He had wanted to follow in his officer dad's footsteps to serve in a combat unit during National Service (NS). But Lance Corporal (LCP) Lau Kah Onn's dream was dashed when he was deemed to be medically unfit – his knee was prone to dislocation due to past injuries.
His Physical Employment Standards (PES) status was C9, and he would likely have been trained as an Admin Support Assistant. But thanks to the introduction of the Functional Assessment (FA) for Transport Operators, LCP Lau was found to be suitable to be a transport operator.
It's not quite a full-fledged combat role, but he gets to be in the thick of action, ferrying troops and equipment outfield.
Introduced in April 2021, the FA tests whether a serviceman has any difficulty in doing the daily operations of a transport operator and, in doing so, determines if he is functionally and physically fit for the role.
These physical ability tests were developed by Headquarters Army Medical Services, in consultation with physiotherapists and occupational therapists from Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
In May last year, LCP Lau enlisted at Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) School V, a training school for PES C and PES E recruits. There, he was given the chance to undergo the FA.
Passing the assessment showed that "my PES status is not a limiting factor to my ability to perform as a transport operator," said LCP Lau.
Today, the 21-year-old can drive eight different types of Army vehicles such as the five-ton truck, ops utility vehicle and ambulance.
He said: "It was quite an eye opening experience – it allowed me to feel more involved, in being able to contribute to national security by actively supporting our frontline forces.
"I'm extremely grateful for this opportunity to go for the functional assessment which cleared me to go for my transport operator course.
"It basically allowed me to contribute more to national security (and) go outfield –all this made my NS very memorable."
LCP Lau added that his mum was initially worried that he might strain his knee from driving, but she felt assured after LCP Lau told her that there was a strong emphasis on safety and that he had sufficient driving practice as well as time for rest.
Increased manpower pool
Since the FA was introduced in April 2021, the SAF has seen a seven per cent increase in the manpower pool for transport operators, said Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How. He was visiting BMTC School V to observe the conduct of a FA on 30 May.
Sharing his observation, Mr Heng said: "So if a person who – may not be of the PES status that would originally have been allowed to perform this function – passed the 8-station test, they would now be allowed to be trained into that vocation…
"This means that, from the manpower point of view, we are able to access a bigger pool of transport operators."
Given the country's low birth rate, it is crucial for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to make the best use of each Full-time National Serviceman's (NSF's) abilities, he added.
Equally important, he stressed, was the fact that NSFs feel appreciated if they can be deployed for a role that's functionally and operationally required.