by Jerrell Seah
MAJULAH Singapura. A familiar yet foreign phrase. Having spent the last six months in Zurich on a student exchange programme, I have become more used to hearing German spoken. It’s great to be a Singaporean on an exchange programme in Europe.
First, our passport allows us to travel almost everywhere without a visa (Russia is one notable exception). Second, coming from a country that Europeans have heard of but do not know much about, makes for easy conversation. “How does it feel to fire a rifle?” was a common question many friends asked. My reply: “It feels awesome.”
National Service (NS) was a major conversation topic, given the rising number of security threats that Europe faces. Responses to my NS experience ranged from confusion – “why would you need an Army? you are so small” – to admiration for a country that prides itself on being self-reliant – “So everyone can fire a rifle?”.
It allowed me to brag about the equipment the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has, and to show them videos of The National Day Parade (NDP) 2015, with its flashy aerial flypast and mobile column. (Both were no shows this year, which is a pity).
The NDP has remained a bonding moment for me and my father, who is an Army regular. For as long as I can remember, watching the military parade section of NDP on TV has been a family tradition. My father, going into encik mode, would explain what each command meant, never mind that they are repeated every year. Unsurprisingly, our relationship improved during my NS stint. As for my mother and sister, the 30 minute blow-by-blow commentary has become as much a part of the NDP, as the screaming jets that were silent this year.
The NS documentary, “Every Singaporean Son“, resounded strongly with my family. The disappointment many felt when the changes to the show were announced is proof. I posit that we have invested a part of our national identity in the SAF, and that NS, not only for men, has become our rallying cry. That we wish to see fighter jets thundering across our skies and armoured tanks rumbling past the spectator stands, points to a level of confidence and pride we have in the SAF and by extension, ourselves. That the SAF can protect us, my son can protect me.
Having said that, the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the march-in still impressed. Interestingly, this year there was commentary on the origins of aspects of the parade, such as the significance of the state and regimental colors. In ancient times, these colors mark the location of the commander and served as the rallying point for troops in war.
Today, they have become ceremonial and symbolise the loyalty of servicemen to the regiment, and to the nation. The Presidential gun salute also made its presence felt with resounding booms as the artillery guns went off. This year also saw a focus on the women in SAF, with a female officer in the colors party and a female battery sergeant major.
My upbringing has definitely influenced my thinking, but it feels good to know that your average Joe on the street can hit a target 100 metres away accurately, ain’t it? (Except if he becomes radicalised)
So can we bring the guns, tanks and planes back next year?
Featured image by Natassya Siregar.
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