Financial Hardships Force Some To AWOL

On Monday (10 Sep), Parliament learnt that 14% of NSFs convicted of AWOL did so because of financial difficulties. AWOL is the official term for being absent without official leave.

As he explained these figures, Senior Minister of State for Defence Dr Maliki Osman also pointed out that NSFs in financial difficulties could tap on schemes like the Term Financial Assistance (TFA).

Similar to public assistance, the TFA gives eligible NSFs a payout of up to a few thousand dollars for an average of 8 months.

But one former SAF officer took to Facebook to suggest why it was difficult for NSFs to receive the TFA: ignorant commanders.

An LTA’s take on the AWOL issue

The officer, a Lieutenant (LTA), recalls his interactions with his platoon’s best trainee. The officer said,

I remember during one of the interviews I conducted, he shared with me his worries for his mom and younger siblings.

Father was an alcoholic and wife abuser.

At this point, the trainee asked to stay out so that he could work at night. Instead of considering his man’s suggestion, the LTA immediately shot it down.

All I told him was that he was combat fit and that there was no way his request would be granted.

It’s a decision that the LTA regrets till today. He says that it led to the trainee’s eventual downfall. Here’s what happened to the NSF:

  1. Caught for AWOL for the 1st time. Sent to detention barracks (DB).
  2. Caught for AWOL for the 2nd time. Sent to DB again.

He eventually AWOL-ed again and was at large when the LTA finished his 2-year service. Looking back, the former officer wrote,

A bright young man with his freedom taken away from him. Future destroyed. And all he did was try to protect his family.

I really wish I had the maturity back then to understand his plea for help more and at least point him in the right direction to get assistance. But I didn’t.

The LTA ended his post with a call for NSFs to receive a pay comparable to the working world, instead of an allowance.

He also blames his inaction on his own privilege, recalling how he didn’t have to worry about paying anything at home. He adds that his $600 allowance was his alone to spend–a luxury some don’t share.

Commanders at fault?

Reading the account, it’s easy to blame commanders for their ignorance of schemes like TFA. After all, Dr Maliki says NSFs are told to approach their officers should they need financial assistance.

But like so many things in the SAF, there are two different rules–one on paper and one in practice. This trainee’s experience goes to show that not following the ones on paper can have disastrous consequences for the boys doing their best for the nation.

Featured image from MINDEF’s Facebook.