Oct 23, 2013

    Mindef looking into SAF volunteer corps

    THE Defence Ministry is looking into the possibility of establishing a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Volunteer Corps, which allows new citizens, permanent residents (PRs) and women to serve in the military.

    Revealing this in a media interview yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the idea of a volunteer corps has gained widespread support based on public feedback, and is a "serious" issue the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) will examine.

    While details - such as service duration, training and roles - will have to be worked out, Dr Ng said the volunteers will not be "administrative" but "part of the SAF", and have a military function.

    He added that military volunteers must have a "certain basic level of motivation, physical well-being and security clearance".

    Dr Ng was giving an update on the progress of the CSNS, which has completed public consultation on how to improve NS and better recognise servicemen's contributions.

    Following a trip last week to Finland and Switzerland to study their national conscription systems, he said volunteers in both countries' militaries are subject to discipline, rules and mission requirements - which are a serious undertaking.

    Noting that young new citizens and PRs are liable for NS here, Dr Ng said the volunteer corps will open up opportunities to older new citizens and PRs, like those in their 30s and 40s.

    There is currently a volunteer scheme in the SAF, which allows, for example, experts from different industry sectors to sit on Mindef's boards and committees. Nurses and doctors can also volunteer to serve in the SAF's medical corps.

    National servicemen can also volunteer to extend their service after they have completed their NS training cycle.

    Besides a volunteer corps, Dr Ng said the CSNS will study how to make training more efficient and effective, and make better use of the time in NS.

    It will look at how to facilitate the transition from school life to full-time service for enlistees, and the transition from active service to institutes of higher learning. This could mean allowing servicemen to make better use of the waiting time.

    Dr Ng has tasked a working group led by Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing to look into this, together with the SAF and educational institutions.

    Minister of State for Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman, who was also at the interview, said that in Finland and Switzerland, military officers earn credits which they can use towards their university education.

    Dr Ng said the committee may work with the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) to see how skills picked up during NS can be ported to the workplace.

    But he cautioned that there are limits to this and said expectations must be managed.

    "So if I teach you how to fight as a combat soldier, are there modules that you can, for example, work with WDA on?" Dr Ng said. "Obviously, the answer is probably not."