BY JERMYN CHOW DEFENCE CORRESPONDENT, Straits Times
REGISTRATION for the new Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps (SAFVC) begins today – and with it, the chance for recruits to decide how they want to serve their stints and contribute to the country’s defence.
Women, first-generation permanent residents and new citizens aged between 18 and 45, who are not liable for national service, will be able to sign up to serve from March next year.
The SAFVC will match their skills and job expertise to their military role. Details of the unit were announced last Friday by Colonel Mike Tan who will command the new set-up. It was created following a year-long review into how to boost support for national service.
Volunteers can choose to stay in camp and undergo a four-week course that will familiarise them with the military’s modus operandi. If this does not fit around their commitments, they can also spread out their training sessions over several weekends.
They will have to serve just seven days a year, but can drop out at any time when they feel they can no longer serve – though they must give three months’ notice.
Early plans for the new corps had specified up to 14 days of annual service and a minimum three-year enrolment.
However, Col Tan, who will also head a newly formed SAF Volunteers Affairs Department, said this more flexible arrangement does not “take away the seriousness of the commitment”.
“You are not likely to give your best if you feel you are being tied down,” he said.
“If the volunteer is not able to keep pace with training and found to be unable to follow the training, then maybe it’s in everybody’s interest to allow the volunteer to leave.”
Volunteers will get to choose from 17 vocations during their stints. They include roles such as defence psychologists, medical trainers and airbase civil engineers, who can share their area of expertise with their military counterparts.
The volunteers will serve alongside career soldiers and national servicemen in roles such as patrolling key installations like Changi Airport and sailing with the Republic of Singapore Navy’s ships.
If one role does not work out, the volunteers will be able to switch to another.
Candidates will undergo pre-enlistment screening and face an interview panel headed by Col Tan, who is on the lookout for volunteers with the “correct motivations, mainly the desire to serve”.
“It’s an important commitment… I will want to make sure that the person is coming in with genuine intentions,” said Col Tan.
Those who complete their training will wear one of four new ranks on their uniforms – SV1 to SV4.
They will also receive benefits, including an allowance or make-up pay during their in-camp stints.
Employers will be required to release staff for the voluntary stints, while volunteers who skip their call-ups will be penalised under military law.
Col Tan said: “The moment you put on a uniform and proclaim that you are ready to be deployed… we will expect you to uphold our ethos and our military professionalism. For any reason, if you are negligent in your duties… military discipline will be administered.”
Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang backed the move not to impose a minimum term of service, saying similar volunteer schemes in other countries do not have one.
He said: “If people want to help, the SAF should not turn them away, but if they need to leave for whatever reason, the SAF should just allow them to.”
About 100 to 150 volunteers are expected to be enlisted in three batches next year.
The volunteer corps was one of 30 recommendations made by the Committee to Strengthen National Service.
It is one of several schemes already in place for people who wish to volunteer or extend their services to the SAF.