DARPA and the US army have the high-tech Legged Squad Support System, DSO and SAF have the low-tech maid.
The picture of the young chap in the SAF uniform, apparently trailed a maid carrying his field pack, has stirred debate on whether the SAF soldier has gone soft.
Analysts like Dr Bernard Loo and Dr Tan Ern Ser have come out to caution that this one case should not been seen as a reflection of the SAF. Others – like Dr Paulin Tay Straughan – suggest that the photo/article was unhelpful because it was not contextualized. For example, the soldier could have been tired or injured.
(MINDEF’s official response is that the SAF takes a serious view of the conduct of its servicemen in public; they will investigate the matter and take appropriate action.)
It cannot be doubted, however, that our rising affluence has afforded the current generation of enlistees with a very comfortable lifestyle. The TNP survey of 80 national servicemen found that 23 of them came from families who employed maids.
Doing the family laundry is a natural part of the maid’s job scope. 22 of those surveyed reported that their army uniforms are washed and ironed by maids, but only one admitted that he also had his army boots cleaned.
This suggests – thankfully – that by-and-large, our young national servicemen know where to draw the line.
But what demarcates this line?
The line is pride in one’s role in the SAF and by extension, his conduct, particularly while in uniform. And carrying one’s own field pack is one of many ways to reflect this pride.
Some online pundits suggest that the “outsourcing” of such menial tasks is not a reflection of the soldier’s ability and that one could in fact argue that the trait to make use of one’s “available resources“ is required for officer-hood.
Such views miss the bigger picture. In peacetime, the value of a military service resides largely in being able to serve as a sufficient deterrent to would be aggressors. Since its fighting capabilities are unproven, military watchers make assessments based on manpower, equipment and reputation for training and discipline.
Only when it appears imposing does a military serve to be a deterrent; to have to prove its abilities on the battlefield is to have failed in its primary mission, and would result in the loss of many lives.
For this reason, there are myriad regulations about how the uniform should be worn (e.g. wearing of headgear and fatigues), behaviour protocols while in uniform, as well as how we dispose of old uniforms.
This solider has done the SAF a disservice. It may be only one case, but it has damaged the reputation of the service, and all others who don the uniform with pride.
To all serving SAF national servicemen. Carry your own field pack and polish your own boots; a soldier’s pride demands no less.