Friday, November 10, 2006

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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4 comments:

Woof! said...

You're hilarious! :D
More stories please...

crackhead said...

certainly the best post i've heard in a long time. keep it up!

Anonymous said...

I salute you.. In a good way. = )

-4SIR 10th Mono

liew said...

hahahah this story struck a cord in my head =)
i was your section mate, u have no idea what stuff we said about u when u were gone those few days.

Alpha P3 S3 forever =)