Ok part 2! So exciting. I better type all these down as soon as possible as I am slowly forgetting some things. Luckily I have photo albums of this trip, so it kind of remind me of the things that happened.
So we have settled down at Old Camp Growl. I don't remember if we had any topography exercise for this trip. If I remember correctly, the first week was our terrain familiarisation with platoon and company mission exercises.
I remember the terrain. It was like the desert that meets the tropical rainforest. There were trees. Quite sparse and the ground was either red sand or dried grass. We were there in November so it was summer. It was also the fasting month of Ramadhan. The sun rose at about 5am and set at 7:30pm. The days were slightly longer than the nights. It was very hot and dry in the day but it wasn't humid so it was ok. But we dried up quite quickly and we had to constantly hydrate ourselves. I think it was about 33 degrees. Yes 33 degrees is considered normal now, but in the early 2000s, it was considered hot. (At that time in Singapore, once it hit 32degrees, it would be considered Category 1 weather and all outdoor exercises would cease.) The nights were cool and dry. Maybe about 20 to 24 degrees.
I remember the whole company was out in the field for the first time. The sun was setting and we were on a non-tactical break on the open. The view was reddish. The soil was reddish. The ground was just earth and sand. What awed me was seeing kangaroos jumping in the distance. It was a very touristy advertisement view.
There was one exercise where my platoon was assaulting an objective. Usually when we were at a location near to our objective, a place called the “Form Up Place” (FUP), we would take off our bags and arrange them neatly before assaulting up the hill. So we did. Just like usual. We then assault up the objective. Once we were done, a group of us would go back to the FUP to collect the bags for the rest of the platoon who are at the objective.
So this particular day, myself, another sergeant named Colin and a number of us, went back downhill to collect the bags for our platoon. I think there were about 10 of us.
The vegetation was sparse. Every turn looked the same. Just trees and open spaces. Somehow, we couldn't find the bags. We spread around the area and yet we couldn't find them. We then tried to trace back our steps to the objective but we couldn't as well. Everywhere looked the same. Even though we followed our compass diligently. There was no GPS then for everyone at that time. It was pure compass and map. We walked and we searched and we couldn't find the bags, we couldn't trace back to the rest of the platoon on the objective. It was about 11am when we walked down to look for the bags. By 1pm, we realised, we were lost.
It was weird. How could we be lost? The trees were sparse. We followed our compass and the bags were not far away. And then we realised something. I had a compass. Colin had a compass. Our compass were not pointing towards the same direction! The needle kept changing directions. And there were a few times when our compass would just spin around and around.
Apparently the ground had magnetic waves that caused disturbance to our compass and we were officially lost. Some of the guys begin to dehydrate. I was really hoping they will not hallucinate. We tried to find our directions slowly by just gut feeling. It was hot and dry. Our compass keep spinning. We were dehydrating. We tried to keep our morale up. It was already about 4pm. 5 hours has passed. Once we saw a skeleton on the ground. Maybe a from a kangaroo. We joked that the kangaroo was lost too and soon it would be our skeletons there.
5pm. 6 hours has passed. Colin and I decided to stop walking. We need to rest and prevent ourselves from dehydrating and to ration whatever water we have left.
Somehow I didn't panic. I was worried but I didn't panic. I just feel that since 6 hours has passed, some people would realise that we were lost and look for us.
A few minutes later, as we were resting, 4 Light Strike Vehicles roared nearby. Colin and I shouted out to them. They soon came over and took all of us back to our objective. They were sent to look for us. Some of the guys were already flat out tired and dehydrated. I was grateful they found us but still I wasn't panicking. Weird. I was just like, yeay they found us. Another day in Australia has passed. One more day down before we can go home.
EXERCISE DARING FALCON
After a few days of company mission exercises. We went on to the battalion mission exercise called “Exercise Daring Falcon”. The previous exercises was to prepare us for this 5 days mission exercise.
It started off like another mission exercise that by now we are used to. The only difference was, the training area is huge. We got to ride helicopters everywhere. But the walking was far too. 10 to 15km every mission.
It was hot. It was tiring. The consolation was the pretty views from on top of the hills. It was really beautiful. But it was physically challenging. One by one, people started falling out from fatigue. The most serious casualty at that time happened to a buddy, Nurizam. A tree branch fell on him, knocked him out, bled from the ear and nose. Sent to a medical centre or a hospital. I didn't see it happen. I only heard about it.
One day, it was my turn. I fell out. Fatigued and dehydrated. They sent me back to Old Camp Growl to rest. Back in camp I saw all the others who fell out. And I saw Nurizam. My first question was, “The nurse pretty or not?” He laughed. “Everyone asked me about the nurses!”
So that was my Exercise Daring Falcon. 2 days in the field and back in camp. Together with those who have fallen out of the exercise.
OLD CAMP GROWL
Well, you might think it was relaxing to be back in camp. I cannot deny. It was. I was glad to be able to lie down back on my safari bed. But.... it was boring. I am not complaining. I'm just stating the fact.
There was nothing in camp. It's just you, the people, the tent, the portable toilet and the canteen. The cookhouse was closed as everyone was out in the field. We had to eat our combat rations still. Everyone knows combat rations are not nice but we ate them anyway. But yes.... we just chatted and looked at each other. We were also always hungry and the rations soon finished.
Nurizam and I made a checkers board from cardboard and we played using pebbles. I had a book with me but I soon finished it. So yes. It was just boring.
The canteen was open though. Sometimes Nurizam and I would buy milk or vanilla coke. The milk in Australia was cheap but we didn't drink much as it doesn't quench our thirst in the hot weather. That was also the first time we saw vanilla coke. There was no vanilla coke in Singapore then and we enjoyed it. It was nice. Those were the only things we bought from the canteen.
There were food too but we didn't buy any as they were all meat. We were not sure if they were halal. The other guys, once sick of the combat rations were eating steak and meat sandwiches and chicken. Nurizam and I would just look and continued eating our combat rations, rewarding ourselves with Maggi noodles for dinner.
One day, we really got sick of the rations. Nurizam and I looked at each other. We asked ourselves, should we just get something from the canteen? But it wasn't halal. Ok then... let's just eat the chicken. Just one. Just.... one. There was this “Chicken Satay” at the canteen. It was huge. It was like a subway 6 inch bread on a stick but just pure chicken. Yes that huge for 1 stick. We thought, maybe we can just get 1 stick and share between the 2 of us. It may not be halal but at least it was chicken and let's just eat one stick. Just one stick. Just one to get our tastebuds away from the combat rations.
So we did. We bought a stick and shared. It tasted ok. It wasn't the best food we have ever eaten but it was heaven at that time. Just one stick and we savoured. With a can of vanilla coke. It was the best meal in Australia so far. But that's all. Just one stick and then we felt sinful for the rest of the days.
After the set of days, the exercise ended and the rest of the battalion returned back to camp. We welcomed them back. They were envious as we had a lot of rest days. We told them it was boring and the days were very long. But still, we were not complaining.
We were happy that they are back because it means the cookhouse will be open again and we could have proper food at last.
That evening, on the day that they came back to camp, we had a “Happy Hour”. The army always have happy hour to celebrate the end of some exercises or events. There would be a talk by the commanders and followed by free flow meals and beer. I was just looking forward for the meals. I badly need a proper meal, away from the rations.
So there was a short talk by the commanders congratulating us for completing the exercise. After that, we were all led to the eating area where we could eat our hearts out. There was the halal food buffet and the non halal food buffet.
We went to the halal side. Nurizam and I let the soldiers who completed the exercise to have their meals first and we would take our part later. Guess what we saw? Chicken Sate. Stacks of them. Free flow and never ending stacks of chicken sate. Of course with other food types. Nurizam and I looked at each other... So they were halal all these while after all????
NEXT WEEK : EXERCISE WALLABY 2001 (PART 3)
Categories : The Army Series
Web logs of art activities on a regular basis (hope).