I REFER to the letter from C.V. Chan of Kuala Lumpur (”It’s time for an NS rethink” — NST, March 31).

As a former commandant of a National Service camp (Camp Cancun Park, Pasir Mas, Kelantan), I feel compelled to respond to some of the remarks about the programme and particularly those aimed at camp commandants.

The NS programme has been conceived with many objectives in mind. As one who has been involved directly, I can confidently claim that all objectives were met, albeit to varying degrees.

I have studied course feedback reports written by trainees at the end of their training. Although there were comments about the standard of food, barracks and general administration, by and large almost all trainees agreed they benefited from their stint at the camp.

I noticed the improvement in character of trainees, their ability to work in teams and their enhanced appreciation of the cultures and religions of other races. Also, the training gave them an appreciation of the sacrifices of the armed forces, police and the various uniformed bodies and government agencies, and this instilled in them a sense of patriotism.

The claim that NS has failed to enhance racial unity is baseless. I believe the programme must continue for the purpose of nation-building and the benefit of our youth.

Having said this, I do sympathise with the trainee who was injured in the incident last week at Mantin camp. I sincerely hope that the NS Department ensures the trainee is provided professional help to overcome his psychological trauma.

Camp instructors on duty are constantly reminded to be on the lookout to prevent incidents like this from occurring. However, when you have 400 young individuals under one roof, there can sometimes be lapses.

Believe me, no camp commandant in his right frame of mind would want to conceal such a case. As military officers of field rank (majors and lieutenant-colonels), they are trained to report immediately and directly to the NS director and other senior officers up the chain of command.

Most importantly, they are trained to handle the casualty first and make the appropriate reports, including a police report, if necessary, to facilitate proper investigations.

The job of a camp commandant is extremely challenging and stressful. Not only is he answerable to the department for the execution of all policies, proper administration and safe conduct of training, he has also, on a daily basis, to deal with camp operators, demanding parents and some very difficult trainees. Once a course is under way, he has to be extra alert to ensure nothing untoward happens to any of the trainees under his care.

The satisfaction comes only at the end of the course, when they meet many thankful parents and receive expressions of gratitude from trainees.

On the suggestion to suspend the programme, Chan should give a thought to the many people making a living by working at NS camps throughout the country.

There are many vacancies for the position of jurulatih Tionghua at each of our NS camps. I would encourage Chan to take leave from his job and join the NS as a contracted instructor for at least one course. By doing so, I trust Chan would reconsider his ideas on NS.

LT COL (R) S. ANANTHAN, Ampang, Selangor

Source: NST – April 3, 2009