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Khalid Al Ameri: Mandatory military service is waking up our youth
February 10, 2015
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On August 31, 2014, more than 9000 citizens, mainly high school graduates, became the first ever batch to undergo mandatory military service. There were a lot of questions surrounding what to expect, what it would be like, or how would it turn out.

However authorities and personnel behind the programme remained steadfast in their forecast of the outcome. To quote Major General Sheikh Ahmed Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, chairman of the National and Reserve Service Authority, “Military service will polish youth personalities … empower them and provide them with the necessary skills that would enable them to create a positive social impact … and shape the behaviour of young men and women through discipline and acculturation into the military system.”

So with the first batch almost halfway through their military journey, and the second batch having just started towards the end of last year, how are they feeling? And how have they changed? The answer is you don’t really know, for obvious reasons they are not allowed to share much details about the exact experience other than the general comments “training is tough”, “we wake up really early”, or “the food is alright”.

But personally speaking I haven’t really had to ask to see how military service is impacting our young women and men, their actions say more than enough. Through my own personal observations, and through the stories flocking in from mothers and family members, the change has been dramatic, and in all the ways Major General Sheikh Ahmed predicted.

My aunt who has a son going through military service mentioned how she had never seen her son so responsible. She continued to say, “When he comes home for the weekend he always asks if I need anything, and when he is out he always calls to check in on me. He seems so close after years of being so distant, where before his friends, hanging out, and having fun seemed to be the priority. I am so grateful he is having this experience, I feel like I got my son back.”

Secondly was a story I heard from a store clerk who mentioned that the amount of young men honking their horn for him to come out has dropped significantly. He said, “All the boys who grew up in this neighbourhood would call from their homes, or honk their horn from their cars for me to come out, but now they have started to visit me inside the store. I know this new behaviour is because of military service because they all have shaved heads and visit me for some sweets and soda when they come home during the weekend. Before they were boys, now they are men who show respect.”

The last story was one I experienced personally as I was having dinner with a couple of friends who are currently undergoing military service. A member of my family walked into the same restaurant who was also going through training, he said hi to me, then looked at my friends and said “Tahia!” (which means to stand to attention) with a smile and embraced them in a brotherly fashion. They were connected by a common experience, a common goal of personal betterment, and a common purpose to protect our country, its people, and each other. It was beautiful to see.

I truly feel that military service is doing a lot more than preparing our young women and men to protect our nation, it is making them better human beings. The social fabrics of our country are being sewn with new thread, a thread that is stronger and more sustainable, a thread that will keep us together to prosper for generations to come.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development

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