Saturday, November 18, 2006

A charmed (NSF) Life: After BMT

Many of my platoon mates suspected I am a white horse because of how well my superiors treated me, but they don’t really understand I don’t get punished because I simply fall in on time and follow instructions. Soon even my specs were spooked and believed the rumors that I am a white horse.

This persisted even after BMT was over and postings came. Ok, I admit, due to a relative, I had a choice of vocation after BMT:

  1. Vehicle mechanic
  2. Medical orderly
  3. Driver
  4. Signaler
  5. Rifleman (which I was supposed to be…)

I chose driver. I wasn’t very surprised when postings came and I was to be a driver. Ok, please don’t be pissed with me!

My charmed life continued in STC (Supply Transport Centre, formerly known as STTS or Supply Transport Training School), when on the first day, we were given survey forms asking questions about computer skills. This was my field man! Little did I know, out of about 400 or 500 privates in that hall, me and another guy was short listed to help out in the CO’s office!

We were attached to the CO’s office, under the label ‘CO Project Team’. STTS just had a new CO at that time, and he was implementing sweeping changes to the loggies, like making drivers stay in even when on course, etc. He was a nice guy. The SSM (School Sergeant Major) was another story. He was an imposing person, but after several weeks of making his morning coffee (2 bags of coffee beans, no sugar!), he mellowed.

Being in the CO’s office had its perks. Sure, we had to stay in compared to some trainees who were attached to external units and stayed out, but some of my benefits were:

  1. No morning parade. Immediately after reveille we disappeared into the CO’s office and CSMs couldn’t pick on us
  2. We could have EVERY MEAL at the canteen! Meals were not indented for us and Sembawang’s canteen food was HEAVEN! PRATAA!!
  3. Internet. The little room in the CO’s office had true, fast internet access, and the PCs were modern machines for us to design video presentations and programs.
  4. Lots of offs. Whenever we completed a milestone in a project, or helped out at a function, we would usually be awarded off days. I once spent a week at a chalet, courtesy of the CO (due to a senior officer/WO retreat) and had 4 days off after that. Cannot beat that!
  5. The COPA was virtually boss when CO and SSM wasn’t around. My off passes were sometimes signed by him :P
  6. On the other hand, the SSM was nice enough to give me lots of off passes for doing stuff like photoshopping him into places he did not go but still wanting to wayang to others that he was there. Cool
  7. Being authorized to bring in video cameras, digital cameras and other stuff into camp, since I had a LOA (Letter of Authorisation). Freedom!
  8. The company of lots of friendly people. I made friends with lots of NSF officers, and since I am a computer technician, I often fixed their computers for free meals…
  9. My ‘white horse background’ rumour persisted here. Even the CO thought I was a spy from Mindef sent to check up on him. Soon, NSF officers were jokingly saluting me and addressing me as ‘Sir’.
  10. Tying up the COPA to a rolling chair and rolling him around the HQ block on his birthday, while videoing every moment.

After nearly 3 or 4 months of attachment at STTS, I finally went on my basic vehicle maintenance and driver’s courses.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Talc the map now!

In a thread about slavery spelling/pronunciation, someone wondered what "telt" / "talc" (the clear plastic sheeting you cover maps and other things with) really was.

I pondered over this for a while, and then suddenly remembered that I'd hit upon the right answer years before in a brainwave - it's actually "tarp", short for "tarpaulin". Many are resistant to this idea, since they think tarpaulin must be opaque and thick, but I've dug up many graphic illustrations of clear plastic tarp:

DEKE - Cornell

Thoughts on Restoring a Morgan
Introduction to Media Blasting

Healthy Lawns—Site preparation: Soil solarization

57 Ways - 15. Solarize Soil

WAN in Lab: Facilities: Pictures and Schematics - gallery: \WIL\2004-12-09 Adjustable Shelves + Corning Fiber Spools + Plastic Tarp

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A charmed (NSF) Life: A new beginning

I enlisted on Boxing Day, 26th December, 2003. Was quite a crushing Christmas the day before, knowing full well I’ll be leaving a barely month-old relationship into the army camps of Singapore, armed with the scary ghost stories and torture tales from my uncles.

Since I screwed up my secondary 4 education because I was emotionally unstable, I only have O levels, thus I was drafted in 4SIR’s mono intake. Man, Lim Chu Kang Camp 2 (or was it 1? Sheesh... I can’t remember) was to be my second home for the next 3 months.Most of the first day was a blur, a whirlwind of allegiance ceremonies, surrendering of our freedom (Pink ICs), and waving sad goodbyes to our families. My goodbye wasn’t too sad, thankfully, since I was abused in the family. Good riddance. I resolved to make it good in NS (though, thinking back, that’s impossible).

4SIR had a pretty traditional building layout, 4 L-shaped company buildings of coy A, B, C and SP, surrounding a rectangular parade square, with a road leading down to a long HQ block and curiously, an abandoned block called 622 SIR. That block was a nightmare to virgin patrol personnel.

Though the coy building looked pretty dilapidated on the outside, the inside was pretty new, relatively new windows, new bed frames, springy mattresses, and incredibly clean bed sheets. I later learnt that our specs had spent the last week ‘dolling up’ the camp for recruits. Ha!

I entered the army in PTP, serving an extra, what, 6 weeks? I can’t remember exactly, time passed fast. I collapsed after a run on the 3rd day, scaring the shit out of my PC and Specs. I wasn’t trying to chao geng, but I guess trying to be gung ho when my body isn’t up to snuff was bad.

That started the long string of bloody stupid cock-ups that were to pepper my entire NS life.

You see, what happens after a recruit faints? Well, the spec shouts for the medic, who had been blissfully sitting on his stretcher 5 metres away enjoying the breeze, who had to huff and puff to my (now incoherent) body, pulling up my eyelids and shaking me repeatedly, mouthing ‘Recruit X!! Hey!! Hey!! Can you hear me?!’ heck, if I could I would have replied, just save me, damn it!

Next was the flurry of the 3 other medics who were activated from the nearby (barely 20 metres) medical centre, and they were panicking (as they told me later) on what happened to me.

“I think he had heat stroke”
“Maybe just dehydration”
“Fainted only la!”
“What the fuck! Just carry him to the MO!!” (My spec)

I was whisked away by 4 pairs of hands, while the stretcher lay untouched at the company line.

So, I was at the medical centre, lying mostly unconscious. What happened next?

“Where’s the MO?”
“He’s taking his morning run…”
“WHAT?? Then bring him here for fark?”
“Maybe smelling the medicine will help…”

Soon enough, the MO appeared in PT attire, and proceeded to prod me for signs of life. He then mouthed the life-changing words:

“Evac him to IMH”

The medics recoiled in horror. “Sir, sure or not? I think he only exhaustion, go NUH la sir” “Sure, no, send him to IMH, quickly”

Great, I was whisked to Woodbridge Hospital the 3rd day after I was enlisted, man, my NS life is just going great.

I woke up at the mental institution to a curious looking doctor who told the medics “I think he’s suffering from physical exhaustion…why the hell did you guys send him here?”

Bad news was, since it was a Saturday, there was no resident specialist around, (whose signature is needed to send me back to camp), and thus the decision was to put me with the mental patients till Monday.

Alright, I don’t have to detail the life of a mental patient, basically, the nurses wouldn’t talk to me, there is barely anything to read, and me, an 18 year old was surrounded by doddering senior citizens, my only solace was another NSF from the navy, who was sent here because he tried to shoot his sergeant with his rifle while live firing. He insisted he was only acting and wanted to escape his Navy BMT on purpose, how could I distrust him?

I spent the weekend eating with baby food with plastic spoons and forks, and watching old folk shout, scream and bang their heads against the walls. I nearly joined them, but thankfully, the magazine rack helped. My dad visited me on Sunday too.

Finally, Monday came, and I was to see the head psychologist, which coincidently, was the head of the Army Psychiatry dept, a retired COL. He was pretty candid in his interview, asking where my unit was, what weapon was I trained in, stuff like that. Good thing he decided there’s nothing wrong with my and called for my unit to pick me up that afternoon.

I must say, I have NEVER been happier to see my PC and spec. I vowed that I would love the army from then on. It took nearly an hour to out-process me, and my 2 superiors spent the time sitting inside the ward, talking to me and observing the surroundings. Barely 15 minutes later, my PC whispered: “I think I’m going crazy if I stay here any longer…”

Soon, I was driven back to camp, to curious bunkmates who were told that I went crazy and am going to be interned at Woodbridge for the next 2 years. I guess they were disappointed. After came an interview with the OO (Orientation Officer), who pinpointed the source of my exhaustion: after a 3 km run, without doing cooling down, my CSM ordered everyone to change from PT to smart 4 and fall back in within 30 seconds. I promptly raised my hand then and collapsed.

It would be untrue to say I became a ‘marked man’ after that incident, but I felt really bad later when my CSM gave a company wide talk, saying “I was only trying to build you guys up to be men, but some of you went to stab me in the back.” How I wished I had the chance to tell him that I had no malicious intent, and was merely answering the truth to questions asked.

I was on Att B for a week after my return from the hospital, though I continued with my silly exploits like always falling in first (I was only trying to be on time), always gung-ho when sergeants asked for volunteers, and always seem to get injured during physical exercise. At first, even I was horrified that my body was trying to chao geng, but after the MO took a close examination of my feet, he proclaimed:

“You shouldn’t even be here. Your flat feet are the worst I have seen… and that’s what causing your injuries now. I’m taking you out. Don’t worry, you are a good soldier…but I am recommending downgrade for you, for your own good.”

I was pretty shocked, and so was the medic when he saw ‘6 weeks Att B, excuse all lower limb activities, pending downgrade’ on the prescription.

Thus I stopped being a combat soldier, and became the saigang warrior king in Alpha coy in 4SIR. My Att B status was renewed automatically by the MO when it ran out, ensuring that I was a permanent ‘bai ka peng’ throughout my BMT.

Why am I charmed? Probably because I feel that I got landed in probably the friendliest and fairest coy, no, camp in the entire SAF. My PC, a newly commissioned regular 2LT, was barely 3 years my senior and a very understanding person. He gave me personal pep talks when he knew I were to be downgraded, not that I love chiong sua, but I didn’t want to sweep leaves for the next 2 years (Leaf sweeping was my primary ‘bai ka’ activity). He even allowed me to walk with him, on occasion, to the cookhouse, when I was a chao recruit! I will forever be grateful to him.

My specs were a great lot too. Most of them were NSF roving specs, due to ORD in the next 3-5 months or so, with some being regulars. I found out most of them are the reasonable, friendly type. They had made known that their job was not to tekan us, but to train us and they will pat their butts and ORD. No bad karma.

Thus, the rest of my BMT went by with me being excused for most of the physical training. I loved gym sessions of course, and lectures were ok. I was the fastest at stripping and assembling my SAR21, along with loading rounds into magazines and scoring well for the electronic shooting, but alas, the decision was made not to let me do live firing. And oh, even though I had an accurate throw, I wasn’t allowed to go for grenade throwing either. I was even glossed over for field camp. I stayed in a near-empty camp for a week with 2 specs and several other Att B dudes. Life was good when the rest was in field camp, since after cleaning duties are done, time was basically free and we were allowed board games. We were told not to breathe a word to anyone else though :P

I never lost my reputation for being SBO (Si Bei On) though. My field pack was always neatly packed, webbing always primed, rifle always clean (since it has never been fired…), boots always polished, stuff like that. News spread. Soon everyone began borrowing my stuff. My PC, then my PS would borrow my field pack on route marches (which I was exempted), unless my OC snatched it first. They would borrow my rifle which was the cleanest, and my spec even ‘borrowed’ my mp3 player (I tried sneaking it to camp as a radio – was caught at the guardhouse by a sharp eyed sergeant, but thankfully my own spec was the guardcom. He said he would detain it till I booked out, but hey, he could use it). And oh, I fully prepared my outfield gear even though I was not supposed to go. My PS told me to sell my gear to a platoon mate who forgotten to prepare anything for outfield instead.

I think that’s enough ranting of my less-than-illustrious BMT life. Scenes I will not forget:

My CSM walking off in anger during rehearsal for the end of BMT drill competition, realizing that although the platoon was marching correctly and in time, my PC was not particularly strong at drill…

My regular spec sneaking into our bunks after lights out and whispering “Hey, wanna hear ghost stories or not?” then he would proceed to spook everyone who cared to listen around the table…

My CSM leaping off the low beam and landing in the barbed wire while doing his SOCMy 2 specs who failed their SOC because they had to turn around and pull out the CSM…

A smart aleck BOS (Battalion Orderly Sergeant) who decided to scare prowling recruits at the abandoned 622 Sir block by wearing his poncho over his head, and was promptly whacked by 2 spooked prowlers with their batons…

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when you are always at the other end of the island...

If anyone's camp is in the infamous West side of Singapore, you will notice there's a bunch of people who dont wear green, yet as shag as you guys do. Yes, the university people. Somehow to me, the army people and the Uni people have something in common.

1. We are all stuck in e west side. ( Go Orchard? Nah, go home n sleep liao la)

2. Enjoy a gd 1/2hr or more nap in the "cheerful" orange part of our friendly mrt train.
(well, not everyone lives in the west)

3.we need to take bus rides to the super ulu places of the west side. (e Uni people hafta pay for their own bus fare)

4. Get to enjoy the "music" produced by the live firing. (e diff is army guys r the ones firing. I got super shocked when i 1st heard live firing.. =_=" )

5. Slog n slog.......

6. Munching on equally unhealthy food.. (fried food at unbelievable low prices!)

7. Sometimes, really yucky food.
I understand, army guys have no choice.. I sympathise greatly. Wish I could do something for u guys. I did try e green packet. it is just edible. (Sometimes, we can see some ppl dressed in green no.4 in our canteens..) well for e Uni ppl, its all luck n experience that you get to eat tasty food. e safest: Macdonalds

8. Dozing and nodding off on the way back home.... ( thats e best thing!)

9. the haze. we were not exempted from anything when it became really unhealthy...

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

My share of army experience

Hi, this is my 1st contribution! X )

They say mothers have a share in army experience.

Actually female kakis (pals) also have a share. I did not know much about army (perhaps a bit from my father and the history textbooks?) It was until 1 of the 2 best friends was going to serve NS in 2mths' time.

That was when the big words “Oh sh*t!” appeared in my mind. He happened to be my interest at that time. Damn. There goes the effort to build up rapport with him.

I started to worry for him. A lot. “Have you packed your stuff? Have you brought enough to last through the confinement? Don’t act stupid or act gung-ho there! Please stay in 1 piece. Would I get to see you again” and etc. I was more like his mother than his friend. (maybe even more naggy than his mother since I called up especially to check on him)

Finally, we reached the day before the enlistment. I called him because he was ill. I asked him, “ Have you bring your medicine? All packed?” After saying that, I was speechless, until he said he had other things to do. I was left alone to bang my head against the wall.

That was it. He left the Singapore Island for that mysterious island, leaving me missing him a lot. I tried to understand, but got frustrated for several occasions during his BMTC. He just would not tell me what he was doing in there!

This was what i did in one occasion. Probably, it was the haircut that did something to the brain after all. I yelled at him through the SMS: Cut hair le, so cannot think isit? (sound harsh? But after a thorough thought, I gave up on this. Friends and I had a good laugh over it. Cos we think he might have got immune to it if the Sirs hurl verbal abuse on daily basis)

Well, it is just my complaint of a NSF …

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