TOPOGRAPHY AND MISSION EXERCISE
Exercise Crescendo is just 2 weeks! 2 Weeks! So the morale is a bit high for me. It is better than 3 weeks in Australia and Taiwan. In my mind, even if we cock up our missions or whatever, we still have to catch a flight home. There won't be any "Charlie Mike"; the dreaded call sign for "Carry on Mission."
Just like previous overseas exercises, we will start with topography exercise first. I think I was already transferred to platoon 9 by now. Yes I did. My HQ and GPMG team tagged with section 2 for the topography exercise. I think it was only a few days, maybe 3 days in the forest. Well not actually forest, it was more of like open nature area of shrubs and bushes and random trees. It was very hot, dry, dusty and the view was always pale brown. Very much like the movie Ong Bak Muay Thai Warrior. That movie should be on Netflix. It is one of my favourite movies.
Since the vegetation is sparse, the topography was not that difficult. We could see the surroundings and the grounds and the hills clearly. It was quite easy to navigate. When it got too hot in the day, we waited and walked in the evening. Even at night, the area was clear to walk. We used the opportunity to test our star navigation skills. The Orion belt was our constant guide. Remember, we had no GPS then. It was pure map reading and pace counting. And since it was dry, there was no worry of rain so we just slept in the open under the skies and stars.
Since it was our first time there, we didn't bring much money with us. We didn't think we should. We just brought some emergency cash. Apparently the training area was notorious for its "Ninja Van". It is not a bad thing really. Even though we were told not to interact with them but, we just did. They were also nice, so if we said we didn't want anything, they would not pester and drive away.
What are these "Ninja Vans"? They are vans that zoomed around the army training area, filled with snacks drinks cigarettes and even meals. They would pass by us and asked what we want. They would open the vans and showed us what they have. With just combat rations in our bags, these simple snacks looked so so delicious. But we didn't have money. But....... on the last day of topography, we used our emergency cash to buy instant noodles since the trucks will take us back to the camp anyway and we won't have to use the cash. Imagine this, we were in the forest, a van came up and asked what we want, we looked through our emergency cash, we said we want instant noodles, The took out their portable gas stove, a wok and cooked us the yummiest instant noodle we have ever eaten. Right there in the middle of the forest. I can remember the taste until today. I have no idea what flavour it was. It was just yummy. 3 days in the forest with combat rations, constant temptations by the vans, it was a satisfying treat to end the exercise.
I cannot remember if it was a battalion mission exercise or a company mission exercise. All I remember was, we better bring more money this time. Hahahaha!
We were not disappointed. The ninja vans were everywhere. It was not discreet anymore. And they brought their family along, wife, grandmother, children and all. I'm sure they have seen this often. I mean, they live there. So they would know that business would be better during mission exercises compared to topography exercises.
One thing I cannot forget. The hills were steep. High and steep.
I remember we charged up the hill and captured it during one mission. Luckily for us, we would have to capture the hill and stay there to defend it for a few days. At least we got to rest.
The charge up was painful because it was so steep. By the time we captured the hill, we just sat on the ground panting. What was funny to me was, we were very fit soldiers but had a hard time capturing the hill. Once we were done, we just sat down catching our breath. While we were charging up the hill, there were a number of children about 3 to 4 years old. Small children. They were in singlets and shorts and slippers. They just walked up the hill beside us while we were "fighting". They didn't disturb us. They just walked and watched. The moment we sat down. The moment they realised that our mission was completed, they approached us with plastic bags of cold canned drinks and said "drink.... drink.....". Basket. They were all fitter than us. Oh heck.... we didn't care. We bought the drinks of course.
I mentioned that after capturing the hill, we would stay there to "defend" it. I think we were there for a few days. So did the ninja vans. They just parked at the foot of the hill. Every now and then they will send children to sell drinks and snacks up the hill to us. Sometimes instant noodles too. Not too long after, we actually finished up our cash. I remember on our last day there, all of us were cashless already. The stuff weren't expensive but it shows how much of a good business happened on that hill. But the people there were nice. They know we ran out of cash and they never pestered. We just said we have no money already. Since it was the last day, we had friendly chats with the children. We even traded our combat rations for their snacks and drinks. They really loved our biscuits and fruit bars. So a number of did that. The children didn't mind. Their parents didn't mind either.
It was funny. Day one they would go around saying drinks drinks.... how much? 10 baht 20 baht etc....
Day 3, they came.... drinks drinks.... no more money... they held their hands and said.... biscuit biscuits....
Another experience that I couldn't forget.
I just got transferred to platoon 9. I was still trying to recognise all of them.
So the platoon had to defend this hill. It had a scenic view because the vegetation was sparse. Somehow there was this rock formation overlooking the road. It was a perfect defensive place and the rock formation was just perfect. It was like a trench with a path through it and a cover. I was so happy. It meant that I didn't have to dig my own trench. I just had to park myself there. It was perfect.
To prevent enemies from attacking our position, we would have to plant some booby traps and some kind of signals to warn us of their advance. So in front of my position, we set up a trip flare. You can google how trip flares work and look like. So basically if someone were to trip on a hidden wire, the flare will explode and brighten up the area like fireworks and we can see the enemy. Of course we would have to conceal the wire and the flare strategically. And of course also, the whole platoon would know the position of the flare and the wires. It wasn't just one booby trap. Traps were set up around the perimeter of our positions.
Then in the middle of the afternoon, a flare nearest to my position tripped. There was a pop and fireworks flaring. We were all like eh....??? It was broad daylight and we couldn't see the enemy. The vegetation was sparse remember? We definitely could see soldiers coming to our direction in the day. But there was none.
Then I hear the guys shouting... "Alamak! Must be Foo la!"
Platoon 9 had this thing. Whenever something goes wrong, they would blame it on this guy named Foo. I just joined the platoon so I didn't know how true it was. To me it was just funny.
And then, Foo really appeared around some bushes and said...."eh sorry sorry....I tripped the wire...."
Everyone burst out in noises "See la! Must be Foo!!" "Must be him one!" "Sergeant, it must be Foo." "Platoon 9 is like that one." "See! See! Confirm already. You better believe us".
It was funny. I thought they were joking. But here it really happened in front of my eyes. I mean, after that, not all mishaps were caused by him but significant number were. Enough for the whole platoon to stick with the phrase "Must be Foo!". So it was really funny.
Sorry Foo if you're reading this. At least it was something memorable for us to laugh as we grow old and reminisce.
Next week : Exercise Crescendo Part 3 / R & R
Categories: The Army Series
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