Military is no place for foreigners

I am of the view that non-Singaporeans should be prohibited from being members of our security services, especially the military.

Today’s newspapers were flush with stories of foreigners who are serving in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The Straits Times highlighted some Russians, Chinese and Indian nationals, as well as Malaysians, who are serving in various leadership capacities in the SAF.

This uniquely Singaporean quirk has come about because our law requires children of first generation permanent residents (i.e., second generation PRs) to serve their National Service (NS) or forfeit their PR status. With the influx of foreigners into Singapore over the past 10 years and the liberal way in which PR status is dispensed to so many foreigners, it is inevitable that we are seeing many more foreigners donning camouflage green uniforms these days.

I feel that non-Singaporeans should be prohibited from being members of our security services, especially the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). I know I am treading on sensitive ground by saying this, especially in the context of the debate between the privileges and obligations of citizens and foreigners in Singapore.

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Chain of command might have led nowhere

In response to my article, PM’s son’s email saga a heartening development for Singapore, which I contributed to, a reader, Jon, asked some very pertinent questions:

1. If 2LT Li had followed the “proper channel”, what makes you think the 3rd senior officer up the chain of command will do anything?

2. Will Li Hongyi be charged if he merely sent his letters to everyone directly above him (ie, Defense Minister, CDF, CoA, Chief Signal Officer, etc)?

He recalled that there were two senior officers who were issued warning letters for not meting out the appropriate punishment when the offence was first reported to them by Li Hongyi.

These two officers were probably his OC and his unit CO (the same guy who told the whole unit the next day that they must follow the chain of command).

The “proper channels” that Mindef referred to probably would have required Hongyi to patiently go rung by rung up the ladder…CO, CSO, ACGS, COS, COA, CDF, Min. (I’m just guessing. I don’t know the hierarchy — there are probably more “crabs” and “stars” in between.)

If he waited just 3 weeks before before escalating to the next level, that’s 18 weeks before he can email the Minister. He was scheduled to disrupt very soon (he said it was his last email). So he would not have had the time to wait around.

Furthermore, 3 weeks may or may not be an appropriate length of time to wait for a response. If at any point he got impatient and decided to escalate up the issue too soon, he could have gotten charged for not following the chain of command.

So I think he would never have gotten the Lieutenant to face court martial had he not shot the email all the way up to the CDF and Minister.

Now, about the Cc list, which probably included all the enlisted men, drivers, clerks, etc in the whole unit — If he didn’t cc all of them, the letter would never have leaked, and no one would have blogged about it in the first place. In which case, there would be no public pressure on Mindef to act.

So my conclusion is that the outcome — LTA charged, OC and the other senior officer (probably the CO) warned — would not have happened if Hongyi didn’t shoot both up and down.

Perhaps this is what Hongyi himself calculated before he even sent out the email. If so, then maybe he wasn’t so brash after all.

Good leaders can make a difference

I just finished my reservist today. For those of wondering, my comrades and I did not get to greet that same warrant officer and give him the pleasure of yelling at us again the next morning for not wearing a beret in camp. But being an obedient soldier, I did go to the eMart the next day to buy myself a new beret and jockey cap so I won’t have to break camp rules (albeit dumb ones) again during my next ICT.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe it is possible for NSmen (reservists) to put in their best effort into training, given the right leadership and guidance. My unit is a good example. Although I am not particularly fond of scrambling around in the hot sun, staying up all night to help prepare battle plans, and doing sai kang (unpleasant tasks) after the training is over, one thing that I like about ICTs is seeing my fellow soldiers cooperating so well to get the job done well and trying so hard to complete our training to a satisfactory standard.

Conventional belief is that NSmen are always just trying to keng (malinger). In my unit, chao keng soldiers are the rare exception rather than the rule. And this is not because we have some guai lan Commander barking at us all the time.

On the contrary, our Commander (a lieutenant colonel) tries his best to get us out of the “excused from thinking” mindset that many other soldiers have, and to put into practice the innovation and work ethic we are used to in our civilian jobs. He genuinely believes that innovation and improvements can come from even the lowest levels of the organisational hierarchy. Hence, it is not unusual to see him chatting one-on-one with drivers and clerks to get their feedback on how training can be improved. And we actually tell it to him like it is. Just last night he went out for supper with one “lowly” corporal (an IT manager in civilian life), who gave him an earful of feedback which he promised he would look into.

He also affords us a great deal of trust, even to the point of giving us tips on how to get our deferments approved quicker if we have urgent personal or work commitments. In return, I think our unit’s deferment rate is quite low, as my platoon is usually almost fully staffed at every ICT.

Some time ago, I wrote this in an article on this blog:

In recent years, lots of resources have been poured into recognising reservists’ contributions to “Total Defence”, including larger Progress Packages, NS tax relief, SAFRA recreational facilities and even a new golf course. While most reservists probably appreciate these measures, no amount of “welfare” will address the more critical need for a mindset change among many of our citizen-soldiers. There is a common joke that many reservists go into “excused (from) thinking” mode the moment they don their camouflage uniforms. Perhaps this is due to the rigid military culture that they are not used to at their workplaces in the corporate world.

The SAF needs to find more engaging and innovative ways to explain to all reservists — from officers down to enlisted men ­— the geo-strategic realities that compel us to maintain a strong defence capability. Reservists (and for that matter, all soldiers) should be given more in-depth briefings on our vulnerabilities as a little red dot in a potentially hostile region. These insights should go beyond the typical National Education lessons taught to secondary school students. Soldiers should be given more privileged information and analyses regarding the latest threats facing Singapore, of course without compromising state secrets. By doing so, the SAF will help our soldiers to better appreciate how they contribute individually to national defence.

I believe that if a leader leads by example, gets his followers to see the purpose in what they are doing, and acknowledges them as equal human beings deserving of respect, there is nothing he cannot inspire them to do for the cause he is leading. And yes, this works even for our men in green.