Duty calls for Singaporean males who return from overseas to do NS

(From left) Third Sergeants Shane Lim and Karthikeyan Thirunavukkarasu, and Private Muhammad Hadi Abdul Hairy. PHOTOS: MINDEF

Many overseas Singaporean males view their two years of national service as their natural duty, despite challenges such as adapting to life here.

The Straits Times speaks to three such full-time national servicemen who were inspired by the experiences of their brothers and fathers who served before them, and feel they have been passed the baton.

Away for 15 years, medic mulls over paramedic career in S'pore

Third Sergeant (3SG) Shane Lim, 20, was born in Singapore, but spent nearly his entire life in Australia.

Despite this, the Singaporean came back as a 18-year-old to enlist in April 2019 because he felt a sense of belonging to the country, and was inspired by his father's experience as an armour officer and full-time national servicemen (NSF).

Although Australia is his "first home", where he has lived since the age of two, he also feels a connection with Singapore - having learnt the culture through yearly visits to family members and friends here.

His family had moved to Melbourne, as one of his uncles had offered his father a job at a car parts company. His mother, who is a Malaysian, also works there.

He has been staying with his relatives in Singapore during his NS.

"After experiencing NS, I can say that I made the right choice in coming back. I like to try different things and to expand my knowledge, as well as serve NS like my father did," said 3SG Lim, 20, a combat medic at the Tengah Air Base Medical Centre.

"My father was a NSF armour officer, and hearing his NS story - the kind of outfield exercises he did - and looking at his old photos in the army inspired me to come experience what he felt."

Despite having no medical knowledge before he started NS, he now feels a sense of duty as a combat medic to save lives.

Recalling an incident that took place while he was on duty in camp last month, he said a man working at the air base injured his forehead after losing balance and falling, and there was profuse bleeding.

3SG Lim assisted the medical officer in attending to the worker, who was later taken to hospital. "I felt relieved that we managed to stabilise him during that time, but was also worried because, in situations like this, the outcome can change unexpectedly.

Third Sergeant Shane Lim (left) assessing a patient with shortness of breath in a simulated scenario. PHOTO: MINDEF
Third Sergeant Lim with his family. PHOTO: COURTESY OF 3SG SHANE LIM

"There's a saying that time is of the essence. That's why we medics usually keep up with our training to handle situations like these. Generally, I believe that all of us, be it regulars or NSFs, can all make a difference," he said, adding that the skills he picked up will also be applicable after military service.

Although he had an ambition of becoming a commercial pilot, he is now considering becoming a paramedic in Singapore when he completes his health science degree at Victoria University.

He has found NS to be a meaningful experience. "I believe that Singapore is a country that is definitely worth fighting for."

Memorable stint for India-born Navyman

National Service has meant a more active lifestyle for Third Sergeant Karthikeyan. PHOTO: MINDEF

Third Sergeant (3SG) Karthikeyan Thirunavukkarasu has described his NS so far as "memorable", and his one highlight has been a month-long deployment out at sea last November.

The most junior member of the engineering department on board the landing ship tank RSS Endeavour, the 23-year-old also took part in two foreign exercises during the deployment.

The India-born Singaporean moved with his family to Singapore when he was 13.

And he has come a long way since being enlisted as an 92kg obese recruit last July after completing his polytechnic studies in marine and offshore engineering.

"When I first joined secondary school after coming from India, it was a bit tough in terms of language barrier because of the Singlish words used. But by the time I enlisted, there was no trouble fitting in - it was just like mingling with a new group of people."

NS has meant a more active lifestyle for 3SG Karthikeyan, who now works out on his own almost daily. "At the end of my BMT, when I lost about 18kg, it improved my self-discipline, confidence and self-esteem."

After being posted to the navy as a marine system operator, he was exposed first-hand to the engineering systems he had learnt about in polytechnic.

3SG Karthikeyan, who will complete his full-time service in July, already has a place to study mechanical engineering at the National University of Singapore, and is planning for a career in the marine and offshore industry.

Third Sergeant Karthikeyan with his family. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF 3SG KARTHIKEYAN

His father, a Singaporean, works in administration in the security sector. His mother, a nurse, is from India. He also has a younger sister, nine, born in Singapore. The family does not plan to move back to India.

He first heard about NS through his peers in secondary school and from his father, who was an infantryman.

The idea of serving NS did not bother him, he said. "I was open to the idea of serving the nation. After staying here for so long, NS is the least I can do for the country that has given me a house and a livelihood."

Asked if he felt he belonged here, he said: "Yes, of course. Because I spent the majority of my teenage and young adult years in Singapore. I feel like I'm more Singaporean than anything else.

"When I talk to people, they don't realise I was not born here, because they can tell from the way I speak Singlish.

"I feel proud that I've integrated well into the society."

Stepping out of his comfort zone in BMT

Private Hadi learning how to set up a wireless communications radio equipment. PHOTO: MINDEF

Private Muhammad Hadi Abdul Hairy, a self-described introvert who spent the past six years in New Zealand after his family migrated there, had worries about fitting in with his camp mates when he enlisted for national service in Singapore.

Staying in camp during basic military training (BMT) meant he had to sleep in the same room as strangers. But he soon became friends with them as they all learnt about the importance of teamwork, said the 18-year-old Singaporean.

Having to serve NS meant he had to overcome his shy personality, said Pte Hadi, now a supply assistant for general equipment at the Army Logistics Training Institute.

"I had to interact with new people, which to me was quite a big challenge. But I knew that to survive the four months of BMT, I had to step out of my comfort zone and talk to others, who would later help me out during training," he said.

In returning to serve NS as his two elder brothers had done, he was doing his part for the country, he said. It was also an opportunity for him to meet his relatives after not seeing them since he was 12.

Private Hadi (in black) with his family. PHOTO: COURTESY OF PRIVATE HADI

After spending his childhood in Singapore, he moved to New Zealand with his family in 2014, but returned to Singapore last January to enlist for NS.

"Being back in Singapore, it felt kind of reassuring being around more people who speak with a Singapore accent," said Pte Hadi, whose two older brothers are also in Singapore.

One is aged 22 and working as an auxiliary police officer after completing his full-time NS with the Police Coast Guard, while the other is 19 and serving as a military driver at Sembawang Camp.

In Whangarei, New Zealand, Pte Hadi's father is a coatings inspector, while his mother is a housewife who cares for his nine-year-old sister and four-year-old brother.

Pte Hadi said that having their BMT amid the Covid-19 pandemic meant that his batch of recruits could not graduate at the Marina Bay floating platform.

But this did not dampen his learning experience.

"I have learnt and experienced new things I don't think I would have if I wasn't in NS. These include grenade throwing, live firing, close-quarters combat, which was a very exciting experience.

"Even with Covid-19 restrictions, we could still have fun and learn many things while being safe."

This article has been edited for clarity.

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