Estonian minister: Changes made to conscript service have proven justified

The changes made to conscript military service in Estonia in recent years have proven to be justified, Defense Minister Juri Luik said in his presentation to the government of a report on the fulfilment of the goals related to persons liable to the national defense obligation, conscripts, active-service military and reservists last year.

“The program of extensive renovation of the infrastructure of the training centers of the defense forces launched in 2012 is nearing completion, catering conditions have been improved, the size of the child allowance for persons in conscript service was raised last year, significant emphasis has been placed on improving the availability of psychological and social counseling at training centers,” Luik said.

Teaching of the Estonian language to conscripts from other language backgrounds is being carried out more extensively, the defense forces have made changes to training arrangements, and the ratio of conscripts ending their conscript service early for health reasons almost halved to 10 percent in 2018 from 18 percent in 2017.

The number of people in active military service grew by 135 during 2018 to 3,422 by the end of the year.

“The increase in the number of active service military personnel at the pace set forth in the national defense development plan demonstrates that members of the defense forces feel valued and the motivation to participate in national defense is high,” Luik said.

According to the minister, work continues to achieve the goal of gradually increasing the number of people entering conscript service to 4,000, considering the possibilities of the infrastructure of the defense forces and increases in the numbers of instructors, as set forth in the national defense development plan for 2017-2026.

Talking about the Okas (Quill) snap exercise of the Estonian defense forces held last year, Luik said that even though the exercises with short notice held by Estonia are unique in NATO and entail significant challenges, holding such exercises is the only way to ensure a realistic picture of the readiness of the reservist army to mobilize in the event of a crisis.

According to Luik, Estonia is a trailblazer not only in the Baltics but in all of Europe in the organization of such exercises, and described routinely going on with the snap exercises as very important for ensuring the credibility of military defense.

In addition to increases in the wages of active service personnel and the child allowance for conscripts, also the amount of money paid to conscripts for participation in reservist training was increased last year by a quarter.

During 2018, 27 women started service in the defense forces as conscripts. The Defense Resources Agency has increased the number of events aimed at introducing conscript service to women and the defense forces have introduced the possibility for young women to take part in a conscript work shadow project.

In the framework of veterans policy, pre-mission and post-mission training and counseling events were held during 2018 for both military personnel and their family members, as well as other services envisaged by the veterans policy aimed at ensuring the wellbeing of the personnel who have taken part in international missions provided.

As part of the Blue Hepatica campaign aimed at raising awareness in the public, 50,000 Blue Hepatica badges and tags were sold and Blue Hepatica runs held in several cities, as well as a Veteranirock concert held in Freedom Square in Tallinn.

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