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
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