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Posts Tagged ‘Army Milestones’

Altogether A Good Thing

9 November 2010 3 comments

My pink IC was restored to my ownership today and I’m happy to say it didn’t change my life because I’ve been living it.

I thank my friends for the love; I thank former recruits for the privilege; I thank God for them both, for His provision of grace, and for the faith to have seen it through and to move on. Although I am a different person than I was twenty-two months ago, this development is altogether a good thing. The important things are love and faith, and they stay the same; there is love, there is faith.

(Hope I ever have, for the best is yet to be.)

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Categories: Events Tags: ,

Warriors’ Feasts

31 July 2010 1 comment

On Wednesday I attended two successive AGMs for two organizations of which I am a nominal member. Most who attended probably felt as uninvolved as I did, but our presence was necessitated by the fact that the meetings needed 70% attendance to proceed.

I understood a few things which I accepted as formally correct, but which seemed strange to accept all the same. To be able to gather together once a year in the name of something is enough for legitimacy, by most standards. Actions can legitimately be taken by a small minority in the name of the organization, and if the uninvolved majority remains uninvolved things will proceed. If the organization has enough members, each member need only make a nigh unnoticeable contribution of time or money, and the collated amount will be quite large. It will be at the disposal of the involved minority, because the majority bleeds too little to notice.

These aren’t new or strange thoughts; I think it was Malcolm Gladwell that used the analogy of the wine bottle at the large dinner table. In any case, Time printed similar things to do with bleeding about Europe a couple of weeks back.

Speaking of large dinner table, I attended a gathering of a different sort yesterday night. There were over forty present, mostly current and former commanders of what was once Zulu company (the name’s been changed).The breadth of experience and effort represented inspired awe; the sheer size of the gathering was hard to take in. The newest commanders didn’t know the older ones, but as for myself, having been both a recruit and a commander at the company, I had at least seen all but the oldest batches. The actual overlap time of our association was between two to two-and-a-half years’ time, but that encompasses about ten batches’ worth of experience. In conversation we could wonder at the extent of changes that have taken place, exchange stories of people or events, sometimes the same people or events seen from different positions, and consider the fact that things are different for us because we walked through the place we had in common in our personal histories. The paths diverge before and after, but because of the common segment, wherever we happen to be at the moment looks deceptively like a stage of the same journey someone else has gone through, or is about to go through. And there were great stories.

Mine is a company in an establishment in an organization, and the organization, establishment and company all happen to be convenient and inevitable targets for ridicule or resentment. The company is seldom seen in anything but an unflattering light. Even if I don’t see it negatively, it is my workplace, training ground, bunk room, kitchen and toilet. I see it every day, but almost never have I been able to appreciate the truly great things it represents; good things have usually been enough to keep me going, and even those were a challenge to keep hold of during the bad times, but to think that, without us realizing, great things were transpiring, and that we were in the midst of it all – that was a new thought, and a good one.

My recruits graduated yesterday, and the stragglers leave tomorrow morning. The end is in sight, and now I need to make ready for what comes after. I think that will come a bit easier, with the knowledge and conviction that having brought things forward, I will leave the richer for the time spent, and surer of the way ahead.

Categories: Reflection Tags: ,

When The Beach Is As Far As You Can Go

3 March 2010 Leave a comment

Life is surging ahead of my ability to keep reach of. In recent times, my ability to write and my writings would have been indicative; if I had the time, the space, the subject and the focus, then I’d know that things weren’t getting out of hand. Even when the gaps between my blog posts were getting to be a few weeks long, I didn’t feel uneasy because I usually had my notebook on hand to scribble in, and I couldn’t post everything.

In even more recent times, though, unease has crept into many of my easy moments. My notebook has been the repository of a number of unfinished, half-written posts and accusingly undeveloped essays, and a look through the pages preceding this one feels like an onerous undertaking as I consider it. My easy moments are rare enough, in any case; time, space and the mental and emotional resources left over from the days’ commitments hardly seem sufficient for me to begin writing in earnest, most of the time. The feeling that I’m plunging into work repeatedly makes the intervening moments feel too precious to actually invest, and I think that I’ve opted to resist and deny the things related to work instead, whether it’s by spending immoderate (or at least not frugal) amounts of cash in Singapore city, or by avoiding things and situations that are in some way reminiscent of my work environment. (The last point might not strictly be a negative thing, because many of the things I dislike should rightly be avoided where possible, but my antipathy to the more general notion of ‘army’ has seethed often enough recently that I find reason enough to be cautious of the responses and behaviors that could be reflexively anti-army.) The posts have dried up, the notebook is anemic, and I don’t even have regular music-making to galvanize me any more.

Life hasn’t been terrible or unbearable, this I feel obliged to note in the interests of fairness and the part of myself that remains imperturbable and unperturbed; I work hard but I’ve not run myself ragged, and I’ve had time and freedom enough to take a break from time to time. But the texture of my life has changed, though. Time is unpredictably fragmented (emphasis on ‘unpredictably’), and the responsibilities and challenges I encounter most regularly are of the trivial and, at worst, the petty and grating sort. Ironically, the times I’ve been happy and grateful have also served to vary the texture sufficiently that being stoic isn’t something I can easily resign myself to.

I’m all for resilience and work ethic, but, especially now that there are no recruits to channel nurturing and creative energies towards, these things are observably and sorely lacking around me. This is coupled with the sense that we, meaning my colleagues and I, are victims of mismanagement, and convenient targets of a kind of institutionalized blackmail which proceeds along the lines of, ‘Do the work or take the blame.’

When a colleague, neither the most indignant nor the most given to sagacious wisdom, observed that ‘the most dangerous thing to have in army is a sense of responsibility’, those of us present were in instant agreement despite being caught off-guard. While I am… aware that irresponsibility is no virtue, the fact that it would be merely as good as we get from our supervisors is condemnable. It is neither professional nor good for morale. For a commander, however junior, who works with these same considerations in mind, what is left is either a struggle to maintain a fiction or indifference. Insofar as this has contributed to the texture of my life, it is in how there is little reason to be optimistic about work, which is where I am physically constrained by a strip of ocean for much of every week. I get sea breeze over con-wire.

My contempt problem has naturally been resurgent, and one of the things I love to hate is complaining, which I’ve been doing quite a lot of myself, though with more venom and vitriol than the norm. (All the unprofessional behavior I observe will turn me into an elitist, if anything does.) I guess I’ve found that bitching is an easy way to cope in an unreasonable situation; expecting anything beyond that from people isn’t wrong, but I think it’s optimistic. At the end of the day, though, I’m glad I had the resources to produce this, though I’m afraid it’ll probably be the last one in a while, if I don’t produce anything else before next week; the arrows are flying and there are too many to dodge, despite our efforts. And, just for the record, manpower shortages are a unit-level problem, and they should be properly managed, although I suppose in some minds NSFs are expendable (which is ridiculous considering what the shortage is).

Categories: Reflection Tags: ,

The Prospect of Desk Duty

3 January 2010 1 comment

(From 05 Nov, 2009 @ 05:13. )

Sentry at Rocky Hill Ring. The exceptionally bright stars are a testament to the low levels of light pollution, one of the charms of life at Rocky Hill.

Categories: Exclamations Tags: ,

Direction & Misdirection

28 September 2009 Leave a comment

After seven solid days on set, the persona that is Sergeant Derek has at least been fleshed out. Among other things, he is the custodian of weapons and their accessories, and he counts, inspects and logs in a cell-like room with many locks. His job allows him some licence to be obsessive-compulsive. (In many ways, he is reprising another role.) He tries to be strict and injects sternness into his tone of voice and expression, but he does not play this role well because he is generally too happy and too approachable to be seen as the disciplinarian. Once, a black mood took him, and since then, the recruits have been careful; the storm signs can be seen from a long way away. So they push the envelope. Sergeant Derek also leads songs and cheers, although sometimes he can’t help but feel as though it is because no one else can summon up enough belief to not feel ridiculous. He would do better to get more in-character.

*

Sometimes I feel like I am crossing over from one world into another while on the ferry. Whichever direction I go in, it feels as though the fairytale evaporates and leaves reality as the product, even though I am usually leaning more towards one side than towards the other at any given time. Still, it is disorienting.

Earlier I took the train straight down to City Hall pretty much on impulse; when I realized that I was walking along the track the day after the race, and that I only found out who won by glimpsing the front page of a copy of the Straits Times in Starbucks, and that I’d spent race weekend worrying about logbooks and learning operating procedures, I felt as though where I was then was in many ways as far removed from the other reality as I could be, and I was unnerved by how forcibly I had reoriented myself.

I have two days before I have to re-orientate, that is, face east; having to constantly do that can’t be healthy, since it means that I’m mistaken about my direction about half the time.

Categories: Reflection Tags: ,

The Gaps Before The, ‘Go, Go, Go!’

31 July 2009 Leave a comment

I. Chinook

There is something decidedly special about having a helicopter come in for you. The raw power of it is, in itself, a spectacle. You see that power in the way the grass and the leaves and branches on the trees are pressed down, and in the dust flying up all around. The dust storm forces you to narrow your eyes and breathe more carefully, but what you can’t block out is the sound from the blades whipping through the air. Even through your earplugs, you feel the force of the sound.

It was dusk. The blue of the evening was darkening, and there I was, crouched low in the tall grass, watching the sky as the helicopters came in. Their unhurried approach was in stark contrast to the swirling chaos on the ground, but the measured descent of the two great birds was nothing short of majestic.

Then, the ramp opens, and it is time for me to sprint as best as I can with a gun, a field pack and an anti-tank tube in my grip. As I get nearer to my objective, I start to feel like I’m swimming against the current. Am I still breathing in or out, or is it the downwash? My legs are barely bringing me forward, and I am losing my grip on my gear. And then, for a moment, just a step or two before my boot touches the ramp, I feel the heat from the burner. But now, I am in the hold, the last man strapping in. The man on my right helps me with my gear. As I catch my breath, everything is checked and secured. Then, the ramp goes up, and we are flying.

*

The ramp doesn’t actually seal up the hold. There is a gap between the edge of the ramp and the top of the rear opening, so the hold is actually open to the air outside. I am right next to the ramp, and I can see right through the opening. It was evening while the birds were landing, but now it is night, and the city lights below are like what I’ve seen before during take-offs and landings on passenger jets, except that the lights are a lot closer, and we stay at this altitude for most of the twenty minutes. Then again, boarding an Airbus can hardly be compared to the race that is a helicopter load-up, but with a jet the gratification of take-off is nowhere as immediate, plus I’m not even feeling my sweat because of all the air constantly rushing into the hold like when the windows are down when you’re in a car on the highway.

Watching the lights pass by seemingly just below me, I wonder how long the ride will last, and I try not to think of when I’ll be running all out again in the grass and mud. For some reason, I suddenly feel close to the city below me. Maybe it’s because the past ten minutes have been like something from a movie. Then, the helicopter banks, we see the ground through the windows on one side, and we cheer and whoop like the young men we are, everything before and after forgotten. We are flying, and this bird is our ride. I sit back in my seat and enjoy myself, trying not to wish that this didn’t have to end, because I knew that the ride would end.

*

The ramp was lowering. I unstrapped myself, tried to get a good grip on my equipment, and then I was running, first man off the bird. Fifty meters away, I go prone in the grass, weapon at the ready, on the alert, but feeling the weight of my helmet. There were knolls to climb and rivers to cross before dawn. It was as though the mission hadn’t even started.


II. Rain, Leaves, Mud.

 

It would have been an odd sight, had there been anyone to see it. There were about thirty figures, all standing immobile, scattered across the red clay face of the hill. There was no conversation, because no two of them were standing near together. Considering that there were few enough gaps between the trees and not many gentle inclines on the hill slope on which to stand, that the figures were scattered so evenly suggested some deliberation in their placement. They stood like sculptures, strange sculptures, and one suspected that if one were to walk among them they would not have noticed. And over everything, rain was falling, through the trees and branches, trickling down onto their helmets and jackets, flowing down the slope over roots and under brown leaves, turning the red clay into sticky mud.

*

We had reached our objective the day before, after having marched through the night with our boots and uniforms still wet from the river we had crossed. We were beyond tired, but at least we knew what was coming when the order was given. We were deployed to our positions, and after marking them out, we took out our tools and started digging.

What’s digging like? We spent the afternoon brushing away the leaf litter, scraping at clay, all the while trying to keep our footing on the slope, piling up loose earth, which made the slope even more treacherous, and, in between bouts of digging, sitting with our legs in whatever depression we had managed to excavate. But we were done before nightfall, and, having managed that, it was time to grab what rest we could before the next mission. I don’t remember feeling relief, or feeling anything very much at all, as I settled into my hole in the ground, having made it as comfortable as I could.

Very soon, it was morning. It wasn’t light yet, but all the same, it was time to rouse ourselves for the day’s work, which included being prepared for enemy attack. Our traps were layed, and we had made sure that we could find our way around the slope even in the dark should reinforcements be required in another sector. All this had been done the day before. The promised attack came, and fortunately there was only one. We defended, and it ended. After that, stores and supplies were moved or retrieved, and then, we knew, it would be time to move again. The message came for us to prepare.

Then the rain came, just a few drops at first, but, as before, we knew what was coming, and there was no stopping it. We fumbled for our rain jackets, clipped behind us, and tried to put them on as well as we could over our overloaded vests. The hoods came up as well, more to prevent rain from trickling down our necks than to keep our heads dry. We already had helmets on. We also had to move our packs and equipment away from where the water would collect. The rain prompted all this renewed activity, but, gradually, sector by sector, everything seemed to come to a pause.

The message had been passed: we would be moving shortly. Prepare. But we were not moving then; we weren’t moving yet, but, we felt rather than thought, the mission was… over. And so, hoods over our helmets, we stood by our holes in the ground and watched them fill up. We just stood, still, for five or maybe fifteen minutes, or more, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. If we shifted our weight or moved our boots, the red mud would shift and squelch; but there were many reasons not to move. We weren’t supposed to go down yet. Our wet socks squelched in our boots whenever we took a step. Sitting down was too much trouble, there was mud everywhere. We’d have to start covering over our shell scrapes soon. We were just waiting for the order.

And perhaps it was just that: we were waiting, in an in-between kind of moment, where we’d otherwise have been waiting at the ready. Or perhaps, even if we had been told to be on the alert, we wouldn’t have been, because we were wet again, miserable, and, after the past three days, exhausted. And there were two days to go. So we stood, kept in place by the mud and a dearth of motivating energy, perhaps extinguished, literally inter-mission, waiting to be galvanized by the next order. It would come.

*

They stood, it seemed, for a long while, hardly moving, water dripping off them like off cold stone.


III. The Candle Dryer

 

I remember a darkened room, quite large, dimly lit despite the combined power of our torches. Later, it was candlelight flickering against the walls. Those hadn’t been lit for illumination, however; the light came from inside our still-wet boots. There were just nine of us, fortunate to have been excluded from the primary mission, spread out along the walls and in the corners.

Our mission tomorrow would be simple, nothing compared to what we’d already done, and, in the meantime, we had seven glorious hours almost to ourselves. We had a roof, and tonight we’d be as dry as we’d ever been since the beginning of it all. Things were winding down for us. The past few days had been constant tension and movement punctuated by bouts of intense activity, and in one case intense inaction; but this was rest.

For a while, we came a little bit alive. We were still tired, but less deadened, now that the strain of a real mission was off our backs. I am picturing how we huddled around to observe the technique one of our number had devised to dry the inside of his boots, and how for a while after that we were all busy distributing the available materials and passing the lighter around in a combined effort to replicate the technique we’d just learned. I think it was one of the rare moments where we could put aside the stress of being tough, focused soldiers-on-a-mission and be, well, relaxed. In the midst of all that happy activity, I could only smile.

In the morning the boots were dry.


(Ex. Grandslam, 20-23 July, 2009.)

 

Resting Uneasy

19 May 2009 1 comment

The past eight weeks have not been a test of strength or will as much as they have been a test of patience. The initial weeks were easy going, but thereafter I experienced a mounting frustration at the pervasive selfishness and lack of self-discipline and pride. What was worse was that these attitudes and the problems that clearly arose as a result were not addressed in any meaningful way; this only encouraged their perpetuation.

In such an environment, it becomes very easy to do just as well as everyone else, even if that means to cheat where you can and to cheat together. To put it in the terms I did makes things clear-cut, but when one is in the thick of things, the argument sounds more like, ‘There’s nothing wrong with doing enough to get by.’ I think the past weeks have been a test of integrity as well, though not one that I can claim to have always passed. What successes I have had in this area were not of myself, in any case.

Overall, I think the past weeks have been a challenge, but one that has been far from straightforward. Being straightforward to myself about what I know I should or shouldn’t do or join in has required some effort, but at the same time, doing the right thing or the better thing has not always been straightforward. I find that I’ve had to go about things differently sometimes, because there are things about people and groups of people I could no longer take for granted.

I think my biggest takeaway from the course is my dissatisfaction, not just with the circumstances, but also with my responses to them. I hope that my conviction that things could have been better and that I could have done better at or been wiser about bringing some measure of change about will serve as some kind of motivation, even as I recognize that most of my frustration was in itself fruitless, and that there is a real limit to what can be accomplished at a given time and place.

Categories: Reflection Tags: