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Is Serving NS in Singapore Really that Bad? Why are Some People so Desperate to Avoid It?

I served 2 years of national service with the Singapore Armed Forces as a Guards GPMG Sergeant back in 2008. I hope my experience gives an objective view of the question.

All Singaporean males are required to serve a mandatory 2 year full-time National Service at age 18. Within your service term, you are not allowed to pursue other full-time positions or pursuits. Serving national service is in fact performing your duty as a citizen of Singapore. Considering every citizen is obligated to contribute to his/her country in one way or another, joining its military organization to protect the country against aggressors is probably the most literal form of serving the nation. To the country, it is not bad at all.

But of course, from the way the question is phrased, we are more interested in the potential gains at an individual level. The short answer is, if you have absolutely no idea what you want to do with your life forward, it is actually good for you. Otherwise, it is probably a bad path to pursue.

The I-have-no-idea-what-i-want-to-do group

For many people at a tender age of 18, all the years behind us are educational pursuits and parental guidance which essentially translates to little personal responsibility as we are most often being told what to do than deciding what to do. Joining the national service would mean leaving the sheltered comfort of your family, make decisions for yourself and actually be accountable for the decisions you make. Taking up responsibility is no doubt good for you and prepares you for the life ahead. In this respect, NS undoubtedly does more good than harm by pulling you out of your comfort zone and gives you a taste of being a responsible adult.

The I-got-life-figured-out group

This group are the absolute minority among 18 year olds. It takes some really special conditions such as unique family upbringings, personal achievements, environmental circumstances and even life-changing stimulations in order for an 18 year old to have the mental maturity to think for himself and be bold enough to decide his/her life. When you know exactly what you want to do, all other pursuits are just noises and does not contribute to your goal. In this case, 2 years serving the military is a waste of youth that could otherwise be channeled into much greater achievements for yourself and/or for the country. From an opportunity cost standpoint, unless your goal is to pursue a military career, NS is definitely bad for you. It offers you a taste of personal responsibility, which you already have plenty of experience with and military literacy, which you probably won’t need for the rest of your life.

For the latter group, the idea of NS spells disaster and it is understandable they want to steer clear of it. But for most of us yet to figure out what to do with our life, serving NS does more good than harm. As a general rule of thumb, if the idea of avoiding NS for personal pursuits didn’t come from your own logical analysis and/or soul searching but from parental advice or peer influences, you are not the minority and NS is probably good for you.


This commentary was written by Hou GuoChen, who describes himself as having served under the SAF Guards as a GPMG sergeant in 2008.
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