JERMYN CHOW, DEFENCE CORRESPONDENT

IPPT complaints heard, now it's up to NSmen

Four national servicemen trying out the new Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) format which is reduced to three stations and aims to be more manageable and motivational. --STPHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Four national servicemen trying out the new Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) format which is reduced to three stations and aims to be more manageable and motivational. --STPHOTO: GAVIN FOO

The complaints of operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) have been heard.

Over the past four months, the SAF has taken strides towards addressing pet peeves about its physical training programme.

Training will become a lot more flexible so NSmen do not have to wreck their schedules to keep fit as they juggle their jobs, and family and NS commitments.

NSmen will also be empowered to take ownership of their health and fitness and have more leeway to decide how they want to keep fit.

The new philosophy is not to knock the stuffing out of NSmen but to create a feel-good factor by making things a little easier and more convenient.

The first of the radical changes was unveiled in May. It gives NSmen twice the timeframe to pass their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) or clear remedial training.

In July, they were told that, from next April, they will take a simpler IPPT with just three stations, instead of the current five-component test.

Now, they have been given more say in where to train for the fitness test, with the IPPT Preparatory Training programme brought to more venues that are closer to where they work and live.

During the extra coaching sessions, NSmen will even get to choose from five different exercise options, including ball games and possibly even kick-boxing.

But the bigger question is whether NSmen will buy into this feel-good factor and respond by lacing up and pounding the pavement.

Colonel Ng Ying Thong, the army's assistant chief of general staff for training, thinks so.

He said that when someone gets to choose what to do, he will "put in maximum effort to do it".

It is, however, not surprising that there are some, especially older soldiers who have endured tough sessions and instructors, who think that the SAF is lowering the bar to pander to its soldiers' sedentary lifestyles and expanding waistlines.

These critics point out that the changes are a step down a slippery slope towards an ill-disciplined military.

But if the road to a fitter army has been fraught with obstacles that have tripped soldiers up, preventing them from achieving their personal bests and demoralising them, then why not remove those hurdles?

After all, a commander who leads an army that is only half-fit and unmotivated hardly inspires confidence.

This is worse for a conscript military like the SAF, in which citizen soldiers form four-fifths of its total fighting strength.

But this group also makes up the bulk of IPPT failures.

The 2010 figures from the Ministry of Defence - the most recent available - showed that the test is failed by half of the 116,000 NSmen who take it every year.

Revamping the SAF's physical training system with the aim of toughening up soldiers is, therefore, doing right by Singaporeans, who expect a motivated and fighting-fit military to defend the nation.

But the armed forces can do only that much.

Maybe it is time for NSmen not to throw their hands up in despair, but to take greater responsibility for their fitness to improve their combat-readiness.

After all, their complaints have been heard.

jermync@sph.com.sg