In 4SAB (4th Singapore Armoured Brigade), the lack of specialists usually meant that corporals were regularly tasked to carry out COS (Company Orderly Sergeant) duties, among which are tasks such as ensuring that the cookhouse is in order, that the company falls in for first and last parade, that people who book out in the evenings come back on time, and other somewhat frivolous things.
Incidentally, my COS days were usually marked by a significant event taking place in the company, and deep inside I felt that I was sort of an “Incident-Prone COS”. Take for instance George, who was once dubbed the “Yishun Terror”.
George had an unusual disposition. He would make his entrance felt by literally crashing through doors instead of opening them quietly before walking in. Among his other quirks were his penchant for standing in front of people’s beds and staring at them while they were asleep. Prior to his posting into 4SAB he intentionally failed the Army’s driving test about 20 times – he was most certainly a kengster (and twangster). I’ve had a few run-ins with him before, and on one occasion he seriously pissed me off by pouring syrup on the floor of a sentry post and watched ants come around to drink it, all this while I was doing sentry with him.
Anyway, being a stay-in camp, a number of us had the opportunity to book out on certain evenings for nights-off, where people could catch a movie at Lot 1 or Jurong Point, have dinner with their girlfriends, play pool, or even pay a quick visit home. George was able to get out of camp often because he was able to somehow schedule appointments, and he usually had a lot! I’ve had my share of medical appointments - I highly recommend the dentist at Tengah Airbase, because it is supremely cheap (normally free), and means time off work. Crowning and root canal treatment costs less than $200, and anything that involves medical treatment, including hospitalization, is free of charge while in NS.
Back to the story – George had an excuse the particular day I was COS and was allowed to book-in in the evening. It was standard practice to ensure that everybody was back in the company by 2300, although some of us would close one eye and let people in as late as 2359. However past that time the guards (Regimental Police, also considered SAF soldiers) from our brigade would lock the gates to the camp. It would be a surefire way to get your name taken down if you were to come in past midnight. George was normally able to make the timing, but on this particular evening he was not.
By 0030 I became worried, and gave a call to his home. His mother told me that he had left the house in the afternoon and that he was going back to camp. She sounded distressed that he was not back in camp yet, and I tried to calm her and said that maybe we should wait. I would normally knock off at around 0030 and sleep in the company office after finishing the parade state (something like an attendance sheet) for the following morning and covering the forecast for the next 2 days, but this time I was held back by George. At that moment, I truly wondered whether his purpose in life was solely to make others’ lives miserable.
By the time I decided to raise an alert it was around 0130, and I contacted my CSM (Company Sergeant Major, in this case a Staff Sergeant) and OC (Officer-in-Charge, in this case a Captain) about George’s mysterious disappearance. I had to make calls to the Duty Officer to inform him of a possible AWOL (Absence Without Official Leave). Needless to say, while the people sounded concerned, it was quite clear that they were not happy to be awoken from their slumber.
I finally went to bed, thinking that the problem would solve itself the following morning before I handed over to the next COS. Unfortunately, even by 0700, nobody had a clue where George was. George’s parents were obviously very worried, and our officers couldn’t give them an answer as to what had happened.
We knew only the following morning when our company was alerted by the Police. If at this point you think the Police help the Army find their AWOLed soldiers you’re mistaken – the Police have no business in this and from stories I hear, AWOLed soldiers can get away for as long as a year without being apprehended even if they are just slacking at home.
“What did the Police have to do with this then!?” you might ask.
The following dialogue is reconstructed (perhaps erroneously) from my vague memory of that fateful day in 2002:
Someone: “George was arrested for molesting a girl.”
Me: “Molesting a girl!?”
Someone: “Yup, he did it at a bus interchange.”
Someone: “He grabbed the girl from behind as they were getting off the bus… Some more it’s a secondary school girl you know!”
Someone: “Some more I hear she’s not say very pretty either!”
Me: “Wa! What bad taste man! Is he nuts or what!?”
(In the Army, regardless of the situation, if we can pass a comment on a girl’s looks, even if we had no clue what she looked like, we would)
Having been apprehended by the Police, George was questioned and detained for a couple of days. Unfortunately, the Police did not notify the Army of the incident, leading to the loss of my precious sleep, an immense amount of worrying by George’s parents, and other administrative paperwork.
Before George’s trial he came back to camp for quite a while, and as usual nobody wanted to speak to him, except maybe our CSM. He was sentenced to around 4 months in prison. Not DB (Detention Barracks) mind you – DB is for military crimes. Molesting someone in public means doing time in a regular prison, with people who do time not because of their religious inclination or plain laziness to serve out their NS liability.
George was eventually released, and in my short conversations with him I discovered that in prison the food was a lot worse than in the Army (like duh), and that bread there was so hard that convicts fought with each other by using them as flying projectiles.
People such as George you can only meet in the Army.