Mindef and SAF's Covid-19 response illustrate skillsets that will be valued in business, Govt or politics: Ng Eng Hen

Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen delivering a speech during the Defence Scholarship Awards Ceremony on July 29, 2020.
Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen delivering a speech during the Defence Scholarship Awards Ceremony on July 29, 2020.PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - A total of 11,000 beds were built to house Covid-19 patients in the Republic with the help of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Ministry of Defence-related organisations, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Speaking at the Defence Scholarship Awards Ceremony on Wednesday (July 29), Dr Ng outlined how SAF oversaw the two-month effort that began in April, which involved more than 6,000 personnel led by generals and colonels.

Dr Eng also said Mindef pre-emptively ordered 20,000 pulse oximeters - devices used to measure blood oxygen levels - from commercial vendors.

"This was before scientific papers clearly documented how the oxygenation of Covid-19 patients could desaturate quickly and end up in the ICU if detected late," he explained.

"This is one important reason why, despite the large numbers of migrant workers affected, relatively few ended up in the ICU."

The Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) also provided systems to coordinate some of these efforts and built mobile swab stations, self-check temperature kiosks as well as analytics software for better contact tracing, among other contributions, said Dr Ng.

In April, 100 soldiers from the SAF Medical Corps were also deployed at the Expo community care facility to look after about 1,800 Covid-19 patients.

On Wednesday, Dr Ng presented a record 95 awards for seven scholarships, including the SAF Scholarship, the SAF Engineering and Medicine scholarships, and the DSTA Scholarship.

The scholarships aim to recruit top students from each cohort of school-leavers to join the defence sector.

Speaking to the recipients, Dr Ng said he provided the snippets of the SAF's and the wider defence community's contributions not to praise them, but to show the scholarship recipients what kind of organisations they will join.

"When the SAF and Mindef organisations were asked to assist, it was not as if our staff had been trained for these tasks... We systematically surveyed the terrain, sized up the challenge and key deliverables," he said, adding that the SAF did all this while continuing critical operations for national security.


Noting that "some high-profile scholars consistently go on to lead ministries and statutory boards or enter politics", Dr Ng added that the skill sets and values that Mindef and SAF personnel have are transferable even after they leave to other vocations and career paths.

"These qualities of our officers and personnel - to be able to analyse complex, even chaotic, situations, to formulate plans that can be executed amid the disorder, to be able to marshal the appropriate resources and manpower to deal with wicked problems - will always be highly valued, not only in the military and defence arenas, but in business, government, indeed in all spheres of society."