Perspectives

Why I Secretly Look Forward To Reservist As A Working Adult Even Though I’ve Got To Stay In

Why Singaporean men look forward to in-camp training


The moment a Singaporean male turns 18 or 19, the main thing on their mind is how they’ll soon be joining the National Service (NS). For the next 2 years or so, their life will involve getting the “botak 1” haircut, training to get Gold for their IPPT in a bid to score that $300 reward, and counting down the days till they ORD loh.

For most NSmen, the path thereafter brings them to university or the workforce and then only donning their military gear once a year when they get called up for in-camp training (ICT). And then there are those who sign on to continue serving with the army. Meet Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) (NS) Ang Kwang Chien who belongs to the second group.

This 51-year-old shares his journey from training to be a soldier and serving with the army as a Commando to finally taking up a role in the private sector. More interestingly, he tells us why he looks forward to ICT as a working adult even though he has to stay in.


Signing on with the army before joining the private sector


For the benefit of those not familiar with army lingo, an SLTC is one whose uniform features 2 Singapore state crests and a pair of laurels. That will tell you that Mr Ang is a senior officer.


Image credit: Ang Kwang Chien

To understand how he got to this point, let’s start with his army days. Mr Ang shares, “From the first day I joined Basic Military Training (BMT) I had to sing a simple song which is Training To Be Soldiers, and the lyrics really moved me.”

Those who have passed BMT will find this tune familiar; it’s one of the more popular songs sung by our soldiers during their route marches. The line that goes “Once in our lives, 2 years of our time”, in particular, resonated with Mr Ang who as a young soldier was prepared to commit and make the best of those 2 years of his life.


Little did he know at that time that those 2 years would turn into 25 as he decided to sign on with the army near the end of his
full-time NS. When asked why he chose this path, he refers back to the cheer saying that it is “a simple song but has a very powerful meaning”. 

Mr Ang shares that NS is something he finds very meaningful and has served as his guiding purpose in life. His time spent with his mates and experiences in training motivated him to want to continue. So, he stayed as an asset for the army, joining the Special Forces and serving as a Commando for over 2.5 decades.


Going back for in-camp training even after joining the private sector


Just 3 years ago, Mr Ang moved over to the private sector with NCS, a company that provides security solutions to the government. As a Co-Lead of the Engineering Gov+ team, he now makes use of his years of knowledge of being in the army to contribute ideas that would add to the defence and homeland security of Singapore.

He says, “Even after I left the army, that passion, that desire to want to continue to serve my nation remains.” And his current role at NCS allows him to do just that.


As someone of senior ranking, Mr Ang is very involved in the planning exercises that bring the unit to its warfighting competency.
Image credit: Ang Kwang Chien

Still, for the past 3 years, Mr Ang has been diligently going back for in-camp training every year for up to 2 weeks at a time. In fact, he really looks forward to it and excitedly says, “as long as I am able-bodied and if you need me, I will continue to serve.”

On the topic, he expresses his disdain for the term “reservist” even though it has become the more common term locally to refer to annual ICT. He says, “We are still considered active units. There are actually no reserves in Singapore. When there’s a mobilisation and NS call-ups, you won’t be behind the scenes doing reserve work; you’ll have to gear up to take on the front line depending on your unit’s requirements.”

The NSmen in his unit are given 6 months’ advanced notice of when their in-camp training will happen that year so that they can plan their leave well ahead of time. Sometimes, they even have to stay overnight in camp for a week. Mr Ang, who has a family with 2 kids, shares that they are supportive of his passion for serving the country and understand when he can’t come home during this period.


Continuing to find meaning & purpose in serving the nation


At this point, once again we check with Mr Ang how he manages to sustain his passion for the army having tasted the private sector working life. He shares that there are many reasons that keep him going.

For one, he has made some really strong bonds with his army buddies who continue to come back for ICT with him. Even those who have completed their mandatory number of cycles enjoy going back because of the camaraderie and relationships they have built over the years. He says, “Many of them call each other up and spur each other on to continue to serve.”

He doesn’t really get many opportunities otherwise to see his fellow comrades. This is that one time of the year when all of them gather in camp to catch up with each other and create new memories.


Image credit: Ang Kwang Chien

Mr Ang is also inspired by those NSmen who are working overseas and take the trouble to fly back to Singapore to complete their ICT. He says that this shows the unity of the unit where everyone feels a shared sense of responsibility to ensure that their unit does well during their evaluation. 

The work that NSmen do during ICT goes beyond military training. For example, these men take the initiative to volunteer to help the less fortunate in Singapore, showcasing a strong sense of community and social responsibility.


Image credit: Ang Kwang Chien

Having found his passion in serving the country, Mr Ang feels the need to pass on the sentiment to younger recruits too. Every year, his unit will include bonding activities in addition to the physical training tasks to make the ICT experience livelier and hopes that NSmen find meaning in training through these social cohesion activities. 

This could include visiting heritage sites, engaging speakers to share interesting stories, or simply enjoying a nice meal together. All this is also part of national education to give NSmen a deeper understanding of the importance of doing NS in Singapore. 

As a form of encouragement, people who perform well during their in-camp training and contribute meaningfully are also recognised with awards.


The importance of having a supportive boss & team


Back at NCS, Mr Ang leads over 200 people in the company. So you can imagine what happens when he’s away for a good half of the month. Luckily for him, the company is totally on board with their NSmen employees going back for in-camp training every year. 

Since Mr Ang is part of the planning process he knows exactly when his ICT will be happening that year. This gives him enough time to have a chat with his immediate reporting officer in advance to sort out what needs to be done in his absence.

There are measures in place for him to appoint a co-worker as a Deputy who will then take over a majority of the decision-making within the lines of business. There will also be other leaders who get handed over some of the functions so that business continues to run as normal even while he’s in camp.


Mr Ang mentions how his team members willingly take up additional tasks to cover for each other in someone’s absence.
Image credit: Ang Kwang Chien

He shares that he almost never receives any calls from work and only a few text messages from colleagues if there are any pressing matters he needs to attend to. Jokingly, he mentions, “In terms of challenges I would say my email will start to pile up by the time I come back.” 

To ease the additional load of having to clear all his emails upon returning to work, he does glance through his emails at the end of each day to see if there’s anything urgent to address. 

When it comes to upper management, they also make it a point to openly discuss internally how the team will manage projects whenever anyone is away. Mr Ang shares that “they don’t feel the pressure that the company needs the NSmen back for work to continue.” In this way, no one needs to defer their training.


SAF Rededication Day in NCS, where hundreds of employees turned up to recite the SAF pledge in their uniforms.
Image credit: NCS 

NCS goes a step further to show its support for employees serving the nation. For the past 2 years, the company has been running an internal event to celebrate Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day. Known as SAF Rededication Day, this special day is dedicated to NSmen and SAF regulars where they’re encouraged to don their uniforms to work and celebrate NSmen who were recently promoted.


Those who attended the ceremony also got to bring home specially designed commemorative coins featuring soldiers from the 4 different services of the SAF.
Image credit: NCS 

In addition, the office contains an AI-powered gym that provides gym classes and personalised training programmes to help their NSmen maintain fitness.


How companies can support their NSmen employees


A large part of NCS Singapore’s business deals with defence and homeland security. So, it’s only natural that they understand the importance of NS. Having said that, other companies in Singapore can easily take a leaf out of their book and create a conducive environment for their employees to feel encouraged to go back for in-camp training.


Image credit: NCS 

Apart from fostering a supportive and understanding team, companies can offer additional incentives for employees to take ICT more seriously. Such company-wide initiatives could include granting a day off for those who perform well in their IPPT or acknowledging their performance with a post on the company’s social platform.

In addition, organisations could allow employees to enjoy flexible work arrangements to prepare for ICT so that they wouldn’t have to defer. Parents of kids who are in NS could also be given time off to attend their children’s Enlistment Day or Passing Out Parade. These are just some of the many policies and HR practices that can be considered to make NSmen employees feel valued.

For companies that feel they have already been taking such steps, can sign up for the NS Mark accreditation which they can show off to the world through their website as well as corporate and marketing collaterals. Those who attain the Gold accreditation are then also considered for the NS Advocate Awards at the Total Defence Awards (TDA) that happen every year. 

NCS is one of the companies that received this honourable award for large companies in 2023. This was in recognition of their support of the nation’s efforts in strengthening our defence.

Employers – whether an SME or large company – and even individuals can receive this national accolade that recognises their efforts to support NSmen. They can also have bragging rights to call themselves an employer of choice. And then perhaps, more and more NSmen will eagerly look forward to going back for reservist.

Find out more about the Total Defence Awards

 


This post was brought to you by MINDEF.
Cover image adapted from: Ang Kwang Chien

Aditi Kashyap

Serial offender of binge-watching whodunnit shows

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