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.

Destroying A Magazine The SAF(e) Way

The following is an 'unknown' email conversation in an organization regarding the destruction of an unwanted magazine.

Disclaimer: It has NOTHING to do with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which is an 'efficient', 'fast-moving' and 'high-tech' bureaucracy. (Names have been changed to protect identities of those involved!)

Transcript begins (errors left in place)

Gordon: Clear those unwanted magazine before you leave on Thursday. I am a person that value speed and efficiency. I know you can do it =) But don't forget to account properly if necessary to cover ourselves.

Ah Teck: Dear all, I am seeking help with the destruction of unaccepted magazine. Is there a standard form or document? Under whose authority do I carry this out and who may be approving and witnessing officers?

Mr Big: Mr TK, Please advise. Thanks.

MR TK: Kila, is there any standard form for us to dispsoe the magazine?

Kila: Are you talking about unclassified magazine?

Mr. TK: Yes!

Kila: You may used S*F1365 Disposal Certificate.

Mr. TK: Kila, thanks! Mr Big, We can use S*F1365 to dispose the magazine.

Mr. Big: Kila, please advise on procedure. Ah Teck, Please note.

End Transcript

By this time, the magazines had gone into building a 'table'. Problem solved and congratulations all round. Total emails sent = 19!

Kok Heng

Friday, December 17, 2004

Rules of Engagement

My Army unit is on Mobilisation Manning this week, right after 17 days of in-camp training! If they mobilise us this Saturday just to practice, we will be very, very upset. Watch your tv screens for the flashing green man with our codewords: Flying Oyster Omelette, Soiled Sanitary Pad & Deep Fried Tofu. If they mobilise us because some Al-Qaeda affiliate tries to bash through the impenetrable barriers at Holland Village, we will still be very, very upset. Woe betide the Al-Qaeda affiliate. You joined the wrong club. Me and me mates wiw kew you dead, because we haven't had the chance to watch a midnight movie in a while.

Speaking of angry reservists, so, no one wet their beds last, last Sunday night, and the IPPT was conducted on Monday morning without incident. Later on, we went for our theory lessons in Laws of Armed Conflict and Rules of Engagement. At the lecture, they showed us slides with some basic pointers on International Humanitarian Law accompanied by some gruesome pictures. Then they showed us clips from Platoon ("My Lai" village scene), and Rules of Engagement.

Coincidentally, my platoon mate Dilbert Chua lent me a book called "Tell Me No Lies", which has a chapter on My Lai. So, in between naps, I read the chapter and wondered if Tuesday's practical portion of the LOAC and ROE (the SAF, they lurve them acronyms) could be effectively taught at the FIBUA (Fighting In Built Up Area) "village" near the ATC (Armour Training Centre).

The lesson module was such that we were not told what exactly to expect, and how exactly to react, and we were to see if our military objectives could be effectively met while observing LOAC and ROE. So, we were shot at by 'civilian simulators' from the second floors (thank goodness only second floor. No lift leh!) of the HDB blocks, shot at from an ambulance, shot at from outside a checkpoint, grenaded by a 'simulated pregnant woman', delayed by a 'simulated hostage taker' taking 'simulated hostages', delayed by a 'simulated civilian asking for food and water and getting in the line of fire' etc, etc.

It all went according to the trainers' expectations. We didn't know how to react. And because this was just a simulation, and not somewhere in Fallujah, the funniest scenario was when one section from my tactical team stormed a building only to find that two civilians had been taken hostage, and so we couldn't lob grenades into all three rooms of the three room flat from which we were fired upon.

Tired and frustrated from climbing the stairs, and perhaps also from having problems at home, the 'hostage negotiations' were opened by a member of the section and it went something like this:

What the fuck you want, ninabehcheebye motherfucker?

I want an airline ticket!

Airline ticket?? Cheebye! Simi airline?!


Cheebye! Emirates?! Ki tolo?! (go where?)


Fuck you! Kaninabuchowcheebyemotherfucker! Limpehshootjitliaphorliseeeee!

And then there was a burst of automatic gunfire. After which, the slack-jawed trainer declared the simulated hostages and their simulated captor dead.

Then we broke for lunch, the troopers and simulated civilians and terrorists, though we could've eaten earlier if we had just lobbed grenades into the flat and saved some time. Some of us spoke up and said they were glad we weren't in a real war zone, because we might end up doing the same things the Americans are doing in Iraq, or the Israelis in the occupied territories.

But would we, me and me mates, be as indiscriminately murderous if say, an Al-Qaeda affiliate tried to bash through the barriers at Holland Village? I'd say no. Because earlier, my section came under simulated sniper fire from a simulated two-room flat, and my section commander led us upstairs to the door of the flat, knocked on the door and said, "Open up, I count to three, you better open up, or else... or else.... we come in! ONE, TWO, THREE! Open lah, cheebye!"

At our debrief, we were asked what else we could have done to meet our objective (which was to secure the junction downstairs). We could have lobbed two simulated M203 grenades into the windows where the sniper fire was coming from, and we'd be happy as larry, junction secured. But we didn't.

So all youse civilians, ang mohs and chow-keng-never-do-reservist-because-downgradeds, if an Al-Qaeda affiliate tries to bash through the barriers at Holland Village, and me and me mates are mobilised, you can still sip your Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf lattes while we think twice before fragging the whole place. And you have our Army and their LOAC/ROE lesson package to thank.

We also learned that Singapore is not a signatory to the 1st (Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts) and 2nd (Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts) additional protocols of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Anyone know why?

Laws of Armed Conflict & Rules of Engagement practical training
Mr Tan's neighbourhood residents' committee tended to go over the top when dealing with complaints of noisy neighbours

Thursday, December 09, 2004

My Uniform Fetish

I can't remember exactly who it was, but someone commented on Agagooga's post about SAF scholars that some girls have a uniform fetish.

I proudly announce that I am one of them.

When my ex-boyfriend (the doomed one who didn't last through NS) used to meet up with me in his Air Force uniform, I would go into ecstacy. I couldn't keep my eyes off him in his uniform, even though in actual fact he really is very scrawny, with small shoulders and all, and doesn't look manly. But the Air Force uniform wrought a miraculous change worthy of a Harry Potter spell (something that would go like "Deliciosious handsomious!") on him.

As for my current boyfriend (who's in his first ICT now, poor thing), I was even more ecstatic seeing him in his No. 4. Short 4, long 4, whatever, he looks good.

The BF is quite well-built and broad-shouldered, as opposed to The Ex, but wearing the No. 4 seemed to enhance his manliness. Somehow, in his army uniform, he had this air of menace about him.

Ok, The BF, who is honestly a hot-tempered guy and quite Ah-Beng-ish in his way, always has a pissed-off look on his face. But the No. 4 made him have this look: "You fuck with me and I'll break your pussy face in."

Major, major, major turn-on. (I think I like violent guys; for more info, refer to my blog here.

And when I saw my friend's older brother, receiving the Sword thingy (can't remember what it's called; is it the Sword of Merit or something like that?) in his No. 1, upon completion of his OCS course, I swooned and had to be steadied by said friend.

When my cousin married an Air Force fighter pilot, they had a military wedding, with all the officers in their No. 1s holding swords over them and all that stuff. That was when I started wishing I could have a military wedding as well.

I do have a few theories, though, why girls have uniform fetishes.

Firstly, when a guy wears them, it gives them an air of manliness, like "I will protect you and my country, even if it costs me my life!", a la Lord of The Rings (though we know this sentiment doesn't hold true for most NS guys).

And somehow, the uniforms, especially the No. 4, has this knack of making skinny guys look bulky, fat guys look trim, and guys with good bodies look like Greek gods. I don't know why; perhaps you guys, who have actually worn the uniforms, can enlighten me more on this.

I know the No. 4 is extremely bulky, heavy, hot, uncomfortable and troublesome to wear. I was watching The BF take a long time to lace up his boots, tie his garters, etc., and I told him that if ever war came to Singapore, we'd all be vanquished before the army can even gather itself together because the soldiers will still be struggling to get into their No. 4s, not counting painting camouflage paint on their faces.

But as for me, it doesn't matter how long the The BF takes to get into his No. 4. The finished product is all I care about.

(I know I sound bimbotic but come on, you want a girl's view right?)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Why do people take up SAF Scholarships?

A "current NJC student" asks:

"if army were so bad as you have said, why would scholars willingly take up the scholarship?"

Ah. An opportunity to analyse the minds of SAF scholars. Where to begin, I wonder?

Here are some possibilities:

1) Prestige - scholarships are prestigious and SAFOS is one of the three most prestigious scholarships in Singapore

2) Insulation - Scholars, especially SAFOS ones, are insulated from all the low-level crap that the scum of the earth suffer, because of their rank (as officers) and exalted status as scholars. They are not subjected to the dehumanising treatment that mere scum of the earth (ie enlistees) go through. Instead of getting screwed, they get to screw other people (if they choose). Even BMT, the putative great leveller, is different from them, for all, or almost all potential SAF scholars enter what are known as "Scholar Companies", or even better, companies with White Horses in them.

As someone put it: "slaves and royalty stay in the same palace but lead vastly different lives"

3) Obliviousness - Some recipients of (local) study awards I spoke to in my tenure as a slave told me they regretted signing on. Maybe some - those who get scholarships before enslavement - don't know what they're getting into.

Friends of mine tell me of those who got SAF scholarships, some on the spur of the moment, who later regretted. For example, one is quoted as saying: "I really wanted to go overseas, didn't think I'd suffer so much afterwards"; to many Singaporean JC students, an overseas education is the Holy Grail, so in their quest to get it, they neglect the fact that on their return they'll have a 6 year bond to serve. Of the above, I am told that: "now all he wants to do is enjoy himself and die young"

4) Nature of the job - As a friend puts it: "these scholars want to look for something that needs no effort, pays a lot, and gives them the ability to fuck people around. what else do u need?" He adds: "usually cos they are enslaved, they are brainwashed, and usually stay till they die, mentally or physically"

Since it's highly unlikely that Singapore will ever go to war, you get to slack and won't actually have to engage in real combat. And since you get promoted quickly to command-level posts, you don't actually have to go outfield (and experience similar messy and gritty activities) that often.

5) Affection/suitability for Army Life - Strange but true. Some people actually like army life. But then, some people like BDSM also, so. *insert latin phrase that's not good to use too often, or it loses its impact*

Some people are also better suited for the job than others, so they are inclined to taking it.

6) Future job prospects - Apparently some scholars get to become Colonels at age 30. You can't beat the job security either - even incompetent regulars don't get fired, since there's next to no way to assess their job performance, let alone scholars. Also, the SAF has a great retirement plan. Even after retiring, you'll want for naught - they'll find a way to parachute you into a suitably comfortable, important and well-paying job (even if you're not suited for it). See: Our Scholars - Success Stories

7) They fit one or more of the other criteria - As I said, there are 4 types of people who sign on. Some scholars fit into one or more of those categories, namely: being sadistic, being greedy for the money (you get a $750,000 gratuity when you retire) and being incapable of finding jobs outside.

8) Brainwashing - Some are brainwashed. A friend tells of a time when there was a recruitment talk in OCS (Officer Cadet School) and "the whole LT signed on" because of brainwashing.

Some people are taken in by the rhetoric about Duty, Honour and Country, and the old lie - Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori - 'It is sweet and proper to die for one's country' (Horace, Odes, iii ii 13)

9) Since you have to be a slave anyway, some figure that they might as well get a free education, a well charted-out career path, relatively good pay (especially for the 2 years of compulsory slavery), an effective bond time of 4 years (formerly 3 1/2 years) and "respect". Oh, and some girls like men in uniform (I know at least two with an army uniform fetish)

As for why non-scholars sign on (or get Local Study Awards or the like):

10) Getting to be an officer - Some people sign on because that's the only way they'll get to be officers. I know this guy who, while a normal slave, was a PTI (Physical Training Instructor - think your PE teacher on steroids and with a bad attitude), but became an officer after signing on. From a cursory study of him, I conclude that he was sore at not becoming an officer and signed on to attain that status.

[Ed: The above has been modified since its original posting.]

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Brand of Bothers

"Eh, so, Diana Ser's boobs really quite big, ah?"

And another thread of conversation in the bunk commences. In-Camp training (ICT) gives us licence to become lewd, loud blockheads. It's one of the symptoms of what my platoon mate and journalist, Corporal Dilbert Chua (not his real name, obviously), calls the 'Green Disease', where the moment you put on that No.4 uniform, you leave your civilian sensibilities and common sense at home. And you feel sleepy every single minute of the day.

At 9.30am on the first day, we have our first canteen break, where we spend half an hour or so catching up on each other's lives over a cup of coffee and some oily canteen food. The ones in front of the queue buy the coffee, and tell their friends to go chope a seat. This is where we forget, no matter how many times we've been to ICT, that we're not used to being in uniform, or seeing our friends in uniform.

Reservist No.1 buys and carries a tray of coffees, turns around to look for his friends, and suddenly realises that everyone is wearing the same thing, and so can't find his friends. Ditto Reservist No.2 after getting his and his friends' drinks. It takes about two days before we get used to this, and look out for our friends' faces instead of what they're wearing.

Later on in the day, we complete our drawing of stores and equipment, and there is some free time, which is spent lounging on our beds, chatting. Our newly appointed Company Sergeant Major, a school teacher by civilian profession, comes into the bunkroom and joins in the conversation. This in-camp's conversation thread reflects the boys' ages, and most of them are turning 28. Thoughts turn to marriage, career, new cars and babies. Dilbert says he wishes we'd still talk about loose women, tight girlfriends and good blowjobs.

So, our Company Sergeant Major, 2nd Sergeant Clive Lim (not his real name also) laments that he too, isn't married, and doesn't know when he'll ever get a girlfriend. He looks at the tattoo on my arm and asks if he too, should get a tattoo so that he can get the girls. Dilbert tells him dismissively, "You getting a tattoo is like a man with no hair trying to have a ponytail".

Undeterred, 2nd Sergeant Clive carries on soliciting advice. His questions begin to reveal too much information: "Eh, I ask your advice ah, should I have a circumcision? I think my foreskin is too long".

And because we have nothing better to do, we ask him if this is giving him problems. He says not really. We tell him then don't cut. He then tells us that once, he walked into a table and injured his penis, but that it wasn't serious, because the foreskin protected him. We tell him, see? Good what! Cut for what? Then he tells us that he gets aroused too easily, and that maybe, being circumcised might help.

Thankfully, the conversation is broken by several phones going off and some of us having to answer our phones and talking to our loved ones. (Dilbert and myself excuse ourselves and go make phone calls to our loved ones.)

Some things don't change. Catching forty one winks. Kanchanaburi, Thailand, October 1989.

Friday, December 03, 2004

"Arbeit Macht Frei"

Anonymous writes:

NS hardens the spirit but it certainly isn't a violation of human rights or debasing of fine education, as so ineloquently written by the letter writer.

It does however, make many a mummy's boy more independent, toughen the resolve of many a wussy pansy who couldn't even make their own beds at home, expose many sheltered so-called 'top schoolers' to the lesser seen strata of Singapore society and thus rendering them more worldly-wise and street-wise, instead of being cloistered in a parochial coterie of academic strata and remaining ignorant for life.

Many NS men actually profess a nostalgic longing and quixotic fondness for their NS days though they have spent a large part of it griping when they were serving.

It forges close bonds between buddies, makes fit many guys who never knew that they could be that fit and exposes many 19 year old boys to adventures that they would otherwise NEVER experience if they never had to serve, like handling a rifle, riding a motorcycle, experiencing the eye-opening and breathtaking Taiwanese countryside, throwing a grenade, etc.

And there are actually men who see the value and merit of soldiering. Which explains the presence of professional soldiers. Despite the popular and widely disseminated belief that most professional soldiers are so because they couldn't eke out a decent living in the corporate world (probably the warrant officers *sniggers*), most decently educated Singaporeans concede that there ARE capable and sterling youths who see the larger meaning and merit of soldiering, which includes the good (defence) of society and the knowledge that people trust you with their lives, which is the biggest trust of all kinds conceivable.

It's all about making the best out of something thrust to you and the clever and wise know that. Whining like a wishy-washy, chicken livered pansy and trying to picket against the establishment makes one the real loser.

To which I reply:

"Arbeit Macht Frei"

If slavery is really so beneficial and exciting, it wouldn't have to be made compulsory, with no choice of alternative service for conscientious objectors and others.

If it really builds so many character traits, we would be sending our women for it, just like the League of German Maidens. And we wouldn't have so many suicide attempts, or traumatised people being seen by SAF psychiatrists, their minds ruined wrecks.

If it has so many beneficial side effects, why not find alternative, less dehumanizing activities that do the job at a lower cost and in a shorter time period?

Many old people long for the good old days when a bowl of noodles cost a cent, but they forget that back then they earned 30 cents a month, and the noodles had cockroaches swimming in them. People tend to forget the bad memories and remember only the good ones. Besides which, there are some people who are nostalgic for jail.

As for those who sign on, almost all fall into 4 categories:
1) Scholars
2) Sadists
3) Greedy for the money
4) Incapable of finding jobs outside

Most who have been slaves know that these 4 categories encompass 99% of regulars, if not more.

Trying to make people live up to society's archaic expectations of what real "men" should be like is a recipe for disaster, and continuing meek acceptance of unjust fates would have resulted in Singapore being a British colony today, South Africa still practising apartheid and fascists ruling the world.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Fan Mail and Thoughts on Safety

Dear Mr Gabriel,

I refer to your entry dated June 2003 (i think) in which you proposed several safety slogans for SAF including "Be safe, don't train".

I hope to place this slogan up on the camp's notice board as the safety slogan of the month and would like to request that your permission be given. I would also like to ask if you would like due attribution to be given?

As part of a knowledge management team in SAF, I am now involved in the unit's creativity drive. I would aslo like to thank you as your website has inspired my poster for the drive featuring the slogan 'Practise creativity! Non-compliance will be severely dealt with'.

Thank you for your time.

*** ***
Indentured Slave

Really, I feel that the flurry of activity in the SAF with regards to safety is useless. At the top levels, committees convene and reviews are carried out. People come down to check compliance to safety procedures more often. And at ground level, people are forced to implement more useless measures for show - for example, signing more forms so higher-ups are covered and taking ridiculously-easy tests on Training Safety Regulations (as if knowing the regulations means you'll follow them). Perhaps the most ridiculous example: For a minor activity like Company Games, one particularly farcical "safety hazard" printed on the administrative instructions as this - "Serviceman is hit by frisbee".

Worse: in their desire for appearances for appearances' sake, some people like to get medics to open their stretchers and place them on the safety rover. Never mind that it is very very rare that a casualty needs to be stretchered, but opening the stretcher reduces the capacity of the rover by more than half. If there is somebody in it to man the signal set, and an insulator of ice to boot, then there isn't any space left for seated casualties. Furthermore, in the event that a casualty needs to be put on the stretcher, it takes more time to get the stretcher out of the confines of the rover than the open it from its closed configuration. The blind adherence to and fanatical obsession with hastily and poorly thought out safety regulations thus paradoxically makes training less safe.

And of course, safety is often used as an excuse to oppress slaves. For example, once we were moving a great deal of bunk furniture (for the third time in 8 months or so, but that is another story), and many of us had removed our shirts due to the heat. Our stand-in CSM came along and told us to put on our shirts because it was a "safety" issue - without them we'd "get scratched". As if the shirts would protect us much against scratches anyway. And what about the greater risk of heat stroke? Would that not have been more of a safety hazard than scratches? This faux concern with safety was merely a way to oppress us slaves because we hadn't gotten permission from higher-ups to remove our shirts. So much for being Thinking Soldiers (what an oxy-moron).

The concern of the SAF for the lives of slaves is laudable (even if largely motivated by fear of public scandal) but regardless of the final result, all they are doing is trying to ameliorate the symptoms and not attacking the root of the problem - the culture of the SAF. A culture which prizes rank over ability and intelligence. A culture of fear and regimentation. A culture which discourages thinking and encourages the blind following of orders, no matter how brainless or immoral. Ultimately, the culture and tradition, built up over 37 years, of an unnecessary conscription which enslaves the flower of our youth and proceeds to dehumanise them.

Now here are some of the odder Safety Slogans and Posters I saw before I got my parole:

Safety is everyday. It doesn't have a holiday (???)

Sign at 20th Singapore Artillery: "Safety habits need to be grilled". Wth?!

"Danger could strikes anytime"

"The hands of time can never be turned. What's done cannot be undone. Regrets should not be part of a soldiers' life. Follow safety regulations." Funny, that reminds me of the saga of my slavery.

Due to the Army's obsession with safety (which at least is better than neglecting it), on a few occasions we were forced to come up with Safety Slogans. Some of my choice ones (inspired by the gems above):

- Be safe, don't train
- Don't run, no sprain
- Know your limits. Downgrade.

[The above was cobbled together from previous posts, and so may not be as coherent as it should. But then I still have 2 exams, so.]

Addendum: This safety slogan is enlightening - "Nothing we do in peacetime warrants unnecessary risk of life"


- There is a necessary risk of life during peace. But how much is necessary?
- What the SAF does in war can warrant unnecessary risk of life

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Memories from a girl

It's always very hard for a girl to see the man she loves leave for the dreaded National Slavery Service at Pulau Tekong.

There are the teary farewells, the lonely days and even lonelier nights, the worry and the boredom.

And of course, you're not helped by spooky tales, gleefully told to you by your other male NS friends, of how servicemen go missing or die easily on Tekong. And the widely-held belief that relationships never survive the two-and-a-half years (or just two years if your boyfriend is a chao keng kia like mine).

Sad to say, my first relationship added to that statistic and contributed to that belief. My then-boyfriend entered Nee Soon Camp (no Tekong then) 3 months into our relationship in 1998.

True to form, I wept buckets, moped and pined before resuming my normal routines within a week (though I did leap on him the moment I saw him on his first book-out day and weep buckets again).

3 months before he ORD-ed, we became one of those doomed NS couples that don't make it through.

Fast forward 2 years to 2001...

It was the turn of my current boyfriend (hereafter referred to as The BF) for his chance to serve the nation and get soil on his face... our soil.

Ok, I digress.

But this time, 4 years older, a little more mature, and a little more experienced with regards to boyfriends in NS, I decided to accompany him into Tekong on his first day, together with his family, because I knew this time I could control myself enough not to burst into tears.

As it turned out, I had to control myself from laughing when I saw The BF's entourage. Where other enlistees were mostly accompanied by just parents, some with friends, some with siblings, some simply alone, The BF turned up with his grandmother, his mother, his 2 younger sisters, and his maid.

But I couldn't really blame him. Being the only son in his family, The BF is exalted and given treatment befitting Prince William at home. I should have expected such a sendoff for him.

Anyway, I was really quite impressed with my first sight of Tekong. It was a far cry from, say, Nee Soon barracks, with architecture reminiscent of holiday resorts (of course, it didn't take long for The BF to inform me of the truth behind the facade). But to be honest, I was more impressed with the hunky sergeant, who had the most enticing dimples, whose duty it was that day to show families around.

When it was time for families to leave, I gave the BF nothing more than a perfunctory hug and kiss and acted all very brave.

But when he called me that night just before lights out, I really started to wail. And The BF chose that time to break the news to me that he wouldn't be allowed out of camp at all for the first 2 weeks, which of course made me near hysterical.

I was miserable, and missing him terribly for 3 days, when on the afternoon of the 3rd day he called me.

Me: How come you can call me in the afternoon?

BF: I booking out now mah!

Me: Now?! For what?!

BF: I went to see the MO, take MC, MO give me Attend C some more! So I can go home for 2 days!

Me: You're sick? What happened? Are you ok?

BF: Ok lah, no problem. Just that people tell me might as well chao keng in NS since it's a waste of time anyway. So I'm starting now! Anyway, you do miss me and want to see me sooner right?

Me: What the hell? I do want to see you but I also want you to do something good in NS and not be lazy!

BF: Aiyoh, dear, I tell you, only the IDIOTS in camp go chiong sua. Other people are smarter. They want to finish NS as soon as they can and not waste too much energy on it.

Me: ......................

This (extremely undesirable) attitude would eventually become a perennial feature in The BF's army life.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Letter to a Son

Dear Son,

Soon, you will begin National Service.

You will pack your bags and report to a camp ringed by high wire fences and guarded round the clock by armed sentries. To keep intruders out, or to keep you in, I wonder?

You will leave the security and comfort of home to spartan barracks where you will have to live by a clock that is not yours, to a regimen of brutal training designed to break individuals into automatons who will jump to any order unquestioningly, no matter how stupid or physically dangerous.

The slogan that is shouted at you will be that you are being turned from 'boys to men' but the reality is that the training is designed to turn 'kids to killers'. You will learn dozens of ways to kill human beings. From shooting them with a rifle to bayoneting them in the chest, to a quick, silent slash with a commando knife.

During your training, you will probably learn most of the vices that you never knew as a kid. To drink, because beer will be almost as cheap as mineral water. To smoke, because that is what everybody else does. And to find release from hellish camp conditions in paid sex, when you and your platoon mates are let off once in a while. It is all part of the pseudo macho culture of camp life. You will probably learn to swear, too, because swear words are the lingua franca in camps.

You will develop a hardening of the spirit, a carelessness to life; the opposite of the sensitising influence that all your previous education instilled in you. The refinements of Shakespeare will seem far away in the coarse barracks. It will seem another world, another time.

After your 6 months of BMT, you will gradually wind down. Most of your time will be spent in aimlessness, like area cleaning, sleeping and just hanging around. You will waste 2 to 2 1/2 years of your life thus.

That is, if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, you could be shipped to 'peacekeeping operations' in a nearby country. Where you run the real risk of being killed or injured. If you have not been killed or injured in camp training.

You see, our Government is far too ambitious. Not knowing the limitations of itself, its intelligence and its men in uniform, it has a textbook approach to its geopolitical ambitions. It has military aspirations far beyond what is sensible, which may result in your possible death and the deaths of many more of your mates.

Attacking and capturing Johor to secure our water supply is probably justifiable in a crisis, if our Government is stupid enough to let it develop into a crisis, but all other military adventures are totally unjustifiable. Especially when all our neighbours know that we have atom bombs and can deliver them to their major cities. That is deterrence enough to preclude any military intentions towards us.

But no, we go on to overkill. In order to develop a powerful offensive capability, we are spending US$4 billion a year. That is enough to build several hospitals offering totally free hospital care with even airconditioned C Class wards; build several new MRT lines; pay 50% of the last-drawn salaries of all retrenched workers until they find new jobs; build all schools into single session schools, airconditioned and with the best computer and science labs; in short, even to achieve the most generous social and living benefits equalling the Scandinavian countries.

But at the rate we are going, it is we who will entertain and engage in geopolitical games and military adventures. For example, if Indonesia breaks up and descends into turmoil for several years, our politicians and generals, often one and the same, may decide to provoke an excuse to annexe say, Sumatra (if they think big enough) or at least, nearby Batam, Bintan and some Riau Islands because they are near and easily defended.

Of course, the same can be done if Malaysia descends into, say, racial turmoil. We would annexe up to the planned Segamat Line and the largely Chinese Malaysians within this territory will make it easy to consolidate.

Many lives will be needed for these adventures. Perhaps even yours.

It will not only break my heart but will incense me because I always believed that no one should be forced to fight and die for something he does not believe in. If you are a volunteer and you choose to join the army, that is fine but as a NS man, you have no choice. You are conscripted and ordered to fight and perhaps die.

I know that there are those who argue that the Government is 'elected' and therefore, once elected, it governs without further reference to us or our wishes. And that therefore, we should obey even if it means dying.

But in Singapore, the voters have no real choice. Because of the way the PAP rigs the General Election and opposition politics, the voters never had a choice of Government. Therefore, we did not choose the PAP willingly. Thus, we never gave them the mandate to order us into wars, especially wars not directly threatening our security.

Nobody should have to die for something he does not believe in. In Singapore, many, many Singaporeans have stopped believing in the PAP. You only have to visit the local websites to find the depth of feeling against the PAP. Even PAP members find no pride in being a member. It is like some dreadful, shameful secret they don't want others to know.

The GE will be upon us soon. If given the chance to vote, that is, if our constituency is contested, I shall vote Opposition, no matter who. It is a pity that you have no vote. Like they say, you are old enough to die for the country but you are not old enough to vote.

Make no mistake about it. The PAP has lost its moral authority. It is now even gagging the Internet, a futile exercise that indicates its desperation in trying to silence the vocal public. It is now engaged in a virtual war against even its own people. But it will lose. And I believe it will begin its losing in the coming General Election.

Take care, son.


Actually the above letter goes wildly out of point at some point after the first third and the writer starts to rave incoherently towards the end.

I think it's meant to be a spoof of the "letter" that was in "Shoulder To Shoulder - Our National Service Journal".

Friday, November 05, 2004

That time of the year again

Time flies. It's been six months since I received my SAF 100 notice, and now my good ol' Brigade HQ has sent me another letter telling me to cut my hair, to keep it black, and to pack my field pack items (including a diagram of how all the barang barang would be laid out during inspection).

Brigade HQ also tells me that 'shortfalls' in personal items can be purchased through the SAF e-Mart online, and can be picked up at my camp when I book-in. But there are some things I can't buy online.

The training program for this year's in-camp training (ICT) is also available at the NSMan's web portal, and I am looking forward to 17 days of Error 404, page not found.

There will also be the convenience of IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test) being conducted during this year's ICT, so that we don't get charged in a military tribunal for forgetting to sign up for it. The instructions for IPPT are quite specific. Brigade HQ says to remember to hydrate yourself, 'empty your bowels' and get a good night's rest before attempting the test.

I am looking forward to the 2.5 weeks of unbridled fun and relaxation. Being an non-specialist, non-officer, low-life trooper affords you the luxury of many hours of Individual Body Maintenance (IBM) while the specialists and officers, poor sods, have to attend many meetings and planning sessions. Among my platoon mates, we also have an informal awards system to augment the Best Soldier medal given at the end of the ICT. Some of these are:

Stupidity Factor Award (Formerly known as the 1st Kong Kum Do Battalion Award): Based on the reality TV show, The Stupidity Factor: Face up to your stupidity, for dumbest, preferably life-threateningly dangerous thing done during training. Last ICT's winner won on a relatively mild act: he swung his LAW (Armbrust Light Anti-Tank Weapon) around at the whole platoon when someone called his name. The LAW was a dummy (and so was he).

Golden Broom Award: For the soldier who manages to convince the MO (Medical Officer) that he is sick, but not sick enough to be out-processed from ICT, earning two weeks no-outfield-training MC, and put in charge of cleaning the bunks.

东西在那里 Dong Xi Zai Na Li (IKEA) Award: For the platoon/section that signs the most SAF1206s (declaration of lost equipment), though these are combined and the whole combat company forks out for it.

Champion Dumpster Award: I'm usually the front runner for this, given my fragile digestive system, but I lost out to this bloke last year who took a dump in the woods during our 3 day outfield exercise. He won because he was the only one to take a dump outfield, and did it within sight of the camp buildings, twenty minutes before we were ordered to return to camp.

When-In-Doubt-Just-Squeeze-Trigger Award: For the misfire king of ICT. Believe it or not, didn't happen last two ICTs.
Fun, innit? And we're gonna get paid too. Not to mention another tax rebate next year, for me and my parents!

Where the fuck are the goddamned garters?

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Security in the SAF

NB: To the author's best knowledge, all of the below is true. Clarifications and corrections are welcomed.

A grand unifying theme in almost all of the SAF's policies and actions is their unceasing commitment to the core values of Stupidity, Sadism and Senselessness. These 3 values are clearly demonstrated in the SAF's attitude toward security.

Security is important in Armed Forces and other such places to prevent important information from falling into the hands of enemies. However, there are aspects of the SAF's security policy that appear curious to the untrained, who naturally believe that security policy is meant to prevent important information from falling into malign hands. All is made clear, though, when one realises that 'security' is a sham, used by the SAF to oppress and cow lowly slaves (ie Recruits, Privates, Lance Corporals, Corporals and even Third Sergeants). A look at some examples would be instructive.

Culture of secrecy

Slaves are warned not to tell third parties of any heinous abuses that occur within the system, or otherwise of what goes on beyond the walls of the concentration camp. However, there is a small complication in that in countries that practise conscription, if you draft at least half the male populace (many of them unwilling) much information, albeit mostly of the mundane and unimportant kind, is going to leak out. Like any good Armed Forces though, the SAF prefers to ignore this fact and continues to proclaim that soldiers are not to divulge any information regarding their military activities to third parties.

Dangerously, this leads to a lack of accountability. If third parties do not know what the armed forces are doing, there is much potential for abuse to occur and inefficiencies to result, and indeed that is what has happened, as all who have been slaves before know. For example, take the murder by drowning of Second Sergeant Hu Enhuai during the Combat Survival course. A not insignificant number of people knew about the questionable training practises that involved mock drowning, but it took someone's death (but more importantly, the rapid spread of this gossip through the medium of the internet, making a cover-up operation futile) for this gross abuse to be revealed to the public and debated in Parliament and by the populace at large.

As a friend adds: I believe there was a similar case in the ninties where a guy was killed (combat engineers) due to the negligence and stupidity of his superior officers. But, this case was not at all publicised. Why is this so? The govt likes to cite 'national security' as a blanket excuse, but I think that as citizens of an (ostensibly) democratic country, we have to right to know. Plus, there is almost no way for ordinary citizens or even MPs to have a say in how the SAF is run. In other countries which practice conscription, the military is expected to be fully accountable to the public. (This is with the exception of places like China and Russia, but well, let's not go there).

The SAF dictates that slaves are required to follow the chain of command: first report their problem or issue to their superior, then his superior, then his superior's superior and so on until the unit's Commanding Officer (CO) is reached. However, just who is a Private supposed to go to if he has a complaint about his Company's Officer Commanding (OC)? The OC himself? Surely not. And what about if he has something to say about his CO? Who then can he approach?

The SAF says it allows for such eventualities, and says the next step is to write to the Armed Forces Council or call the SAF Counselling Hotline. However, if a slave has already complained to his CO before calling the hotline, he is sure to be a marked man and there will be hell to pay. Besides which, who is the Armed Forces Council (presumably composed of senior officers) going to side with? A private? Or one of their own?

As for the SAF Hotline, it is more for counselling than anything else, and is widely reported as having little or no power to aid slaves in dire plights. Besides which, slaves are often told that employers have access to the SAF's records on them, and that those going to local universities will be unable to enter them if they offend the SAF or declare themselves to be stressed and/or depressed (and thus possibly be sent to see the SAF psychiatrists) and so many might be afraid of being perceived as stirring up trouble or revealing the depths to which their state-sanctioned torture has taken them. Furthermore, even assuming that these 2 channels are efficacious, they are sure to take a long time to make their weight felt.

To its credit, the SAF is trying to change this by fully bringing matters such as Hu Enhuai's deaht into the public (though that is also due to the power of the Internet) and having a safety hotline, but the problems remain nonetheless.

Digital Media

Take the SAF's policy on digital media, for example. Diskettes, Thumb Drives, CD-Rs, CD-RWs and the like are all contraband items. The rationale for this is that computer data is easily compromised by means of digital media, which can then be brought out of camp. However, all diskette drives in SAF camps are locked (or meant to be locked, at any rate), SAF computers (excepting I-Net computers, which have no access to the MINDEF Intranet) cannot recognise thumb drives (since they use Windows 95 or Windows 98 First Edition) and there are no CD-R or CD-RW drives in SAF computers (and external ones would require drivers and be harder to smuggle in anyway), so it would be impossible to transfer information out using them anyway. Anyhow, even if there were CD-R drives in SAF computers, CD-Rs can be written to only once, so pre-burnt (and finalised) CD-Rs should be legal.

Going by this logic, pen and paper should be contraband items in SAF camps too, since they can be used to smuggle classified information out of SAF camps. Hell, they should just subject all soldiers to mind wipes before they book out. As for the danger of infecting SAF systems with viruses, what self respecting virus would infect Microsoft Mail (1993)?

Meanwhile, those who enter camps in cars (ie many or most people of higher rank) are subjected to only cursory checks of their boots and undercarriages. Cars are a great way to smuggle contraband into SAF camps.

One of the SAF's favourite mottos is that "The greatest threat to security is the belief that there is no threat". Perhaps, but surely the next greatest threat to security is a morbid obsession with imagined or inflated threats (read: CD-Rs and Camera Phones). Indeed, guard duty personnel (or whoever checks bags when people book in) are told to look for such things as pirated CDs (not because they are a security threat but because they are illegal), camera phones and CD-Rs, so that people who bring those items into SAF camps can be made to sign extra (do extra weekend duties) or otherwise punished. In this crazed pogrom, it is a sure bet that other, more dangerous items like plastic explosives, bombs and such will be missed, not to mention the amount of time and energy expended in the fruitless witch hunt, whose true purpose is to stop slaves from bringing in luxury items, pictures to look at or games to play so as to make their years of indenture less intolerable.

Unnecessary classification

"Hell, boy, didn't you ever work for the government? They'd classify sex if they could. There doesn't have to be a reason; it's just their policy."

- Chuck Freudenberg to Daniel B. Davis. The Door into Summer, Robert A. Heinlein

What was true in Heinlein's day and country is equally true in ours. How else can one account for the rampant classifying of such National Secrets as a Guard Duty list ('Restricted') and the guidelines for holding a military wedding (also 'Restricted'). To get a documents true security classification, it is thus necessary to downgrade its security classification by one: Restricted documents become Unclassified, Confidential Restricted, Secret Confidential and Top Secret Secret.

During my period of full-time slavery, someone who had gotten his ticket of parole (a reservist) commented that "Restricted stuff will embarass the SAF if it is leaked". Indeed, innocuous material is classified merely to avoid the scrutiny and gaze of the public.

Classification of innocuous material also means that people monitoring security have more material to oversee and protect, and thus impedes them in their quest to prevent real security breaches.

Overseas camps, Mindef and CMPB

Overseas camps, Mindef and CMPB provide an instructive contrast with other SAF camps in their implementation of security policies.

In overseas camps, laptops, digital cameras, CD-Rs, pirated CDs and what not are not only not banned but are practically SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) items - everyone has them. This is so even though there is arguably more at risk - the compromising of the details of SAF training areas and methods, and other materials from the SAF Intranet (since overseas camps are connected to Singapore's SAF Intranet). Among other reasons, this is because there is no Military Security Department (MSD) to bother them, and to prevent the permanent staff (permstaff) from going mad with boredom, and to cajole gullible NSFs into going for year-long overseas attachments.

Meanwhile, computers in Mindef and CMPB have both internet access and floppy and disk drives (how else do you think all those inane games and semi-pornographic airbrushed pictures of post-implant Japanese lolitas in near-compromising positions get into the SAF intranet?)

Rank and Security

Despite the SAF's senseless policies on security, it is easy to get around them if you have rank. In theory, no one should breach security, but as with all things in the SAF, rank makes everything (well, almost everything) possible. After all, is the Lance Corporal Regimental Policeman (RP) going to report the Second Lieutenant's bringing of a laptop into camp? Even if he does, will his Sergeant let him? And if by some miracle, this breach of security is reported to the Second Lieutenant's OC, is he going to punish him? After all, as everyone knows, rank makes people smart and sensible - enlistees don't know how to think for themselves (and thus prevent a breach of security), only commanders do.

Interestingly, it is precisely those of higher rank who are more likely to leak classified information. The nameless enemy nation is not going to buy out a private and ask him about how his SAF platoon flanks the enemy - it is going to bribe a Captain into revealing the specifications of the latest prototype weapon being tested.

Unnecessary bother. Case study: Encryption

Security, especially those measures relating to computer security, is an unnecessary bother to many. Faced with draconian, efficiency-impeding and frankly dumb security measures, people just try to find ways around them, rather than adhering to them. For example, people didn't use to enable encryption on their SAF intranet accounts, since it reduced productivity, though it was a security breach not to do so. And officers, frustrated by the paranoid security measures, task their minions to find ways to break the encryption and otherwise make life easier for themselves by evading senseless security measures.

Meanwhile, there is a false sense of security among the Military Security people that their marvelous encryption is protecting data.


With sufficient thought, more useless and self-defeating aspects of SAF security policy could be thought up, but I trust the above will suffice to show that the various senseless and draconian 'security' measures of the SAF are thus as air for those with rank. Security and the various policies cooked up to protect it is a sham - used to terrify, intimidate and oppress lowly-ranking NSFs, or perhaps a way for the MSD to justify its existence.

Monday, September 20, 2004

How to make people consume their rations

As we all know, 3 things have not changed in the SAF since its inception: Stupidity, Sadism and Senselessness. Which is why most of the SAF stories that people love to relate to others (usually fellow ex-slaves and usually after they'd ORDed and have gained sufficient emotional distance from the event in question to retell it and laugh instead of curse bitterly) have at least 2 of these SAF Core Values woven into them.

A recurring battle in the never-ending war between Commanders and their Men is the struggle of the former to make the latter eat their food at the cookhouse (or in Army Parlance, consume their rations), for it is common knowledge that common soldiers, being only enlistees and thus not knowing what is good for them, refuse to eat the nutritious victuals which Singapore Food Industries (SFI), or in some camps, NTUC Foodfare, lovingly prepares to nourish them with a well balanced diet so they can then throw themselves wholesale into the noble job of defending their country. Instead, they rather go to canteens or eat instant noodles in bunk. Admittedly, cookhouse food is *usually* more wholesome than oily and MSG-laden canteen food and instant noodles, but often they come up with some barely (if at all) palatable muck; suffice to say that SFI's stated mission is to "provide safe and wholesome food", not tasty food (by implication, old SAF food was neither safe nor wholesome, but that is another story for another day and another bard).

Besides making their Men eat their cookhouse food for their own good, there is another more important issue at hand: wastage. If soldiers do not eat the food that is prepared for them, the money the SAF pays SFI and NTUC is wasted (though they are all ultimately government-owned so no money really changes hands), and food that could have been used to feed starving children in Ethiopia is instead consigned to the midden heap. As is obvious to all, it is important to Consume Your Rations, and it is Right and Proper to punish the insolent enlistees who flagrantly defy directives by not eating cookhouse food. Meanwhile, no one cares about the commanders (in practise 2SGs and above) since they can take care of themselves, and the responsibilities and privileges inherent in their rank coupled with the respect that they are dued, means that to bother them with such a middling issue as the consumption of cookhouse food is unbecoming. Besides which, Regulars and Officers are Busy People, since they need to delegate work to and manage their slaves subordinates, and they may not visit the cookhouse at the same time as others. (*Cue 101 other rationalisations on demand)

How then can the scum of the earth - the enlistees - be made to eat their food? In places like Pulau Tekong, whose Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) is the Potemkin village pride of the SAF, the high-tech Point of Service (POS) terminal scans each soldier's meal card to register that he has collected his food (whether he consumes it or not is another story). In other, more distant places, a cruder method has to be employed. Each soldier lines up to collect his food, and drops a coloured chip into a box. The number of chips in the box is then the number of people who have eaten their meal, no? Then why is there always so much leftover? No doubt, it must be some scum who put in more than one chip at a time, or even the Company Orderly Sergeants (COSs) who are in collusion with the lot and dump the whole box of chips inside the box before counting them.

Relying on the honesty of the soldiers is thus not feasible, despite honesty being a Tried and True SAF Value, as we all know. So other methods have to be brought to bear. One is making everyone in a platoon fall in and march to the meal together. However, this only works in combat companies, and people inevitably manage to escape the net somehow. Another is having a file with people's names there, and having each person sign in the file during mealtimes. Except that this results in columns of suspiciously identical signatures.

One day, my CSM came up with an ingenious and novel solution to the perennial problem. All 3SGs and below would be issued with a meal card with their ranks, names and departments (I was in HQ company) and they would drop them into a box at the cookhouse before every meal. The COS would then tick off the person's name on a list, and the CSM would check the cards after each meal. She would then return the cards to each department's Platoon Sergeant, who would re-issue the meal cards - all before the next meal! After all, the SAF is renowned for its efficiency.

It would suffice to say that this idea was quietly scrapped after a while.

[The above is an expanded version of a prior post]

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Undercover CSM

I last met 'Red Underwear' Ang Teck Hock last year during In-Camp Training. It was the first time we had met since I ROD'd in 1991. I walked up to that familiar but slightly more wizened figure, and said 'Encik, Ho Boh?', and was surprised, shocked even, that firstly, he remembered who I was, and second, he spoke in English!

Eh, Buddha, how are you? You having ICT? I saw Tat Kai and Foong last year, he said, smiling.

He looked the same except he no longer sported his 'Encik' moustache, de rigueur for all senior NCOs back in the 80s and 90s.

I suppose he remembered me and my mates because our batch was his first tour as CSM (Company Sergeant Major, but for Ang Teck Hock, it could also stand for Company Shortest Man).

As a pensionable lifer back in those days (they now no longer have lifers in the Army), SSG Ang was your typical CSM, always barking, always turned out impeccably, always carrying that pace stick for to mark out the parade square and to knock you upside the helmet. And your typical CSM in those days spoke very little English.

Being the first 'A'-level battalion, we suffered fits of giggles every time Encik had to brief us. He'd have one 'official' briefing in 'English', then an unofficial one in Hokkien while brandishing his pace stick, just to leave us in no doubt as regards his instructions.

Encik was practically illiterate, and one of my duties in the company was to read letters sent to him, and to write replies on his behalf. We only realised the extent of his illiteracy when we found he had given himself a first English name, Stephen or Steven, but spelled it on a label on his briefcase as 'SSG STIVER ANG'.

Halfway through our trade course, we had a new company commander, an Indian captain called Dev. CPT Dev had a mean reputation. Rumour had it that his last company 'mutinied' by purposely not getting gold for IPPT. CPT Dev was also finicky and unreasonable. He decreed that while he was company commander, no one under his command would speak in any language other than English, because English was the language of administration in the Singapore Armed Forces.

Encik Ang die already lah, like that?

Immediately after this order was given, Encik Ang had to brief us on some pressing matter, and he assembled the company on the parade square and prepared to shellac us. Only thing was, he only knew how to shellac us in Hokkien, and CPT Dev was standing behind him. He shaped his whole body to bark at us, but what came out was:

'ALL YOUSE MMMMMM.... MMMMMM..... MMMMM..... MMMMMARRRRDER CHEEBYES!', followed by a long pause, then,


None of us Marder Cheebyes wanted to hold his cock and count even once, so we listened very carefully to the rest of the briefing.

Near the end of our full time service, we were scheduled to go to Taiwan for training. We were very excited of course. And the idea of needing warm clothing and lip balm added to the novelty of the trip. Encik Ang was a veteran of eight previous Taiwan stints, and told us winters were cold enough to freeze our balls off, and that the green woollen jumper issued to us was not enough. Better be prepared, he said. If not prepared properly, your balls will drop off, your lips will drop off, and you will see your lips kissing your balls on the floor, he added.

So we went to Taiwan, and it was cold. The first day saw us digging out our freshly bought pairs of long johns and trying them on; putting on balaclavas; and smearing on lip balm. And smear we did. Till Encik Ang came and shellacked us for looking as if every trooper had eaten a bucket of KFC without wiping their mouths.

Encik Ang had his pair of long johns too. And like the rest of us, wore it underneath our daggy Taiwanese issued uniforms (we weren't allowed to wear our own on Taiwanese soil). These long johns worked a treat, and kept us really warm when we were up in the mountains.

Then during the second week of training, the weather warmed up, hovering around 20 degrees or so. Out went the long johns. And this is where it gets funny.

Encik Ang Teck Hock had no idea that long johns were Underwear. He thought they were like your track tops and pants. And so, while we were back at base, he'd walk around the bunk (there was only one bunk for the entire company) in his long johns, which didn't seem too unusual, given that the rest of us walked around the bunk in our underwear anyway.

But that morning at base, Encik told me he was going to Battalion HQ, billeted at the other end of the base, for a meeting, and so he left. He came back five minutes later, huffing and puffing, and with a stupid grin on his face that we weren't familiar with. The grin of embarrassment. He came up to me, slapped the back of my head and asked why I didn't tell him that long johns were underwear.

He had walked across the Taiwanese Army base in his long johns, clipboard in hand, to attend a Bn HQ meeting, only to be stopped by the Taiwanese base commander.

I told Encik that I thought he knew, since he'd been to Taiwan eight times previously. He said this was his first winter stint.

And the rest of the company had a really good laugh once I had escaped Encik's clutches and started spreading the story about 'RED UNDERWEAR WEAR UNDERWEAR GO FOR MEETING'.

Last year when I met him, Encik Ang held the post of Regimental Sergeant Major of the 42nd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment, and he was very much the 21st century senior career soldier. English-speaking, soft-spoken, and not a vulgarity within earshot. Standing next to him was one of his CSMs, a female Encik. And I wondered if he had ever asked anyone at 42nd to 'hold his cock and count three times'.

Underwear, man, cold weather, cotton, johns, long. SSN 1234567890

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Extra! Extra!

Before Cokecat revealed his all-time champion record of having signed 20 extra duties in 26 weeks at SISPEC, I had thought CPL Tan Ting Tong's record was pretty remarkable. CPL Tan signed many extras in his first month at 46SAR, many of them stemming from mistakes made while serving extra duties themselves. But it all started with this radio comms transmission he made:

"Hallo One Niner this is One Two Bravo, we are lost, over": Sign three. (46th was an Armour Reconnaissance unit. You NEVER get lost. Even if you did, you NEVER say you are lost).

First extra duty as Company Orderly Sergeant (COS), he forgets to turn off the lights at the vehicle park at sunrise: Sign three.

Second extra duty as COS, he forgets to order Lights Out, and is dobbed in by the Duty Officer: Sign three.

Third extra duty as COS, he helps clear the Armskote (Armoury), and his run of bad luck continues. A trooper leaves a loaded magazine in an M16 (which, our dear civilian readers, is a very, very big no-no). Somehow he manages to take that rifle out at random to check, pulls the charging handle and doesn't realise the significance of when the charging handle doesn't stay behind (if the rifle is empty, it stays behind; if there's a bullet in the magazine, it chambers the bullet), puts the rifle back onto the rack and declares to the DO that all is right. DO takes rifle, takes out magazine, clears rifle, picks up the ejected round and throws it at CPL Tan's face: Sign three*.

Fourth extra duty, and this, for mine, is one of the funniest: He's sitting in the company office, at his COS desk, in front of Company Sergeant Major (CSM), the legendary SSG "Red Underwear" Ang Teck Hock. Now, everyone addresses the CSM by the formal prefix of 'Encik'. So CPL Tan just knows him as Encik Ang.

The phone rings, and CPL Tan answers, 'Good Afternoon, Alpha Company', and asks the caller to hold on. He goes out onto the parade square, cups his mouth and yells at company block, "TELEPHONE CALL FOR STAFF SERGEANT ANG TECK HOCK! STAFF SERGEANT ANG TECK HOCK! PHONE CALL!"

He then goes back into the office, picks up the phone and tells the caller, 'Sorry, no such person'.

Encik Ang is still sitting at his desk, behind him, and beckons him to turn around. CPL Tan does. Encik Ang points to an ornate placard with his rank and name and asks him to read it aloud. CPL Tan reads it aloud, 'Staff Sergeant Ang Teck.....oh shit'.

Sign three.

*Armskoteman got three, trooper got charged.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Not for fame or fortune

Off Balderdash's site, a series of 'improved' Army posters:

There's more...

Friday, August 27, 2004

SISPEC... Suffer in Silence....

SISPEC - Suffer In Silence Plus Extra Confinement
"Extra" - Weekend guard or COS duty

It was exactly that for me as i never really came to accept the harsh (by my standards) injustices that NS inflicted us. Not that i can complain really, i almost always brought punishments down on myself.

SISPEC got broken into two phases by the time i went in; Basic Section Leader's Course (BSLC) and Advanced Section Leaders Course (ASLC). I was simultaneously most popular and unpopular. For me, signing extras in one's or two's was lame. I had to do it in blocks of 6s and 7's. :)

First big one was for playing football after lights off even though we had a navigation exercise (Navex) the next day. To make matters worse, i was supposed to be "excused leg" know like semi cripple so i couldn't walk long distances. By the tmie i had finished playing and walked back to the company line, i saw a whole bunch of people doing jumping jacks and pushups. Mystified, i sneaked in for a closer look, thinking it was the company opposite mine that was being punished. Anyway, i calmly walked towards them but no sooner had i turned towards the stairs did i hear my name shouted out. It was my company being punished!! They had a turn out and found a few of us football jokers missing! Man, i can still remember the baleful stares. The next morning, i was threatened with being charged, which i thought was silly. Sent to DB for playing football after lights off? HA HA. Unfortunately, my CSM was in a good mood so he just gave me that evil smile and said, "You sign 6".

Upon which i dumbly replied, "Sign 6?" 20 push-ups later, he explained that it was 6 extras.

Keep in mind the course was supposed to last 13 weeks, so for the second half of those 13 weeks, i spent a day in the guardhouse or as COS one day of every weekend.

That wasn't the end of it either. In our so called major exercise at Tekong (which should be renamed Tekan), i managed to misfire after our platoon had executed a harbour for the night. That my PC was a real bastard ensured that we had to relocate. The next morning, i was told to see the CSM to sign. When he saw me again, he couldn't believe his eyes.

"So near the end of course ask you to sign for what? Nevermind, you take 7."

HAHAHAHAA...2nd or 3rd last week and you want me to sign 7, right, i will pay those back. Somemore i still otanged him 3 more at that time. He would get the last laugh as i got posted to ASLC, in the same company.

ASLC passed without further incident until our last exercise at Tekong where i proceeded to do exactly the same blood thing. The shot pierced the silence of the night and was followed by the roar of my PC, "Corporal HOW!!!!! IS that you again!!"

To the shock and amazement of everyone, i replied "Yes, sir, it's me, again" Clear as a whistle in the immediate silence. You have no idea how quiet startled people can really be.

LOL, amid groans and muttered curses, we shifted harbour again. I think my PC and fellow platoon mates shared a rare moment of solidarity there. Everyone roundly hated moving out after having moved heaven and earth (rather leaf litter) to get into a comfortable position. Oh i took 7 for that too. And i had only just finished serving the others from BSLC.

Grand total for SISPEC without having to be formally charged, 6 + 7 + 7 = 20. In a 26 week course i signed 20. Oh well, had no gf and parents weren't in Singapore anyway, so i was kinda ok with it. Besides, it meant i could enjoy the wonderful camp beds :P

After passing out of SISPEC, i was sure they would post me to a school. I mean they couldn't possibly want to send a section commander out who misfired everytime he went into safe harbour, right?

Postings were done in a big shed where the OC called out names followed by place of posting. After lots of Nee Soons, Tekongs, my name got called, "3rd Sergeant How Kin Wee, SPT"

WTF?! School of Physical Training?! KNS. That's a whole other story.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Physical fitness vs Health

Like most people, I was rather anxious when I was about to get drafted into the army. But my fears were somewhat allayed when I realized that I was going to Nee Soon camp. It was so near to my home in Yishun that I could jog back!

My friends also told me that, as long as you have the stamina to run, can swim, and can do push-ups and chin-ups, you should be fine. OK. Sounds good to me so far.

Exercise, at that time, was my favourite pass-time. When I'm bored, I just put on my running shoes and run straight down the road heading towards Yio Chu Kang MRT. And when I hit YCK road junction, I head back.

I swim almost everyday, and, since I'm such a skinny guy, push-ups and chin-ups are easy for me.

So being fit as a fiddle, I thought I'd go through BMT with one eye closed. I was so wrong.

I practically walk-in to NS a fitness freak, and walk out of it a semi-cripple.

I didn't know I have flat feet. Although, during the check-ups at CMPB, I had to go into a room where this guy asked me to squat, tip-toe, etc. It is only during my many visits to the MO (Medical Officers) in BMT that I realize I was pes B-Trial.

Soon, the daily running, walking, marching, in combat boots took its toll. My feet and ankles began to hurt after a few weeks. I began to have a slight limp. Only one of my platoon sgt Sgt Teo Tat (name means kena stuck in Hokkien dialect, very cool guy btw) noticed it and asked if I was ok. At that time, I didn't think its any big deal, so I said I'm fine. But very soon, due to a poor running posture (my feet was not helping in pushing me forward while running anymore, leaving my knees and hips to do the work), my knees and hips started to hurt, too.

Seen the MO and, of course, I got the standard 'one day light-duty' or 'one day excuse running' bullshit. And the excuse is usually for that day itself, so, by the time we're done with seeing the MO, your 'excuse' only left half a day. That means tomorrow you are back to square one. Of course you can report sick again. But you will definitely become a 'marked' man, and a lot of shit will start to fly your way. On top of that, you will earn nicknames like 'pai-kar pai-chew' (the crippled and handicapped) and 'chow keng' (malingerer). Not that it matters to me, since we in the army are trained to handle such taunts, I even joked about it that, since my middle name is 'Keng', I must do my part to live up to my name la!

But I resent the fact that the MOs didn't even bother to look into my medical docket to analyze what could be causing me pain. To them, as long as you don't have a fever, and there are no bones sticking out or blood oozing out of you, you are malingering or trying to 'keng'. Friends later told me that the system was there in SAF to protect us, its just that the people behind it has rendered the system totally ineffective.

One day, during an SOC run-down, my left knee popped. I limped my way throughout and completed the SOC, didn't finished last, too. I don't know how I did it, but after that, I couldn't even move my left leg. I had to piggy-back on my buddy to get back.

Maybe Lady Luck took pity on me. While I was sitting in excruciating pain at the training shed, waiting for my buddy to pick me up, nearby, we can hear a chopper (a helicopter) landing at the Medical Center. "For me maybe?". Fat hope.

Turns out that another recruit in Echo company had shot himself in the gut during range, and was being helivac out to the Medical Center, where an ambulance was waiting. Word is that the guy was in the foxhole, switched to auto, pointed the barrel in his own face. The instructor, shocked, tried to stop him but only managed to divert the barrel to the fella's gut level. He then pumped 2 or 3 rounds into his abdomen. And we all know that the M16 is 'small entry, big exit'. There is no way he will make it, they had to shove his guts back into his body before evacuating him. *

Of course, my injury, compared to what possibly is the one major event that will change the rest of my BMT life, became just a footnote. Most in our batch never had the chance to play with the M203 or throw a real grenade, as a result.

On our way back to the bunk, the panicked CO saw me and said to my PC, "what happened to him! Make sure he rest in the bunk!". Heheh, you should have seen the look on my PC's face. But the fucker got back at me later when he cancelled (not even postpone, mind you) my medical appointment at SPC (soldier performance center), and made me stay back on a long weekend to take the SOC test! All because he need to improve his platoon's pass-rate! That fucker. He could very well see that I can barely walk at that time! In the end, during the SOC run-down, a reasonable PC from another platoon saw me running like Quasimodo Hunchback of Notre Dame, with all the SBO, water bottles, and rifle jangling around me, stopped me and told me to fall out. "Like that how to do SOC?" he said. He should tell that to the face of my PC. 2LT. Rama. Shame on you.

The suicide incident screwed up a good chunk of our tight training schedule. All live firing was suspended for a few days. And we sort of idled for a good few days in the bunk, which meant a lot to us at that time.

But for me, the injury never fully healed. The pain only went away after about 2 years. And I could never enjoy running like I did before. Rainy days and sitting in the cinemas also brings back the pain. The proper way to lift heavy objects is to use the leg muscles. I can't really do that, so now I'm having back pains as a result of that.

If I had known better, I would've sued all the MOs and commanders involved for gross negligence. But in Singapore, who can stand up against the authorities and win?

* Rumour has it that this guy was super-fit, can do like 20 ~ 30 over chin-ups and very muscular. But that very morning, Echo company, which is facing opposite us, one level lower, kena tekan at like 4 plus or 5 in the morning. But we heard its some family problems, and we rule out stress cos he's so fit, minor tekan should not have fazed him.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Army Daze...just like in the movie

Since this is my virgin contribution, I'd like to do a very brief run through of my 2 yrs 4 mths (shaved 2 mths off since I passed *IPPT at Toa Payoh Stadium, but maybe not a good thing after all) stint in the SAF. Hopefully it will act as a self-intro of myself as well. Of course, I will leave the details and elaborations to future posts.

Since most of my kakis were either drafted into the police force (most of my then buddies were Malays), or went in earlier due to failing or not taking their IPPT, I boarded the 3-tonner headed for 3BTS Nee Soon camp with total strangers. I see some lucky bastards who at least have a friend or 2 to talk to, my morale was super low.

Collected my barang-barang at **GSMB and waited at the company line.
When I was told that I was in 'Foxtrot' platoon, I sweared to myself, 'Shit' that meant the 4th floor for me. Come change parade (a 'game' the PCs and Sgts like to play with us), die la.

So I made my way up, and was looking for an empty bed in the 4 or 5 bunks there. Mmm, passed by this room with a bed still not taken. The fellas inside look enthusiastic and friendly enough. Tall, cheerful, and smiley guy - check. Big, stocky, US marines looking guy - check. Small, nerdy, specky, sabo-king type guy - check. Big eyed, red lipped, and pretty boy type - check. Guy who ate too much kantang (the ang moh pai) - check. Ah Bengs - double check. Man, this is gonna make a classic section man. Just like in the local movie Army Daze. I'm in. Oh, FYI, I was the stand-up kinda guy who mix equally well with all types and who will defend the weak. No kidding.

Time flew by so fast. The rest of my 'Tour of Duty' were spent in FEP (flying experience program), MINDEF, School of Signals, HQ 3rd Brigade. I suffered a serious and permanent injury during BMT, and got downgraded right at the end of my NSF days. Met a lot of good and bad people.

There were days which literally made me cry, and others which gave me such a good time that it never fail to put a smile on my face.

I will return with more, soon.

*individual physical proficiency tests
**General Supply Management Base (correct me if I'm wrong)

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Lingua franca

Often, Singapore boys start talking Army and threaten to alienate the womenfolk, and often to their own detriment. Boring, the women groan. Speak English please, they groan again, when another story with a chuck load of jargon is given its mandatory airing at any Army buddy gathering.

Funny they should say that. 'Speak English', that is.

Drill (marching) commands are given in Malay (Did you know that the national language of Singapore is Malay?), and apart from the Malay-speaking populace, only an NSF and less frequently, an NSman would know what 'untuk diperiksa datang senjata'* means.

There are several other non-English terms which I remember wondering the origins of, given the dubious pronounciation by our Singlish-speaking soldiers.

Reveille: Morning wake up call / bugle. Pronounced in the SAF as Levelly or Rebelly. (origin: French)

Laager: The Armour version of 'safe-harbour', a defensive formation. (origin: Afrikaans)

Fabrique Nationale de Armes de Guerre Herstal, Belgique, Mitrailleuse d'Appui General (FN MAG GPMG): General Purpose Machine Gun. (origin: French)

Anyone has any recollection of any other (official) terms or names we use in the SAF which are foreign?

* port arms for inspection

Friday, August 20, 2004

Seven Extra

Being an infantry unit, we were obviously located in the most obscure areas in Singapore. Unfortunately, we in Lim Chu Kang camp were saddled with the lousiest deal of all: walking to the training area.

Anyways, beside us was this dormant brigade, which had little more than a skeletal staff of 5 or 6 running the office, maintaining the many vehicles parked in the premises. Our guard duty as prowlers brought us to various checkpoints around the camp where we had to mechnically record the time we reached it. The route included a trip into and around the perimeter of the brigade's camp. The process included drawing the key to the gate to the brigade from the guard room, unlocking the gate and relocking it once we were in, and then most of us would then sit in there, smoke, listen to the transistor radio, etc. for about 15 minutes before making our way again.

One fortuitous night, the Platoon Idiot and the runner-up were assigned to prowler duty together... off they went at 12am, reaching the brigade around 1240, logged into the checkpoint unit, and then proceeded to lie down for a while. Minutes became 2 hours, and they still hadn't returned to the guard house at 2am.

The Guard Commander started getting worried, and cycled around the entire camp to find them but to no avail. The only possibility was: Brigade...

Alas, there was only 1 key to the gate, and it sure as hell wasn't with the Guard Commander. In fact, he could see that the gate was padlocked from the inside, and that could only mean one thing... He shouted and shouted until his throat was hoarse, but still no response. We have 1 term for this sentiment, and it's called balls drop.

Anyways, they 2 monkeys woke up in time for breakfast at 5:30am, saved the 2 following pairs of prowlers having to do their duty... in fact, they signed 7 extra, and saved a lot of people from having to do guard duty.


This one's as told to me by a friend, but I do not have reason to doubt the veracity.

2LT MC was a commander of one of the Navy's mini patrol boats. As you well know, it's hard for anyone to really catch you slacking off when you are supposed to be patrolling, since you have the liberty and authority to stay put in a certain spot to check on the goings-on. Even then, MC and his merry men grew bored of taking off their coveralls in the middle of the sea to get themselves an even tan, and itched to explore the islands they cruised past almost everyday.

On a particularly slow day, MC decided to berth his vessel alongside the jetty at St. John's Island, and allowed his men 15 minutes to go pee and roam around. So off his men went, and they came back less than 10 minutes with a certain hunger in their eyes..

"Ser, you want to drink coconut ornot?"

No reason why not right? So his tells them to go get some, but not too many.

"Ser, you wan mor oso don have ahh.. Tink onli got like 5..."

The men go into the patrol boat, rummage through something, and come out with a couple of sandbags. Still okay right?

The men saunter of somewhere, and MC decides to go take a leak in the heads (washroom). Whilst climbing up the jetty ladder, he heard some chopping noises in the distance.. Now, just what the fuck are they up to this time, he thinks... In no time, he hears a fairly loud creak, followed by a soft rustle, and a dull thud...

They chopped down the whole tree.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Check it out, one bite, one bite

There once was a trooper in my Coy named Kenneth Tan, but everyone called him by his nickname, 'Check It Out', short for 'Check It Out, One Bite, One Bite'.

Every time someone else was eating something (that wasn't Army issue), he'd come along, peer over that person's shoulder and say, 'Heyyyy, what's that you're eating? Check it out, one bite, one bite, please?'

If you were eating from a can of lychees, he'd 'check it out', and with one big bite, eat half the can, or worse, if you only had a few lychees left, he'd finish it with his 'one bite, one bite'.

'Check It Out' never offered his own snacks. He seldom brought any to camp or to field training. During periods of long field training, the platoons or tactical teams usually pooled some money together to buy snacks beforehand, and I heard that 'Check It Out' was usually the tight arsed trooper who'd complain they were spending too much. $1 a trooper was usually too much for him.

Very often, when one of us would be eating something, there'd be an urgent, 'kuai dian! "Check It Out" lai liao! Quick, faster keep the food, don't let him see!', and we'd hide whatever snack we were savouring under a poncho or groundsheet.

One day during a long field deployment, our Coy's armoured fighting vehicles were tasked to take up position in a slightly wooded area which happened to be an old durian plantation. The durian trees were still there, and they were bearing fruit which looked almost ready to eat.

After twenty or so minutes of SOP (standard operating procedure), the command came to 'stand-down' some of the troopers, meaning they could relax a little bit, while a certain number continued manning the weapons. I parked my motorcycle next to the company commander's (OC's) vehicle and took up my customary position next to the radio signal set, relieving the commander's signaller. Just as I did so, the radio crackled to life, which was a bit unusual 'cos the signals are usually quiet during this time, and it sounded urgent, so I picked it up and responded:

One Niner Alpha to One Three Alpha, say again last message, over.

One Three Alpha, I say again, we have No Duff Casualty, over.

Now, a 'No Duff', is radio lingo for 'For Real', meaning this was not a training scenario. Platoon 3 had a wounded soldier for real, and one of the worst fears of being in an Armour unit was to have a nasty accident with one of the tanks running over you, where it was likely you'd lose both life and limb.

Shouting for my OC to come, I asked the caller to elaborate on the no duff situation:

One Three Alpha, request casavac (casualty medical evacuation) we have a [insert code for trooper] struck by.....

One Niner Alpha, say again, struck by what? Over.

One Three Alpha, we have [insert code for trooper] struck by Delta... Uniform.... Romeo... India.... Alpha.... November... over.

One Niner Alpha, wait, out.

I copied the phonetic letters that obviously spelled DURIAN, and browsed through my code book to see what it meant, since it didn't seem to correspond with anything I remembered. There wasn't anything in the code book, so I checked with the caller again. He repeated what he said earlier. But being a No Duff situation, there wasn't time to waste, I checked my map for platoon 3's location and got my OC and company medic together.

A few minutes later, we got to platoon 3's location and were beckoned into one of the vehicles. On the floor lay 'Check It Out', conscious but bleeding from what looked like nasty lacerations on the top of his head, being attended to by his platoon medic. Next to them was a good-sized durian.

'Check It Out' wasn't that badly hurt, and he was back on Coy line within a week, but he had toned down his filching of other people's snacks because apparently, his platoon medic had told him that the durian falling on his head, with perfect timing, just when he had taken off his helmet, was his comeuppance.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

"Smack! Turn...Smack!"

Right now I can't remember any outstanding stories from SAFTI, yes, the home of your o-ci-fers, but I remember one particular outstanding guy from BMT. He distinguished himself during my company's first powder bath on the first night of BMT field camp. I won't go into too much detail here since most of you probably know the inspection procedure. He stepped up to the sergeant. "Smack", the sergeant said. He pulled the elastic of his underwear nad let go; a puff of powder escaped into the air. "Turn. Smack". He turned around, pulled his hands back and smacked his buttocks as hard as he could...

Got guard duty tomorrow, and Pro Term starts the day after, so hopefully in a months' time I'll have more to post here.