SPEECH BY MR LEE HSIEN LOONG,PRIME MINISTER, AT "40 YEARS OF NATIONAL SERVICE COMMEMORATION DINNER", 27 SEPTEMBER 2007, 7.30 PM AT PASIR LABA CAMP
Mr Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Defence,
LG Desmond Kuek, Chief of Defence Force,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. 40 years ago, ordinary citizens were first called up to defend our nation. Many were apprehensive, not knowing what to expect. But the first batch of 900 national servicemen recruits answered the call to duty. They reported at Community Centres across the island, boarded army trucks, and headed off to Pasir Laba Camp to become soldiers. Since then, successive generations of young men have followed in their footsteps. Hundreds of thousands have done their part, selflessly giving of their time and energies to protect what is precious to us all – our country, our beliefs, our way of life. Tonight, we return to Pasir Laba Camp where it all began, to proudly commemorate 40 years of national service (NS).
The Past 40 Years – Defending Our Home
2. It is easy to forget, after decades of peace and prosperity, how
3. As a tiny nation with a small population and very limited resources, we could not afford a large standing army. The only viable solution was NS. We resolved to train and equip citizen-soldiers to form the main part of the SAF, so that in an emergency we could mobilise an entire nation under arms.
4. Initially, NS was not a popular policy. All Chinese parents knew of the saying that good sons do not become soldiers. They had to be persuaded to send their sons for military training. The first batches of NSmen went through a tough time. Arrangements were far from perfect. We were building up an army from scratch, improvising as we went along. We had to develop our own courses, procedures, and doctrines. Safety rules were not yet completely worked out or implemented. Welfare was rudimentary. We made our share of mistakes, and paid the price of our inexperience. But we learnt from our errors and lapses, and identified and fixed the weaknesses one by one. Year by year, we gained experience and improved.
5. Today, 40 years later, NS is very different from what it used to be. Whether it is in training safety, personal equipment, living conditions, or even cookhouse food, things are much better now compared to 40 years ago. But amidst all these changes, some things remain the same. We continue to demand high standards of training and discipline. Our efforts are still directed at the same mission – to build a strong and operationally-ready SAF, to defend our home and secure our future.
6. We have been fortunate to have enjoyed 40 years of peace. The SAF and our national servicemen have not been put to the ultimate test of fighting a war. But I do not believe this was just a matter of luck. The SAF, by its existence, credibility and readiness, has contributed to the stable and peaceful security environment in
7. The SAF’s competence and professionalism have grown over the years as the quality of our soldiers has improved. Today’s NSmen are far better educated than earlier batches. The SAF has made full use of this better resource to organise and structure its forces. In SAF units, every man is a thinking soldier, able to fully exploit the technologies and fighting capabilities in his section, platoon, or company. Every person understands the intent of his commander, and is trained to act independently and exercise initiative to turn the tide of battle, and contribute to the success of the mission.
8. When SAF units participate in international exercises, they impress their counterparts. In the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) exercise last year,
9. While the SAF has not fought a war, from time to time, it has executed operational missions, be it evacuating Singaporeans from
10. More than anything else, it is the spirit and commitment of our NSmen that makes the SAF a potent and credible fighting force. Successive generations of NSmen have served readily, performing their duties professionally and with pride. Parents have understood the importance and necessity of NS. They expect their sons to wear the uniform and undergo tough training. NS has become a rite of passage and a way of life for every able-bodied male citizen, and also for permanent residents growing up here.
11. Parents, wives and children – each NSman has his family and community solidly behind him. The sons of our early national servicemen are now doing their NS. When they become husbands and fathers, they help to pass on their convictions, sentiments and values. One example is the 2007 Army NSman of the Year, SSG (NS) Arno Bin Iman.
12. Because of this spirit, no one doubts the SAF’s capabilities and its determination to fight and prevail in battle. Whenever the SAF is needed, it is there, ready to respond to the nation’s call. Any potential aggressor knows that if it takes on
13. For all this, we owe a huge debt to our NSmen. You have been steadfast and true in answering the call of duty, despite the many claims of your careers and families. We demand a lot from you, especially the operationally-ready NSmen. For your dedication and sacrifices, we are deeply grateful. The SAF will do its utmost to minimise the inconveniences and ‘standing around’ time of in-camp training, so that you can focus on your training and operational duties, and make every minute count. But we have to continue calling you up, and putting you through rigorous training, because your units form a vital part of the SAF order of battle. This is what our whole NS system is about.
14. Beyond defence, NS has played a major role in nation building. NS brings together Singaporean males from all races and walks of life, for a formative experience that has become a rite of passage. Everyone stands on an equal footing. We undergo tough training, overcome hardships together, and in the process forge bonds of friendship that last a lifetime. These shared experiences and common points of reference help to define who we are as Singaporeans, and enable us to appreciate what it means to live in a small country in an unpredictable world. Hence whenever
The Next 40 Years – Securing Our Future
15. Our collective resolve and dedication to defend
16. But this does not mean that we no longer need the SAF, or that we can slacken efforts to strengthen our defence capability. New unconventional threats, including extremist terrorism, have emerged in recent years. Even for conventional security, we cannot take things for granted. We work for peace and do not expect war in our part of the world, and we are friends with all our neighbours. But we cannot blithely assume that the next 40 years will be as uneventful as the last 40, nor can we predict what
17. In this strategic situation, a competent and vigilant SAF will be a great source of comfort that enables Singaporeans to sleep peacefully at night. It has taken us 40 years to build the SAF to what it is today – with the Third Generation force starting to take shape. If things go wrong, we are not going to have 20 years of advance notice, much less 40 years. So we must never become complacent and let our guard down. Instead we must continue to upgrade our capabilities and equipment steadily year by year, in a sustainable and affordable way. We must also induct and train new generations of national servicemen, make them understand these strategic realities, and prepare them for their part in defending
18. For our defence efforts to be complete, the SAF must be backed by an equally effective Total Defence capability. Every individual must be committed to the defence and security of
19. This process must start from young. This is why we are paying a lot of attention to National Education. It is not just a subject to be taught in schools, but a concerted effort to get our young to discover for themselves what Singapore means to them, and to feel that this is their country, which is worth protecting even with their lives.
20. At the same time, we will continue to recognise the contributions of our full-time and operationally-ready NSmen in many ways big and small. We have done so through the years by providing excellent facilities at our SAFRA clubhouses, and by giving our NSmen a little extra whenever the Government has surpluses to share. These tokens will never adequately compensate for your personal sacrifices, but they are a symbol of the country’s appreciation for what you have done.
21. We also recognise the important role of families and employers, and the unstinting support and encouragement they give to our NSmen. MINDEF and the SAF will do more to engage employers, parents, spouses and other family members, as well as permanent residents and new citizens, so that they will have a deeper understanding of the importance of national service. The Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD), headed by A/P Koo Tsai Kee, Minister of State for Defence, leads this effort to strengthen broad-based support for defence and national service.
22. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the role of SAF regulars. You are a vital component of the SAF. Without your lifelong commitment to the defence of
23. To secure a better, safer future for