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...