Thursday, June 30, 2005

Dark and stormy nights

It was a dark and stormy night[1].
This is rated the worst opening line in the history of English Literature for some reason.
By some coincidental quirk, ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ figured large during NSF[2] days and even now during NS ICT[3].
With hundreds of items of military equipment that each soldier was responsible for, from his bootlaces up to his night vision goggles, it was inevitable that the rough and tumble of combat training would render at least some of the equipment damaged or inoperable.
In the event that this happened (quite often), that particular soldier was accountable for the damage/loss, and this accountability entailed writing a detailed report of how the damage/loss occurred. As you can imagine, many incidences of loss/damage would be discovered a while after it actually happened. (E.g. you don’t realize something is lost until you want to use it). And very often, the soldier would have no idea when or how he lost or damaged that piece of equipment.
Nevertheless, a report or a statement, as the army loves to call it, had to be written. And all the statements I have read have begun with, “It was a dark and stormy night”.
“It was a dark and stormy night, and my company[4] (‘A’ Coy) was conducting combat team block and delay exercise in Area D at around 0200hrs on 010290. We contacted[5] enemy elements at around 0230hrs and had to perform hasty retreat. My platoon[6] (Pl2) encountered thick vegetation which we had to bash through in order to escape enemy, and it was then that the cover of my sharpshooter scope broke off my rifle. I discovered it missing a few hours later during re-org[7], and backtracked to try to find the cover, but in vain.”
Dark and stormy nights, thick vegetation and rapid movement are the invariable ingredients of all statements, owing to the need to illustrate the earnestness but ultimately the futility of the required search for the lost item.
These statements, handwritten and up to 8 carbon copies depending on the type of equipment (optics, signals[8] and armoury being the most severe), are then handed up to the immediate superior soldier, and then depending on the severity of the loss (night vision goggles lost equals official board of inquiry, or BOI), the damage/loss would either be written off, or the soldier responsible made to compensate monetarily or be punished militarily (anything from extra duty to detention[9]).
Being low-ranking combat troopers that we were, it wasn’t uncommon for blame to be placed on some of us by our superiors for the loss or damage of equipment. One of my favourite statements (I read many, because one of my many duties included being the armskote[10] in-charge) was about the loss of a tiny spring from the inside of a GPMG[11], which couldn’t possibly be misplaced unless the GPMG was disassembled, and even then, very diligent care had to be taken during the disassembly of weapons.
Anyway, the little spring was lost, and the battalion armourer[12] was consulted as to the official name of the spring, so that the statement could be written.
A story had to be made up and by a careless trooper, on whom blame had to be placed.
That soldier wrote:
“It was a dark and stormy night. My company (‘A’ Coy) was conducting combat team deliberate attack in Area D at 0300hrs on 020289. During the attack, I was the section MG gunner, and set up a support firebase. We contacted the enemy troops, and I finished about 200 MG rounds[13] of blanks. After re-org, our company was ordered to leaguer[14] at Tanjong Skopek at around 0500hrs. My platoon was ordered to clean our weapons because we fired many rounds. I stripped my MG on a groundsheet in order to clean it. However, as I was taking out the bolt carrier from the MG, the ‘Spring, trigger mechanism, GPMG’, suddenly flew out of the MG and into thick vegetation about 10m away from my groundsheet. Because we had to remain tactical, I could not use a big torchlight to search for the spring, but I asked my section[15] mates to help look for the spring. Suddenly, we were contacted by enemy troops and the whole company had to conduct hasty retreat, so there was no time to look for the spring. After re-org, I went back to the area to look for the spring in the vegetation, but in vain”.


Obviously fictitious statement so far, but this was the clincher of a last sentence:
“This would not have happened if my sergeant did not tell me to strip the MG. Therefore it is not my fault but my sergeant’s”.
Best of all, that soldier gave it to his sergeant for approval. Not only did he not get it, but got a smack round the back of the head from the sergeant and three weekends’ extra guard duty for his creativity.
These days, during our annual ICTs, statements still have to be made when we lose things. The only difference being that blame is agreed to be shared among all the civilian/soldiers before the start of any training for any loss or damage, and any monetary compensation required is also shared. This is so because we all want to expedite matters and F.O.[16] from camp as soon as possible.
 In order to expedite matters, a team of statement writers (I was one of them last year) is also selected beforehand so that statements can be handwritten quickly, and a random soldier picked to put his signature on them. These statements are then given to the superior officers, who view, sign and declare the item irretrievably lost, and consult the armourer or QM[17] on the replacement or repair cost. This is announced to the company’s men, who fork out whatever’s necessary, and then wait while accounts are closed for the year before we are allowed to go home.
The thing that of course remains the same over the past decade is our favourite military fiction that begins “It was a dark and stormy night”, and ends, signed off, with “Your Obedient Soldier”.
© CPL (NS) Lee Soo Yaw Benjamin, 4th July 2003.

[1] Bulwer-Lytton, Edward, Paul Clifford, (1830), p1.
[2] Full-Time National Service
[3] National Service (Reservist) Annual In-Camp Training
[4] A combat sub-unit of a battalion of around 90 to 100 men
[5] Not telephone call. Contact enemy means either we shot at them or they shot at us.
[6] A sub-unit of a Company (see note 4) of around 27 to 30 men
[7] Re-organisation – after every battle or contact, the unit or sub-unit counts their dead, nurses their injured and reports their status to higher authority.
[8] Communications equipment like radios etc.
[9] Military euphemism for Jail
[10] A secure room in which the company’s weapons and optical equipment are stored
[11] General Purpose Machine Gun
[12] The unit’s weapons technician or repairman
[13] bullets
[14] form up to rest and stand-by
[15] sub unit of a platoon, of around 7-9 men
[16] F*** Off
[17] Quartermaster – Military officer in charge of stores


crackhead said...

do they have 2 sign 1211?

kureshii said...

“It was a dark and stormy night, and my company[4] (‘A’ Coy) was conducting combat team block and delay exercise in Area D at around 0200hrs on 010290. We contacted[5] enemy elements at around 0230hrs and had to perform hasty retreat. My platoon[6] (Pl2) encountered thick vegetation which we had to bash through in order to escape enemy, and it was then that the cover of my sharpshooter scope broke off my rifle. I discovered it missing a few hours later during re-org[7], and backtracked to try to find the cover, but in vain.”

LOL, so obviously smoke-out loh. This guy knows down to the second when the scope of his sharpshooter fell off? Then he shouldn't have lost it in the first place. He probably just guessed it fell off around that time, assuming this is a non-fictitious statement.

I've written multiple statements for various items in my cadet life, none of which are my fault. Can consider lao jiao already lah. Need any help with statements can try asking me. The one time I did lost a magazine in ROC (branch caught the arm of the magazine catch and swung it out of the weapon) I had friends who grudgingly helped me backtrack to find it after endex.

Back then our statements always sui-sui one, cos all air-level one mah. always have something about doing equipment check during halt and on the move, then reach steep slippery slope, then because terrain uneven always slip and fall and equipment hit overhanging branch etc then equipment spoi loh. Then find out about loss/damage at next equipment check point.

damage is sign 1211 meh? not 1222/1228 for damage/loss meh? 1211 is for t/loan what...

HuR|cAnE7 said...

haha statements.. i remembered i was one of the few who helped my sarge wrote the statements (he's the signal spec).. the entire coy lost abt 20 things, and with each item require 4 duplicates, it was a hell lot of forms to write.. i remember starting at ard 9 or 10, and finishing at ard 1am... write until my hands are numb.. and no we didnt use "it was a dark and stormy night".. although the part of hitting branches or getting entangled, and failing to find the equipment when tracking back holds true..

i can still remember this statement for the gpmg tripod where i wrote some fictitious stuff, and it was actually damaged when some wise ass of a sergeant decided to try and repair the slightly damaged tripod, thereby making it beyond repair..

crackhead said...

oops my mistake! what i meant was must sign 1206?

Wind Feynman said...

to save everyone's time crapping statements, someone should write a statement-generator script. Just put in NRIC/rank/name, and it comes with a scroll-down item list complete with SSN. Can have some "random-accident" generator to crap the background story.

kureshii said...

need a statement generator? lim peh at your service ;-) just tell me the training area, time of exercise and type of exercise you going through, I settle the rest.

nowsadays even got 1206 form on intranet... excel format. just download, type out and print out. convenient right?

The only statement I wrot ethat really made me feel du lan was when I took over the GPMG toolbag with only 3 cleaning rod pieces. Now, my entire cadet life up to then the bag has always had only 3 pieces, and I believed with every ounce of being that those 3 pieces were all there was to the GPMG cleaning rod.

How wrong I was.

Armskote spec checked, realised was supposed to have 4 pieces, and since I was the last guy to use the GPMG toolbag I was made to sign for a new cleaning rod. I agreed only because I knew the armskote spec quite long (sole armskote i/c of a defunct 55/04 OCC Delta PL 2), didn't want to make too much trouble for him, and the rod only cost S$4.75.

kureshii said...

see if you lucky or the guy bastard or not loh... you lucky sign 1222, if not then 1206 loh. usually training accident will sign 1222 one lah.

On Eagle's Wings said...

Tell me bout it. As my company signal spec, I write the statements for EVERY cockster who loses anything but refuses to admit he is wrong. Suck thumb. with no authority vested upon me I lan lan gotta write. But I've always found the ending(which i also use) "your obedient soldier" very amusing. As if you're begging them to spare you from signing 1206. LOL

KwokSiong said...

this post is excellent! well done!

Jack Chen said...


More often than not, we are signing money away for things that we didn't do.

My unit people often comment that SAF very 'Qiong' , very poor.

I am Sp Coy, Mortar, we got thousand and one stores like every other platoon in Sp Coy. I remember kenna scolding because my sargeant wanted me to buy a screwdriver during my Book-Out and I didn't lose that screwdriver.

I finally bought it in the end, because I didn't want to harm the rest of my section. Shit that hits the fan, well, hits everyone else.

Your Obedient Soldier,


kureshii said...

The SAF is actually quite poor. Sure, we pay for some stuff, but there are people who lose many mroe things than what we're paying for. The lucky ones who get to sign 1222/1228 have the payment borne in full by SAF. It's not cheap repairing a rifle, or vehicle, or any piece of equipment for that matter.

You can think of it as SAF taking back the money it gives you, you can think of it as SAF sucking your money, but you can also think of it as you wasting your parents' money (and everybody elses' parents' money) on unnecessary repairs that would not need to be made had someone taken better care of that piece of equipment.

No, I'm not pissed. I'm just presenting a new perspective. I'm not blaming you either, because I don't know if it's your fault. And yes, I'm an officer, which is why I'm saying stuff like this to look all mature and grown-up (but actually just wish for a little more time to play pool between lunch and mid-day).