Featured News Opinion OPINION | National Service: The force that makes us

OPINION | National Service: The force that makes us

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"For all that I might have complained about being in the SAF, I’m grateful to the institution and the people there who made me." — Tang Li, OPINION

Today the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) celebrated “SAF Day,” a day in which the men and women of the Armed Forces dedicated their loyalty to the nation. Back in the days of service, SAF Day was probably the biggest point of division between the official and the real.

As a member of the SAF, it was an exceedingly important part of our calendar. There was always a parade (attended by the President) and lots of promotions. It was when “best units” were announced, which excited senior management. However, we on the ground level didn’t care much for SAF Day for a simple reason – no public holiday was attached to it.

Having said what I’ve just said about SAF Day, I’ve become a fervent believer in the SAF or at least the institution of National Service. I’ll never tire of saying it, the most “educational” part of my life was in the two and half years of national service.

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Sure, I have a degree from a respectable college, but to me, what is important is not the paper but the process of getting that paper, and the truth is, the university was a wonderful party but exposed me to very little beyond academia.

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The army, by contrast, opened up a world that I never realized existed. Suddenly I had to get on with people who thought I lived in a bubble because my official address at the time did not start with “Blk….”

I was effectively an outcast, but simultaneously, I found the guys who would become my brothers from different mothers. The army was, I believe, the first time in my life that I achieved things that were not bought for me or things that I was guided into. My father would probably vomit if he read this, but the first time I got my chin up the bar, it felt more like an achievement than getting my degree.

National Service has become even more valuable in a world where kids are increasingly sheltered from the world outside their bubble. The computer game generation must understand that life, especially in war, is brutal and nasty. People often forget that you have to be uncomfortable to change and adapt.

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It’s one thing to be able to fly up a low wall on a computer graphic. It’s another story when you’re carrying your webbing and just dashed 700 metres before physically scaling the wall. That experience humbles you because you realise that the task is real and requires something within you to complete it.

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The SAF has a mission to be able to defend Singapore from any external threat. It’s something which has never been tested. However, that doesn’t mean the SAF is redundant.

If anything, modern life has made the SAF more relevant in making the youth of Singapore discover the realities of life, of living life beyond that bubble that we’ve been led to believe is a natural state.

For all that I might have complained about being in the SAF, I’m grateful to the institution and the people there who made me.

A version of this article first appeared at beautifullyincoherent.blogspot.com

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