Published: 09 April 2017
1. It is a privilege for me to have so many NSmen - over 70 with their parents -representing and being symbolic for the entire country of generations of NSmen. What does it mean for us, NS?
2. You look around everywhere - the prosperity, the safety, the security, the confidence in Singapore, our plans, our jobs - there is one thing that underpins all of them. That is our ability to defend ourselves. No rich country which is small, has ever survived when it has not been able to protect itself.
3. The fact that we have a very powerful SAF for our external defence and the fact that we have our very strong Police force, SCDF, internally - both regulars, helped by National Servicemen. In the Police, they wear the same uniform. If you look at them today, you cannot say who is an NSman, who is a regular Police officer, as they all wear the same uniform.
4. And of course for the SAF, the number of people who have ORDed into ther reserves is a much larger proportion. That ability to protect ourselves and the fact that everyone around us know that our SAF is superior, that Singapore is able to protect itself, that there is no trouble, our sovereignty is safe and we are able to attract investments, create jobs.
5. If you look at it, 720 square kilometres, with no resources, we made it a success. Our people made it a success. We started in 1967 at a time of great uncertainty,
6. From 1967, when we started with no troops and no weaponry and no systems, today, in Southeast Asia, we have one of the most modern forces. Probably the most modern, the most effective and the most powerful force. For every Singaporean, whether man or woman, national service is a very key part of their lives. For the men, it is a rite of passage. Two years, used to be two and a half, of their lives. Unforgettable years. Often, when you are in there, you are not very happy, but you go through with it. Some parts are wonderful, some parts are not so great, but once you get out, it is something you will never forget. The bonds, the friendships, the camaraderie and the esprit de corps, for the rest of your lives.
7. It is an invaluable part of your lives and the relationships you form, you constantly meet, you talk about the good old days, they seem much better now that you have gone through them, and you no longer have to go through them, except when you get called back for reservist duty. Wives and girlfriends in Singapore are used to accepting that the boys will get together and they will talk about national service. The sense of nostalgia, that is why it is wonderful to see so many fathers who have gone through national service here, with so many of their sons who are going through national service, supported by so many mothers, wives, girlfriends and sisters.
8. In all of these, we talk about the SAF, the SPF and the SCDF, but in all of these, none of these could have been possible without the support of the community. When we started in 1967, in our Asian culture, army duty was not something that people would accept. It was deeply unpopular. It was very, very difficult.
9. Today, you talk about difficult issues. National Service was a difficult issue that affected every family. No Government that wants to win elections would introduce National Service. But Mr Lee Kuan Yew did, and there was a tremendous need to go and explain because suddenly the families were going to lose their sons (to national service). They would have to wear a uniform and they go off. They would not see them for months and they were going to do army duty. They were going to suffer. People were very unhappy.
10. But we had to go and explain to the population what this was all about, why this was necessary, and the success today of the country or SAF or Police, is partly due to the fact that we were able to communicate.
11. How were we able to communicate? Through the People's Association, they were a key partner. Grassroots leaders and the People's Association went down to the ground, constituency by constituency, event by event, house by house, "we have to have National Service. I am sorry I have to take your son away." Very difficult but it was done. Today, nobody questions it; everybody understands.
12. The PA has been invaluable. Before 1967, from 1964, PA together with the Police administered what we called the Voluntary Vigilante Corps. They went around the neighbourhoods. They guarded key installations. They protected crowded places.
13. It was important, because the younger people here don't remember, but we had an ongoing conflict with Indonesia. It was called Konfrontasi. It was low intensity. They sent over people to put bombs. Several terrorists were arrested. We had people dying. This was a key duty that our volunteers performed.
14. Today, we call them Grassroots leaders here. That was the kind of job PA was doing, and helping to communicate the message – the need for National Service. Today, PA continues to be a key pillar in our Total Defence system, supporting the social defence and psychological defence by building and bridging communities.
15. We have launched a national movement, SGSecure, under the Ministry of Home Affairs, because of terrorism. Every day, you open the newspapers, there is some attack somewhere in the world. One day, London. One day, Stockholm. One day, Paris. One day, Jakarta. Somewhere, somebody is driving a truck, putting out a bomb, somebody knifing someone else. It can happen here.
16. When it happens, grassroots leaders, working with my Ministry, People's Association – they say keep on going. We have rolled out the programmes, we are going house-to-house to talk about SGSecure to bring the message across, we are training grassroots leaders in CPR and first-aid, and we are getting grassroots leaders trained in counselling and psychological defence.
17. Because if there is an attack, you want the grassroots leaders to go out into the community, assuage concerns, tell people not to be worried, tell them not to listen to rumours – these are the facts, let's keep calm, come together, work together and we will defeat the terrorists. That is the message. PA today is performing a key role in that. PA's community networks are critical in that as well.
18. Today, we have a simple ceremony to say a big thank you, to not just everyone here, but what you represent – the generations of national servicemen. The Government can't thank you enough – it comes from the bottom of our hearts. We cherish you, we value you. Every one of us has done it, we are all in this together and we say a big thank you to everyone who has supported National Service and has done it.
19. In appreciation, the PA is offering a commemorative NS50 Passion Card to all NSmen and this will give you access to benefits offered by the PA network and the merchants and shopkeepers who have signed up to the Passion Card.
20. In conclusion, I want to say to all national servicemen, past and present, to all their families who have supported them – a very big thank you on behalf of all Singaporeans. You, our brave men in uniform, protect Singapore and we ask you to continue to nurture that spirit both within yourself and in succeeding generations. So that Singapore can stand proud, it can stand tall, and that you, I, our children, can continue to have a wonderful life and a great future in Singapore. Thank you.