Ever since its inception, National Service (NS) has been a talking point for many Singaporeans.

Some call it a waste of time ― it doesn’t help either when we see bad behaviour by our national servicemen like the commander who addressed recruits in public with his mask tucked under his chin.

With the recent postponement of the National Day Parade to Aug 21, some have called for this year’s parade to be cancelled altogether, with a petition on Change.org reaching more than 40,000 signatures in the week after it was set up. Some reasons given include Covid concerns and a chance to redirect the funds to help needy Singaporeans suffering during this time.

But regardless of that, many have credited NS for helping them grow into better people both physically and mentally.

I was reminded of the positive side to NS after I saw a post on reddit where the original poster described how NS is helping him cope with his life right now.

In the post, u/FeelinSpiffyPunk talked about how his depression negatively affected his life in many ways. He said he lashes out at people he cares about and he has low self confidence among other things.

He also shared that he feels trapped in his position due to bad experiences he had with school counselors and psychiatrists. As a result, he does not trust therapy to help him with his mental health issues.

However, he said that NS gives him a respite from all of the challenges he faces. While he is serving, he isn’t plagued by so many negative thoughts that haunt him. In NS, he is able to do something he finds fulfilling and he finds comfort in the routine.

He was even relieved that he was fit enough to experience a normal BMT. That is a different sentiment from what I sometimes hear from others, which is that the lower their PES status is, the better it is for them.

Any experience can turn out to be good

he Singapore flag and the silhouette of soldiers
Image source: Shutterstock / Paul Stringer

As a Singaporean son who is going through NS right now, I can definitely attest to how drastic the change from civilian to military life is. I can say for sure that adapting to military life is extremely difficult. Everything is new ― from the activities that you do every day to the places where you shower and sleep every night.

For every enlistee there is a two-week confinement period before their first bookout to go home to see their loved ones. This adjustment period is where we were taught about what to expect from military life and what was expected of us during our two years in NS.

I remember that confinement period as one of the hardest parts of my NS life. There were times where I couldn’t think straight and felt lost because I had to live in such an unfamiliar environment. It didn’t help that everything had to be done with urgency and not knowing when the next instruction would arrive at times ― “wait to rush, rush to wait” was the usual grumble that we all learned to live with.

For some of us, this takes a mental toll. This is probably why many stories we hear of the NS experience tend to be negative.

Covid only serves to exacerbate this. The existing pressure of having to adapt to a military lifestyle paired with the added stress of Covid is a recipe for mental distress.

That’s why I was so pleased to read about u/FeelinSpiffyPunk’s experience. His story about how it helps him get through the obstacles he faces with mental health is a welcome reminder. This is just one example of how NS can be beneficial to our young Singaporeans.

It’s a counter to all the negativity we often hear about NS and a refreshing addition to other positive stories about how it has given people a sense of belonging, taught them leadership skills and exposed them to new experiences.

Personal experiences

From my own experience, despite the initial difficulties acclimating myself to NS, I found quite a number of positive things that I was able to experience.

Some of my older guy friends have cited the camaraderie they had with their buddies as the main factor that made their NS experience enjoyable. I was lucky enough to have this as well.

During our free time, we would chat about anything under the sun (sometimes literally!). Even when we would get scolded and punished, we would return to our bunk and have a laugh over it later. Not only did that serve as a bonding exercise, but we would remind one another to make sure we don’t make the same mistake again.

I was also lucky that many of my platoon mates are outgoing and friendly. So it made it easier to work with them to get tasks done. They also would chat with me even when we were just passing each other, which was great because I’m a bit of an introvert.

My section mates readily helped me with whatever I needed. This motivated me to want to get everything right and also return the favour whenever they needed help themselves. This helped us form strong bonds.

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Of course NS isn’t all that easy and relaxed. u/FeelinSpiffyPunk mentioned that he would get annoyed at his enciks (warrant officers). There are also times when he would rather be at home or resting in his bunk. But overall, he still maintains that NS has helped him and continues to do so.

I’m sure we all can relate to wanting a break from the hustle and bustle of regular life. NS is that break for him. And for me too.

I hope that we can recognise that tough life changes, such as going for NS, can be an opportunity for us. Not only can it help us grow and learn new lessons, it could be a welcome change to our situations to cope with our personal problems.

Everyone, please stay safe and do not be disheartened by the recent complications. We have braved through the worst of it. And as we celebrate National Day next week, let’s remember that as long as we all keep doing our part and helping one another wherever possible, we can get through this too. All the best!

A Singaporean son

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Top Image: Jordan Tan