For some time, there have been anecdotal observations or comments that the training and regimental standards at the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) have been relaxed, and these remarks have been articulated in this post from SAF Confessions. Given the anonymity of the author and the general nature of social media in Singapore (which is, many would concur, marked by exaggerated remarks), it would be convenient to dismiss the commentary as inaccurate, or as a hasty generalisation. However, if the perspectives are echoed by more on-the-ground commanders, it would signal to the top bureaucracy that something is not right.
I hope these rumours are not true.
There is always the perception that training standards are not as high as they used to be (like, “aiyah, you guys have it so much easier nowadays”), and the recent focus on safety protocols could have contributed to such views. More problematically, if the trainers at the BMTC are not convinced by these new approaches (assuming that the changes are genuine), then the military preparedness of the soldiers would be further compromised.
Tough training is important, insofar as we believe that our troops must possess the skills and expertise to deter an actual, external threat. Beyond the physicality of the programmes, harsh punitive measures – as long as they are carried out within strict safety mechanisms (here) – especially for wrongdoings or dangerous acts, can shape recruits to become more responsible, cohesive, and effective soldiers. The bar should not be lowered. This half of the traditional carrot-and-stick approach has tremendous practical applications, if employed intelligently.
I accept that the safety of the soldiers should take precedence, but we should not conflate this with the reduction of training intensity. We should not be treated as precious little things, who would crumble at the slightest of pressures. Commanders should have the liberty to reward or punish their recruits through reasonable practices, so long as they can justify the importance of doing so (that is, things are not done in jest or for the sake of doing so). This flexibility has to be discussed and established within a school or company.
Some might argue that these changes – if true – will compel commanders to rethink antiquated forms of “corporal punishments”. I agree. Yet, the emergence of these posts and sentiments (of supposedly half-assed regimentation) could possibly point to poor communication through the chain of command, or the absence of proper guidance for these personnel (that they – and we – do not comprehend the rationales for these adjustments, and the other strategies that can adopted in replacement).
If the initial phase of a conscripted soldier is not tough, then what is the point of further military training? Will our deterrence capabilities be justified, if recruits do have it that easy?