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?