Budget 2014: DPM happy over recognition for first NS batch

Youth reporting for national service on Aug 30, 1967. Singapore's first NS batch will receive health-care benefits in the Pioneer Generation Package.
Youth reporting for national service on Aug 30, 1967. Singapore's first NS batch will receive health-care benefits in the Pioneer Generation Package.ST FILE PHOTO

A day after the Budget fleshed out details of the generous health-care benefits in the Pioneer Generation Package, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said he was happy the age range was extended to 65, as this recognises the first batch of national servicemen.

He said on Facebook: "Careful budgeting means we can set aside a fund now to fully pay for this level of pioneer benefits without burdening younger generations."

There are 190,000 Singaporeans in the 65 to 69 age bracket, he said.

They include the first batch of 900 full-time national servicemen who enlisted in July 1967.

Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang said that that first batch formed the core of the Singapore Armed Forces' manpower in the early years.

"After independence, there were only a few hundred regulars, not enough for any form of a credible defence force," he said. "So these men certainly enlarged the existing force."

They also introduced the rest of Singapore to the idea of full-time national service.

Mr Ho, an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said: "Now, we have relatives and friends to talk to about NS. Back then, they had no one to talk to, and no one knew what to expect. To a large extent, they epitomised the pioneering spirit."

One of the men in the pioneer batch, Mr Teo Cheng Keng, 69, said they served in "a very tumultuous time" when Singapore was a new nation. The retired businessman was drafted after graduating from the then University of Singapore, now the National University of Singapore (NUS). He keeps in touch with his NS buddies through the NUS-NS Pioneers' Association, of which he is the founding president.

Of the health-care help that they will be receiving, he said: "It's great, it's helpful. I'm glad that many of us will get it."

Still, he feels that more can be done to recognise Singapore's first NS batch. "I would like to see a scheme that specifically recognises the pioneer batch of national servicemen," he said.

Fellow pioneer Saman Ismail, who will turn 65 in May, also welcomed the benefits he will enjoy. He has high blood pressure, takes daily medication and needs a check-up every four months.

Recalling the first day he reported for NS at Taman Jurong Camp, he said he was excited and anxious. "We were wondering, 'Can I make it or not? Will I go through these two years successfully?'"

He went on to become a prison officer and retired in 2010.

He said of the Pioneer Generation Package benefits coming his way: "My old age will be more beautiful as I will need to pay less for medical bills."