Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Of foot rot and viral fever

I apologise for the really late post, but now that I finally have one whole week worth of off-in-lieu, I can finally get down to it.

You see that little badge that so many officers and specs have above their left breast pocket? The one with the little dagger, sprig of leaves and North Dipper constellation? In other words, the JCC badge? Well, for much of this December I was trying for that very badge. Though I didn't get it, I'm not disheartened, because in the sickbay I had lots of time to think, and I realised that getting the badge depends not just on your survival skills but on many factors beyond your control as well. And now that I think about it the badge would have looked really nice on my No. 4 (not to mention my No. 1, come Jan 22nd), but it probably wouldn't have been anything to me other than a grave reminder of all the shit I had to go through. Allow me to explain:

The JCC package is composed of 3 parts. Ex Nomad is a 3-day navigation package that requires a group of 6-8 to travel a distance of approximately 9km. Ex Chillhermit is a 5-day survival stint that requires one to survive 5 days without external food sources, and to build various structures and items to score the full marks. Ex Chillbone is a 5-day evasion and extrication simulation course that requires a group of 6-8 to travel a total distance of 17km and then execute a combat swim across the river. More elaboration in the following paragraphs.

Ex Nomad
Now, if you don't already know, Ex Nomad is all about navigation. Navigate well and you're set. Screw it up and... well, you end up failing the course like me (Ex Nomad was a veto factor for my course). What complicates this is the fact that you're in a group of 6-8, and knowing how to navigate alone is not enough. The most influential member of the group decides where to go, and 7 chances out of 8 you are not that guy. Even if your suggestion is propped by common sense and map evidence, this influential guy just has to move his legs and the rest of the group will travel in the opposite direction. So much of the time, you are left following the instincts of a guy you don't trust. Skirt right via the ridgeline? Bah, just bash straight ahead, up the knolls and down the ravines. It's shorter, but infinitely harder, but it's shorter. Let's go!

I failed the JCC package before I was even one-third of my way through it, but OCS HQ still wanted us to go through the course as a learning experience, so I took part in a condensed version of Chillbone: instead of the entire 17km, I only went through the climax of the exercise, which is to scale Mt Biang (1300+ ft) over the course of 2 days. That, of course, is nothing compared to what the badge-earners went through, so I can't speak for them. From what I see, however, the rules that apply to Ex Nomad apply here as well.

Don't be mistaken. While Chillhermit may seem like it's all about survival, building your shelter and all that, it's really about body maintenance. To survive in Brunei weather you really have to look out for yourself (not at the expense of others, if possible). Get your shelter up first, so you have somewhere to hide if it rains. If it's not up, find someone else's shelter. Don't chop your own construction materials (aka wood); gather them from other sites. Don't waste energy unnecessarily. Make sure you add puritabs to water you collect from streams. As long as you're healthy, albeit somewhat malnourished, you'll be fine. Oh, and take off your boots and socks at night too. Even if it's raining and you have no shelter. I didn't do so as it was pouring heavily, and paid the price the next evening as the skin on my left foot got abraded away. Extracted on Day 3, spent 2 days in the sickbay recovering. It's scabbing really well now.

You have no idea how many times during the JCC package I wished I could have done it by myself, or with just one other guy. It is, after all, a survival situation - you are supposed to rely on no one but yourself. Throw group dynamics in, however, and the badge suddenly becomes a team effort, which I feel runs contrary to the concept of individual survival. If this is the way the JCC course is going to be run, I don't need that damn badge. Yes, I suppose you could say I'm trying to make myself feel better, but 2 days of thinking in the sickbay have convinced me that the badge really is not worth it.

Now that I'm back I'm just eager to forget all the bad Brunei memories; the Brunei training grounds are so fucked up, once you're there you wish you never have to return. During the rainy season (NE monsoon) water gets everywhere. Rain almost every night, and half the afternoons, swelling streams knee-deep that you have to cross, and a morning mist so thick you better not leave anything out to dry overnight lest you retrieve it with more moisture than you left it out with. God, to see HDB flats from the windows of a 747: that is as close to heaven as it gets.

1 comment:

Look What Look? said...

The place just rains every night that you've got people out in the fields, and it stops the moment everyone reaches back in camp!

You wanna join the Air Force? You've gotta go there again my friend. The JST.