Like most people, I was rather anxious when I was about to get drafted into the army. But my fears were somewhat allayed when I realized that I was going to Nee Soon camp. It was so near to my home in Yishun that I could jog back!
My friends also told me that, as long as you have the stamina to run, can swim, and can do push-ups and chin-ups, you should be fine. OK. Sounds good to me so far.
Exercise, at that time, was my favourite pass-time. When I'm bored, I just put on my running shoes and run straight down the road heading towards Yio Chu Kang MRT. And when I hit YCK road junction, I head back.
I swim almost everyday, and, since I'm such a skinny guy, push-ups and chin-ups are easy for me.
So being fit as a fiddle, I thought I'd go through BMT with one eye closed. I was so wrong.
I practically walk-in to NS a fitness freak, and walk out of it a semi-cripple.
I didn't know I have flat feet. Although, during the check-ups at CMPB, I had to go into a room where this guy asked me to squat, tip-toe, etc. It is only during my many visits to the MO (Medical Officers) in BMT that I realize I was pes B-Trial.
Soon, the daily running, walking, marching, in combat boots took its toll. My feet and ankles began to hurt after a few weeks. I began to have a slight limp. Only one of my platoon sgt Sgt Teo Tat (name means kena stuck in Hokkien dialect, very cool guy btw) noticed it and asked if I was ok. At that time, I didn't think its any big deal, so I said I'm fine. But very soon, due to a poor running posture (my feet was not helping in pushing me forward while running anymore, leaving my knees and hips to do the work), my knees and hips started to hurt, too.
Seen the MO and, of course, I got the standard 'one day light-duty' or 'one day excuse running' bullshit. And the excuse is usually for that day itself, so, by the time we're done with seeing the MO, your 'excuse' only left half a day. That means tomorrow you are back to square one. Of course you can report sick again. But you will definitely become a 'marked' man, and a lot of shit will start to fly your way. On top of that, you will earn nicknames like 'pai-kar pai-chew' (the crippled and handicapped) and 'chow keng' (malingerer). Not that it matters to me, since we in the army are trained to handle such taunts, I even joked about it that, since my middle name is 'Keng', I must do my part to live up to my name la!
But I resent the fact that the MOs didn't even bother to look into my medical docket to analyze what could be causing me pain. To them, as long as you don't have a fever, and there are no bones sticking out or blood oozing out of you, you are malingering or trying to 'keng'. Friends later told me that the system was there in SAF to protect us, its just that the people behind it has rendered the system totally ineffective.
One day, during an SOC run-down, my left knee popped. I limped my way throughout and completed the SOC, didn't finished last, too. I don't know how I did it, but after that, I couldn't even move my left leg. I had to piggy-back on my buddy to get back.
Maybe Lady Luck took pity on me. While I was sitting in excruciating pain at the training shed, waiting for my buddy to pick me up, nearby, we can hear a chopper (a helicopter) landing at the Medical Center. "For me maybe?". Fat hope.
Turns out that another recruit in Echo company had shot himself in the gut during range, and was being helivac out to the Medical Center, where an ambulance was waiting. Word is that the guy was in the foxhole, switched to auto, pointed the barrel in his own face. The instructor, shocked, tried to stop him but only managed to divert the barrel to the fella's gut level. He then pumped 2 or 3 rounds into his abdomen. And we all know that the M16 is 'small entry, big exit'. There is no way he will make it, they had to shove his guts back into his body before evacuating him. *
Of course, my injury, compared to what possibly is the one major event that will change the rest of my BMT life, became just a footnote. Most in our batch never had the chance to play with the M203 or throw a real grenade, as a result.
On our way back to the bunk, the panicked CO saw me and said to my PC, "what happened to him! Make sure he rest in the bunk!". Heheh, you should have seen the look on my PC's face. But the fucker got back at me later when he cancelled (not even postpone, mind you) my medical appointment at SPC (soldier performance center), and made me stay back on a long weekend to take the SOC test! All because he need to improve his platoon's pass-rate! That fucker. He could very well see that I can barely walk at that time! In the end, during the SOC run-down, a reasonable PC from another platoon saw me running like Quasimodo Hunchback of Notre Dame, with all the SBO, water bottles, and rifle jangling around me, stopped me and told me to fall out. "Like that how to do SOC?" he said. He should tell that to the face of my PC. 2LT. Rama. Shame on you.
The suicide incident screwed up a good chunk of our tight training schedule. All live firing was suspended for a few days. And we sort of idled for a good few days in the bunk, which meant a lot to us at that time.
But for me, the injury never fully healed. The pain only went away after about 2 years. And I could never enjoy running like I did before. Rainy days and sitting in the cinemas also brings back the pain. The proper way to lift heavy objects is to use the leg muscles. I can't really do that, so now I'm having back pains as a result of that.
If I had known better, I would've sued all the MOs and commanders involved for gross negligence. But in Singapore, who can stand up against the authorities and win?
* Rumour has it that this guy was super-fit, can do like 20 ~ 30 over chin-ups and very muscular. But that very morning, Echo company, which is facing opposite us, one level lower, kena tekan at like 4 plus or 5 in the morning. But we heard its some family problems, and we rule out stress cos he's so fit, minor tekan should not have fazed him.