668 Days – What Have I Learnt?

National Service – 1 year and 10 months. NSFs and NSmen would be more familiar with counting down till the end of our service by the number of days instead.

Growing up, I have always tried to justify if a certain experience was worthy of all the troubles by asking myself – what have I learnt (from it)?

Reflecting on what I have went through – training hard and hoping to progress from Basic Military Training to command schools, to injuring myself and being posted as a storeman and then appointed as a clerk – what have I done well, and what could have been done better?

Whenever people ask what did I do in NS, there will always be this 20% sense of inadequacy that accompanies the 80% pride that I have. I hate this.

I was a Staff Sergeant in the National Police Cadet Corps in my secondary school days, coming from a uniformed group background necessarily meant being familiar with foot drills, ‘army culture’ and most importantly, ‘taking whatever shit that is thrown in my face’. I really believed that I would be able to progress to Officer Cadet School or – at least – Specialist Cadet School.

Alas, things were not meant to be, when I jumped off from the low wall during one Standard Obstacle Course and I made a bad landing – 3rd degree ankle sprain.

Then, I knew all my hopes of progressing through to OCS and SCS were dashed. I knew it. I remember my Platoon Commanders – 2LT Pala and 2LT Stanley talked to me separately about how I could still pass out from BMT if I could recover quick enough and that they would go through with me, the necessary sessions of route-marches / hand grenade familiarization that I missed.

My hopes were up. So 2 weeks after I sprained my ankle, I could now limp. So I pleaded with my commanders to allow me to participate in training – albeit moving a bit slowly. So I finally joined my platoon – we did Individual Field Craft together, even though we were punished several times – changing quickly from push-up to sit-up positions, my ankle was giving way, but I never asked to be excused on grounds of my injury. I remember when the platoon were ordered to run towards another location because of how much time behind schedule we were, 2LT Pala walked with me slowly to join the platoon.

Next up, 2LT Stanley told me I had to clear at least 12 kilometres of route marches before I could participate in the graduation parade and pass out from BMT. He was willing to go through route marches with me, so we did. He and I, we were attached to Scorpion company, and throughout the march – I remembered him telling me that as a Taurus warrior, we must always be stronger and better than others, and never give up. So we completed the route march (it was 4 kilometres) about 1 kilometre earlier than Scorpion company did.

I had IPPT too, and I was told I had to at least pass this to pass out from BMT. I cleared all my five stations, but the 2.4km run was the hardest for my ankle. 17 minutes and 30 seconds. That was it.

One night, I noticed small red bumps on my ankle. My bunk mates told me it was heat rash and I should put more powder and just let it rest – I will be fine. The next day, the red bumps spread and my ankle was swelling. I saw the medical officer – cellulitis – he said. Bacterial infection of the dermis and subcutaneous layers of the skin.

2 more days and it will be the Basic Trainfire Package, it was when we had to prove that we had sufficiently mastered the basics of firing and handling the SAR21. Again, I was told I had to pass this to pass out from BMT. It was an excruciatingly long wait between the day shoot and the night shoot. Infected wounds have to be aired and not wrapped – so I had to take out my sock and boot to let my wound air in between my shoots. This time, my ankle had swollen so much that I had trouble putting it into my boot. It was finally my turn when I limped and hopped over to my night shoot – my overall score was 30/32.

Heading back to our company line, I looked at the trotter that is now my right foot. I did not know how much longer I needed to heal. I did not know how much longer could I still last.

Soon, the Officer Commanding of Taurus company, my PC and the medical officer decided that I was unfit for BMT. My injury report was filed and I was declared out-of-training.

The only question I asked myself was – so why did I fight to stay?

But did I regret it? I would have, if I gave up earlier than it was necessary.

Then, I learnt. Sometimes, things may not turn out the way we wished for. We can fight for it, and still fall short.

Posting to Headquarters, Chemical Biological Radiological and Explosives Defence Group was arguably the best thing that happened to me in NS.

As a manpower clerk, I learnt many valuable skills and made many friends.

As a new clerk, 2 weeks into the job, the Head Manpower Officer, CPT Lim was trying to arrow the job of emcee-ing for the monthly D’Core to one of the clerks – there were about 5 of us. Obviously, none of us wanted to be shot by the arrow.

But I remember how badly I failed one emcee-ing session back when I was in Nanyang Junior College.

“Sir, 可以让我 try 吗?” I whimpered hesitantly. That was the best poorly-thought-through decision I ever made in NS.

From then on, I was exposed to more exciting portfolios. I organised and emcee-ed almost 19 D’Cores, the unit’s year-end excellence workshop, helped to emcee events organised by other departments – year-end function/CNY lunch, unit’s new development ground breaking ceremony and so much more. I learnt a skill – speaking in public – that I was so sorely lacking.

For this, I am most grateful for my boss, CPT (now MAJ) Lim for trusting my opinions and giving me enough autonomy to make decisions and recognising the efforts that I have put in, and even recommending me for the Best Soldier Award; the colleagues I worked with, who offered much needed support and lifelong friendship – Ming Qiang, Justin, Kejun, Kyran, Daryl, the assistant manpower officers – Wei Jie, Timothy and Marcus.

And that was how I spent my remaining 1 year and 8 months after being declared out-of-training. Arguably, my injury worsened and it took longer to heal because I ignored advice to let my injury rest. But I would never have known whether I could pass out from BMT or not – unless I fought for it.

Things may not turn out the way we wished for, but we can always make the best out of whatever circumstances we are in.

I am truly grateful for this NS experience. It is through it, that I have grown to become a much better person.

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Emcee-ing for one of the D’Cores!

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