I was originally thinking of titling this post, “Green Is Not My Colour.” It was supposed to be a ‘finale’ post consisting of a recap and reflection on my two years of National Service.
But having had time to think and let all the thoughts evolve and feelings sink in, I think a positive spin on this post would be to recognise all my mini triumphs along the way. Victories that may seem ordinary to someone else – but were extraordinary to me – thus not warranting any real celebration.
National Service has been a cause of worry for as long as I can remember.
I even felt nervous watching Army Daze for the first time when I was in secondary school. It was a good movie but it made the whole idea of me having to go through what the characters in the movie are going through all the more ‘real.’
I would pass by certain army camps on the bus to school every morning. And the obstacle course at one of these camps always intimidated me. The balancing beams in particular, looked extremely narrow and high. But I would comfort myself with the fact that I had at least another five years before it was my turn.
Before I knew it, it was time for me to take a physical fitness test – the one that would determine my level of fitness for when I did enlist – in my third year of Polytechnic. And I dreaded it. How would I possibly do well enough to reduce the duration of my service by two months without any physical training in school – it is not like I had been exercising in my own time either.
So predictably, I was not ready when I read my enlistment letter.
Now, from this point on, I have written about the people and situations I have encountered in posts over the past two years. But I feel like what I am about to write now, are the things I failed to acknowledge.
Things that I probably have not even told my family and friends about because they did not seem worthy of mentioning in the midst of everything else that was happening and everything else that I was feeling.
So here we go…
The Basic Military Training (BMT) Victories
- Being comfortable half-naked.
For someone who was not comfortable being shirtless in front of anyone else, walking to and back from the shower fully clothed all the time would be ideal. But when everyone’s rushing, it’s not practical.
People would expect you to come out of the shower in a towel as soon as you are done because we did not have the luxury of time.
So as much as I changed in bunk and walked to and from the shower in a towel just like everyone else, it was something that took me time to be comfortable doing.
Even after BMT, as much as I got used to being half-naked in different environments, in front of different people, I would still always try to change or put something on quickly.
As much as I realised no one really cared about how my body looked, there were a time or two where someone felt the need to drop a comment. It might not have been malicious but it still made me feel more self-conscious.
Regardless, I would say I am a lot more comfortable and happy with my body than I once was. And that makes me happy.
2. Conquering Obstacles… Literally.
Now, almost everyone has done the Standard Obstacle Course (SOC) as part of their Basic Military Training.
I told myself to look at the obstacle course like something I have seen on Survivor or Big Brother. And that helped with like 10 out of 12 of the obstacles. Even the low rope which is something I could not do was not something I feared trying.
It was the balancing beams and apex ladder that literally had me shaking.
My fear of heights coupled with my terrible balance made it really difficult for me to take on both obstacles.
Climbing up the slope to the balancing beams was always a struggle. I was told to trust the grooves of my boot to lock onto these tiny rubber pads on the slope but I would end up dropping off to the sides either by losing balance or in fear of going any higher. When I did get to the top of the slope, taking that step onto the beams – the actual obstacle – seemed impossible. I would use my hands to support me – which was ‘wrong’ since we were supposed to be holding our rifle with both hands – and take it one step at a time on the beams.
Similarly taking that step over from the ‘up side’ to the ‘down side’ of the apex ladder was scary. I remember being stuck at the top for quite sometime. Every time I tried to move my foot over to the other side, it would return to its original position. I was up there long enough to feel my legs literally shaking like jelly. I would once again use my hands to support me – still ‘wrong’ – and slowly walk down the ‘down side.’
For both of those obstacles, the Sergeants or Instructors would either let me pass (because I already took so long and was holding up people) or get me to do it over again (only for me to end up doing them the ‘wrong’ way again.)
So even though I may never have officially completed the whole obstacle course, it feels like a victory to me because it has been something I have feared since I was really young.
- Doing my own thing: Pt. 1.
This is one victory that recurs throughout most of my NS journey – because it would have been way easier if I caved in and did what everyone else was doing to fit in.
At that point it included things like playing Pokemon Go and being more involved in bunk banter and conversations. But I got frustrated, early on, by the herd mentality that most people around me demonstrated – in terms of the things they say and do.
And I preferred staying in my own space anyway – a lower bunk bed, in the corner of my bunk. I would read, listen to music or just lay there.
This was especially important to me in the early stages of my BMT as I was struggling to adapt to the new environment.
I am proud that I knew myself well enough to take that time for myself and not give in to social pressures.
Even my buddy, Jim, has acknowledged and reassured what I am saying right now. When I was telling him how I was struggling to connect with people in my Unit, months after BMT, he responded with “I thought not fitting in was your thing.”
Side note: Some tunes I remember listening to on repeat back then are:
- ‘All My Friends’ by Snakehips feat. Tinashe, Chance The Rapper
- ‘As You Are’ by Charlie Puth feat. Shy Carter
- ‘Just Like Fire’ – P!nk
The Signal Institute (SI) Days
- Learning something new.
As happy I was to be given the Signaller vocation – from the little knowledge I had on all the vocations, it seemed to be the most fitting for me – I was unprepared for the amount of knowledge that I would have to absorb over the two month Signaller course.
Many of our days were spent in lessons on radio equipment. We had to know all the parts and how to operate them as well. Now, I definitely preferred spending time in those labs learning as opposed to out under the sun doing something physical.
But I felt lost at multiple points and that definitely affected my self-esteem.
We took notes but I hated not understanding what I was writing down. Even if I took a minute or two to try to figure out what I just wrote, I would have missed the next few slides of information that I was supposed to take down.
There was a lot for us to learn and so lessons were fast-paced.
Thankfully, I had friends and peers who could explain things to me. So that way, I was more prepared for the tests that came along the way.
All this radio and telecommunication stuff is what my grandfather used to teach my brother when we were really young but I never had any interest. So I liked to think that my grandfather was looking down at me and laughing as I tried to figure it all out.
This is a victory for me because having to learn something you have never had any interest in is no easy feat.
I am choosing to end this part of the post here because the rest of what I have written seems to be just about as long as this post.
So this would be the natural break.
Until next time,