NSman’s Heartfelt Tribute Also Includes Important Reminders About Safety During Training
The recent spate of servicemen deaths has sparked a vigorous debate about the rigour of training during National Service (NS).
While many have been critical of the tough training meted out on soldiers, Facebook user Lien Choong Luen has a slightly different take on things.
Call it an unpopular opinion if you will.
To illustrate his point, Mr Lien used a particularly gruelling aspect of NS training: the ATEC evaluation.
ATEC, or Army Training Evaluation Centre, is a series of evaluations that combat units undergo to test their fighting proficiency.
Soldiers typically undergo the evaluation twice in their NS cycle; once during their 2-year enlistment period and once more during reservist training.
Mr Lien shared his thoughts and experiences after seeing his former Infantry battalion take on the demanding evaluation.
Mr Lien’s post begins by acknowledging that SAF training is rigorous – but for a reason.
An army that is not at war is training. And so, the SAF trains. Hard.
He also acknowledged that the organisation has received more than its fair share of criticism over the years.
Over the years, there has been criticism levelled at how the SAF has not fought a war to validate itself, its leaders, and the perceived benefits and funding they enjoy.
Given these benefits and funding, the SAF’s training has a responsibility to be “challenging and credible”.
From platoon mates to parents
He speaks glowingly about his old battalion, an unnamed member of the Singapore Infantry Regiment (SIR) that he refers to as XXX SIR.
When they last undertook an ATEC evaluation together, they were 20.
Nearly a decade later, they had to do the same thing all over again – at the age of 30.
File photo of NSmen
Mr Lien details how in those 10 years, his comrades had grown into husbands, fathers and responsible working adults.
On the day of the evaluation, Mr Lien wondered whether the tough training justified the time and energy taken from their normal lives.
For starters, the evaluation took place on a Saturday. For Mr Lien’s unit, it was just one Saturday burnt.
But he noted that for the evaluators, this was a weekly occurrence that took place “month after month”.
Watching these sacrifices reminded Mr Lien of something he used to tell his men,
I used to tell my soldiers that our work was thankless, but it should never be pointless.
Regardless of the sacrifices they made, Mr Lien expressed hope that units like his own would only ever have to rain for war – and not actually fight in one.
Fostering a strong safety culture
But Mr Lien stressed that this training had to be done in a safe manner.
Sharing that the weather was extremely hot during his unit’s ATEC, Mr Lien added that the heat led to a “heightened safety awareness”.
He drew parallels between his own experience and that of Corporal First Class Dave Lee Han Xuan, who passed away from heat-related injuries.
Mr Lien explained that CFC Lee’s death was all the more tragic because it might have been entirely preventable.
But Mr Lien also suggested that CFC Lee’s death would not be in vain, as it would promote a stronger culture of safety in the SAF.
Something similar happened while he was in service: a commando was dunked to his death.
The shock of that incident shaped an entire generation to be more vigilant, writes Mr Lien.
Given these experiences, Mr Lien concludes that despite its shortcomings, he continues to trust the SAF.
He adds that many fellow Singaporeans sons and daughters have “come through safely and enriched for the experience”.
The SAF is as safe as human will, effort and organisational design can make it, given the imperfections of people and organisations.
In summary, Mr Lien thanked the ATEC – and the SAF as a whole – for its service to the country.
If anything, his post is a timely reminder that the SAF, for the most part, works.
But when things fall through the cracks, serviceman might literally fall to their deaths.
Mr Lien suggests that although unfortunate, these events should not define the armed forces or the important work that they do.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, his unit passed its ATEC with flying colours.
Featured image from Lien Choong Luen on Facebook.