Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An Exceptional NSF

When people ask me why I joined the Army, one of the big reasons was the chance to make a positive difference in someone's life. But I think I get more than I give - it has given me the chance to meet some wonderful people, who have really amazed me with their dedication and commitment, as well as the attitude with which they overcome the obstacles of life.

This is the brief account of someone who touched me deeply, ever since I met him about 2 years ago.  His name is Corporal First Class Yuta Nakamura, and he has given up his Singapore citizenship to return to Japan.
I first met Nakamura when we were rehearsing for the Chief of Army COC parade. We struck up a conversation and he told me how he had not wanted to do national service, but government policy would not allow him to renounce his citizenship until he turned 21. When he turned 21, and wanted to return to Japan to begin his university studies, we would not let him leave until he completed his NS. So he had to wait an additional year to start school. Someone else in his position might have been very resentful, and yet he showed no negative emotion as he shared his predicament. This was what struck me.

The second time we spoke was after an AHM training at West Coast Park. I was chatting with the competitive runners and Nakamura was among them. He told me how he had recently developed the interest in running, and how he intended to continue after he ORDed. “When I go back to Japan,” he explained, “people will not take the SAF seriously if I am unfit.” Again, he said this in the same matter of fact tone, like he was telling me the time or the weather. But his simple words spoke volumes about his deep feelings towards Singapore and the SAF. He saw himself as an ambassador of the SAF to his own people!

Our third and final conversation was after completing the half marathon, as we were all resting in the park. Nakamura came over to inform me that he was about to ORD, and to bid me farewell. I was sad to see him go, but I knew that a part of him would always remain with Singapore, with the Battalion.

Nakamura showed me that it is possible to be positive, even when spending a precious two years of his life among strangers in a foreign land. It was more difficult for him than most of us, but he made the best of his situation and left a positive and lasting impact on those around him. He showed me what it means to love Singapore, even though it is not his own country, and to take pride in being a part of the SAF. And he showed me how to demonstrate this pride in the SAF, even when he is out of uniform, and out of Singapore. I took great inspiration from his words, and I hope they will be encouraging to all of you too.
After seeing many of the petitions being sent to our MPs and Ministers by people trying to evade national service, I can only admire all the more the stoic resolve with which Nakamura has embraced a difficult situation, and I certainly hope he has gained an invaluable and irreplaceable experience from his time in NS. What you get out of an experience depends on what you put in, and I believe Nakamura put his heart and soul in.