Alright it’s finally time to write about how I feel about the army. My previous post should have given you a very brief summary of what I have to say. I will try to keep this post short and sweet as I do not have many pictures to accompany the text due to the no in-camp photos policy. (And just for the record, I was not planning such a big gap between part 1 and 2… It just happened.)
I was hoping to be a wallflower throughout my army journey. I just wanted to be in the background. You could say it was my strategy. Why? Because it did not take me too long to figure out that the army never has and never will be my thing. In other words, I just did not have any ambition in the army.
Going to command school and becoming a commander might be prestigious and a productive way to spend the two years for most but for me, it was not going to mean anything. So I tried my best not to stand out for any good or bad reasons. But my plan went down the drain when everyone in my platoon started knowing me as the guy with the same name as the Platoon Sergeant.
Having not passed my physical fitness test prior to my enlistment, I had an extra two months of physical training before the basic military training (BMT) phase began. So in total, I went through four months of training. The physical training phase which included running, conditioning circuits, strength training and gym sessions reminded me a lot of The Biggest Loser.
Even though I started my journey having a long list of worries, the first week made me realise that it was not being able to cope with the intensity of physical trainings that I was most worried about. However, that was not much of a problem as the training was progressive. As the weeks passed, I not only lost weight but I felt healthier and fitter and eventually I passed my physical fitness test too.
These extra two months also meant that activities were more spaced out over the whole four months as compared to the training the enhanced batch of recruits (those who passed their fitness test prior to their enlistment) have to go through in their two months. I remember one of my section mates complaining that the two extra months was a waste of time and that he would have worked harder to pass his fitness test if he could go back in time. But I disagree. The two extra months really gave me more time to adapt to the change in environment.
This new environment I was forced to be in – five days a week – was a pretty negative one. With heavy emphasis on discipline and regimentation, there was a lot of yelling and punishments when standards and expectations were not met. Even when we were not getting punished, people would speculate that something bad was about to happen. And other times, there would be constant talk about feeling ‘shagged.’
As for me, I tried to keep the complaining to a minimum in camp – I preferred to save it for my friends and family on the outside. I felt that such negativity could spread very easily and I wanted no part of it. It was not who I am. Things were bad enough as they were and I really did not feel like we had to add on to it with our paranoia and whining. I chose to be hopeful and optimistic. But granted, it was tough to keep it up.
It was around week four that I start to doubt the practicality of my positivity. Am I just being foolish and silly? What exactly was I trying to achieve? I remember talking to Shaf about this and she gave me simple advice that I plan to live by for the rest of my life.
“You being positive is the only thing that will get you through without damaging you as a person.”
I felt as though this simple advice was catered specially for me because being positive is something that I would like to think I am known for. It reminded me that I was doing the right thing and the people that know me, know that sometimes reassurance is all I need to keep on going. So I did just that. But just as I was beginning to adapt the BMT phase began in week eight.
BMT gave me something new to worry about each week. Every week introduced a different aspect of being a soldier. From rifles to hand grenades to the standard obstacle course and of course, field camp, these were all things I had to check off the to-do list. There was definitely a lot of uncertainty. I had to remind myself every now and again that worrying was not going to change anything. So as much worrying as I did, eventually I got through it all.
Like the obstacle course and field camp, for example. Both these things reminded me of Survivor. Stumbling through the course for the third or fourth time was what triggered me to begin writing my previous post. It was a day before my birthday and having to take on the balancing beam and apex ladder despite my fear of heights had me feeling extra anxious. Even though I passed both obstacles by ‘cheating’ – using my hands to help me – I felt really upset after. It might have been a combination of things that were going on that day – I struggled to swim during swim lesson that day like always because I was afraid to get my feet off the ground for more than half a second. I was also feeling emotional about spending my birthday in camp. I was so upset that I started tearing up as I walked back with Jim and Shan – two of the people I was closest to in camp.
“Im so sick of being scared of everything. I couldn’t swim earlier and I can’t do this now.”
That’s what I told them as they walked with me while I was crying. They knew how nervous I felt about taking on the balancing beam and apex ladder. So naturally, they told me not to be too hard on myself. I really appreciated their support – they even waited by the sidelines for me to finish the course. But it took me a while to pull myself together after that.
I did some thinking that night and I told myself that I have come a long way. I told myself that I had to give myself some credit for always pushing through. Up until that point – even up until the present day – I have never fallen out from participating in an activity in the army. So I might have been scared and I might not have done as well as everyone else but I tried.
And this made me realise that many of my victories over the past four months came in the form of just tackling whatever is thrown my way. Many of my victories came in the form of just trying. I definitely wasn’t the best at anything over the four months – other than maybe cleaning bird shit off of our bunk corridor (being a corridor cleaner was my role on the duty roster) and memorising the names of everyone in my platoon (a challenge that was issued by one of our Sergeants to the whole platoon that I voluntarily took on) – but that was okay. The fact that I stumbled through it and made it to the other side knowing how miserable I felt at various points is
satisfactory amazing. I am proud of myself.
“Just remember everyone goes through the same shit and you will feel better.”
That’s exactly what one of my lecturers told me when he asked me how I was coping with my national service. And it makes sense because the people around you are one of the factors that make or break your experiences.
Sharing living quarters with 15 very different individuals has definitely been an interesting experience – almost like Big Brother.
For those who don’t know, you sleep in a bunk with your section – which is usually a quarter of the platoon you belong to. The size of a section or platoon varies but my section was made up of 16 people. It’s natural for you to stick to these people because well, they are almost always around. And because of that same reason, these people are also the ones very likely to see you at your worst.
As for me, I tended to be ‘anti-social’ because I really cherished the peace and quiet I get away from everyone in camp. You barely get any alone time and the only real private space we had access to is a toilet cubicle. So while most people were sitting around in the middle of the bunk socialising and using their phones, I preferred to lay on my bed – which was in a corner – and listen to music. (I know it’s not exactly ‘quiet’ if I’m listening to music but I think you get what I’m trying to say – I just wanted to get away from all the army talk or well, talk in general.)
Don’t get me wrong, I did talk to people and make friends. I definitely made more of an effort once I had more or less adapted to my new environment. I tried getting to know everyone. I would go from bunk to bunk talking to people. But after a while, I just got tired.
I did find two people who I could talk to about almost anything. My buddy, Jim and my section mate, Shan. These two definitely made the four months a little easier by providing me with the mental and emotional support that I needed.
Jim and I were opposites from day one. But like Jim would say, this meant that our strengths made up for each other’s weaknesses. He was the messy one who left things lying around and did things last minute while I was the one who rushed to get things done way ahead of time. He was the more social one who is almost always in a conversation laughing and joking around with people while I preferred my peace and quiet. He was more carefree and go with the flow while I wanted to have everything planned and figured out. I’m sure we pissed each other off every now and then but we were always there for there each other when it mattered.
Then we have Shan. It was easy for us to click because we shared the same sentiments about serving the nation and we were both from the media field as well. Shan knew more about me than anyone else in camp because I felt comfortable enough to confide in him and I would like to think he felt the same way too. We would uber home together every book out and we spent quite a lot of time together in camp. I will always remember the laughs we had because it was laughing that took my mind off the things that were bothering me.
Of course, as much as the people inside camp were a factor in my experience so were my friends and family on the outside. It was tough having only two days a week to spend with friends and family and of course, I had to balance it with my TV shows and ‘me’ time too. As though I didn’t already cherish them enough, this experience made me appreciate them so much more. Sometimes knowing I will get to see them at the end of the week is the only thing that helped me get through – even up to the very last day during the 24 KM route march.
About halfway through when I was beginning to feel the exhaustion, I started to think what my friends and family would tell me to encourage me if they were walking by my side. It made me emotional and if I was a little less tired and on my own, I’m sure I would have started crying .
Even during field camp, the tears started streaming down my face when we received our letters from home – and it was only day three! Knowing they were proud of me and that I will get to see them the following week gave me strength.
So there you have it. A summary of what went down over the four months. I filtered out the most relevant incidents and moments to give you something as close to the whole story as possible. But of course there are things I left out because it was hard enough trying to find a way to make this post flow naturally. If you are curious, let me know and I’ll spill the cold tea – because it’s old.
Until next time,