NSmen Share: Life Lessons We Learnt In NS Which Are Still Relevant Today

Some lessons never fade with the passing of time.

By Sean Yee        17 July 2023

Certain experiences during our National Service etch themselves within our hearts, guiding us subconsciously as we navigate the many facets of this journey that we call life. No matter your feelings about National Service, one thing is clear. It is probably one of the most unique and enduring milestones of a lifetime. 

This edition of NSmen Share takes on a more introspective tone, as our NSmen share some of their most powerful and transformative life lessons they have learnt from their military journeys that are still relevant today.


“I recall fondly my time as a combat engineer in the chemical warfare unit. This is an incredibly unique experience as we spend a lot of our time in the smoke chamber; probably more than any other unit in fact! I’m sure many NSmen can remember their own short stint in the smoke chamber, with memories of leaving it teary-eyed and occasionally, dazed. Not to mention the process of actually putting on the chemical warfare suit, which on its own, takes up a lot of time. So yeah, I would think my own military experience is a tad more challenging, albeit interesting to say the least!

Most obstacles can take on an intimidating exterior, but as cliché as it sounds, there is always a silver lining to every hindrance. There’s always something to be learnt!

This life ethos proved particularly helpful in my musical pursuits. I enjoy learning how to play musical instruments, like the piano and the Chinese flute amongst many others. As I struggled to pick up some of the more refined, and demanding techniques, it helps to remember that while the journey may be daunting, the lesson is forever. As the saying goes – this too shall pass!” – CPL Sean W S Tan, Combat Engineer, 39 SCE


“Often known as the “guys in black”, Close Combat Instructors like me are very much caught in the middle.

We need to put up an intimidating countenance while conducting lessons so as to instil proper discipline, while ensuring that we aren’t too strict so as to appear disconnected. Be it Navy, OCS or SISPEC trainees, I conducted my lessons like a wound-up clockwork toy, being firm and unforgivably rigid. Somehow, along the way, I allowed myself to become more personable with my trainees. Students who got to know me better felt more comfortable approaching me for advice during their water breaks, and very frequently these conversations would pique further chats about fitness-related topics. This learning process felt way more organic and real. By developing authentic bonds, we cultivated a more candid exchange of knowledge that was driven by mutual trust and respect.

This very invaluable lesson taught me that in life, we have to find a balance between discipline and compassion. It always helps to remain firm, but also approachable as it truly encapsulates the essence of what makes us human.”  – CPL Azfar Hashim, Close Combat Instructor (CCI), AFC  


“National Service is, ironically, one of my greatest introductions to video production. Unlike the allegorical life lessons many would get from National Service, my own experiences have opened actual career pathways for me. 

I was first enlisted into SAF’s Music Department, where I had the chance to work under an amazing mentor who is revered in the fields of music and video production. My time here was a really apt opportunity as I had just graduated with a Diploma in Mass Communications. Essentially, it was really an expansion of whatever I had learnt so far in life, allowing me to apply and refine whatever I had understood and learnt about Mass Communications. In a way, National Service had prepared my own foray into the production scene, having led to career opportunities at national media conglomerates! Even today, I’m still actively producing content, albeit more personal such as my first indie movie!

I’ll be remiss to not mention the collaborative efforts that are so important during National Service! I still meet up with my former platoon mates to reminisce about the good old days, as well as explore opportunities and project ideas that we can once again work together on.” – CPL Remi M Sali, Music and Video Production, SAF Music Company 


Kenneth Tan (above left)

“One thing about National Service – it’s never dull, for anything and everything could happen when you least expect it to! 

My posting was a rather unconventional one – I was to support the technical communications team that oversaw most, if not all the wireless communication devices and infrastructures needed for the National Day parades in 2019. I was a clueless mess, as the technicalities and skillset that my job scope demanded was both unfamiliar, and cryptic. And as is the nature of Infocomms, there was way more troubleshooting and guesswork involved than I expected. The team itself was new, and everyone was struggling to cope with the massive demands of the job. 

This isn’t a sad story however, as things turned out way better than I thought they would! I became the subject expert in my team, providing advice and guidance to crucial stakeholders while independently managing some of the parade’s most sensitive equipment. Something new pops up every day – one of our remote devices could have malfunctioned, or our servers might suffer from an abrupt outage. And it does allude to a more sentimental fact of life – unexpected events can often bring positive surprises.”  –CFC Kenneth Tan, Signals Operator, ESC 

NSmen, sign up for your complimentary 1-year SAFRA membership and enjoy discounts on dining and shopping purchases at over 2,000 merchant outlets islandwide, as well as members’ rates at more than 45 sports facilities at SAFRA clubs! What’s more, your family can enjoy the privileges too – your 1st dependent pays $10/year, and it’s free for your 2nd dependent onwards. Click here for more details. 

Want more articles like this, and other lifestyle content right in your inbox? Download the new SAFRA mobile app and opt in for the eNSman Newsletter – you don’t need to be a SAFRA member to subscribe – and never miss another story!

Main photo: SPH Media Trust