This is going to be a pretty short post. Simply because I cannot remember much about the event. Why? Because it is about Exercise Warrior. One of the dreaded exercise in SAF among many others.
Exercise Warrior was (I think it's shorter now.) a 9 day mission exercise. 9 days in the jungle. Something that none of us has ever been through. Imagine 9 days with minimal rest, mission after mission on Taiwanese terrain. It is already hard to survive 5 days of office hour work, that too with proper 8 hours sleep every night yet by Wednesday we will already be dreading the week. This is 9 days doing something we were trained to do but not something that comes naturally in our daily civilian life. Somewhere between the 4th day, my mind and body was already on auto-pilot mode and I could not remember anything. It was just, weary bodies, sleepy eyes and brains going on auto-pilot, mission after mission.
It was particularly dreading because army missions are confusing to me. They try to make it as systematic as possible but the terrain, time and fatigue always make it difficult. And also, the idea of 9 days in the jungle. 9 days of combat ration. I wonder how we were going to clear our bowels.
But... but.... on the 4th or 5th day, we would be having a “technical break”. So I guess, that was something we could all look forward to. More on the “technical break” later in this post.
Day 1, we moved off to the training area sometime after lunch. Well technically that was already half day gone so I was grateful. I was assigned to be the section commander for the first mission. Honestly I didn't know that the “mission” has already started once we moved off from camp.
We reached the training area in the late afternoon and our platoon proceeded to “harbour” in a particular area. Harbour means, we will settle at the area for the night with routine alert and sentry duties, protecting the area and protecting ourselves. We were all positioned by our platoon commander and my position overlooked a hill slope with a wonderful view of the mountains. We were all assigned individual positions quite a distant from the next man. So we were pretty much alone the whole night.
Yes, a whole night alone in the cold winter Taiwan hills. I had my jacket and gloves on, blanketing myself with my sleeping bag but it was really cold. It wasn't freezing cold but cold enough for a boy from the tropics. Sometime around midnight, our platoon sergeant walked to everyone of us individually to check that we were all ok and reminded us to keep warm. He told us that it is very important because somehow, that night, the weather was colder than normal. It was 9 degrees celsius.
I couldn't take it but I endured. Then I remembered, I brought this ointment from home. It was called “Minyak Hijau” or green oil. It's an ointment for muscle aches but I remember at that time maybe I can use it because it gives off a heaty effect. Like tiger balm oil or salonpas. But much hotter.
So in the dark, in the cold, I looked for the oil. I took off my jacket, unbuttoned my shirt and pants so that I can apply the ointment on my body and especially legs. Unscrewed the bottle and then there was this rubber stopper beneath the cap. It is especially hard to dislodge that rubber cap when it is a new bottle. So I tried and tried, getting colder as I took more time. And then..... it came off with a pop and I spilled the oil onto my stomach, groin and legs. I looked in horror as half of the bottle has spilt. At first it was a horror of wastage, and then it was a horror of the heat creeping in. 5 minutes ago I was shivering in the cold. Now I was biting my lips and clenching my teeth to fight the heat. It was funny as since I was alone, I took off my uniform and lowered my pants to allow the cold Taiwan night weather to cool me down. Somehow it tire me out and i put my clothes, and jacket on and fell asleep all the way till morning when someone woke me up. They told me there was an earthquake that night and I slept through it. I was quite disappointed not to be able to feel and experience the quake.
Next morning, we moved off for our first attack. As I said before, I thought the mission started then. We will have a briefing and all. But no, the mission started when we moved off from camp. None of my section mates know our roles or tactics because I didn't brief them. I really thought we were going to do it then. My PC was very angry and we got scared. I told him I will brief them along the go. Shitty thing was, my section was the point section meaning I had to lead the whole platoon to the assault area. It was very stressful navigating the walk that I didn't plan for. I will not forget this. It was very very stressful. It's not like we were walking along a Singapore's nature reserve park connector. This was in a foreign country and I had no idea where we were and where we were going.
Maybe it was the stress of walking up and down the line of soldiers briefing them on their tasks yet at the same time navigating the route, my legs failed for the first (luckily the only) time in my life. I could still walk but somehow I could not climb. Every slope, my legs just could not push my body up. It was a strange feeling not to be able to feel your legs pushing you uphill. I kept falling and dropping that the people behind me had to push me up every time. It was weird because I knew my body was not tired (yet). I just could not feel my legs.
Anyway the mission went on and we completed it. I was screaming orders to my men during the attack and the reorganisation after the attack. My PC said I was a “garang” commander. But really in my head then was, I was tired pulling my legs along the walk and I wanted to get this mission over and done with. I had no sense of belonging towards the mission at all. It was just fatigue and please get it done as soon as possible. That was my only mission as a section commander for Exercise Warrior because everyone of us will take turn to lead a mission each. I guess, leading the first mission would be better than the last mission.
After that, it was all blank. Auto-pilot.
I actually took like a 30 minutes break after the last sentence to see if I can remember anything. Yup. Nothing. It was all blank.
And then on the 4th day, we had a “technical break”.
A technical break in the army is when all of us have a real break. A tactical break means we will all still be in soldier mode with routined sentry and watch duties while others take a break. But a technical break means we don't have to be in tactical mode at all.
So it was a half day technical break. Something that we all looked forward to. On this day we changed our clothes, had powder baths, cleaned the camo from our faces. Some brought facial wash. Best thing was, we had packed meals. Though it was still camp food, but it was still nice fresh cooked meals. We had fruits and some chocolates. And also, we were told that the exercise will be cut short from 9 days to 8 days. Just one day but it was good enough for us. I cannot remember why though. I heard it was due to some typhoon warning or earthquake or just simply administrative matters.
We also took this time to rest our legs, chatted, a short nap and took photos.
We rested for half a day at this place. It was an orange plantation with some bamboo vegetation. We have no idea who the owner of the plantation is. When we came to the place, the trees were full of oranges. But when we left...... I don't think I can say much but technical break had sweet memories.
After that, it was blank again. I cannot remember anything. I do remember some faces in my head though. Exercise Warrior was the last exercise of our stint in SISPEC. This was the final opportunity for people to “shine and show their potential”. At the end the whole course, there will be a presentation to the outstanding trainee. Notable trainee will be given the “Silver Bayonet Award” while the top trainee will be given the “Gold Bayonet”. Personally I did not bother about all these. I just want to get NS done quickly without any baggages or extra duties. But there were people who were really into this and tried very hard to impress. It was so weird. The “wayang” was too obvious that it became quite yucky to see. But that's how things work in this world right?
And that is all that I can remember. I don't even remember when we got back to Puwei Camp or what we did. I guess it was all administrative stuff. Clean up and rest and more cleaning and getting ready to leave the camp. Oh now that I said it, I remember people buying street food from vendors outside the camp. It was funny. They couldn't see the vendors behind the wall. But they just shout out the order. In Mandarin. Then they would throw the money over the wall which was about only 3 metres high and the vendor would then throw the food over the wall to the guy within the camp walls. I don't know what they ordered. Looked like some fried snacks.
Yes that is pretty much it.
Next week : R & R
Web logs of art activities on a regular basis (hope).