Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Forum Page letter on National Service

The 90 cents newspaper's Forum Page presented the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) with its first action item yesterday.

The letter by Mr Chew Guan Sun is a good example of how parents of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel may react whenever military personnel are involved in an incident and clear information is lacking.

This is evident in Mr Chew's description of the "small incident" during the Basic Military Training Graduation Parade when two recruits allegedly fainted on parade in full view of spectators.

Mr Chew wrote: "During the address by the guest of honour, two recruits fainted. There were some anxious moments for parents as each wondered if it was his or her son."

The takeway from Mr Chew's description would give you an idea how parents of SAF servicemen might react when they read, hear about or witness a military incident (death of serviceman, plane crash etc) and fear the worst. During such situations, the reactions of next of kin would mirror the situation at the BMTC Graduation Parade described in the Forum Page letter.

Parental instincts to fret over their sons underscores why prompt and unambiguous communications is vital during crisis situations. Next of kin must be informed in a timely manner and must not be left to guess or rely on hearsay.

In the age of new media, defence information professionals must realize that MINDEF's information-gathering cycle must move at top speed to remain a credible source of information. The clearance processes inbuilt into a bureaucratic government machinery should not impede or hamper clear and concise messages that the public yearns for during crisis situations.

In the recent past, it was the new media (Hardwarezone.com) which first broke the news that a soldier (Dave Teo) had run away from camp with a rifle.

And it was the community of plane spotters who first released the news flash that a Republic of Singapore Air Force AH-64D Apache attack helicopter had made a forced landing. Please check the earlier postings on this blog.

During operations, especially those conducted overseas in places such as Afghanistan, MINDEF's defence information apparatus may face situations when news agencies work faster than its OODA loop.

Should Singaporeans get wind of developments from online news sites - including those of dubious reliability - MINDEF will have to quickly wrest the initiative to allay concerns on the home front.

As the Forum Page letter shows, an information vacuum (i.e. parents who were unable to see who had fainted) will lead to uncertainty which in turn triggers anxiety and possibly panic.

If managed ineptly, this could erode that magic sentiment called C2D or commitment to defence.

During such situations, the defence information apparatus must ensure it is first with the news.


Anonymous said...

A bit of an overreaction isn't it? We're already on the slippery slope to a self indulgent and soft military if this type of attitude becomes the norm.

If there was a big screen in use at the floating platform, a scrolling blurb at the bottom of the screen calling for the NOK of the fainted/sick/excused recruits could be used (e.g. "Mr XXX, please contact LTA XXX at xxxx-xxxx, wouldn't use the recruits' names as that would be too embarassing). Informative enough not to cause alarm, but also discreet enough not to disrupt the proceedings.

- KF

Ben Choong said...

Hmm. Throwing out ideas here. Shouldn't the commanders have the contact numbers of the recruit's NOK? Or at least the contact number of whoever the recruit has invited? So as soon as recruit faints, the commander there can SMS the NOK/friend and alert them of the situation?

FinalFive said...

I cannot agree with you this round David.

There is nothing the public information apparatus of MINDEF can do to change the public opinion of Singaporeans at this stage. When public opinion is skewed towards making life cushy for sons serving NS, no amount of speed in information management will placate the crowd once an incident such as the fainting of a recruit has happened.

This naturally means that our Singaporeans do not take military security seriously. NS is either a good-time-bitter-pill experience or a waste of time to them. NS is therefore no longer a deterrent.

We need to seriously reconsider the requirements of the future battlespace and whether conscription will stand the test of time. If all you need in future are black ops special warfare troops and a strong air force and navy, then a sacred cow must eventually be slaughtered.

David Boey said...

Hi FinalFive,
The Forum Page letter was used to show how parents typically react when information is lacking. It wasn't meant as a call for some infoboard or whatever to pinpoint fainting victims.

The DIMs will hopefully think about the importance of cranking up their OODA loop especially when news agencies and defence-aware entities are working to cut into PAFF's decision-making cycle.

re: NS. You have raised an interesting point, which is whether a dual-Service force with a pared down Army is all this island needs.

btw, I have a commentary based on LKY's recent comments on Singapore's security but I've decided to keep it before I decide if I should post it....


Anonymous said...

This is ridiculous. When NS personnel faint during regular National Day parades, do you find the need to placate anxious parents at once?

Anonymous said...

You really have nothing better to talk about do you.

FinalFive said...


Please post the commentary...

DK said...

I feel that the person who wrote the letter is over reacted.

It is natural for parents to feel worried. But at the same time, parents should know that their sons are in good hands. There's proper safety procedures. Medic and MO are around and there's ambulance standing by.

I don't see what's wrong with 24km route march just before the parade. After BMT, the recruits will be posted to units. During exercise (or real combat), the end of a route march is not the end of the battle. It's just the beginning. That's when you need to attack the objective. And I'm pretty sure it's more Xiong than standing in parade square listening to some VIP talking.

I think the new recruits are already very lucky that the 24KM route march is carried out at night when its much cooler. Back in my days, the route march is during morning and early afternoon. Luckily the jungle in Tekong provided some shades.

Anonymous said...

Sincerest condolences to the family of late LCP Wee.

What do you make of the timeline of this tragedy?