Thinking Of Signing On? Here’s My Experience (NS)

Is Signing On Worth It

You’re just about to embark on your NS experience. You know that in these two years, they are sure to make a man out of you. But a thought itches in the back of your mind — what if I sign on to see what they really have to offer? 

I had the opportunity to interview someone who was a regular, and here’s what you need to know:

What does “Signing on” mean in NS?

When you are signing on, you will be securing a full-time contract with the military and civil defence organisations in Singapore: Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), and Singapore Police Force (SPF).

Many Singaporean sons think of signing on as some grave mistake, a last option for the hopeless. However, beneath the pixelised No.4’s and the strict honourifics unique to military and civil defence organisations, signing on is really a commitment. 

To sign on would mean committing yourself (full-time) to make a career out of your daily parades and reveilles. If NS is an obligatory internship, becoming a regular would be the rice bowl for your next 5 years (and maybe even beyond).

Can I sign on while serving NS?

A recruitment drive will be held during your BMT term where you will be able to indicate your interest in signing on with the SAF. 

Here are some of the vocations that you can do when you sign on:

ArmyNavyAir Force
InfantryMilitary ExpertPilot
SignalNaval OfficerAir Crew Specialist
ArtilleryMilitary Expert (ME4)Ground Based Air
Defence (GBAD)
Military IntelligenceDiverEngineer

If you do consider signing on after the recruitment drive, you will be notified for follow-up dialogues with SAF’s recruitment officers, who will answer any questions you may have about the vocation.

Missed out on the recruitment drive? Found your fire late into NS? Don’t worry! 

Once you have been posted into your new unit, you can still express an interest to sign on through your unit superiors. By expressing interest in signing on, it signals to the SAF that you wish to remain in your unit as a regular. 

From there you will be contacted by a recruitment officer who is in charge of your vocation. You will be informed on whether there are vacancies for the vocation of your choosing.

On the off-chance there really are too many of that one vocation, you will be given alternatives, such as:

  • Being put on hold until the next intake for training
  • Choosing another vocation that might fit your current skill set

Can I sign on after ORD?

There are many instances of servicemen who decide to join the SAF or Home Team after leaving NS. On top of that, you are more likely to be able to sign on into a different unit, or even a different formation altogether, if you sign on after you ORD. 

Examples of such cases:

  • Firefighters (Home Team) signing on as Military Experts (Navy) 
  • Combat Engineers (Army) signing on as Police Officers (SPF)

If you’d like a taste of the military without going all-in, you can always consider the SAF Volunteer Corps (SAFVC). The SAFVC is a uniformed volunteer scheme that allows you to show support for National Service and deepen your ownership of national defence. 

Can I sign on after I get my degree?

Graduates may contact MINDEF, SCDF, or SPF through their various recruitment centres to sign on. In terms of eligibility, you will be able to sign on regardless of your course of study.

For instance, I had signed on as a Military Expert (ME-1), even though my course of study is in arts and media. If you sign on, you may be eligible for a lump sum depending on your degree and results.

If you have yet to enrol in an undergraduate programme, MINDEF, SCDF, and SPF offer scholarships and grants for your university studies. You can click here to find out which scholarship suits you best!

If you are a degree holder, you are eligible to select the following career progressions:

  • Army Officer
  • Naval Officer
  • Air Force Officer
  • Police Inspector

However, you will not be able to select these career progressions:

  • Army Sergeant
  • Army Military Expert
  • Naval Military Expert
  • Air Force Military Expert
  • Police Sergeant

If you have already gotten your bachelors and are still figuring out your next step, it is possible for you to sign on too. For EOS contracts, your bond does not start until after your commissioning, which may well be a year into your cadet training. 

That way, you get to experience firsthand what signing on is like before committing to it. In particular, naval cadet officers are given on-job training out at sea to have a feel for navigation and shipboard operations.

Is there an age limit to sign on with the SAF?

Singaporeans have to be within 18 to 45 years old to sign on. However, if you sign on to be a naval diver or an Air Force pilot, you will need to be ≤ 30 or 35 years respectively when you apply.

What are the requirements if I want to sign on with the SAF?

Applicants need to be physically and medically fit, with no severe injuries. This is to ensure that you do not have any conditions which may impede your mission capabilities.

Here are some special requirements for the different vocations:

Air Force PilotsNaval DiversAny Naval
Eyesight no more than
600 degrees per eye
Normal colour
to swim
Astigmatism not more
than 200 degrees per eye
Perfect eyesight
Height between
1.62m and 1.90m
All relevant degrees, diplomas,
or an ‘A’ Level/IB Certificate

However, this does not mean you have to be muscular or run 2.4km in under 9 mins.

If you are not up to the physical strandards, you will still be able to undergo physical training phases to build your stamina.

As such, do not worry if you feel you are not there yet!

How long is the SAF contract?

There are 3 different contracts offered when you sign on: term (5 years), term-extension (3 years) and full (until retirement). These are applicable to MDES, EWOS, EOS/MDEC, SPF and SCDF.

What will I do as a SAF regular?

Depending on the vocation of your choice, you will work alongside your fellow NSFs on operator-level tasks. After your first promotion, you begin to pick up advanced leadership positions, where you will be responsible for the safety of the men under your care.

For starters, everything that you have done in BMT only applies to the Infantry Division. You will begin your journey as a regular by doing what the NSFs do after moving to a new unit after POP. For salary, while NSF gets an allowance, you will be credited a competitive salary for working full-time.

For naval officers, here is how your journey as a regular would be like:

  1. Learning how to take care of a ship in harbour
  2. Learning how to steer a ship
  3. Learning how to navigate in the Singapore Straits. 
  4. Learn the art of war and fight with the ship. 

Eventually, you will rise through the ranks and take command of the ship and its crew. In between, you will get to experience progression routes or ‘tours’ at headquarters, helping out in the various efforts to support our naval vessels in their missions.

Do regulars have a pink IC?

Your NRIC will be kept for safekeeping during your service term. For the duration of your service, you will be issued a green identification card, also known as 11B.

You can find out more about the medical benefits that your 11B provides with this guide.

Why do some people regret signing on with the SAF?

Signing on with the army provides you with a stable income, and you are able to live a comfortable life by staying in the army. However, there may be a point where you decide that money is no longer your goal in life, and you may decide that you want to try something new. This could be the main reason why most people decide to leave the army.

Many servicemen have found their calling outside of the military, and are now more fulfilled than they already were while working their contract. 

5 years is a lot of time for someone to think about their real goals in life. Right now we serve to fulfil the nation’s goals. But what about our personal goals? What do we want to be? What do we want to leave behind?

To my understanding, having been a regular for so long, these questions will surface for every serviceman, regardless of when it happens.

However, I don’t think this strictly applies to SAF. With the world quickly evolving and being more interconnected, there is an increased awareness of the opportunity to try something new and different.

There is a shift of perspective of what defines a career, from “what can I do for the company?” to “what can the company do for me?”. 

It is normal for people to change their career between 3-7 times in their lifetimes, so thinking that servicemen leave SAF because they regret joining is a common misunderstanding.

How can I leave the SAF?

For term contracts (bonds of up to 5 years), you will be notified of your contract termination date ahead of time, to prepare you for your next steps. After which, you will have to turn over your 11B in exchange for your pink I/C

If you have a full contract (which lasts up till retirement), you will have to inform your unit superior officer of when you intend to leave (at least 3 months in advance).

There are also situations where you can be forced out of your contract. The SAF is bound by military law, and misdemeanors or severe transgressions you commit may cause you to be discharged from service.

In all seriousness, If you wish to ‘break bond’ (lawfully leave the SAF before completing your contract term), you will have to pay a variable compensation fee, depending on how long you have already served in the military.

Is signing on worth it?

The decision to sign on really depends on an individual’s preference. If you cannot stand the rigidity of the army, this career may not be right for you. However, if you are looking for an experience that cannot be found elsewhere, signing on may be something you can consider.

In more ways than one, signing on really does help to turn ah boys to men. A huge redeeming feature in SAF is the chance to work with new, fresh faces. Everyone brings a new perspective and outlook on life as they look at the future with different goals.

And in spite of such a difference, we work together, lift each other up, and contribute to a common goal. Kinda romantic isn’t it?

Of course, every job has its share of problems, and SAF’s rigidity and red tapes may come off as daunting to many. As part of a government organisation, we are obliged to take a conservative stance on safety and security. To name a few that I have experienced:

  • Camera phones are restricted in many data-sensitive areas
  • A lot of information that you work with cannot be brought home
  • Simple events or sport activities are layered with hoops of safety checks to make sure accidents are minimised.
  • Sensible or radical suggestions may get turned down due to bad timing

There is also the issue of public scrutiny that stems from a series of strong opinions from our own countrymen. The public has high expectations of our men in uniform.

Due to these high expectations, it may have led to NSFs thinking that they cannot sit down on the MRT!

Ultimately, the decision really boils down to you. If you have a burning passion to contribute to building deterrence and diplomacy for the nation, then look no further than to sign on.

Do you have somewhere you need to be? Do you know what you want to be 5 years into the future? If you’re still unsure, or you need the financial support to put yourself through university, choosing a route with the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team may be an option that you can seriously consider.

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