Sunday, February 3, 2013

BMT Memories

Finally watched Ah Boys to Men on DVD and it brought back a flood of memories from my own BMT. I enlisted on 19 Jan 1999, so this is almost exactly 13 years to the day I first booked out from BMT confinement, as depicted in the movie. The first days transitioning from a civilian to a soldier were strange and exciting. I also learned a lot about the Army, and myself in a few short weeks.

It's interesting what sticks in your memory after thirteen years

  • I don't really remember my parents dropping me off at Nee Soon Camp. No such thing as spending the day touring the resort facilities back then. I guess it was over in a flash.
  • I remember the first time I met my section mates. I was disappointed that there were no Hokkien pengs. I thought I would meet Singaporeans from all walks of life and learn Hokkien. The closest thing to a Hokkien peng was the guy from JJC, or so I thought. Later I discovered that the biggest ah beng was certainly one of the guys from RJC.
  • I remember waiting for my turn to shave off all my hair. I was reading Lianhe Zaobao with my JJC and RJC ah beng friends. We took turns reading at laughing at each other's Mandarin.
  • I remember that after we shaved our heads, everyone looked the same. I had just made all these new friends and suddenly I couldn't tell them apart.
  • I remember the first time we booked out on a Saturday morning, we all headed to a hawker centre in Ang Mo Kio and had a great lunch together. My section mates were all great guys. No siao on people or wayang kings like in the movie. Most of us wanted to go to OCS if we could, but more than that we wanted to get along and find friends in an alien environment.
  • I remember watching the sky for dark clouds and praying that we wouldn't have to do SOC.
  • I remember how much trepidation I had every time I wanted to report sick, for fear of being accused of being chao keng. When I finally saw the doctor, my fever so high I was sent home. (At least not the hospital.) We were all quite terrified of the medical officers.
  • I remember Bean did not report sick a single time during BMT. Unlike me - I was a sickly recruit.
  • I remember one evening when Two Princes was on the radio and Joel started singing along. Then the power tripped and the radio went out, but he kept on going. Some time later, the power came back on and the radio resumed - he was still right on key and in tune. Amazing.
  • I remember there is no better feeling than a shoulder massage from your buddy after a full day in the field.
  • I remember moving our entire company from Nee Soon to Pulau Tekong - we had the privilege of making that historic move. And the first welcome sight of King Koil mattresses and fitted sheets.
  • I remember almost collapsing during the passing out parade - because I fell asleep. And getting suaned by my platoon sergeant.
Hanging out with my mates after a hard week in camp

I will never forget one of the most valuable lessons about myself, about the power of the mind.

One afternoon while doing a field exercise, I was running in the tall grass doing a flanking manoeuvre when I stepped into a hole. I heard a crack as I fell to the ground and pain shot up my leg. So I was carried to the rover and sent to the medical centre where the MO examined my ankle and pronounced me unfit for duties for two days. Two days later, I still could not put weight on the foot and I saw the MO again. This time it was a kindly NSman who gave me two weeks. After two weeks, I could limp around. I managed to complete BMT (of which the scariest part was jumping off the SOC ramp and only daring to land on one leg instead of two). I went to OCS. 
Three years later, I injured the same ankle in a snowboarding accident at the top of White Face. It was quite fun, being stretchered all the way down a double black. The doctor who X-rayed my ankle pronounced it fractured - and then he asked me when was the last time I fractured it because he could see where the bone had repaired itself. 
It amazed me then how much pain I had put up with when I could very easily and legitimately gotten myself downgraded to spend my NSF time as a clerk. And I would have done it too, if I had known. (That ankle had continually been getting twisted and sprained ever since the accident.) But ignorance is bliss, and the mind is a powerful machine. Since I didn't think I had any excuse to quit, I pushed on all the way. And since then, I have always thought twice about the temptation to quit any endeavour, because it seems too difficult.
Lastly, I did BMT long before Facebook came about. So if any of my former mates see this ... please get back in touch!