When Wang Yinchu left Singapore in October 2008 to pursue his military studies, he did so with a heavy heart. He was left with 1 month before his Operationally Ready Date (ORD), but his school term at a prestigious medical school in the University of Cambridge would begin before that.

He tried asking the university for permission to matriculate later. However, the university advised him to reapply for entry the following year with no guarantee of admission.

He also tried numerous times to get MINDEF to allow him to disrupt his remaining month of service, but this request was denied. Wang made appeals within the SAF and through his MP, but all these were inexplicably denied.

“(Wang) was driven by the lifelong ambition to become a doctor and was desperate to retain the rare and coveted opportunity to study medicine at Cambridge,” his defence lawyer said. MINDEF’s refusal drove him to “a desperate decision that few would endorse but many would understand” and left Singapore, he added.

Wang came to Singapore from China in 1996 and started at Primary 2 when he was 10. After that, he went to The Chinese High School where he displayed “outstanding academic ability and demonstrated sportsmanship, integrity… and good sense”.

At Hwa Chong Institution, Wang was an outstanding student who excelled in the Biology Olympiad and wushu.

He became a citizen in 2005 when he was 19 and later entered NS.

The defence lawyer also said that Wang was an outstanding soldier “that his superiors and colleagues vouch for even in the present circumstances”. Mr Anand said references from people such as his former seniors in his unit “all attest to his attitude, character, dedication, diligence and professionalism”.

After he left Singapore for Cambridge, Wang obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge. He also obtained a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London before returning to Singapore.

Since completing his earlier sentence in October last year, Wang volunteered at agencies such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Association and the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association.

The presiding judge at the military tribunal said the panel agreed that Wang has an exemplary record. But they also took into consideration the period of AWOL and the period of service left before sentencing him.

Responding to queries from the media, Mindef said that AWOL is a serious offence: “We will continue to take stern disciplinary action against servicemen who commit AWOL offences.”

Those convicted of AWOL can be imprisoned for up to two years.

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