SINGAPORE - Singapore's success means today’s national servicemen have much more to protect than when national service (NS) was first instituted 50 years ago, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Tuesday (Feb 7) as he launched a year-long series of events to commemorate 50 years of national service.
Describing Singapore as a modern metropolis where a majority of Singaporeans own homes and enjoy world class education, healthcare and transport systems, Dr Ng told 100 recruits on Pulau Tekong moments before they were sworn in to begin their basic military training: "Your generation inherits a better Singapore, a stronger SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) and greater support for NS than the one the older generation started with."
But the milestone is also a reminder that a strong defence is always needed even in times of peace, Dr Ng said.
For instance, Lithuania abolished NS due to what was believed to be one of the fruits of the "peace dividend" derived from the end of the Cold War.
Barely 20 years later, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and troubles in neighbouring Ukraine have undermined stability in the region.
"Today, Lithuania wants to reinstate NS in the face of bold aggression, but finds it almost impossible to raise a strong military when it needs it most," he said.
Closer to home, the recent detention of Singapore's armoured vehicles in Hong Kong have led some to question if this would have happened if Singapore were a big country, said Dr Ng.
"We cannot change the fact that we are a small country, but today, after 50 years of NS, we have built an SAF capable of defending Singapore," he said at the oath-taking ceremony, which was also attended by some of the first citizen soldiers to don the uniform of the country's nascent military.
The evolution of NS from those early days to the institution it is now is featured in the newly opened National Service Gallery, a permanent exhibition at the Basic Military Training Centre on Pulau Tekong which Dr Ng also launched.
The event on Pulau Tekong kicks off a year of activities to commemorate the golden jubilee of NS. The authorities are getting businesses and organisations on board to offer discounts and benefits to national servicemen. All past and present national servicemen will receive $100 worth of vouchers that can be used at retail and F&B outlets.
An NS-themed picnic will take place in NS50 Week in August, the same month that the first batch of full-time national servicemen enlisted in 1967.
Since then, more than one million people have gone through what is now a rite of passage for Singaporean men.
Most of them went to the military, while about one in four served in the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).