13 Feb 11.
My Operationally Ready Date. ORD. The day that I cease to be a Full-Time National Serviceman.
The day was always on the horizon, but it was always so far away that it was not easily visible. Yet the ship is finally reaching the shore, and will soon take me away to the civilian world like the ship that took Samwise Gangee to the Grey Havens. Now that the ship has finally docked at the harbour, am I ready to depart? I am definitely prepared to leave National Service, but am I ready for what lies beyond?
I recall the day I stepped on the bus to the SAF Ferry Terminal, beginning my journey as an NSF.
14 Apr 09.
I find Surindran Pillay, my ex-classmate in JC and one of my good friends, in the queue at Pasir Ris Bus Interchange. We knew we were enlisting together, and I was glad I had a friend with me. I remember, amused, handing my IC collection slip to the sergeant instead of my IC, as my bag (which contained my wallet) had been stolen when I left it unattended at Sentosa about 1 week prior.
After the opening address on Pulau Tekong at which I pledged allegiance to Singapore (WITH MY LIFE!), and one of the best meals in the cookhouse I’ve ever eaten to this day (nasi ayam, fried drumstick, red bean potong ice-cream), I wave goodbye to my parents as I walk with the other freshly christened recruits to the five-tonner that will take me Rocky Hill Camp.
So my life in Basic Military Training School began. And I was overwhelmed and bewildered physically and mentally at my weaknesses an inability to overcome certain obstacles, literally and figuratively. I relied heavily on the support of friends and family, and also on 1 Peter 1:6-7.
It was pretty bad. Probably due to the intense physical training, my arm strength deteriorated and in the middle of BMT, I could do zero pull-ups, down from six at the beginning. I couldn’t even do a push-up. I thought there was something wrong with me, and actually went to see the MO. I failed 4 IPPTs, but on my fourth I managed to do three. Miraculously, I did six for the fifth and final IPPT and managed to pass before passing out of BMT.
During this rather sad BMT, I had support in the form of a very understanding and patient buddy, Matthew Tai. He could get silver even with a fever; I could barely pass at my peak fitness then. He went on to become a navy officer.
Life did get better after BMT. I was posted to SISPEC, where I had the privilege to eat some of the best army food I’ve eaten to date. And I had 3 outfield exercises. I also met old friends like Eugene Tay. It was a great experience.
After that, I was pleasantly surprised to discover I was posted to MP Command! And very delighted that SOC was no longer required. And I loved my section, full of awesome people.
The course was chockful of lectures, in which I was prone to sleeping if I did not get coffee or sweets beforehand, but it was also a very enjoyable course.
Something new for us sergeants-to-be was the Combined Arms Term, where all of us specialist cadets gathered back at Pasir Laba Camp to pass out together, before being posted to our respective places. I had the pleasure of passing out together as one parade with all the friends I made over the past few months.
After that, I was posted to GS Branch to become an Ops Spec. That’s what I’m really thankful to God for; I tried my best with everything I did, but I knew I was not really that well-suited to a fully combat vocation like infantry. Being posted to HQ although I am combat-fit was a blessing, and I think my organizational and computer skills were more at home in GS Branch. The stay-out privileges were also a bonus.
Getting my pink IC yesterday was very surreal. I didn’t realise I would be that euphoric upon receiving that small piece of plastic. I used to have two inboxes, one on my computer terminal in camp and one in Gmail. I would be thinking about the daily agenda every morning on the way to work. To think, that 1 whole half of my life is gone! And I have to start thinking properly again about things like equations, theories, and academic subjects when school starts.
As much as I have complained and ranted and resented about National Service, I have to admit that I have also gained a lot from the past 1 year & 10 months in NS. I can do 10+ pull-ups now, I have started to love running (especially after the 21km Army Half-Marathon!) and I have learnt some things about leadership, administration and confidence in my time as a sergeant. I have also developed an appreciation for all the effort that goes into conducting a large event, having had the privilege of seeing what goes on behind the scenes of some ops. The indignities I suffered while outfield has given me a newfound appreciation for simple luxuries like showers and beds that I used to take for granted.
I would definitely not want to repeat NS. But I definitely do not regret it.