BMT 'remains cornerstone of defence' despite changes

Recruits gathering for a briefing during physical training at the Basic Military Training Centre in Pulau Tekong yesterday. Mr Ong says there are “synergies” between his education and defence portfolios.
Recruits gathering for a briefing during physical training at the Basic Military Training Centre in Pulau Tekong yesterday. Mr Ong says there are “synergies” between his education and defence portfolios.ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM
Recruits gathering for a briefing during physical training at the Basic Military Training Centre in Pulau Tekong yesterday. Mr Ong (above) says there are “synergies” between his education and defence portfolios.
Recruits gathering for a briefing during physical training at the Basic Military Training Centre in Pulau Tekong yesterday. Mr Ong (above) says there are “synergies” between his education and defence portfolios.

Twenty-seven years after he first set foot on Pulau Tekong as a recruit, Mr Ong Ye Kung returned yesterday in his new role as Senior Minister of State for Defence and told how he has seen basic military training (BMT) change.

Visiting the BMT Centre yesterday morning, Mr Ong, 45, said today's recruits use IT to learn and are taught more sophisticated techniques to manage fitness and emotions.

The trainer-trainee ratio has also improved, Mr Ong told reporters.

However, one thing he said that has not changed is that the rite of passage introduced in 1967 remains the cornerstone of Singapore's defence and an important point in a Singaporean boy's life, regardless of his background and ethnicity. "There is equity among everybody," said Mr Ong, who was sworn into office on Oct 1. "You train, you sweat, you cry and you laugh side by side and that is the beauty of national service. This (BMT) is where the pride of defending of our nation begins."

During the two-hour visit, Mr Ong was briefed by commanders on the BMT curriculum and observed recruits undergoing physical training and using tablets to learn how to strip and assemble their weapons. The newly minted office-holder also took the chance to mingle and interact with the recruits, most of whom were enlisted only a week ago.

Mr Ong, who is also the Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), said there are "synergies" between his education and defence portfolios as many male teens have to do national service after their education and go on to further their studies after their two-year mandatory stint. They also get called up for in-camp training when they start working.

"It's a continuum in a kid's and many boys' lives," he said. "There are a lot of synergies and a lot of connection between the two and I'm glad I have this chance to look through and see through a young person's life."

As he is two weeks into his new role, Mr Ong said he is "learning on the job and learning all the intricate details". "Many times, it's the details that matter," he added. "As I learn more about the details, let's see how we can see through a young person's life - studying, education, work, and then learn again and NS."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'BMT 'remains cornerstone of defence' despite changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe