National Service: A Rite Of Passage?

National service. A supposed rite-of-passage where Singaporean ah boys evolve into men.

This is presumably due to extreme mental conditioning, a strict training regimen and the instilling of a sense of national duty within these young men across 2 years.

Most Singaporeans have seen the images of young camouflaged men training under the scorching sun or shadows of the forest, and posing happily in uniform with their friends and family during passing out parades.


However, is it conceivable that there is a side to national service that has been sorely neglected?

Do our young recruits take away with them just maturity and national pride?

Surely there’s more to it than that.

MustShareNews spoke to a few recruits currently serving their NS, and they told us the pressures they had to face away from the parades and the glare of the media cameras. None of them wanted to be identified.

1. Fitness/Body Image

Think hot-blooded young guys only care about girls’ bodies?

A current recruit, whom we shall call Aaron, said that recruits scrutinise each others’ bodies as well:

There is an exaggerated masculine stereotype to live up to.

Also, he said there is constant pressure to be an “alpha male”.

What does being an alpha male entail? Having a muscular build and being physically fit such that you get good results in your Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).

And if you’re not deemed to be an alpha male due to poor fitness, you’re subject to verbal bullying that can have detrimental impacts on the self esteem of someone who is in his formative years of transition from a teenage boy to a young adult.


2. Behaviour

Just like in any group, there’s pressure to conform to the rest.

It’s no different with recruits, who spend the whole day with their platoon mates and feel the pressure to behave in a certain manner or conform to a certain character type in order to fit in.


Depending on the guys you are fortunate or unfortunate to be lumped together with, the pressure to conform may be very different, but another recruit, whom we shall call Barry, says most of the guys he’s with speak in a Singlish accent, with vulgarities liberally inserted into every sentence they speak.

So much so that those who just don’t speak like that have to alter the way they speak. Said Barry:

I have to force myself to speak differently so as to avoid being labelled as some pretentious posh cunt.

Altering the way you behave and speak may not sound so bad, until it becomes clear that sometimes you may have go even further and just do things that you morally object to doing.

One of these situations was described by recruit Ben, who was enlisted in January:

Most of the guys were crowding around someone’s phone watching porn openly in the bunk…

The porn-watching group also urged others who were not comfortable with porn to join in — even one recruit who had religious objections.

3. Sexism

Perhaps not surprisingly, where large groups of guys exist, sexism is also rampant.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, the culture of treating women as inferior and sex objects is prevalent in the army.

Just look to the sergeants, who use women to signify weakness and failure in these true-and-tested “motivational” epithets by recruits:

Don’t guniang!

You run like a girl!

My grandmother can run faster than you!

Then, there’s the recruits themselves. Ben describes some of his peers:

(They) blatantly and uncontrollably gawk at every female officer’s breasts like it’s some gateway to salvation, and comparing them with other female officers.

It’s as though whatever objectification of women’s bodies they wouldn’t dare to display in normal public life is multiplied in the all-male army environment.

If they weren’t separated from the female cadets, who knows what the girls would be subject to.


4. Unnecessary Stress

National service should instil some discipline in the boys of course, it shouldn’t be a luxurious staycation.

However, some of the tactics used may be unnecessary, and adds unnecessary stress to the recruits.

For example, recruits are kept in a constant state of mental unease with surprise spot-checks. Some of the standards imposed on them are also close to impossible — like having to make their bed in a certain way where only 5 square imprints are visible?

And if recruits aren’t superhuman enough to keep up, they are railed at, and worse, their whole platoon may be punished, opening up the recruit to potential mockery and bullying.

Recruits who could already be having problems adapting to military life may find themselves feeling alone in their struggle. Worse still, if they are having problems at home.

Perhaps the such unnecessary demands are placed on the recruits to simulate the stress of a war scenario.

But does it really matter how nicely you make your bed in a war scenario when you’re trying to avoid getting killed?

5. Inadequate Medical Attention

After all that stress, imagine if you fall sick but don’t get medical attention and worse, have to continue physical training

A recruit recounted that his sergeants were often cynical when recruits report sick.

Specifically, his friend once felt giddy in the morning but his sergeants did not believe him and told him to return to training.

Let’s get this straight. A sergeant with no medical training can deny that someone is sick and refuse to let him get medical attention.

Who will take responsibility for any health risks?

6. Prone To Depression

Ken, who has already finished his national service stint, recounted the story of a fellow bunkmate, who broke down in camp.

The boy, who according to Ken “had very few friends”, broke down due to intense homesickness and just the utter stress of military life.

Recruits who are away from the familiarity and protectedness of their family

And, there is also a lesser-addressed issue of depression among recruits who are too embarrassed to seek help.

This is destructive in the long-run, since the recruit will be away from their family and sometimes receive little support from their NS mates

7. Bad Food

This may be trivial compared with the previous issues, but apparently, the food in camp is horrible, according to a Civil Defence Force recruit we will call Reynold.

That may be true, judging from the sian recruit who was unimpressed even on Western food Wednesday (supposedly the best day for food in the week)


What To Do?

Everybody’s NS experience is different and subjective, of course.

So we can’t say that the experiences of the recruits we talked too is representative, as we’re sure there are recruits who had a great time.

However, even one recruit who had a bad experience through no fault of his own, is one too many.

Perhaps more can be done to cater to recruits’ emotional welfare as they embark on the tough journey towards their Operationally Ready Date (ORD).

Featured image from cyberpioneer