2 am and the rain is falling
Here we are at the crossroads once again
You're telling me you're so confused
You can't make up your mind
Is this meant to be
You're asking me
That song by "Trademark" filled the air constantly. It was the song of the moment. Not because I like it. You have to understand, back then we didn't have spotify or smartphones. We didn't even have an mp3 player. We had cassette players, walkmans and discmans. But they used up a lot of battery. So what we had then were small transistor radios. I had one, so small, it fits my pocket. A transistor radio as small as a zippo lighter. It was cool. It used a small battery and lasted quite long. That being said, it means, we couldn't choose our songs. We had to listen to the radio and this annoying song kept hogging the air almost all the time.
It was the song that was on the radio as I took the ferry back to Pulau Tekong. Actually almost all the time I booked in, the radio was playing that song. But this time it was different. I was going back to Tekong after a 1 week block leave. A full complete 1 week. I forgot the date already now. I believe it was a 9th of October 2000. Definitely a Monday. I told my girlfriend then, I would be in Tekong just to take my posting results and I would be back on the ferry to get off the island in no time. I remember that very clearly.
The whole lot of us gathered in front of Mohawk Company in our platoon level. The sergeants counted our strength (the army term for checking attendance) and announced our postings. Verbally. One at a time. It was suspense-fully nail-biting kind of moment. They called out the names according to our platoon, section and bed order. Meaning, the 1st person to hear his posting result was the guy from platoon 1 section 1 bed 1.
Faizal Khan was in platoon 1 section 1. His posting was, National Service Civil Defence Officer. He was so happy. He kept shouting, "yes! yes!!". It is basically like the police force I mentioned in the last post. You got to go back to the mainland and do things that are more practical in real life. He got to go back to the mainland, off from the army and be an officer for the Civil Defence Force. Basically, his army days was over. You can never get any other better vocation than that other than the NS Police Inspector.
Then to platoon 2. Shaufi section 1. School of Infantry Specialist (SISPEC). Shucks.
Sergeant Khir, "Private Anwar Hadi Bin Ramli.... SISPEC."
My heart sank. My first thought was my girlfriend. I told her I would leave this island. I was extremely sad. Very extremely terribly sad.
Wan Cing Cong was posted to Officer Cadet School (OCS). That's at Jurong.
"All form up in your posting order. Those going to SISPEC, fall in behind the company line!"
I said goodbye to Wan Cing Cong. He was happy. I was very sad. Apparently a number of us were posted to SISPEC because I remember we had to fall in together and it was about a platoon size. When everyone of us were accounted for, we walked. When everyone else walked to the ferry terminal to go back to the mainland, we walked, from Mohawk Company BMTC School 2, to SISPEC, 2.9km away, deeper into Pulau Tekong. Where from BMTC we could see the sea and the Singapore mainland across it, we would walk to a camp called SISPEC further inland, surrounded by forests, away from the sea. Can you imagine how depressing that was? And we walked, with our duffel bag (aka ali baba bag) slung across our shoulders. Yes, our duffel bags then didn't have wheels.
School of Infantry Specialist.
The Specialist Cadet School (abbreviation: SCS), formerly the School of Infantry Specialists (SISPEC), is the military training centre for specialists (NCO-equivalents) in the Singapore Army. The school is situated in Pasir Laba Camp (PLC) in the western part of Singapore. From 1999/2000 to 2006, it was located at Rocky Hill Camp on Pulau Tekong while its new premise was undergoing construction.
In 2010, SISPEC was renamed to Specialist Cadet School (SCS) to reflect the wider scope of the school, as it no longer provides Specialist training only for Infantry units.
Instead of going back to the mainland, I would be stuck back in Pulau Tekong for at least 11 weeks. We were going to embark on a course called Basic Section Leader Course (BSLC) for about 11 weeks. After that we will be given posting results again. Either we would be posted to another unit or to continue going through phase 2 of the course called Advanced Section Leader Course (ASLC). By this time, I was just expecting the worse. I didn't want to expect to be posted out after 11 weeks. I mentally prep myself that I would be there for the whole of 22 weeks (5 months), on Pulau Tekong. That was the worst case scenario.
ROCKY HILL CAMP
After that 2.9km walk which felt like forever, we reached "Rocky Hill Camp" where SISPEC was located. Right in the middle of the forest. The whole camp was literally surrounded by forest. I was posted to Alpha Company. The camp building looks much older than the spanking new buildings at BMTC. I heard that this camp is an abandoned camp. It had almost no mobile reception. No M1, no Starhub. Only 1 bar of Singtel if you sit near the door of the bunk. Same for radios too. Almost no radio waves. Our transistor radio would only work if we place it near the door and adjust its antenna to perfection. But there was never perfect reception. The building look like an old HDB block in Queenstown. Long, with a lift and staircase in the middle of the building and staircase at the end of the building. I googled and can not find a picture of it, but it looked something like this.
Alpha company, Platoon 2 Section 3 Bed 8. This time around there were only 3 platoons per company, 3 sections per platoon, 10 men per section. Our course was called the 17th BSLC. Meaning the 17th batch of SISPEC trainees. Only 2 companies for this 17th batch. Alpha and Bravo company. Shaufi was posted to Bravo company.
As I entered my new home for the next 5 months, I felt very sad. I hated the idea of staying on the island. I didn't like to make new friends. But the friends turned out ok because all of us felt the same. We all had to go through it. We didn't have any choices. Except for 1 guy. His name is Tan Boon Tee. He was the only person in my bunk who was an army "regular". Which means he signed up to be in the army as a career. The rest of us were NS boys. Me in bed 8 means I was assigned a buddy who was in bed 7. His name is Paul. I found a familiar person in my bunk. Bed 6. His name is Dzulkifly. Cool spelling I know. You will read quite a lot about him in the upcoming posts. Dzul worked part time at the Library Supply Centre at Changi South. I was there for my internship. That's where I knew him. Apparently he was from the same polytechnic as I was but I never saw him in school.
The bunks were decent. It looked old but it felt real. It looked comfortable. Like they know we were going to stay there for long. There was a small partition in between every bed. We not only had a locker, but also a bookshelf with army books. They would be our textbooks for our BSLC course. The toilets were clean. I was slightly happy when I saw the shower cubicles had doors, unlike those in BMTC.
Our section commanders were 3rd sergeants. Obviously they were NSFs just like us. But our platoon sergeants, unlike in BMT, were staff and master sergeants. Our Platoon commanders, Officer commander and Commanding officers were Warrant officers. They were all army regulars. They were much older than us. They were in their 30s and 40s. Darn I tell you, they looked damn fierce. So fierce, I feared looking at them in the eyes. Because unlike the Mohawk instructors, these sergeants and warrant officers were the real deal.
I couldn't remember who said this, because I was too afraid and sad to look. But I heard this,
"I hope you have enjoyed your BMT. BMT is just the start. BMT is your honeymoon period in the army. It's all over now. You all jolly well wake up from your honeymoon idea. This is SISPEC. This is not OCS. In OCS you will be treated as gentlemen. Here you will be treated like dogs. When this course ends, you will be as fierce and as hungry as dogs. Your men jolly well be afraid of you."
The guy who said this, didn't scream or shout like the Mohawk instructors. He spoke in a cool stern manner, very much like a mafia godfather. He was damn right. I was afraid of him. Until now I don't know who said those words.
Honestly, I don't remember much about BSLC. I am just going to share whatever I can remember. Really it's not much. Maybe because I was too sad to remember those moments. It was just days and weeks that passed by. We still get to book out every Saturday, so it was pretty much the same as in BMT. But since we were a "rank up" in terms of training, we got to take the earlier ferry out of Tekong every Saturdays before the BMT recruits, like maybe 12 or 1pm. We got to book in later too, like 10pm instead of 8pm. There would be a bus to take us to and from Tekong Ferry Terminal. A cool thing was, we didn't have to go to Pasir Ris Bus Interchange anymore. We can just report and leave from SAF ferry terminal at Changi. That means more time to spend with girlfriends for most of us.
I remember there were a lot of shouting and screaming and barking orders. Very regimental. The physical training were tougher. The punishments harsher. So harsh, I cannot even blog about them. Same thing, you can meet me and ask in person.
We had a lot of section training. Those army movement and firefight training. How to move in the jungle. How to walk on the tracks. How to react to gunshots, artillery fire, ambush, etc. How to do fire and movement and attack the enemy. All the strategies, plannings and contingencies. It was fun to be honest, but it was too tough to feel fun because most of the time we were tired or afraid. We also had to take turns to be the leader of our section, platoon and company. We would be given arm bands that says, "Section Commander", Platoon Warrant Officer (PWO) and Company Warrant Officer (CWO). Everyone would be given a chance to don something. It was responsibility but it was also scary. We were all scared to screw up.
The staff / master sergeants and warrant officers were scary. They were damn fierce. But I really have to say this. Unlike in BMT, we respected them. Every time an instructor in BMT were to shout, I felt like punching his face. But here, every time they shouted at us, we looked down. We felt bad for letting them down. That was how much we respected them. I grew to like and cared for them rather than being disgusted of them. That's how great leaders they were. In BMT, when I had trouble running (I was a weak runner, remember?) the instructors would just scream from a distance and punish me later. Here in SISPEC, when I was falling behind from the rest of the group while running, my Platoon Commander, Warrant Sim, who also ran with us, would fall back and push me physically and mentally. He would pull my hand or push me from behind. He would scold me things like,
"I am older than you!! I can run faster than you!! I am fitter than you!! Are you not ashamed? Huh? You tak malu is it? You better run! How are you going to be a leader if you cannot push your men? You not malu is it? Your men stronger and fitter than you? Hurry up! You won't die!"
That was a real leader I tell you. I was 20 years old. There were a number of us struggling too. It wasn't just me. But this man. He was in his early 40s and he ran up to the front of the platoon and asked us to keep up to his pace. He ran to the back of the platoon to push the strugglers up. And then he ran back to the front. He would do this many many times. Front and back and front and back barking orders laced with encouragement. He was a real leader. Warrant Sim is still my hero until today.
Remember I told you how excited I was to “play” with the M16? In SISPEC, we got to learn and use more weapons. It was super cool to me. We had the M203, a grenade launcher fixed to the M16. A “bazooka” called the Light Anti-tank Weapon (LAW) and the Section Automatic Weapon (SAW). These are the generic weapons to an infantry section. I don’t think I am allowed to talk about them but you can google about them. The LAW is not in use anymore now and has been replaced with a slightly bigger version called the “Matador”. I don’t remember if we fired live rounds using these weapons during BSLC but I definitely remember firing them later in my army life. We also learnt to use other explosives or what they called “charges” such as the “claymore mine”, the “C4” and one more I cannot remember. It was a “DIY” charge using sandbags, gunpowder and strips of sandbags placed in a jerry can. You can google these too.
Just like in BMT, we had to march from point to point. And whenever we marched, we were required to sing army songs. There was a particular song we had to learn here. It was the school song. The SISPEC song. Now that SISPEC is called SCS, I don’t think this song is in use anymore. The lyrics are as follows:
School of Infantry Specialists here we come
Soldiers of every creed and race
Soldiers to Specialists we will become
Leaders of six men to set the pace
SISPEC warriors, we are the warriors
SISPEC warriors with pride we will lead
Fearlessly we lead with pride
We train hard full of might
Trained to lead by day and night
We will strive for greater heights
I was humming as I typed this. I can remember the song, the tune and the lyrics still.
One thing I remember about this song is that, the melody used a lot of flat notes. The chords were in minor. Thus the song was very sombre yet silently strong. It has the feeling of an army of Orcs marching in units in Warcraft. I remember a sergeant, I forgot his name, teaching us the song. Since it was in flat notes, he had problems singing it and he got all of us confused. Every time he repeated, it would sound different and out of tune. After a while he gave up, laughed and let us hear a recording of the song in the AV room. Even until we graduated, many of us couldn’t get the tune right. If you meet me, I can sing and play the song on garageband for you.
And so, we were told to sing the SISPEC song first before any song every time we march. It was compulsory. SISPEC song first. Here’s the funny part. Alpha company was just across the cookhouse. Whenever we were going for meals, we would fall in at the parade square just at the doorstep of the company building, and then march to the cookhouse. It was like a few steps away. So when the PWO gave command for us to march off:
“Platoon 2! Dari kanan cepat jalan!”
Platoon 2 would shout out,
“Left right left right left right….. Alpha! Left right Alpha! Left right Alpha! School of Infantry Specia…..”
Platoon, “Check 1 Bang!”
Hahahahahaha! That was funny! We would always laugh every time. We didn’t even get to finish the first line and we would already stop at the cookhouse. As time goes by, we became more comfortable and daring, we would fall in further into the parade square and even nearer to the cookhouse. The song would even get shorter. And we would laugh. The sergeants laughed too and sometimes they would call us back and fall in further so that we could sing slightly more. It was funny to us, that we didn’t mind doing it again. Sometimes, for the fun of it, we would march around the parade square and finish the song before we stop at the cookhouse.
The last thing about BSLC that was memorable to me was “Navigation Studies”. We learnt to read topography maps. I love maps since I was a boy so I particularly loved this lesson. I was so good at it that it would decide one of my vocation later in my army life.
So we learnt how to read topography maps, use the compass, learnt how to confirm ground, check direction using “mils”, read Mean Grid Reference (MGR), gauge distance using our steps (73 paces = 100 metres), gauging distance using your thumb (a full grown man would be the height of your thumbnail when you extend your arm if he is 100 metres away), navigating using the stars (the north star and the Orion belt). Cool right?
After learning all these, we were paired with our buddies. Me and Paul, like the other pairs, were randomly despatched to different parts of Pulau Tekong. With the knowledge learnt, we had to hone the skills. We had to look for checkpoints all over the island with the last checkpoint being SISPEC camp site itself. That was the first time I was left to fend for myself in the jungles of Pulau Tekong, theoretically alone. I mean I had Paul with me but it was quite a nervous experience. Navigating through the unfamiliar jungles of Pulau Tekong, relying on our map, compass and pacing steps. It was cool. When night fell, I was a bit worried. In the dark, in Pulau Tekong jungle for the first time in your life is no joke man. It was just me and Paul. What if there were wild animals or we got stung or bitten. I didn’t care about ghosts honestly. I was more worried about animals. But let me tell you, the nights in Tekong were actually beautiful. The skies were clear as there were minimal light pollution. The stars were visible. There were types of plants where the roots glow in the dark in white purplish colours. I also got to see swarms of fireflies. It was beautiful. Only when I got home and shared these with my father did he say that fireflies are attracted to carcasses and dead bodies. So if you see fireflies, there would be a carcass nearby or a cemetery. Thanks. Anyway, none of us got lost and we all reached Alpha company safely at about 2300hrs.
11 weeks passed, that was pretty much all that I can remember about BSLC. It was way tougher than BMT. And yes we were treated like dogs. But unlike BMT, we had pride. All the punishments and scoldings and beatings and torture and tekan, we took them all with pride. It was tough, but we didn’t feel any hatred to our commanders. Because they were real leaders and we looked up to them.
As 17th BSLC came to a close, some of us got posted out to other units. As I said before, I didn’t expect myself to be posted out. I was right. I was posted to stay in SISPEC to attend the 17th Advanced Section Leader Course (ASLC). Meaning I would continue my stay at SISPEC Alpha Company Pulau Tekong. A few of us got posted out. About 1/3 of us. Paul was posted to the Air Force to be an Anti Aircraft Gunner. I never saw him again.
17th BSLC. All of us were promoted to Corporals. There was no block leave. The week after, we started ASLC straightaway and that’s when more memorable events happened.
Corporal Anwar Hadi Bin Ramli, reporting for 17th ASLC sir!
Categories : The Army Series
Basic Military Training
The best thing about writing this blog series is that, I know I don't have to write it for anyone. I have no idea who read them. But I can see the traffic for my website and definitely I can see that the traffic is very low. Meaning, not many people actually come here to read. I see good looking people posting videos of them drinking water and they get a million likes and comments and viewers. It is sad and terrible. Where people who need the attention for their works and jobs are neglected. It is an ugly world. It definitely is. But this blog series is not for them. It is for me to remember before my memory fails. So I actually do not feel disheartened when I know that not many people actually come here to read. At least, I do come back here to read.
I had to came back to Pulau Tekong after my 1 week disruption. It wasn't exactly 1 week.. it was more like 4.5 days or so. Including the weekends. I still think it is a scam till today.
I reached Mohawk Company on a Sunday night where we will begin our Basic Military Training on Monday. The beginning of another 10 weeks. There weren't much references about the army in those days except for word of mouth from the elders. From a small handbook (titled: Guide to BMT for Muslim boys, I think was the title) and the "Army Daze" movie. Almost all of them mentioned that BMT would be the best time of your army life. You will make a lot of friends and will have a sense of achievement once you've completed it. I never saw the logic in that. BMT is just 10 weeks compared to 2.5 years of NS. My sense of accomplishment will come when I get back my pink IC. Not BMT.
But here I am. BMT. Mohawk company is still a tekan company with arrogant superiors, but at least there are more important activities where the instructors had to adhere to rather than wasting time punishing us. There were definitely less punishment and more proper activities.
Finally we really got to wear our army uniform with helmet and field pack and SBO. The SBO stands for Skeleton Battle Order. Also known as the "Bra". It is no more in use now. It is supposed to be a kind of Batman's utility belt. It's kind of cool and I like it. But I was too skinny and even though how tight I made it, it would still be loose and brings the weight on to my shoulders. It was terrible. I could not do any modifications to it because everything has to be standardised among the soldiers in the company, so it was a terrible 10 weeks. Only later in my NS life did I manage to modify it to fit my waist and life became so much better. It was literally weight off my shoulders.
We also get to do army things and those were fun. Compared to the nonsense punishments. Finally I got to hold a gun. An M16S1. 1 metre long rifle. Also not in use anymore today therefore I feel privileged to be able to use it in my lifetime. It was exciting to me. These are the things that you would never got to experience as a civilian.
Side track, I was in the NPCC in secondary school. During the CCA fair, it was publicised as a "police" thing. When I signed up, we wore t-shirt and shorts all day. Same thing, we got screamed and punish all the time from seniors who went through 238 racial riots in their lifetime but only 3 years older than us. Everyday was just punishments and knots and march. It was disgusting to me. Where's the police stuff? I quit at the end of Secondary 2. The teacher in charge warned me that I would be getting a black mark for my CCA grades. I didn't care. 2 years there and I didn't learn anything except curse words and marching with seniors barking commands in broken Malay. I only got to hold a gun, a revolver, once in that 2 years. Once.
So being able to hold an M16 was cool. We learned to strip, clean and assemble it. We got to learn to be proficient in handling it. We got the chance to shoot it at an "Individual Marksmanship Trainer" environment, like an arcade and fully air-conditioned. We got to fire live rounds. M16 was cool. I definitely miss it. Given the chance, I would like to hold it again, strip and fire it again. Really. It's shape and length makes it feel "soldierish" compared to a much shorter SAR21.
I'm sure this one is memorable to all who have been through it. We had practices throwing dummy grenades for a few days before we went on throw a real grenade. Many years later, I found out the grenade we used during BMT for this exercise is a scaled down grenade and a real grenade would have a stronger explosive power and blast. Darn.
It was still cool though. Throwing a grenade, hiding in the bunker and feel the shockwave passing above you. I believe, another cool and memorable thing would be, how your instructors, your sergeants and officers would suddenly be so nice to you on that day. Mmm hmmm... hypocrisy at its best.
The rest are the same things that you see in army movies like "Army Daze" and "Ah Boys to Men". The normal BMT things. There really wasn't much interesting things that happened because like I said, it was a tekan company. I got bored. I tried very hard to keep my morale up throughout.
This was something to look forward to. Finally we got to be in the jungle. Sleep in a basha. Camouflage our faces. Do fire and movement manoeuvres. You know all those army stuff. Finally NS made sense. So I particularly enjoyed these 5 days 4 nights living out at a rubber plantation that I forgot its name. We ate combat rations. We got to use the hole toilets. I made a point not to pass my bowels these 5 days and eat as little as possible. Never am I going to use the hole toilets. The toilets where holes were dug into the ground. Not because of its physical circumstances. It was because I didn't trust the company's instructors. Yup, if a soldier do not trust their commanders... I would say that is a fail. I don't trust them. I had a feeling that they will command you to fall in while you're doing your business, just for the fun of it. And when you had to fall in later than the others, the whole platoon or company would be punished. I really hate that.
Also we got to experience powder baths. I went through a lot of camps in Poly so, I am ok with all these out of the norm hygiene matters.
We were also told not to shine the trees with our torchlights. They never told us why. They just hinted that we might see ghosts. I didn't see any. Most of us would fear the instructors' punishments rather than ghosts by this time. I didn't fear the instructors. I was already pissed off with them. I fear myself over-reacting and jeopardising my precious book outs. I listened to their instructions for the sake of my book out rather than due to respect. And during this field camp I got a very tiny little bit of relief.
The kiddish instructors went on trying to steal our rifles as we slept in the night. I had good sleeps during the camps but they were considerably light sleeps due to the constant awareness and the discomfort of the hard ground. So one night a sergeant tried to steal my rifle. I could see in the dark, his head near my boots and his hand reaching for my rifle. I couldn't see who though. As he came closer to my rifle, I gave a good size 277 boot to his face. Oooof! Sedap! I acted as if it was a reaction to a disturbed sleep but I did it on purpose. He then moved away. Oooof..! Almost satisfying.
THE 2 SPECIAL PLATOONS
This I have to share because it is something I don't want to forget. During BMT, another company started their BMT training too. It was Orion Company. Remember I said there are 4 platoons in a company? For Orion it was only 1 platoon in the company at that time. It was a platoon of female regular soldiers beginning their army careers in BMT. For many of us, it was refreshing to see ladies in Tekong. No matter how much anyone denied it, seeing girls in a camp, made your adrenaline rush and your morale lifted. Just a boy thing. It was a memorable part of my BMT.
The other one is a different platoon. I don't know how to say or type this because everything is so sensitive these days. Back then, everything was more crude, direct and tougher. There was this platoon that never marched. We always have to march and sing from point to point. But there was this platoon. They never march. They just walk in steps. And they never sing. They just walked quietly. I cannot remember which company they were from but they were from School 1. All of them had this name card kind of badge that you buy in a primary school bookshop, pinned on their left breast pocket. It was a blue name card badge. Sometimes we manage to see them walk past us and I noticed the card says PES C something something.... I couldn't make it out. And also, I would say 85% of them were Malays. Shaufi and I would question each other wondering how come there is an "askar melayu" platoon and they just walk quietly. Almost mysteriously.
One day we got our answer. As we were eating lunch at the cookhouse, we saw the platoon walking towards the cookhouse. Since 85% of them were Malays, most of them would have to sit near us at the Muslim dining area. The whole lot of them sat at the table behind me and Shaufi and we heard them for the very 1st time. Apparently they were all effeminate soldiers. All of them placed together in a platoon. I have no idea how it works but all of them were effeminate. At that time, it felt kind of weird to us. We tried hard not to turn around and look but their conversations and effeminate way of speaking were audible.
5 CRITERIA TO PASS BMT
I have to share this too because I found out that this thing is now a thing of the past.
Back then, there were 5 criteria to pass in order for you to complete BMT. I heard it is no more the case now. Back then, if you don't pass one of the criteria, you would fail the BMT course and you have to recourse, ie. redo the whole BMT course with another batch of recruits. Now you don't have to. Even if you fail your any of these 5, you will still pass out from BMT and get posted to another unit.
Heck! No way any of us would want to recourse the whole BMT again. No way if it would be at Mohawk company. We had to pass these 5 things:
1. Route March. 8km. 16km. 24km. I missed the 16km route march due to being granted off to attend my poly graduation. So everyone who missed it, still had to go through it together and complete it. So we walked the whole of 16 kilometres in camp, around and around the parade square. I lost count how many rounds. I just walked. Saiful was the medic on that day. It should be a Saturday because Saiful sat there and kept saying to me, "Hurry up! I want to go home!"
2. Situational Test. This was fun. We were despatched in section level at the reclaimed land, south of Pulau Tekong to go complete this test. There were instructors from other units or companies to assess us as we were given missions to complete. The missions were like, casualty rescue, storming a building and stuff. This was fun.
3. Swimming. All of us have to be able to swim unassisted for 50 metres. I passed this test on my very 1st attempt. After that, I didn't have to attend any more swimming lessons. Only those who have yet to pass, had to go through the swimming lessons. The sergeants called these people "Divers". When it was swimming time, the sergeants would shout, "Divers! Fall in!"
4. Standard Obstacle Course. This one took me very long to pass. At that time it was a 700 metres run, clear 11 obstacles (i think) and then run 600 metres to the finish line below 10 minutes 45 seconds. It sounds easy to some, it was difficult for me. I had trouble running. The loose SBO didn't help either. Same thing like swimming, those who passed it, didn't have to attempt it anymore. I think I had to go through all of it before I finally passed during the last attempt.
5. IPPT. I mentioned this in the last post. There were 5 stations and you have to pass all 5 stations to complete IPPT. I remember seeing 2 of my bunkmates who stayed back in bunk as we left Mohawk company after we passed out from BMT because they didn't pass just the IPPT. Thus they didn't complete their required 5 compulsory criteria. One of them could only do 5 pull ups and he had to recourse the whole BMT. Just because he was short of 1 pull up. The other, same thing, passed every single thing but failed at standing broad jump. Just that one. He too had to recourse the whole BMT. I was honestly very sad for them when I left. So sad I can remember their faces when they said goodbye to us. And now, you don't even have to pass your IPPT to pass out from BMT. You don't need to pass SOC. Every one of the 5 criteria mentioned, you just have to attempt them and you're done. Such unfairness.
WHERE DID I WANT TO BE POSTED TO
As BMT slowly came to an end and we could smell freedom from Mohawk, we started to have interviews with our Platoon Commanders. I told you I hated all my instructors. Including my platoon commander. I remember his face, I cannot remember his name. During the interview, he would look at our performance records and stuff. He would also ask us, where we wanted to be posted to after BMT.
I didn't have much knowledge of the army at that time. I didn't know my options. I only knew, I wanted to be posted in to a unit where there would be some meaning to my life. Yes, the army taught us how to use the M16, but how relevant is that in our civilian life or even as a person? At least post me to a unit where there would be beneficial learning points and skills that I can apply my whole life.
I said I wanted to be posted to the police force as a National Service Police Inspector. He just brushed me off with "Next..". I said I wanted to join the Music and Drama Company. He asked, "Are you gay?" I said, "No." He said, "Next." Lastly I said I wanted to be a driver. At least a driving license is beneficial for my life. He said, "Ok that's all. Call the next person in." I didn't get any of the vocations I asked for.
FINAL WEEK OF BMT
It was finally here. Like I said before, I don't see the point of BMT passing out parade and the hoo ha that comes with it. They always make it sound like it was a big accomplishment. I just want to pass out and leave Mohawk company. Leave Pulau Tekong.
We had rehearsals for our passing out parade with all the graduating companies. We had a games day which I don't remember what sports were available. I only remember I played football.
And then of course we had our 24 kilometres route march. How route marches work is, we walk for 4km within 45 minutes and then rest for 15 minutes. So in all, a 24km route march would take, ideally, 6 hours. Like I said, I am beginning to forget details. I cannot remember if our march was in the night or in the day. I only know that, the march ended at the main parade square where our parents were already waiting for our march in.
And then, that's it. BMT is done. Let's get out of this island now please. The difference then was that, we did not receive our posting results before we pass out. All we know was, we can leave the island for a week, courtesy of our leave. Yes it was a block leave. We would then come back to Mohawk company line the following Monday where they will announce our posting results to everyone. I just wanted to leave Pulau Tekong and Mohawk very badly. I prayed hard that the coming Monday would be the last time I set foot there.
Goodbye Mohawk. Good riddance. Goodbye Pulau Tekong. It was fun while it lasted.
Categories : The Army Series
PHYSICAL TRAINING PHASE
Far far away in the south china sea
I left a girl with tears in her eyes
I must go where the brave men dies
My first sleep in Pulau Tekong was surprisingly peaceful. I thought I would have trouble sleeping. But no. The weather was cooling. The fan whirring. Maybe also because lights off was at 2230hrs. So it was good timing for me.
A soldier has to fight the front because he love his land
A soldier has to fight even if he has to die
Cos we are the one who fight the front
We were told that there would be mosquitoes. We were also given malaria pills. We had to sleep under the mosquito net. So I didn't have to fight anything. I was just fighting my own images in my head. A few times I woke up thinking that this was all a nightmare and I will wake up at home. But no, I kept waking up at the same bed. Bed 10.
We are the one who hold the gun
We are mighty warriors of our land yaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!
Alarm clock rang at 0515hours. I used a brand new old fashioned analog clock to set my alarm. The instructions the previous night was,
Fall in 0545 hours
Breakfast 0600 hours
It was my 1st morning there and I didn't want to be late. I didn't want to rush for the toilets also. I wanted to brush my teeth and take a bath in peace before anyone else. Plus, I was adapting with the shower cubicles being doorless. It felt weird to me.
But apparently I didn't have to rush. After I finished bathing, I realised no one else went to the toilet. They just sat there, stoned and then went down to fall in at 0545. So no one bathed. Ok. So it's like that. That's good then. We marched on to the cookhouse for our breakfast.
Everywhere we go, we had to march or walk in steps. I really don't like the regimental way of life. I mean it is good to maintain discipline and order. What I hate is, the superiors screaming and shouting at us. They behave like they have been through 25 world wars and that we are all insects and we need their screaming to survive. The 25 world wars experiences justified their capabilities of being the best soldiers on the planet and we are supposed to look up and respect them.
But heck no. The sergeants and officers were at most, 1 year older than me, meaning 1 year more NS experience than us. If you read my previous blog posts, I am naturally confrontational. Anyone screaming in my face, my 1st reaction would be to punch his teeth. But I cannot do that here, else you could be charged for insurbodination. So yeah, to me these instructors are just rude, obnoxious and arrogant. There was a platoon commander in my company. He knew who I am. He was in the same madrasah as me. He didn't even look at me. Just plain rude and arrogant. But humans are like that. Ranks and authority make one arrogant.
And that was what I was fighting with. Arrogant superiors. They didn't make me enjoy the moments. Really. The activities were all fun. I looked at the timetable and I was looking forward for the activities. And I would be there for 16 weeks.
Why 16 weeks?
I had to go through 6 weeks of "Physical Training Phase" (PTP) before I start with my 10 weeks of Basic Military Training (BMT). The sergeants told me that for Mohawk company, it would be an "Enhanced PTP". I had no idea what it meant. I only knew I had to go for that 6 weeks of PTP before BMT. This is because I did not pass my IPPT in poly. So those who didn't pass would have to go through 6 weeks of physical training. It is not an "extra" 6 weeks. It's just a phase. We will still have to serve 2 and a half years of NS. Yes. It was 2.5 years then. Unlike just 2 years now.
So these 6 weeks, we would be trained on our physical fitness. On week 4, we will have to do an IPPT test. If we pass the test, we can get a "disruption". Meaning we can go home and come back 2 weeks later for BMT. If we don't pass on week 4, we will have another test on week 5. Pass that one and we can go home for 1 week.
I didn't think I would pass. I cannot run. I was given a yellow tag to be worn everywhere I go, to indicate that I am a "weak runner". Yes. Any of my RP students reading this. I am a weak runner. So I cannot see any excuse why any of you who are so much younger than me would run slower than me.
As I said, the activities, on paper, were fun. It was, sleep, wake up, breakfast, exercise, lunch, exercise, dinner, cool down, sleep. There were other routines also such as area cleaning and inspection after breakfast. Yes we cleaned the bunks, corridors and toilets ourselves. There were no external workers to do them at that time. I heard there are Bangladeshi cleaner in camps now. Also there were the hourly water parades where we had to gulp down 500ml of water every hour. It took us a few days to get adapted to the water intake and constant peeing, but once our body got used to it, we didn't pee much.
We perspire. The exercises. I told you they look fun on paper. It was, supposed to be, static stations, fartlakes, sprints, swimmings, gym, partner resistance exercises. Awesome right? It could have been productive. But... all the sessions. ALL the sessions were mostly taken up by punishments. For example, a 2 hour swimming session, we will spend 1.5 hours doing punishments instead of the actual swim itself. Push ups, sit ups, run here, run there, hold push up positions, hold sit up positions, hold planking positions. I find the Physical Training Instructors (PTI) seem to have a kick in punishing us than doing their jobs of training us. If punishing is part of their idea of physical training, then a 40 year old me now would say, they were definitely ineffective and time wasting. Instead of lifting weights half of our body weight in the gym, we spent more time holding 1/4 of our weight doing push ups. Definitely ineffective. Instead of doing long runs, we spent more time sprinting to trees and touching them and coming back to push up positions. Yes, thats what we did for the whole of 6 weeks. It was the most inefficient PTP ever. I don't know how other PTP in other companies were like but, they were definitely ineffective.
Saturday, 24th June 2000
Parents' visiting day. My parents came over and brought me snacks, some food and essentials. I haven't book out yet, so they had to bring for me some extra soap and powder and stuff. They were there from morning and left after lunch.
After our parents left, the sergeants told us to put on the table everything our parents brought. Everyone of us did. Most of it were food. The sergeants took all the food and placed them black trash bags and threw them. I was very very angry. Those were food. Not some contraband stuff. If it was not for insurbodination, I really would beat every sergeant there to pulp. Really. I was very angry. Then I realised that Mohawk company was a "tekan" company. With arrogant instructors and non-stop punishment. Because after we threw away the food, we were told to go downstairs for our routine punishment. We were punished because our parents gave us food. And that was when I saw, while in push up positions, the recruits in the other companies, namely Ninja company which was just beside us, were sitting and looking at us while eating food brought to them by their parents. I realised, Mohawk is different. I need to get out of here. I better pass my IPPT and take every chance of leaving.
Saturday 1st July 2000
My 1st book out day. I was in Tekong for a good almost full 3 weeks before I was allowed out. Yes. A Saturday. NS during that time was a 5.5 days work week. Meaning, we booked out at about 2pm on Saturday and book in back to Pasir Ris Interchange at 8pm on Sunday. Mcdonalds tasted so good. Book out felt so short.
We reached week 4. Remember I told you that the tekan sessions were not effective? Yes it was proven here. The tekans were all just to boost the instructors ego. Many of us did not pass our week 4 IPPT. Like, 85% of us did not pass after 4 weeks. Neither did I. I was frustrated. Yes we did get a bit fitter than when we 1st came, but we could have been better if the training sessions were better utilised.
IPPT then had 5 stations. Sit ups. Shuttle run. Standing Broad Jump. Pull ups. 2.4km run. Let me give you
My score / Minimum passing score
Sit ups 42 / 31
Shuttle Run 9.5s / 10.7s
SBJ 225cm / 216cm
Pull ups 0 / 6
2.4km run 12min 40sec / 12:20
I failed my 2.4 and pull ups. 4 weeks and I cannot even do 1 pull up. You know what I did? I observed how people did pull ups and looked at the muscle groups used. The push up punishment didn't help. It worked the pectorals and hurt the shoulders and triceps. But we need to use our triceps and shoulders to do pull ups. I sat down and think what exercises could strengthen the triceps and shoulders. Guess what? I did DIPS. Yes. I made a point to do 100 dips a day until the next IPPT in week 5. 100 to be spread out throughout the day. 20 dips repetition each time. So I did 5 sets of 20 reps per day.
IPPT week 5
Sit ups 42 / 31
Shuttle Run 9.5s / 10.7s
SBJ 225cm / 216cm
Pull ups 6 / 6
2.4km run 12min 07sec / 12:20
I managed to do 6 pull ups in 1 week. Compared to zero pull ups in 4 weeks. Can you see how inefficient the training were? The sergeants asked me how I did it. I told them. 100 dips a day.
I passed and off I go back to the mainland. Disrupt for 1 week. I will still be back at Mohawk though, but it is still a precious 1 week off the island.
As I marched off the company line with the recruits, with the odd maybe 14 recruits; who passed in week 5, towards the ferry terminal, I saw the whole Mohawk company at the training shed in front of our company line, doing dips with the sergeants.
Enjoy the dips people. I'll see you again in a week!
Categories : The Army Series
So here, we go. The army series blog. This blog is supposed to be an “Arts” blog but since there is nothing much happening during this period and I really have nothing much to do, I shall blog about something else. I have always wanted to write about my army experiences before my memory fails, so I guess this could be a good time. Also from an encouraging response from 33 persons out of 110 viewers out of 313 followers on Instagram, I’ve decided that it is a good time.
I spent quite some time jotting down notes and arranging my thoughts on how to arrange this series. I hope it will be easy enough to be read and in some logical order. I really hope I won’t get into trouble writing all these down. I hope the pictures will all be safe for viewing. Of course I will omit some things that has happened which we all know can never be made public. Maybe you can meet me and ask, but generally I am a boring person so there won’t be much interesting things to share and also I have trust issues about sharing some things with people. But the main point is, I really want to write all these down before my memory fails. Already I have forgotten some details, so I better start as soon as possible.
We’ll start with enlistment day and the months after. Well technically it is not my 1st day because about 6 months before this, I had to go for a medical check up and IQ test. Got a PES A status. To be honest I was quite proud/happy with my status, meaning I am fit and healthy but also quite disappointed because it means there will be possibilities that I will be posted into tough units. I was hoping for some slack vocations. As for the IQ test, everyone else in the room just breezed through the test, like pressing “Enter” button incessantly and getting the test done quickly. I actually enjoyed the test and really took time to to calculate, formulate the questions before answering. I kept asking for extra papers for me to draw out the questions and formula. I was just actually enjoying myself. Many years later, I believed the tests did actually pre-decided my vocation.
So, enlistment day, Tuesday 13th June year 2000AD. Almost 20 years ago. I wasn’t ready. I am sure there would be people who are excited and all, but I wasn’t. A few days before that, I received my 1st army salary. $240 for a recruit. I used them to buy stuff for enlistment. Most memorable was $80 for a spare battery that was supposedly could last me for 2 weeks for my Nokia 6150 handphone. I wasn’t a rich kid, but not many people had handphones. I was one of the very few who had one. The phone wasn’t expensive really. I think it cost about $50 at that time. It was the plan that was expensive. I think it was 5cents per sms of 120 characters and 10cents per minute of talk time. That was expensive. $1 to talk for 10 minutes as compared to 10cents for 3 minutes on a public phone. We were also told that we can bring handphones to camp but we cannot charge them from the power sockets. I have no idea why. The other recruits just say that Pulau Tekong power supply is not enough to support everyone’s charging. So the spare battery made sense to me.
My parents accompanied me. We reached Pasir Ris Bus Interchange at about 8am, I think, I forgot (see i am forgetting and it annoys me), but definitely early morning. We then took a bus from the interchange heading towards SAF Ferry Terminal at Changi. My then girlfriend waved me off from the interchange when I was in the bus. She couldn’t follow. It was a sucky feeling. I still can feel that feeling every time I set foot at Pasir Ris Interchange. At that time, there were 2 Basic Military Centres. 1 in Pulau Tekong and the other at Nee Soon Camp. Of course I preferred to be at Nee Soon. Not only was it nearby to my place, but also because it is on the mainland. I had to be sent to Pulau Tekong. Why such a desolated place? Why not Nee Soon? I heard, Nee Soon camp allowed enlistees to charge handphones.
We reached SAF Ferry terminal after about 10 minutes bus ride. Board a ferry that looks like a ferry to Batam (I realised the ferries are the same ferries to Batam! Penguin ferry company) and said goodbye to mainland Singapore. It was another 10 minutes ride on the ferry. I was very anxious and nervous. I played them all down because I thought everyone would feel the same. Only recently I found out I may be having a condition (will get a diagnosis after the circuit breaker period) that causes anxiety to travelling and changes in routines. The island, Pulau Tekong, look so near from Singapore’s mainland, but the funny thing is, Singapore looked so far away from Pulau Tekong.
Arrived at Pulau Tekong Basic Military Centre. Did the same thing as everyone else now. Go through the administration stuff, go on a tour, take the oath and so forth. The only thing different then from now is, we were given a “Welcome Package”. It was really a cute paper bag given by a very civil servant auntie who looked jaded. The paper bag contained our NS Identification card (called 11B), it had a chip planted which I had no use of and no one had any idea what it was for. (The current 11B issued does not have the chip anymore.) Legend says it that you can put money into the card and use it as cashcard for payments like ERP, library fines and the army “Emart” stores. The paper bag also included administration papers like my details and my BMT assignment, a pincode for the 11B (which I assumed it is for the chip that we never use, thus I don’t remember the pincode) and a phonecard. I cannot remember how much was the value in the phonecard. Maybe $2? Good thing I brought spare battery for my handphone.
Notice that cashcard looking chip. I had an annoyed face because prior to the phototaking, I had below shoulder length hair. And then I had it cut to shoulder length to take my final exams. Any male student with hair length longer than shoulder length would not be allowed to enter the exam hall. And then the day before my medical check up, where they took this photo, I cut my hair myself to above collar level because it was stated in the instructions that hair longer than collar level and can be seen from front profile will not be allowed to enter Central Manpower Base (CMPB) for checkup. I was annoyed because upon reaching, I saw a lot of students with long hair! And when they took their photos, they tied up their hair and tucked them inside their collar. I was so so annoyed.
After all that, we had our “final meal” with our parents at the cookhouse. It was said, that the food will only be nice when there are visitors to the centre. Once the visitors leave, the food will go back to being terrible. In all honesty, the food was nice. Very nice indeed. Western fried chicken with fragrant rice, mushroom soup, vegetables, apple. It was nice. But I didn’t feel like eating because it was a sucky day. And the talks that the food won’t be nice after the visitors leave, it was partially true. It would just be normal rice with meat, fish, soup, vegetables and fruits with occasional ice cream. BUT… in retrospect, it was because we were all choosy, spoiled youths. Thinking about it now, the food is actually great. Low calorie meals with the correct proportions. Very healthy. And the drinks are free flow. I would pay to eat them everyday now. Really. But at that time, everything sucks.
My parents left and off I marched with the rest of the enlistees to our various companies. I was assigned to Basic Military Centre School 2, Mohawk Company, Platoon 2, Section 4, Bed 10. I figured out that the arrangements were based on the enlistees birthdates. The oldest person would be assigned to platoon 1 section 1 bed 1, while the youngest would be in platoon 4 section 4 bed 12. So you can do your math and calculate how many enlistees were there in one / the company. Never mind, I help a bit. 1 company = 4 platoons. 1 platoon = 4 sections. 1 section = 12 beds.
I also found out that I was in a polytechnic enlistees batch. It made sense of course as we all just finished our year 3. I think there were about 8 companies enlisted that day and the enlistees were generally polytechnic students. They called it the “Poly Batch”. At that time, polytechnics’ academic year arrangement was like “July to November” for semester 1 and “January to May” for semester 2. We got enlisted on the 13th of June. That was like 13 days after I completed semester 2. I haven’t even receive my exam results yet. I was kind of hoping I failed some subjects and go back to school. Which I didn’t. I passed all. But we definitely have to go back to school one day to attend graduation.
Just some how, almost all my polytechnic friends were assigned to the police force. Only a few were assigned to the army and their enlistment day would be in July or August. I was kind of sad as I was hoping we would all be at the same place together. But there were a few people I know who were enlisted on the same day with me. Some secondary school friends and madrasah friends whom i haven’t met for very long. They were all in other companies. Mohawk company was a Ngee Ann Polytechnic company. 95% of the people there were from NP. There were only 4 persons from TP. Faizal Khan, an acquaintance in the Malay Cultural Society (MCS). He was in platoon 1. Shaufi, a good friend of mine from MCS as well was in the same platoon as me, in section 1. And Wan. I have no idea what is his real full name. There were too many “Wan”s in TP at that time so we had to give them nicknames. Wan Ching Chong is a friend of mine from School of IT but not the same course. He was from Diploma in IT. He was in platoon 4.
The first day in the army. We collected our army stuff, checked them, and checked in into Mohawk Company. Got to our beds and lockers and was told to change to T Shirt, shorts, white socks and running shoes. This attire is called, the “Admin Attire”. We got into our admin attire and then sat at the corridor near the staircase landing where we were introduced to our section commanders and platoon sergeants and to get more administration done. I was terribly disheartened. My only relief was looking at the only familiar face of Shaufi and that we are in this together. I cannot remember the names of my sergeants and officers. I told you I have started to forget details. But I remember my platoon sergeant’s first few words.
“You have no choice. You are already here. Might as well enjoy it.”
Categories : The Army Series
Web logs of art activities on a regular basis (hope).