As I traced back my thinly threaded memory, a sense of realization dawned upon me this morning as I looked at the vaguely familiar date today: I ORD-ed from the army 5 years ago on this day.

ORD stands for Operationally Ready Date, which marks the end of the two-year mandatory national military service in Singapore. The two year stint in the army prepares young Singaporean men for a obligatory duty to protect the country in times of crisis (something that I obviously have failed to do, being away from the country). Therefore, at the end of these two years of training, we become “operationally ready”. Interestingly, Singapore’s national service is not widely known outside the country.

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Other countries that have compulsory national service can be grouped into several categories.

1.    Countries that (think that they) are in constant danger.

South Korea- They live next to a potentially dangerous time-bomb ticking away in the north.

Taiwan- Half the country thinks they live next to their mother-land while the other half thinks they live next to their enemy.

Countries in the Middle East such as Israel, Iran etc.

2.    Small Countries with long histories of being invaded

Finland, Norway, Denmark

3.    Microscopic Countries with a mixture of cultural backgrounds

Singapore- If we open up the army to patriotic volunteers, we would barely create a platoon of soldiers.

Switzerland- Similar to Singapore, national service provides the social glue that unites the wide variety of people into one.

National Service can be a pain in the ass, or a good way for personal development. Honestly, I did not really enjoy the two long years of despair that hindered my plan of coming to Japan for studies.

But looking in retrospect, it had been a great experience that contributed greatly to who I am now. Below are three things that I gained or appreciate from National Service.

1.    Physical and mental strength and stamina

One of the main objectives of the national service is to train young teenagers physically and mentally before they learn anything in the military field. Physical and mental strength and stamina are also important factors that determine how far we go in life. Strength gives us the will to aim high and challenge ourselves. Stamina provides the perseverance through hard times.

When I am faced with a difficult situation, I always look back in comfort that I have experienced something as tough, if not tougher.

Unfortunately, I have not kept up with the maintenance of physical strength and stamina, especially after starting to work. I look back at myself just a few years ago, reminiscing how I could run and run non-stop without feeling tired, but crash to reality when I pant uncontrollably after running for the bus.

A phrase that I remember from the army days: “Tough times don’t last; tough men do.”

2.    Interesting Experiences to impress people

It is a popular saying in Singapore that guys who talk about National Service bore the hell out of girls. But surprisingly, talking about it in countries like Japan impresses people, especially because they never knew such a thing existed in Singapore, nor does it exist in their country. Holding or firing a gun might not seem a rarity in countries like USA, but in Japan, a gun itself is hardly relevant to anyone at any point in their lives. So you could imagine their reactions when we talk about throwing grenades, firing artillery, surviving in the jungle for a few days or even waking up at 5:30am every morning.

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3.    Appreciation of the little things in life.

Imagine a life where the way you stand, walk or sit is controlled and corrected, the way you answer questions is scripted, your meals are planned, and the everyday routine is scheduled and fixed. And your life revolves around learning, making a mistake (or watch a friend make a mistake), get punished for the mistake you or your peers make.

When you lead a controlled life with almost everything planned and scripted for you, you start to appreciate the restricted and occasional freedoms.

I started to enjoy sipping coffee in the morning without having to swallow it and scald my tongue. I started to enjoy the scenery wherever I go. I started to enjoy and appreciate the little things in my life.

Five years since then, my memory of it is starting to fade away, but the experiences and lessons learnt still live in my heart, as I embark on this new journey in life.

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