This post is part of my National Service Survey series, titled “The Full-Time National Serviceman: Concerns, Challenges And The Way Forward“. The study was also premised upon three key principles: first, to involve NSFs in the entire feedback process; second, to inform the SAF and MINDEF about these concerns; third, besides the implementation of workable recommendations, this ad-hoc survey can function as a humble starting point for future exercises or studies to evolve from.
Read more about my first attempt at an online survey (here), and feel free to let me know what you think about the discourse.
Increasing Channels For Feedback And Discourse
Key Quantitative Findings
Basic Quantitative Analysis
Low Levels Of Pride, And Perceptions Of Inadequacy Towards Existing Feedback Channels Provided By MINDEF
On the question “How Proud Are You To Be A NSF” (with 1 being “Not Proud At All” and 5 being “Extremely Proud), the respondents polled an average of 2.08. The relatively low levels of pride could be attributed to the changing mindsets and perceptions held by NSFs, and the result of specific negative experiences during their time in service.
On the question “In Your Opinion, Are Existing Channels Provided By Your Unit Or MINDEF Adequate For The Articulation Of Feedback Or Comments” (with 1 being “Not Adequate At All” and 5 being “Extremely Adequate”), the respondents polled an average of 1.82. This could mean that NSFs desire for more avenues for the expression of opinions – be it micro or macro ones – and constant feedback.
Differentiating between combat-fit and non-combat-fit personnel, the former polled 2.09 on the pride question, and 1.87 on the adequacy of feedback channels. Both values were above the average figures. Conversely, non-combat-fit personnel polled 2.06 on the pride question, and 1.68 on the adequacy of feedback channels. Taking note of this difference would help shape the customisation of methodologies or pedagogies when it comes to the introduction of new initiatives or activities in various units, departments or offices.
Differing Levels Of NSF Pride Between Men And Commanders
On the pride question, the Man, Specialist and Officer respondents polled 1.87, 2.30 and 2.57 respectively. Correspondingly on the adequacy of feedback channels, they polled 1.75, 1.88 and 2.00 respectively. The general observation would be of the differing levels of NSF pride between men and commanders; though it is equally interesting to note the difference in value between Specialists and Officers. It seems probable that the training programmes and syllabuses catered for trainees in the military schools emphasise upon exercises engineered in this direction, and imbue the to-be commanders with leadership and communication capabilities.
This is also a finding that reinforces the need to strengthen approaches in the battalions for enlistees as a whole, so as to address this concern of possessing low levels of pride of being a NSF with the SAF.
1. More channels for the communication of feedback, especially broad policy issues. These channels should cater to servicemen who wish to expound on broad policy issues, and engage in genuine discussion or discourse; these concerns could include exposition on the perceived roles and responsibilities of NSFs, service commitments, equipment maintenance and physical fitness tests. The exchanges can take the form of collaborative focus group discussions within clusters, with the views consolidated and seriously taken into consideration.
Present channels within units are usually effective for day-to-day or micro, on-the-ground issues, but considerably ineffectual for macro grievances or concerns.
Besides, the current system works on the assumption that commanders are necessarily competent, and are capable in their execution of duties; my anecdotal experience (and other individuals might corroborate this view) tells me that there is sometimes a vast distance between the reality and our expectations. What if one’s superiors are really incapable? Does one try to approach someone else and run the risk of being accused for non-compliance to the chain of command, or does one simply take it lying down?
Having more tangible channels for feedback could potentially prevent NSFs from being caught in a Catch-22 situation, and allow them to articulate perspectives that could be useful for future recommendations.
2. There should be regular dialogue sessions, without intervention or censorship. On occasion, representatives from the military’s top brass would make the effort to having dialogue sessions with NSFs to talk about concerns and issues in general. Unfortunately, there may be tendencies – not all the time – for the immediate commanders to “prepare” the audience on what to ask, or what not to say.
The issue of subtle pressures (and the perpetual fear of authority) cannot be addressed immediately; however, at the very least, we should do away with rehearsed sessions peppered with politically-correct questions, and be given the liberty to table queries that really matter.
3. Understand, and explain communication directives comprehensively. Instead of applying a blanket ban on blogging, online writing or usage of social media platforms, commanders should expound on a few key areas that are certainly out of limits – for instance, classified or secret information from the units, details and exposition about operations et cetera – and not conveniently dismiss all Internet content as being necessarily destructive. If MINDEF chooses to pedantically curtail constructive criticisms, frustrations will thereafter set in, and disillusionment would simply manifest.
The same should also be applied to press publications and letters to the editor: there should be greater transparency on affairs or issues that should not be reflected.
Most importantly, one’s commitment as a NSF – a vocation that was not chosen voluntarily (under the concept of conscription) – should not be perceived as an obstacle that prevents them from publishing perspectives on socio-economic concerns. Soldiers, especially NSFs, should be assured of the proposition that as the country’s stakeholders, they have every right to express their opinions in a sound and responsible manner.
4. The creation of a public platform for general issues to be highlighted, especially for those who have gone through the system. NSFs who have gone through the system would be in a good position, on hindsight, to provide constructive opinions (again, without compromising classified details). For instance, why should the subscription to Pioneer magazine be made compulsory? Should it not be an opt-in system, rather than a ridiculous opt-out option?
5. Greater receptiveness to weblogs and posts on social networking sites. The military, after all, is an artificial construct: through methodologies of regimentation and the strict adherence to the command hierarchy, the brass assumes that all men are identical in their purposes and characteristics. NSFs have dissimilar receptiveness to the physical and psychological challenges, and it would be immensely refreshing to hear a diversity of views – both good and bad – instead of the filtered publications that are chosen by the higher-ups.
Sometimes, these rants and expressions of dissatisfaction on websites, forums and FaceBook and be quite cathartic for the writers, and can also point to a lack of – or rather, an absence of – avenues for feedback within the army. They can then serve as signals for continuous improvements to be implemented.