldier, but everyone plays a part in Singapore 's defence. As the 25th Total Defence Day draws near, PIONEER highlights the events leading up to 15 Feb and speaks to Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) and the people who support them, on their commitment to the cause.
Every year, NSmen commit weeks of their time to In-Camp Training (ICT).
Together with Full-Time National Servicemen (NSFs), NSmen provide the strength behind the military defence of Singapore - one of the five aspects of Total Defence. The other four are psychological, social, economic and civil defence.
A strong military defence necessitates a strong Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), one that is able to deter potential aggressors and achieve victory should deterrence fail, one that reinforces the people's confidence in the defence of the country.
And NSmen such as Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) (NS) Ong Kien Soo, Captain (CPT) (NS) Poh Cher Kiang and First Sergeant (1SG) (NS) Moses Thiyaganesan recognise the importance of responding to the rallying call of the SAF 100.
Updates and upgrades via ICT
1SG (NS) Thiyaganesan, a transport supervisor in his NS unit, said: "The vehicles and equipment I used when I was an NSF are no longer used now. ICT keeps me updated with the latest developments in our vehicles and equipment."
Sharing similar sentiments was CPT (NS) Poh, flight commander, 160 Squadron: "It's a time for us to refresh and sharpen our operational skills, so we can be ready when needed."
As the Brigade Second-in-command of HQ 56th Singapore Armoured Brigade, LTC (NS) Ong makes the most of each year's ICT.
"My duty is to build up the confidence and competency of the men during peace time," he told PIONEER. It is this sense of duty that has motivated him to serve 23 years of ICT, way beyond the usual cycle of 10 years.
All-round support needed
ICT is not just the effort of NSmen as their families, and even employers, play a part as well.
"Two months before my ICT, I train myself physically by running, and my wife runs with me in the field opposite our house," 1SG (NS) Thiyaganesan said.
"Yes, he runs six rounds and I run three," his wife Madam Pakkia Letchumi added with a smile.
Being the only person in the family who drives, whenever LTC (NS) Ong is called up for ICT, his family, which includes his wife and two sons, has to rely on public transport.
"Now that the children are grown up, it's not a problem. But when they were younger, we had to make adjustments in ferrying them to enrichment classes," LTC (NS) Ong's wife, Madam Chew Peck Wan, said.
"But these are small issues in comparison to the nation's needs."
For CPT (NS) Poh, who is the operations manager of Footworks, a foot reflexology company, going for ICT significantly reduces manpower in his company. Fortunately for him, his director Vincent Tan, who has completed his ICT cycle, understands that serving the nation is a priority.
"I try to reschedule everything to cater to his needs when he does his national duty," said Mr Tan.
Some companies take it one step further in showing their deep appreciation to NSmen for their service to the defence of the nation.
At DSO National Laboratories, where LTC (NS) Ong is a deputy centre head, the company rewards employees with monetary incentives when they do well in their Individual Physical Proficiency Test.
Such combined efforts are a key part of Total Defence, where every Singaporean has a stake in helping to build a strong nation.
A legacy to pass on
Today, Total Defence continues to be relevant and important to Singapore 's success in protecting the Singapore way of life.
To ensure that the defence of Singapore will always be in safe hands through the generations, it is crucial to preserve the spirit of dedication and promote a passion to defend Singapore among active NSmen.
"It is important for NSmen who have gone through their ICT cycle to connect with the younger generation, instil in them the right values, and let them know the importance of ICT in protecting the country," said CPT (NS) Poh.
Another effective channel of how such attitudes and values can be shared is through father-and-son bonds. Very often, the passion to defend the country's interests is caught rather than taught.
One good example is LTC (NS) Ong's son who jogs with him on a regular basis. The 19-year-old Zhi Yang is currently an NSF and was just commissioned as an officer in December 2008.
"I'm quite sure my dad, a firm believer in National Service, had some influence on me wanting to be an officer. I've learnt a lot from him, and he has also re-affirmed my beliefs in National Service," he told PIONEER.
The price of freedom
While a strong military is important, this aspect of Total Defence alone does not make Singapore immune to other global threats that surface in the unpredictable world we live in.
To the unconvinced, just look at the crises that Total Defence has helped Singapore weather in the recent years, such as SARS. A combination of pulling together as a nation psychologically, working to keep the economy running and living together as a cohesive, gracious and compassionate society helped the Republic combat and overcome the challenges of the situation.
As former United States president Thomas Jefferson once said, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
"As a small country, we are vulnerable to external attacks, so everyone should play their part in defence by being vigilant and not taking peace for granted," said Madam Pakkia of the need for Total Defence.
What is worth defending in Singapore ?
The land, the economy and families, said the interviewees to whom PIONEER spoke.
"It's important to defend the people, because things can be rebuilt, but not people. If we're united and have the will and resilience, we can always come together and overcome any crisis," said Madam Chew.
"All that we have built is here, and every inch of the land is ours. No one has the right to take away any part of it," said LTC (NS) Ong emphatically.
With Singaporeans of all ranks, age and gender standing united to defend the country, potential aggressors will not just have to contend with the SAF and its weapons, but a nation with strong civil, economic, social and psychological defence as well.
(top) LTC (NS) Ong and his son Zhi Yang keep fit together for their NS through regular jogs.
(bottom) (From L to R) LTC (NS) Ong with his wife Peck Wan and son Zhi Yang.