The tragic death of Corporal Edward Go, 19, of the Singapore Civil Defence Force is a reminder that national service is the highest form of sacrifice and commitment that any male Singaporean and his family can give to this country – bar none. No foreigner talent, however brilliant or valuable, can even begin to match the contribution of our young men who have to, in the prime of their youth, sacrifice so much for the country. CPL Go just made the ultimate sacrifice – his life.
The firefighter died after putting out a blaze in Henderson Crescent on Friday (Dec 9). SCDF said he was part of the first responder crew and had fallen unconscious in the kitchen area of the flat. He was taken to the Singapore General Hospital where he was pronounced dead. “Officers like CPL Go put their lives on the line each time they enter the scene to save others,” said the SCDF which also pointed out that CPL Goh was the first person from the SCDF to have died in an operation.
Holding back tears, Muhammad Azri Ramlan, 21 (also an NSF), who was in the unit when the fire broke out, said: “Of behalf of my family, I would like to say sorry to his family for their loss. They have a great son.”
From all accounts, CPL Go was well-liked. He had plans to go to medical school. He was someone who would be sadly missed – by both family and friends. This country owes him and his bereaved family a debt, as much as we detest all the NS evaders and shirkers of whatever shade, local and foreign.
Let me now repeat what I said in a Sense column after the death of Corporal First Class Aloysius Pang in January 2019 (Pang, a well-known local actor, died on Jan 23 after he was seriously injured in an exercise in New Zealand):
“Public discussion on National Service and military matters has reached a stage where every family must now be allowed to have a say on how the Singapore Armed Forces should go forward. All that Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has touched on – every measure to ensure safety and zero fatality during training – is the barest minimum that true-blue Singaporeans would expect. If for any second anyone of us does not buy his reiteration in Parliament of the SAF’s commitment to safety measures following the deaths of CFC Aloysius Pang, NSF Gavin Chan, NSF Dave Lee, NSF Liu Kai and others, then the enlistment letter that will go out to all NS-liable males from here on will not be worth the cost of the paper on which it is printed.
“Fifty-two years and many generations of NSmen later, the shape of NS must no longer be determined by just MINDEF and the Cabinet. True-blue Singaporeans must be invited and encouraged to take part in a comprehensive public conversation of the concept. It is not enough to focus merely on safety and have a statement, say sorry, go through some manner of debate in Parliament, tighten up inspections and pass the buck to an inquiry.
“Don’t waste this opportunity. Don’t stop here. We have gone beyond the do you or do you not support NS phase. PM Lee Hsien Loong has served his NS. That we know and appreciate. Workers Party’s Pritam Singh is still doing his reservist training. (By the way, many Singaporeans are still unhappy that we have a young male Minister of State who has never done NS at all). Every other millennial male MP – sons of the early batches of NSmen – would have been familiar with Pulau Tekong, just as early batches knew SAFTI and Peng Kang Hill at the back of their palms. Each would have something to say about training, the IPPT, reservist duties – and what they want their own sons to undergo.”
National Service will always carry risk – whether executed and undertaken as part of the armed forces and equally in the SCDF. Every father, mother, guardian and would-be NSmen have a role to play in helping to shape the concept of NS.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.SG, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.
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