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.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Whatever doesnt kill you makes you stronger

This post is on Army Food.. am sure the rest of you have lotsa stories, so just email your addresses to us, or add as comments...

Throughout BMT, the only things I remember were actually quite edible were:
a. Lor Mai Gai for breakfast
b. Braised chicken thigh with rice for dinner
c. Curry chicken thigh with rice
d. Soo Chow Fried Rice
e. Kueh Lapis...

Everything else was on a vile-ness scale... the ones I remember being most nasty:
1. braised mutton..
2. chee cheong fun.. so hard and dry I've seen cracked ones..
3. mee rebus... with the cooked noodle flipped out of the inverted metal container, and the cook using his bare hands to claw a bit for you...
4. friend vegetables with sand...

What's amazing is how the tastiness depends on the ambience... my best meals were out in the field, where we had instant noodles and sardine sandwiches... squatting in a circle under truly starry nights in Thailand... followed by Marlboro reds to get rid of the fishy taste.. heh...

{Ed: The official bit on Army food can be found here}

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Big Yellow Tab

As an BMT instructor, this was my favourite trick to pull on my recruits.. totally good clean fun, but hilarious nontheless..

A regular nightly feature during BMT is supper, a.k.a. nightsnack.. what usually happens is each platoon of around 40 people is supplied with 2 big 20-litre thermos ("insulators") of coffee or tea... Having come from an active infantry unit, and it being the last 5 months of my NS, I was more switched-off than the other "born and bred" instructors, and more of a mentor and friend to them than a disciplinarian...

How do you think the army makes 20-litres of tea each at a go? can't be letting 300 small Lipton Tea teabags dangle from the side of the insulator right? So I tell them that Lipton has specially made giant teabags for the exclusive use of the Army, complete with the Yellow Tabs which are A4 size... surprising thing is most of them believe it!

A week after they have been educated about the giant teabags, I'll complain that the tea that night was too dilute, and send 2 of them to the cookhouse to ask the cook for another of the non-existent giant Lipton teabags...

ok.... it doesnt sound so funny when I type it, but try visualising a giant teabag tab dangling over the container, that you have to pull up and down with both hands in order to ensure that the essence is diffused from the bag...

Saturday, August 07, 2004


This is a classic which I've heard from various sources quite a few times:

I dunno about the rest of you, but prior to the army, I had never been naked in the presence of other guys.. and mind you, I was in the garang NJC dragonboat team and all, so I'm no wuss..

Anyways, during the physical test a few months before enlistment for BMT, X (as with all other guys) was made to line up in his underwear with 9 other guys, waiting to see the army doctor.. at some point, everyone is told to pull their undies down to their knees... "turn your head to the left and cough" was the instruction and test to determine if one suffered some medical ailment.. hernia or something..

X grabs the tip of his dick with his thumb and forefinger, directs it to the left, and coughs..

Fatty Bom Bom

It used to be where we had to go to CMPB to be certified fit to run around and once that is done, the merry go round begins.

Most people use their fitness test scores from thir JCs and Polies, where the standards for chin ups etc are freaking slack i am sure :P. Being the lucky bastard that i was, i did my high school overseas and as a returnee, had to do the NARFAR test. Failing which, i would not get a 6 week discount on my 2.5 years. Not surprisingly, i failed the chin ups (i was a portly 97kg at 1.68m tall).

I still remember the company Foxtrot, platoon 21. So fat we were that when we fell in at the company line, we would take about 1.5 times the space of a regular platoon. Anyway, they had a special phase for us "fatties", Fitness Training Phase, where all we would do is get run to our deaths by torture agents clad in all white, Physical Training Instructors (PTIs). Those prissy all white monkeys were roundly hated. There were also of course wild rumours about a "Monkey God" PTI who was sent to DB for running a recruit to death.

MOST people passed the test after 3 or 4 weeks of that punishment. Either the really round lost so much weight as to qualify for UN food aid, or the skinnies put on enough muscle mass to finally weigh more than their girlfriends.

The regulations stated that reps per set was restricted to a maximum of 20 push ups at a time ...but there would always be that mysterious person at the back of the lot who skipped one count and we would ALL start from ZERO!! Bloody hell! Lots and lots of tears were spilt, some from anger, some from the great sense of the injustice we felt but mostly from the futility of it all. However, almost all of us dragged, squirmed or in some cases, weaseled our way through. (Cue breasting the tape of a marathon music).

The irony of it is that the fatties would eventually be among the fitter ones. Having built muscles to carry five ton bodies around for years, losing a couple of tons meant we could run a lot faster and longer.

With that, we were qualified to start what is called Basic Military Training. :)

Friday, August 06, 2004

Twelve O'Six

January 1996, Somewhere in Kanchanaburi...

It must have been the 14th hill that my platoon commander (PC) had brought up over instead of around.. the sun was scorching, the cow dung was worse than anti-personnel mines.. and the last drops of water in our bottles had been shaken into our mouths half an hour before that...

Then I saw my PC collapse before my very eyes.. heat stroke / exhaustion apparently.. worst thing about him (and being his runner) was that he perspired profusely all the time, and that cuased vile B.O... anyway we had no choice but to unbotton his shirt and pants for him..

Because we were always taught in BMT to try to pour water over the body of someone who was suffering from heat stroke to cool him down, yet we had absolutely no water, someone suggested that we pee on our PC... tempting and logically as the thought was, the prospect of spending some time in Kranji Hilton (i.e. Detention Barracks) got the better of me...

Anyway, 5 minutes later, the PC was still floored and slurring... tried to comms the safety people, and they asked where we were... like the fuck I know.. if I did, we wouldnt have been climbing up and down 14 hills... so they suggested that we ignite a smoke grenade and they will try to spot us...

What's the one lesson that they tell you you should never forget about throwing a smoke? well... aside from the obvious one that you throw the grenade and not the pin? that you let it ignite before throwing it... but my Section 2I/C was so smart... he threw it straightaway, and true to form, the ground caught fire...

Before long, the fire had spread and was chasing us as we dragged our half-alive PC and his stinking webbing, losing 1 pair of boots and 1 helmet amongst other things hauling ass down the knoll...

Half of the hill was on fire, and the smoke from the fire was so thick in the sky that the safety guys had absolutely no trouble finding us...

The PC lived, and he had the audacity to lecture us after that on how we nearly burnt down a hill and threaten to make us sign 12-06s for the trees... yah right, as if we were to naive..

2 years later, I was told that there was still a bald hill in Kanchanaburi...

I met Satan in the Army and lived to tell the tale..

The search for SATan started one day in February 1995, when a few of us recruits were sitting around the GS Table talking about nothing in particular..

As you may know, each soldier has a name tag on his No. 4 uniform, usually bearing the initials of his first and middle name, followed by his last / family name. For example, Lim Beng Huat's name tag will read BH Lim.

Tan being a common last name in Singapore, we agreed that there must be someone's name tag who read SA Tan, and swore that from that day on, we would always be on the vigilant lookout for Him...

The search was long and weary... it's not easy trying to stare at the name tag over the chest of a lady Lieutenant when you are a "chao private", or to walk close enough to your division commander in order to make out the faded letters... It was the 2 months before I was due to ORD, and I'd given up the search, when one day, after bringing my recruits to Physical Training session, I saw a PTI with those elusive characters in navy blue over the virgin white of his singlet... SA Tan!

What an anti-climax though... he turned out to be one of the softest PTIs around... and even invited every recruit to call him Sergeant Satan after that...

Thursday, August 05, 2004

235 35 35

Originally posted on My Very Own Glob {Curiosa Felicitas}

For the benefit of Woof! who was so stoked by the sentimental Army post that he left a comment that had to be truncated, and then pressed the publish button three times some more; and for Malaysian boys who wish they had the benefit of National Service, here is an Army anecdote. Look away now, girls. It probably is not funny to you, but I swear it'll bring a tear to Woof!'s eyes from laughing too much. Guaranteed.

Wonsaponatime, Attila Combat Team ('A' Coy, 46SAR) had a new NCO (now known as Specialist) who was incredibly inept at everything he did. The entire company viewed him as a danger to everyone else. Once I even had to ride my bike into a ditch to avoid being run over by the Armoured Fighting Vehicle he was commanding.

We felt a little sorry for Cpl Tan Ting Tong (I can't remember his real name), for he wasn't cut out for Armour, much less as a commander in Armour. But because he was the one most likely to get us killed, there was a concerted effort from both the officers and men to get him out of the company. Bit hard, given that you don't get dismissed from a unit because of stupidity.

And so, we hatched a diabolical scheme to make Cpl Tan Ting Tong to do something so inept, but without danger to his company mates, that would see him get transferred out.

During one field training exercise, we parked our vehicles in formation and rested for the night. Cpl Tan was still on alert in his commander's cupola, in his vehicle, One-Two-Bravo. Me and the company sergeant major asked him if he was hungry. He said yes.

We then said 'Did you know that you can order pizza through the radio comms'?


'Yes, you dunno meh? Switch to this frequency, order what you want, give your location MGR (map grid reference) and they will deliver, no matter where in the jungle you are.... and if more than one hour, you get one free garlic bread and pepsi'.

The trap was set. We went back to company HQ's vehicle, One-Niner, tuned our radio to 'Pizza Hut' frequency and waited.

Faster than expected. And in proper military radio protocol:

*crackle* * buzz* Hallo Pizza Hut, Hallo Pizza Hut, This is One Two Bravo, message, over.

Stifling laughter, our company 2IC (2nd in command), took the radio handset and replied,

'Pizza Hut, send, over'.

'One Two Bravo, err... um... want to order one Super Supreme, over'.

'Pizza Hut, say again, over'.

'One Two Bravo, one Super Supreme, over'.

'Pizza Hut, roger that, would you like a drink with that, over?'

'One Two Bravo, errrrrr.... that's a negative, over'.

'Pizza Hut, that's a roger, what is your mike golf romeo (MGR), over?'

'One Two Bravo, umm.... wait... ummm two... six... three... four... seven.. two, over'.

'Pizza Hut, confirm mike golf romeo two six three four seven two, over'.

'One Two Bravo, umm... that's a roger, over'.

'Pizza Hut to One Two Bravo, roger that, rendevous at your location in figure zero five mike, please prepare exact change'.

'One Two Bravo, ummm, ok, roger'.

'Pizza Hut, out'.

For dereliction of duty, unauthorised use of military communications and generally flouting Article 25 of the Singapore Armed Forces Code of Conduct, Cpl Tan Ting Tong was given a field demotion to spare MG gunner. Later on, he was transferred out of Attila, and even later, out of the Battalion. His replacement, Cpl Koh Lian Thye, was almost just as inept, but that's several other stories altogether.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

All stations one niner, this is one niner, rodeo now, over

It is now 15 years since they gave me five sets of number four (the tops I still wear, the pants I had to buy new ones). I am still at it, and proud of it, some say, for perverse reasons.

But seriously folks, I wouldn't have traded this for anything in the world. My Army gave me some of the mental and physical shape I'm currently in. My Army showed me life, death, despair, hope, perseverance, friendship, loyalty, strength and compassion.

I remember turning 20 while I was cleaning an Armoured Fighting Vehicle with my section mates, and our sergeant (Sgt S Nathan) stopped work for my mates to sing happy birthday to me, and Sgt S Nathan (Sarge, what does the S stand for? S stands for Sergeant, you mother cheebye fucker, don't ask me again) lit me a cigarette and told me to faster wake up my idea because I wasn't a teenager anymore. (I last saw Sgt S Nathan at the airport a few years ago as I was leaving on a business trip. He had quit the Army and was working as an airport policeman, one of those who stand outside the immigration counters checking passengers' passports and tickets. The other passengers were a little shocked to hear our exchange of greetings that went something to the effect of 'Cheebye, Sar'n Nathan, it's you! Cheebye what cheebye, kepala boootoh Buddha (my nickname), where you going, mother cheebye fucker?' And he still wouldn't tell me what the S stood for.)

I remember doing guard duty at the Padang on my 21st birthday even if it was a Saturday because I signed three extra duties for fucking up on a mission - my buddies snuck out and bought me a cake and satay from the satay club across the road.

I remember doodling the names of my girlfriends while we listened to long lectures on weapons and tactics. I remember falling asleep during lectures and being made to run and hug a tree because the lecturer said I looked like a sleeping koala. (Not as bad as the other trooper who was made to writhe like an upturned cockroach poisoned by Mortein).
46SAR receives her colours from President Wee
I don't pretend to be anywhere near a proficient professional soldier, and I could never be one. I'm still nervous around live ammunition and flinch at a gunshot or tank round explosion. I remember shitting bricks when my unit was mobilized as a stand-by perimeter security force for Changi Airport when SQ117 was hijacked, loading into my weapons and vehicles what I remembered was damned a lot of live ammo, enough to blow up several aircraft. We never left our camp compound thanks to the swift resolution of the crisis, but it was enough to let us know the stuff they trained us for, they expected us to be able to carry out.

I lost a battalion mate to a training accident that I was involved in, and lost two more to suicide. And these things stay with you the rest of your life. I nearly copped it too, but was saved on several occasions by my buddies, and I, in turn, was given a chance to save their skins also.

When I went abroad, I made it a point to try to put these things behind me, and purposefully avoided keeping in touch with the Army and my buddies. But my subconscious did not let me. When I returned to Singapore and was recalled into another unit (because my original unit had almost completed its 13 year cycle), I was mortified.

I called up my buddies again. When we met up, we embarrassed ourselves crying at a Delifrance outlet. My buddies shared with me how they coped with the trauma, and how different reservist training is these days to when we were full time soldiers. They told me not to worry a bit because even after a 10 year hiatus, I'd remember everything I was trained to do. They also told me not to worry too much about anything else, because 'if you survived what we survived, you can do anything'.