Mar 21, 2013
"TELL me about your military experience."
I have been asked this question repeatedly at interviews for schools and work throughout the world. And I have learnt that the very best global institutions value my military skills, discipline and teamwork.
I started out poorly. After faring badly in junior college and being rejected by local universities, I enlisted for national service and, after my basic military training, decided to sign on with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). I hoped to use my military service to bolster my applications for overseas universities.
The skills and experience that I gained in the SAF helped me break through seemingly impossible odds.
I was offered a place in a foreign university, got my degree, returned to the SAF, and left after serving my four-year bond.
I subsequently applied for and was accepted to a top United States graduate programme, then worked in non-governmental organisations (NGOs), international organisations and financial institutions.
I have been in no way disadvantaged or "behind my peers".
I am a valued contributor in these organisations because the very same leadership skills, teamwork, perseverance and discipline that I acquired in the SAF are equally applicable in NGO work, international diplomacy and development, and investment banking.
What is worth noting, however, is that, in my experience, local institutions value these skills and experience less. Where global institutions saw these as strengths, local ones generally did not. This must change.
Ultimately, regardless of the value we may or may not extract from national service, it helps to pause and reflect on the privilege of serving in the defence of one's loved ones and country.
And we should, perhaps, remember that young men (and women) considered it a privilege, duty and necessity to serve at the advent and formation of the earliest nation states and civilisations.
Tan Sheng Hui
[Keeping this letter as reference. To remind me that NOT all letters to the Forum Page are whiny, selfish, complaints. :-)]