Monday, May 5, 2014

Fatigue Milestones

If you have gone through National Service, you will recall the many fatigue milestones you and your body had somehow survived through.

Such fatigue came in many guises. During BMT, it was extreme tiredness due to one punishing training session after another. For example, the Bayonet Fighting ones would almost always begin right after Swimming.

To those who do not know, bayonet fighting is when you attach a bayonet (basically a dagger) to a rifle in order to engage in close-quarter combat with an enemy. The order to "mount bayonet" - i.e. put on the dagger - usually comes when the enemy is close to overrunning your position. Or it could be vice versa, i.e. where you have overrun an enemy location and now sweeping the place for the not-so-dead. You then go around poking them with the bayonet to make sure they are "really dead".

In essence, getting your rifle ready with a dagger allows you to protect yourself better. A rifle with a dagger looks like a spear. But it is not. The rifle is heavy and oddly shaped, hence there is a need to learn how to fight with one. 

Consider this attacking move: Stab the enemy with the bayonet in a forward thrust and then batter his head with the butt of the rifle with an upswing in a follow-through motion. You are bound to knock him out. It is not a difficult move to muster. But the army folks at BMT will think your IQ has disappeared along with your civi-hair and make you practice and practice the move a hundred times. (A bit like in karate where the instructor will have you kick out a thousand times before teaching you a five-step kata. Merde.)

The rifle is not without weight. Do that stabbing and swinging action, like, 150 times and you will feel fatigue like you have never felt before. It is much worse than marathon sex with your new wife on your honeymoon.


During our BMT swimming lessons, fatigue came from treading water for very long and also from doing the many insane laps. I think even an average swimmer can empathize with many a recruit's situation.

But such fatigue does not just bother the mind, you can feel it in your limbs. When they are really stretched beyond breaking point, they feel as if they are floating afterwards. (It's that same feeling after pressing your arms outwards against the door posts.) The limbs suddenly "float" as in some Space 2001 movie moment. Or Gravity.

Further exertion is just muscle pulling on bones - what slaves leave behind as clues in their skeletal remains for archaeological CSI folks to ponder over their economic contribution.

Already so tired, you can imagine our distress when the next lesson is Bayonet Training, wielding that heavy M-16 rifle with a sharp dagger attached. One particular exercise our PC always had us do (that irks us most): Holding the rifle at the butt (shoulder stock) with one arm outstretched at 15 mins duration at a time. Any defaulters would have to run round the field with the weapon above the head. Cruel much? You bet. And all in the name of endurance.

(Do your own experiment: Try holding a 2-litre Coke bottle at arm's length for half an hour and you will get a sense of what we had to go through during those torturous bayonet training lessons. Incidentally, holding a coke bottle out is what you want to do if you intend to be an air pistol marksman. If you want to be a wanker, just continue to hold...)


In BMT, another fatigue milestone came from the few road marches we all had to go on as infantry soldiers.

Dressed in Full Battle Order (i.e. combat uniform, helmet, SBO, full-pack, and rifle) the road march gave us an idea what an infantry foot-soldier's life was going to be like. A lot of commuting by "Bus No.11" so to speak. (Bus No.11 being two legs walking!)  

At this point, many will wish they had gotten a vocation like that of a sailor in the navy or that of an aircrew, you know, folks with vehicles to take them places, not siao walk like some postman on a death wish.

And our road marches were usually done in double quick time, not that casual walk in the park.

If your feet were not well (e.g. blisters), you were going to have a hard time during a road march.

During Reservist, it was not uncommon to walk 5 km in quick pace to get to a forward RV. We did that once in Taiwan (that land of infinite space unlike Singapore), over a rocky stream bed most of the time. Many blistered their feet as well as suffered from sore knees.


Another incredible fatigue moment occurred during foxhole digging. If you think digging a chest-high box-like hole in hard ground is easy, go ahead, try it.

Now try digging that same foxhole again with blisters on your palm from using that changkul (hoe) for far too long. Farmer sons we are not.

Foxhole digging. If only we were digging a small hole for a fox.


During my BMT, another extreme fatigue moment came from our physical exercise sessions. The reason was simple: we had a "mad dog" PC.

Most times, we had to fireman-lift our buddies around ITD camp (the original one near Senoko, when it still had a ring road). Not once, not twice, but until we collapsed from exhaustion. One recruit mate had a medical cert (MC) for a back problem, but it was ignored and he had to continue with us as before. He was a bespectacled fella, thin and small. We heard his parents were well off but that did not help a bit.

This ITD camp I went to is still around today. But it is not like what it used to be. That circular road which ran round the camp has been truncated. It was given up for that Admiralty Road West lane expansion. You can see the surgery clearly from the main road. 

Besides fatigue, we also suffered pain during those terrible physical fitness exercise routines. We would be ordered to crawl (in our shorts and tees) over a field filled with prickly mimosa plants. Mad Dog truly was inventive in doling out punishing exercises. He claimed he was just giving us a taste of what OCS was like. "It's not a walk in the park," he would say. We got it the first time round. Did he have to make us go through it over and over again???


In OCS, I remember the extreme fatigue moments came from overnight topos, hill climbing in Brunei, mountain climbing in Taiwan, trench fighting training, withdrawal exercises, and surprisingly, the worst came during boxing lessons.

Boxing is not natural. It requires certain muscles. Most of us don't have them, And trying to build them by boxing over and over again is extremely tiresome. Remember that "floating" feeling? Well, you will certainly experience them ten-times worse after trying to box for just five minutes. Hold a can of coke in each hand and try it. Your arms will be so weak you can't even salute anyone.

Next story: The Call Up
Previous story: Recruit Nite

Recruit Night

One evening, that NS reality program on TV, Every Singaporean Son, showed the recruits preparing for Recruit Night... an end-of-course function.

It reminded me of own BMT end-of-course event. But it was called OC's Evening back then. We were, of course, happy that our BMT had come to an end. For Echo Company Platoon 17, the relief was more than welcome. We had an especially tough training course when almost every other recruit company was having theirs easy. Yup, it was that obvious.

So, even though we were glad that OC's Evening was coming up, we didn't feel very liberated at all. We were still in that goddamn 'torture' camp of ITD in Sembawang, probably the second last batch to still train there before BMT training was later moved on to a redesignated Tekong Island. 

Needless to say, what everybody looked forward to that evening was the buffet. Recruits in any generation of NS could never seem to get enough of food! And during my time, food was still quite bad: the 'barb-wire' morning beehoon, the yellow-green 'bleached' veggies, the oily veg-stewed chickens, etc. Only food served in the Muslim section of the cookhouse offered any semblance of good grub. Some of us would even pretend to be "potong kia" (circumcised kid) and sneak over to get a bite of the delicious curries and such. Our NCOs were always on the lookout for such 'instant' Muslims.

I was never one to complain about food in general, thinking it's better to have the necessary calories than not. Besides, our meals were often accompanied by that jar of yellow sweet plum sauce on the table that made everything taste better! Thank goodness for those little scoops of golden salvation!

During Recruit Evening, I remember my platoon's PC acting like some bigshot. (It's true. A full-Lieutenant was like king in Recruit Camp. In OCS, a full-Lieutenant would be just a shoe-shine boy; nobody gave a damn! Throw a stone up in OCS and it would most likely land on a Captain or Major. In terms of rank, a 'full-Left' was just a tiny bit of bi-sai (boogers)!)

Our farewell evening function was conducted in camp - in a large theatre-like hall with a stage at one end.

That Evening's program was punctuated by singing on stage and sketches put up by the various platoons. The highlight of the program was that all important 'Miss Recruit' beauty pageant. A beauty pageant? Where come the ladies?

Well, we learnt that the pageant was a sort of tradition. The participants were all us recruit guys dolled up as sexy contestants for the occasion.

This kind of thing always makes me go "Hmm". I wondered why we couldn't have something creative instead, like performing a play based on something famous or well known. But no. We MUST have the beauty pageant, our NCOs told us. I think it was their one final not-so-secret prank on us. A final joke on us before they kiss our asses goodbye forever.

I don't think I would miss any of them NCOs aside from commando Corporal Raja who left us early for another posting. We hated one fair Chinese guy in specs. He had a plump face but was very cold in the heart. Of all the NCOs, he was the cruelest because he treated us like dirt. None of us could talk to him. For him, he was the emperor and we were his nobodies.

He was literally the one guy we would beat up if we met him outside, why I guess he never booked out of camp alone. That was how bad he was. Even our strict platoon sergeant had his redeeming ways.

That evening, sitting outside the barrack bunk and eating biscuits with my partner in crime Kum Fatt, I wondered about my BMT stint.

A sweet moment was when my eldest sister visited me during Visitation Day after the mandatory two-week confinement period.. She bought me a radio, one that could receive TV channels. I think she thought I could listen in on those HK serials that was popular on TV at the time.

But I don't think any of us missed home. Our batch was enlisted straight after our A-level exams. The reporting date was usually the 21st of December. So our three weeks of confinement was interrupted by the soon-to-come Christmas and New Year public holidays; we all got to go home. So that compulsory three-week confinement was mostly in name only.

But I loved that radio that my eldest sister bought. It kept me and buddies company in the bunk when civilian life seemed so remote, and in the past tense. I still have that radio in my collection of NS memorabilia. It still works!

Kum Fatt and I got along because we were both Cantonese and importantly, outgoing types. There were a few others in our clique too, all good guys. Another clique in the platoon sought to find trouble. It was led by a guy called Tuck Foo, who liked to always be the center of attention. He would pick on me or Kum Fatt. Kum Fatt less so because he was tall and big sized. I was skinny and a bit more introspective. Or maybe he just didn't like my face. Anyways, we almost came to blows on time. But it was one of his guys who came forth to be peacemaker. His name was Kwong, whose family owned a photo studio in Geylang, near the lorong where I grew up. We thus had some connection and as we spoke more, he came to realise that we weren't so much the threat as Tuck Foo was sensitive.

In any case, the altercation did not get worse and was soon forgotten. I would later meet Tuck Foo in OCS and was supposed to fight him in a boxing match. Unfortunately he was disqualified because he wore specs. I went on to be champion in my weight division.

Lucky him.

But that's the thing. BMT threw together very different people going through some very arduous training, mostly for the very first time. Some folks would crack, cause trouble, over worry, make the best of it, etc.

My only regret from that time was not knowing more folks intimately, make more friends.

But that is the nature of BMT or our sort of BMT. We had a hell of a torturous time and was glad for it to be finally over. For those of us going to OCS, it was another big question mark. Would it be a case of "out of the fire and into the cauldron"? Can we make it? Can I make it?

I had made my choice and decided to face it head on. So, goodbye ITD, hello OCS at Pasir Laba Camp!

Next story: Fatigue Milestones
Previous story: On Leadership

On Leadership

When I decided to become an officer, I didn't really know what that role entailed. I chose to be one because I  was disgusted with some officers during BMT and thought I could do a better job. So when the OCS-suitability initiative tests came, I did not hesitate. I also felt confident going in after having been a student leader all my school life (being prefect, class rep, sports captain, etc) . I and Kum Fatt were also quite the leaders for our BMT platoon and well liked. So even if I was somehow not selected, I knew they could not refuse me. I would make a case. But that was not necessary; I got in together with quite a number of my mates from Platoon 17. A few good fellas from my platoon did pointedly refuse to enrol for OCS. They were already frightened by our extra tough BMT course and had no desire to endure more, no thanks to our Mad Dog PC's old-fashioned ways.

Arriving at OCS we were met by a couple of creeds emblazoned over our barrack entrances and elsewhere:  "To Lead Is An Honour", "Who Dares, Succeeds", "Excellence in Everything We Do", etc, - virtues we were all proud to call our own and hold our heads high to. We felt the shine but had yet to be put through the polish. At that moment, we all believed OCS would somehow turn us into leaders, and men, of extraordinary honour. (My mom would put that down to "that new toilet feeling".)

The New Cadet Initiation Ceremony did the same; fortunately there was little ragging. We were assembled and put through the usual regimental paces all the while being shouted at and reminded of OCS creeds. I remember flaming torches lining the sides of an entrance to one cadet barrack. It was suitably tribal and flickered with the gravitas of how life can be gone in a flicker of a moment in combat. "Your men's lives are like that flame that's easily extinguished. Either by your enemies or by your actions. Indecision can kill. Can you make that decision under fire?" was what I imagined the light to be asking of me as I stood there listening to another senior cadet bark his head off about another stirling officer value. 

I am not good with barkers nor unreasonable people. But I could be Teflon and let it slip. Push me somemore and I might just bite back. I wondered then if there were more barkers then reasonable instructors at OCS. Of course, the Tactics Team instructors there would give me plenty to think about later.

As initiation ceremonies go the one I went through in OCS was bearable. Well, at least it wasn't cruel. When I entered university, the initiation ceremonies were terrible. It was boot camp all over again. Worse, the 'drill sergeants' would be less-than-pleasant sophomore girls who knew nits about anything closely resembling an initiation rite. All they knew to do was shout at us as they jogged us round the university campus interspersed with "Give me 20!" drop-'em-down push-ups.

We freshmen boys who had just spent the previous 2 1/2 years in National Service were naturally quite cheesed off. It's no wonder many of us quit after the first day.

A friend was less fortunate and continued to be buggered by these Communist-type robot girls. The reason was that he stayed in one of the campus hostels and was thus obliged to do his bit as part of a fraternity group. But my friend just couldn't be bothered. When the rude sophormore girl came back a second time to harass him, he put on his best Hokkien Peng imitation and kaninabeh'ed her to the wall. I think he also waved a beer bottle threateningly. Haha, what a guy! But the ploy worked. Nobody bothered him again after that, certainly not that girl who turned green and almost peed in her pants.

Naturally, the first person we hoped to learn leadership from was our OCS platoon commander, Capt Ang. But he did not fit most strong leadership types. Granted he was his own man, he was rather chubby and fair. He had a rather kindly but impatient face and he was not given to long inspiring speeches. He just asked us to not let him lose face.

A bit odd, if you had asked me then.

We cadets looked at one another and wondered which part of China he came from, or which dynasty!

Imagine us sending troops into battle the next time with the simple instruction: "Eh, don't make me lose face."

Could it be that simple?

Well, Capt Ang turned out to be quite unlike any of the officers we met in OCS. He was also very different from the other two platoon commanders in our cadet Delta Company. The three of them did not mix well. I may have my complaints about Captain Ang but the one thing I liked about him was he was a guy you could talk to. And I liked his chop-chop no nonsense efficient manner. This man would cut corners. Were all tank commanders like that? I wondered then. (Capt Ang did arrive at OCS from the Armour Division. OCS then was like a halfway house for officers on the up.)

One of the platoon commanders in our Delta Company was very salesman-like. The other was a commando who really did resemble the square-jawed, well-built leader type. But he too spoke like a Chinese helicopter similar to Captain Ang and sounding not too confident in English. I don't know, maybe I had by then been too weaned on too many American war movies to know better.

In any case, Capt Ang did the unusual thing of letting us manage ourselves. His only guiding light was: "Don't make me lose face."

In the end, we had a marvellous (but no less tough) time in OCS. And we succeeded beyond anybody's imagination. The Sword of Honour, the Knowledge Prize and the Fitness Prize all came from our platoon of misfits. We could tell that the other two platoons of mostly government scholars were grudgingly admiring, after all, 'they' were supposed to be the better ones. But what to do, they probably had one too many creeds to live up to; we only had the single DON'T MAKE ME LOSE FACE!

They should have saved all that paint in OCS and just written this one maxim on all its lecture hall walls and elsewhere (the cookhouse, for example). If you consider it seriously, this message does carry itself quite well from self to unit to country. Essentially it just means to "do somebody proud!" And that 'somebody' starts with you!


In hindsight, Capt Ang's approach was very Modern-day management. It forced us to work among ourselves and listen to the natural leaders in our midst. Was that his aim???

At the end of our OCS Junior Term (the first three months), the really hopeless (e.g. fitness not good, too quiet, too weird, etc) were weeded out.

By the end of Senior Term, it was the meek that really went. Even assholes passed. So, if you want to pass OCS, make sure you speak your mind and stand up to be counted. How did the assholes pass when there was a peer-review towards course end? Well, my answer is that this small country needs officers. And educated officers are hard to come by in our wee populace. The army is not going to fail someone just because nobody liked him. They could always post the bugger to Military Police or Logistics! 


When we finally graduated from OCS with that single gold bar, it was with pride of achievement and also a sense of trepidation. I know some of the guys were more confident and wore their 2nd Leutenant bars like seasoned officers. As a person, I felt no different. Instead, I wondered how my relationship with the enciks (senior NCOs) would be like. I knew that they were better commanders of men then I ever hoped to be at that point in time. They should be wearing bars on their epaulettes instead of being subordinate to new officer me. At times, I think I could sense their disappointment of being stuck in their rank and role... which was why later the army made the change to let senior Enciks attain the rank of Captain - if they so desired. Some refused for economic reasons: they could lose their contract gratuity and also NCO rank benefits which was (in total) much better than the executive pay of a captain's. 


So, at the end of the OCS course, did I learn anything about leadership on the battlefield? 

I know I learnt field craft; I know I learnt tactics. But as to leadership, I think the practical aspects were very limited. It was all about values and being an example to your men. 

I subsequently learnt more when I was retained to be an instructor in OCS soon after graduation. I opted to be a Demolition Team instructor and hence had more free time than those who became Mentors (our instructor batch became the first Mentors in OCS's history). Mentors were assigned to the cadet platoons and company and followed them throughout the 9-month training. We from the Demo Team was on a per training lesson basis. After a training lesson, we would head back to our office and "own time, own target." 

With the free time I had I sometimes headed down to the Infantry HQ library which was in the first building you'll encounter entering SAFTI Pasir Laba Camp. The books there were of a wide range and very interesting. Being starved of leadership examples, I began to read more the personal accounts of officers who went through battle. Most were very touching and even heartwrenching.

In the early 90s, when books on the Vietnam War started appearing, the accounts were even more illuminative. Those battles in the dense jungles of Vietnam better mirrored our own lansdscape and so I absorbed the stories like an eager sponge.

I was particularly drawn to officers who fought battles based on commonsense and instinct. The Americans lost the Vietname War not because of the mass media back home, but because they fought it using WWII tactics of open plains and attrition. Some of the higher echelons officers were also vain. Not having fought in the Korean War, some were eager to gain recognition by engaging in the Vietnam War. In any battle, if you don't fight smart, you would most likely end up on the losing side.

The Vietcon, less equipped and outgunned, fought smart and won.

Remember, they beat the French first at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 before they engaged the Americans.


So, what have I learned about leadership from all those first-person account stories from both commanders and reporters covering the wars?

1. Find out the background of the men who will be under your charge. If they are babies fresh from some farm in Minnesota then you have your work cut out for you.

2. Tactics. Are you using outdated tactics from a bygone era? Can higher command teach you new tricks?

3. Lay of land. So, you have men, you have weapons. How best can you use them in the terrain against the enemy? 

4. Acclimitisation. Are you and your men well adjusted enuf to perform in the area of ops? In the Vietnam War, the US troops were not familiar with the weather, vegetation and even the insects of the jungle; not to mention the inscrutable Vietnamese villagers.

5. Enemy. How smart is your enemy? Never underestimate them. There is always a smartaleck, chest beating patriot amongst them who will give you and your men intense challenges.

6. Are your men trained to react to immediate fire? Rehearse and rehearse again. Give your men rest, but do not become complacent. Even a revision on simple first aid (like arterial compression) is desired.

7. Be flexible. Instead of operating as a platoon, would it be better to operate as a three-men squad on a more regular basis?

8. Don't hate your enemy. Know him well enuf to beat him so he will not get up to screw you again. He is the combatant, not a voodoo from hell. Move on. Pick up a souvenir or two for a job well done.

9. Intel. Intel on enemy area mines is very important - during war and post-war when they have to be removed. Same applies for booby traps. Share captured intel quickly.

10. Be moral. Make sure your men are always on their best behavour. Do not tolerate beastly behaviour. Your men are soliders and combatants first and foremost. The Vietnam War has several cases of villager abuse and massacre, same as in the Iraq War. I know this is a very difficult area to manage, but less misunderstanding is always desired. Sometimes I feel the army PR machine can do more in this aspect.

11. Training. Train your men to work as a unit. Train them to function well under you. Remember, Basic Training is never good enuf from boot camp. 

12. TubeTime. This is my concept devised from Project Management. Basically time is imagined as a tube. You enter the engagement one end, you exit the other. Most time, men in battle lose sense of time and purpose. TubeTime informs them how long they are giving their life to a project/war so activities are planned and chopped up to make sure everything runs smoothly. TubeTime in combat can help to fight fatigue, keep focus, maintain a sense of normality. Note: Your men typically have short attention spans. Keep them 'heads-up' just enough to maintain focus. With your NCOs you can 'vision' more.


I have a Master in Technology In Management and know a thing or two about Corporate Leadership. While some tenets are the same, Military Leadership is a whole new ball game. There's peace time leadership and there's also war time leadership. Prepare yourself well.

(Afternote: After some further thought, this analogy came to me: Battlefield leadership training is a bit like Martial Arts training. When you ask folks why they learn, for example, Karate, they will say: "So as to defend myself better." Well, that is the general purpose, but martial arts training is about repetition and muscle memory. It is about reacting instinctively to any attack and producing the appropriate response. A punch from an aggressor will elicit a block and counter attack. - Why Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do is so deadly. His reactionary moves are so blindingly fast and always striking painful areas. So I think battlefield leadership is about being well trained to react to what the enemy might throw at you. And why training and rehearsals are important, even out in the field.) Add-on: There's a Chinese saying: 兵无常势,水无常形 - 'Military has no fixed situations, water has no fixed shape' - in other words, be adaptable. ;-) 

Next story: Recruit Night
Previous story: An Instructor's Life

An Instructor's Life

When the peer results came out and we found out who passed or failed, we also soon got our posting orders. I was not surprised to discover that I was among those selected to remain in OCS as instructors. 

The funny thing was that my PC had asked me if I had any intention of signing on. He seemed to think i was well suited. But since I still had a university degree to attend to after NS, I declined. I figured any career decision could wait till after that. Also, a career in camouflage wasn't my kind of thing. And one had to be ambitious to succeed. I was more a people-oriented person interested in design and the wider world.

I would likely end up in an engineering lab or design studio. At the time, I did have aspirations to being a psychiatrist or architect. None of the local training awards (LTA) offered by the SAF supported these choices.

However, if my answer to my PC then had been a yes, I don't think i would have been retained in OCS as an instructor. I would be sent to a combat unit to begin my acclimatization to actual army life.

Having spent my entire NS life in OCS, I at times wonder how my own mates fared in the active units. I think most report a stronger camaderie. That was certainly the case when Reservist began. They all seemed to know one another very well. From the S1 to the S4; from the company commanders to the platoon commanders and men, they all shared time together during NS and afterwards went into Reservist together. 

(A crass but jokey way of greeting back then amongt Reservist men was: "Eh peng yu, jing ku bo toot tiok ler!" (Hokkien, Eh friend, long time no 'poke' you. Often accompanied by a vulgar 'finger through hole' hand signal.) 

Ex-school officers/instructors were like orphaned children, posted willy nilly to any Reservist unit after their tenure. My own posting came six years after I RODed! By then I had become very civilian not to mention my army knowledge being rustier than that old derelict WWII iron pier in Marsiling.

Only my uniform remained fitting of times past.

And the craziest thing was: instead of being send to some new unit, I was posted to a very old battalion... One that was about to finish their 13-year cycle. What? A new bird officer sent to command some "lau jiao" soldiers? Great. Suddenly all those Hokkien Peng reservations came flooding back.

Having been in OCS all my NS life, I thus understood little about unit life. If I had known, I would probably have opted to go to one to serve out my NS time rather than be retained in OCS to teach, just so there's actual credential to burnish that two-bar lieutenant rank with. After all, I was trained to be an Infantry platoon commander, not a School-lecturing PC. I could do that even without proper training. I've always been very good at teaching/training, that sort of thing.

Truth be told, we in Demolition Team in OCS were so distracted by our new computer hobby palying with the Apple IIes, Sinclair Spectrums, etc., to be bothered with anything else.

But folks at the time did tell me how great School life was compared to unit life. That I didn't have to face those dreaded Hokkien Pengs (dialect-speaking soldiers) who were rumoured to be gangsters, geng-kings and deserters or all three combined. You know, trouble-makers all round.

A part of me wasn't really too concerned as I've turned around ruffians in school before. The troublemakers would become my friends. Anyway, at the time, I saw my NS as a two-and-a-half year stint rather than a 13-year-plus Reservist cycle. Thinking back now, perhaps I should have given my NS career a little bit more thought. I tell you, that 13-year cycle (now reduced to 10) was pretty long in retrospect.

Also, around sometime in Senior Term, I did harbour joining the Commandos once, with a buddy. But the prospect of keeping fit for a long time didn't quite make sense. I was fit but skinny and so had to do a double think!

As for Hokkien Pengs, aren't they soldiers too? It could be just a dialect/language label. Don't you find them in Fujian province in China also? Or in Taiwan ROC? Haha. 

But seriously, during my NS time, there were already prevailing winds of change. I was not alone in seeing the Army get better. (See 'A Time of Changes' story)

After a tiring (and confrontational) three-month conversion course at Gillman Camp, I "balik kampung" back to OCS to begin my NS career as an instructor. But now my vocation had an added 'Pioneer' status to it. Formerly, my title was Infantry Pioneer Officer or IPO, skilled in infantry as well as in Combat Engineering. Someone who could be very useful in the support company of a battalion (taking care of obstacles and minefields) and as a Tiger Force commander (taking care of ambush duties or a weapons detail).

With this new IPO vocation, I was qualified to teach demolition and handle explosives in OCS. By the time the Infantry Pioneer Conversion Course was over, I had only slightly over 12 months left on my NS term. I wondered how much of an impact I could still make as an instructor in OCS. (Apparently a lot, judging from the positive comments we received from the graduating cadets!)

Sadly, that 12 months turned out to be quite eventful in OCS. Some cadets were blown up to bits in a platoon-ran exercise. One cadet went missing for days and eventually found drowned in mysterious circumstances. My own Demo Team wasn't responsible for any of those incidents but we helped in the subsequent search and rescue and BOI. We also all felt very sad. Young men in their prime shouldn't be cut down by accidents in such a way. Changes to training methods were then enforced, changes that we were only too glad to initiate and support it all the way.

However, other than these incidents, life in OCS was rather predictable.

Besides Demolition, my men also had to teach Weapons as well, which was rather sweet. It meant being involved in live firings where we could fire weapons to our heart's content with whatever ammunition that was left. Plus, there was no need for us to clean any weapons afterwards like we did during cadet time. How sweet was that? The same with the extra C4 explosive sticks that we could form into a ball and ignite with a fuse and then throw like in some Loony Tunes cartoon.

Loud times, fun times.


My Demo team setup was simple: Two officers and two or three assisting NCOs. Two of my NCOs were weapon specialists and very good with the GPMG (machine gun) and 84-mm recoiless rifle. They did not need any supervision at all.

Sgt Lee (the GPMG expert) loved fishing and would often cajole us to join him at Pulau Aur (off the Malaysian Johor east coast). Or Pulau Tinggi for some sport of spear-fishing.

Staff Sgt Subra (the 84-mm RR gun expert) was an unhurried fellow who loved to run. Although he smoked, he could pretty much outrun any of us younger chaps. I had many pleasant evenings with him running from our office at Golf cadet company to the Pump House outside ASFTI, just before the main hilly training areas.

Sgt Charles (an all-rounder) was an easy-going fella and joker. He was young and loved a good chat and joke. But he was a very good instructor with all the right values. Engaging, fun, serious when it mattered. And he loved to tell a tale. He would later join the first SAF unit involved in flying drones.

I had a colleague who was involved in this unit as well. In its early days, the drones were nothing but propeller-driven, large-scale models of remote-controlled planes. Old school ones made of wood.

Sgt Charles told me years later that the wooden propellers of these R/C planes would break very easily upon landing as the planes would generally tip forward. Made of polished tree wood and imported from overseas, these broken propellers were expensive to replace. Every landing hence became very stressful and harrowing for the operator! Just the thought of having to sign that 1206 sent up a cold sweat, said Sgt Charles.

You could also lose a plane by flying it out of range. That's like $1 million a pop! I recall my colleague having to travel to Israel to train and learn how to manouvre these so-called 'drones'. Compared to today's sleek and autonomous flying machines, those propeller R/C models were positively old-fashioned, kind of like comparing WWI bi-planes with jets. So ancient they looked in comparison!

Ah, my colleague was also acting like some Pathfinder ranger each time he was out recce-ing with those spy R/C planes at some forward line. One could imagine him packing extra propellers in his fullpack and the batteries required to fuel each flight!


As an instructor in OCS, SAFTI was our home. Our bunk house was the E-block - a high-storey disused block of bunk rooms and toilets that was once an active barrack. It was not a place for the faint of heart nor those afraid of deserted and broken up places. So empty (and dilapidated) it looked.

Back then, SATFI was pretty much what it was when it was first built. Only OCS was the new institution with barracks lining both sides of a newly paved avenue called Foxhound Ave. It led to the back of the camp where a sewerage plant stood. I don't remember the plant smelling much. Much of the waste was already treated.

On one side of the Avenue were the cadet companies of Golf, Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. Behind them butted a training hill covered with CB-leaf trees (aka fig trees). Facing these cadet companies on the opposite side of the Avenue were the companion Delta, Echo and Foxtrot. A field ran behind these buildings, where cadets practised laying out large demolition circuits to simulate aerial bombardment during mock Infantry exercises. As OCS was at the end of the main road leading into SAFTI camp, each time we booked in or out, it required a long walk. The guys at SAFINCOS did not have this problem; their institute was just next to the camp's main gate.

OCS intakes at the time came in this combination: Alpha-Charlie (poly batch), Bravo-Echo (A-levels batch), Delta-Foxtrot (another A-levels batch).

On the left of the SAFTI main gate coming in was the motor pool and Infantry HQ. The HQ looked the proper and landscaped miltary building with the requisite twin flag poles at the front. One pole for the nation's flag, the other for the Armed Forces. The HQ building wasn't very high, maybe six stories. 

After this HQ were a couple of low olive green buildings that housed the NCO Mess. Next to this, a rugby field where we cadets were taught to tough men. This field later incorporated a repelling tower at its front edge. There was also a basketball court where the PTIs taught us their physical training, a place we cadets dreaded mostly for its arduous log-beam and medicine ball exercises. After this sweaty spot, the Golf cadet company barack and then the rest of the OCS buildings. The OCS HQ was opposite the cookhouse and next to the lecture theatres.

On the right side of SAFTI camp entrance was  SAFINCOS, a place where non-commissioned officers were trained. After this, a small field known to us as the SIW Field. SIW stood for School of Infantry Weapons. I remember marching past SIW on my way to the SAFINCOS parade square for my OCS graduation. 

After the SIW field were the squash and tennis courts. OCS and SAFINCOS staff must remember these courts well. It was a common pastime to play squash or tennis in the evenings at SAFTI from around 4.30pm onwards.

Beyond these sporting facilities were the OCS HQ and lecture theatres. Opposite the OCS HQ was the cookhouse where I (as the School Duty Officer) had a number of special meals prepared for me by the cooks there. It was a sort of tradition the cooks perpetuated for the on-duty folks, no doubt started by some kind Encik in charge. A special dish often served  up was xinzhou fried rice - a real treat considering the usual overcooked fare during lunch and dinner. Because OCS training often ended late, this specially prepared midnight snack was truly heartwarming... Not to mention tummy-rubbing comforting!

At night, an OCS lecture theatre became a movie theatre of sorts. One of my Demo team officers (William) was a frequent user. (I think it was he who started rigging the place up in the first place.) 

He and his kakis would rent episodes of his favourite HK TVB series, Legend of the Condor Heroes (Shen Tiao Xia Nu), and watch them there. Most times, his batch-mate instructors would join him and marvel at that pretty and petite lead actress Babara Yung. They must have been heartbroken when she committed suicide at the tender age of 26 some years later. What a pity for a popular actress! Although I didn't watch too many TV serials at the time, I must admit she brought something definitive to the role of that Xiao Long Nu, or Little Dragon Girl. 

Ah, the squash and tennis courts. They sure bring back a lot of fond memories. If you have served in SAFTI at the time, you would have visited the squash courts as a player if not spectator. Squash was very popular back then and folks would look out for competitive matches between the good players. I remember Capt Ang, head of the Demo and Weapon teams being very good.

At the time, Jahangir Khan was the undisputed king of squash. (This is no exaggeration. He was unbeaten in 555 matches stretching over 5 years and 8 months! He was finally beaten by Ross Norman but strung up another unbeaten run for another nine months! Jahangir was so good he won the SPA Championship without losing a single point! What a hero!)

Later on he and Jansher Khan dominated the world matches. For me, I picked up interest in the sport from a sister. We used to share a racquet till I bought a special one made of bamboo ply. It was both light and strong. It now reminds me of the bamboo bicycles folks are trying to build!

Unfortunately my bamboo racquet cracked years later during play. Among the officers, I wasn't a bad player. I did manage to beat a Grade E player easily. But because badminton was more my game, I found the squash court rather small and stiffling. There was also less leaping about and smashing.


My partner in crime at the Demo team in OCS was this guy called Fong. We were both easy-going fellas but serious in our work. We got on well with our NCOs as well as the Mentors from the other companies. Fong wasn't the admin sort and so I became the de facto head. There wasn't really much to do besides drawing up training schedules and lesson assignments and the writing up of one or two training handbooks. There was hardly any personnel issue to attend to even.

On low-key days, we would leave our Demo team office at about 4.30pm and go for a run. At times we played squash or tennis.

One time, with the introduction of the keyboard computers to our shores (eg. the Apple IIes, Sinclair Spectrums, Commodore Amigas, etc), we (the officers) forgot about squash and spent our free hours learning to program and play games. Fong even signed up for a course in Cobol (a business oriented programming language). I ended up buying an Apple IIe clone from one from the mentors whose family ran an electronics parts shop. Thus began my life-long acquaintance with computer and electronics.

(Here's the story: An Apple in OCS)

At Demo Team, our so-called "area of ops" consisted of 1) the training sheds behind the barracks; 2) the Demo Live Firing Range; and 3) the ranges for hand grenade throwing. The last one was for the lady Golf Company cadets whose OCS training included Basic Military Training or BMT.

None of us liked being on duty during handgrenade training even if it meant being with the fairer sex. A live grenade not going off is bad news. And the sandy slope of the live firing range did not help matters when we had to go down there to clear a dud (what we professionally refer to as a 'blind').

A blind is a bomb that does not go off, which means it could go off anytime afterwards! 

A handgrenade is a simple device and hence the more dangerous. It's firing pin could well be just stuck because of poor manufacture, bad storage or simply rust from dampness, etc.

Even trying to put a block of explosive next to it can be unnerving - so sensitive those buggers can be. Imagine doing that on a steep, slippery, sandy slope!

But we at Demo Team always made sure we lived to blow things up another day, haha. ;-D

Next story: Leadership
Previous story: About Hokkien Peng

About Hokkien Peng

When I was told I would be joining a bunch of foodies to sample Hokkien food, my mind immediately harked back to my very first time.

It was during my 6th or 7th Reservist in-camp training. 

I was with an Infantry Battalion then and leading a platoon of 'Hokkien peng' (i.e. dialect-speaking soldiers). We had pitched tents on a part of Pulau Tekong, the aim being to protect an important 'make-believe' installation there. 

Protection of an installation had suddenly become important. It was never the Army's job.  I think in time of unrest or war, the Police were expected to perform that task. But really, the Men in Blue would be better off maintaining law and order than perform what was basically "guard duty".

The 'make-believe' installation we had to 'protect' was an actual installation on Tekong. No one knew what the place was for except that it was military in nature. It was camouflaged and had all manners of antenna sticking out - even tall guylines like those for receiving BBC radio signals. Was it a listening station? Or simply an abandoned repeater station for commercial radio? No one knew. 

In any case, my platoon was just a Support platoon within the battalion and our task was to protect the Bn HQ making sure that our commander (CO) and his crew were safe whilst the rest went about their duties. As such, we were all camped in an encirclement about the HQ on all sides of a hill.

This kind of exercise was considered "low-key", meaning not much running around and sweating involved. No one was expected to even fire any blanks.

But we did have to keep our eyes open should the trainers decide to 'invade' the installation and put us 'protectors' to shame. 

What we didn't expect was the invasion by a big family of wild boars instead, which had become a nuisance population on the island.

Their leader was a very large she-boar, almost three feet high at the shoulder. She came trotting into our encampment without a care, nose ground-sniffing looking for food. I think because of the many soldiers previously camping around the area, these animals had gotten accustomed to food that was waste left behind. They had, over time, become scavengers.

To my surprise, my Hokkien-peng men were terrified. A bunch of them came running  up to me asking what they should do. 

The scene was funny. There they were, grown men with tattoos on their bodies, afraid of a pig?

In reply to my men, I jokingly asked if any of them was a butcher. We could capture the she-boar and have roasted meats that very night. Or a young one for a sucking pig. But my men were too stunned for humour and actually answered me no. I looked at them and smiled; inside, I was laughing very hard.

With wild animals, my maxim was simple: If you don't disturb me, I won't disturb you. 

As the she-boar was just nosing about minding her own business, I told the men to let them be. Just shoo them away, I said.

It worked. The wild boars, finding no food, went on their way. The she-boar gave me a last look as if to say "An juak bo ming kia jiak eh?" ('How come got nothing to eat one?' - perhaps a Singlish pig?)

My men, feeling sheepish for having panicked like little girls, went back to their tents. I think I gained new respect from them that evening. Wah, this ah 'sare' really got "ji" (guts), was what was written all over their faces.

Some officers don't like managing Hokien-peng and rather have a desk job appointment such as TCO (training coordinating officer) or an 'S' staff position. But as Infantry Officers, there was little choice. Where else were you going to get the soldiers to fill the ranks to fight a battle?

When it came to managing Hokkien-peng, the less was better. Utter a few instructions and then leave them be. Somehow, whatever needs to be done will get done. And afterwards, you will find them smoking with their shirts and long sleeves unbuttoned - "Hokkien-peng style".

Live and let live, that's my motto. Don't nitpick, was what I learned.

After the wild boars left, my men resumed their activities. 

As mentioned, we were camped on the slopes of a small hill, which was nice. It's always better to lie on a slope than flat ground. But not when it rained.

In any case, like all such 'camp-out' operations, we took turns to keep watch and conduct admin. Came meal times, we all cooked.

Combat rations by then had improved by leaps and bounds. Instead of hard tack biscuits, we were given Pasta Bolognaise. Instead of shortbread, it was Lor Mai Gai (glutinous rice with chicken). Dessert was "orh bi juk" or black glutinous rice.

Most of the rations came in neat aluminium soft packs that we could simply heat up with boiling water. Easy peasy, don't you think?

At dinner time, usually my runner would heat up something for me. It's not his job but a good runner would know how to take care of his commander. (Hey, I oftentimes help him carry his heavy signal-set to give him a break, probably the only officer to do so. That damn giant walkie-talkie of a backpack was so heavy and hard that it could cause skin blisters and bruises after some distance; its so-called "carrying harness" making the situation worse.) 

But at this particular dinner time, one of my Hokkien-peng soldiers came up bearing a mess tin of something. There was steam arising from it and whatever that was inside looked as if it got herbs. As it turned out, it was Emperor Chicken.

I was astonished. What? Huh? Where did THAT come from?

A chubby fella with unbuttoned shirt and sleeves waved from a distance. "Ah sare, that's Ah Heng's treat," said my runner, pointing to the fella with the rotund belly. I nodded and Ah Heng replied in kind.

Curious, I decided to see what was happening.

Down where Ah Heng was, a group of his buddies had gathered, and they were having a feast. On the menu, besides the Emperor Chicken (which came in a tin drum) were porridge, black bean mackerel, scrabbled egg, stewed peanuts, etc. It looked a proper 'Teochew-moi' meal.

"Ah sare (that's how they address the officers; a slang of the word 'sir'), army eh rations buay sai jiak," excused Ah Heng. (Translation: 'Army rations cannot be eaten.')

I said, Huh, are they spoilt?

"Bo lah, angmoh chan bo hoh jiak!" (T: 'Western meals not nice to eat.')

I said, Okkaay....curious why that was so. This was after all not their first in-camp.

Afterwards, we spoke more and discovered that these men were celebrating what could be for them their last camp-out together.

I had actually brought something for them - cans of pineapple-in-rambutan fruits stoked in syrup. I had learnt from my very first in-camp that fruits were often in short supply and folks appreciated even canned ones. I took the cans out and asked Ah Heng to pass them out. There were cheers all round.

"Enjoy," I said, raising a pineapple can in mock salute. And then, "Rations mai jiak hor terng Sergeant. Mai ran gak." (T: 'Return unused rations to the sergeant. Don't throw them away.')

As my runner and I sat down outside our tent for our meal, we started talking about food. In particular, Hokkien food.

"In a way, this is my first Hokkien meal," I said, more so jokingly.

Ah Tan, my runner, a rather small-sized and skinny chap, laughed nervously. We had been reservist together six years and he was still like that. I had long given up on making him feel at ease in front of me. I guess for some, the 'Officer and Other Ranks breach' was rather impossible to bridge. A good thing perhaps, to keep some distance for the sake of Command & Control. Role playing, I realised, is very important for Reservist. It helps the soldiers to settle in, do their jobs, and then "fuck off" from camp. It usually takes 3-4 in-camps for most Hokkien-peng to realise this and not fight the system. They will lose as the government has the law on their side. And in-camp training (ICT) is not about buggeration but catching up with buddies and to get away from a nagging significant other.

In any case, whenever food was mentioned, Ah Tan would light up. It was his pet subject as well.

What's Hokkien Food like? I asked.

Ah Tan said they were oily and high in salt.


No. That's how my mom cooks it. She's a lousy cook, he confessed.

"It was only until I got married that I really knew what Hokkien food was all about," said Ah Tan, his eyes turning distant as if imagining a time when a soft body was just a cuddle away. His wife was also Hokkien.

"She learned to cook from her mom. Then I realised I had been growing up on crap for a long time." Ah Tan ringed a finger around his skinny wrists for emphasis. I laughed.

"So what is it like, real Hokkien food?"

"It's more understated and fresh," said Ah Tan, again looking dreamy. Perhaps this time imagining great eats in front of him.

'Understated'? Wah, big word. Hokkien-peng, they never cease to surprise, is what I was thinking. I had a Hokkien-peng once who was a GM of a company. Every time during Reservist, he would act like a 'blur fuck' - like someone who did not know what was going on. They didn't know that we officers would go through our personnel files days before in-camp. We would normally book-in earlier than them to make preparations and attend briefings.

Some Reservist guys would act blur just so to skive from work detail or even being a good soldier. It was something I found amusing and hard to reconcile with: it was like meeting Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

"Oh, I didn't know that," I said, returning my thoughts to Hokkien food. "I thought only the Teochew was like that. With their food, I mean."

"Yes, I was confused also," said Ah Tan, who was now poking the ground in front of him with a twig, deep in thought. "I mean the fish seemed the same, the hotpot seemed the same. But somethings are different."

And then he suddenly straightened up. "Ah, my wife says that 'Buddha Jump Over The Wall' is also Hokkien!"

Oh, I replied, and said I had it once in a Cantonese restaurant.

That nugget of information confused us both and we returned to poking the ground in front of us hoping a cookery fairy would rise up to enlighten us. Nothing of that sort happened. Back then, there was no 3G, so no Google to confirm our culinary suspicions.

"So, what's your wife's cooking like?" I said, hoping clues would slip from Ah Tan's pampered tongue. 

"Oh, she likes to braise a lot. Mushrooms with roast pork, bean curd skin, that sort of thing."

Ah Tan continued: "I like her soups. They usually got yong tau hoo and that fishball with meat. She also makes her own ngoh hiang, which is light and nice. Inside also got fish."

"And there's one dish that she would always cook on Chinese New Year's Eve. That 'ang joh kway'."

Ang joh kway?

On hearing that (chicken in red glutinous rice wine), I suddenly remembered my mom learning to make that very same dish from a Hokkien neighbour in Geylang - the place I grew up in as a kid. My mom's version would be less oily and we kids liked it. It was always cooked like that ever since!

I had always looked forward to my mom's ang joh kway or 'hung chao gai' in Cantonese, savouring the red wine each time. Eaten with that other dish, Bittergourd with Scrambled Egg in Black Bean Sauce and rice, it was absolutely delicious! Man, the two dishes go together like Donny and Marie, Sonny and Cher, Lady Gaga and her meat dress.

To me, Hokkien Food up till then was Hokkien Mee (the black one with pork lard) and that ubiquitous Claypot Noodle with the yellow noodles, mussel, snow peas, yam and prawns and raw egg on top. The heat of the dish would usually cook the raw egg.

I seldom seem to encounter this claypot dish anymore. Or even if I did, the ingredients and taste would fall really short.

Story continues with About Hokkien Food 2 

Next NS story: An Instructor's Life
Previous NS story: Trench Fighting

Trench Fighting

One of the more strenuous combat skills we learned during NS time did not involve long distances. Instead, it was all centred atop a small, bald hill.

That hill in question was FOFO hill - a less than polite acronym standing for Fighting On a Fortified Objective (and not that one asking someone to f*** off twice). The fortified objective in question was a trench system linking various utility posts (small cabin dugouts) and protected by some neutral but very nasty razor-sharp wire concertina fences.

We learned pretty quickly that fighting in a trench was indeed physically very tough. One had to stoop to avoid the head be exposed and be blasted away by an enemy bullet! Worse still is for that head to invite a hand grenade over!

I think our FOFO training took up more than two weeks. You can imagine the massive thigh muscles we eventually built up walking so much like ducks for that extended period of time.

We didn't like the training but we also didn't mind the thunder-thighs we got to show off to our girlfriends and sisters at the end of it. "See, didn't we tell you that army training was tough?" we would boast. For me, being a competitive badminton player, I was glad to resemble Liem Swee King for once. He was the original Mr Thunder Thighs in professional badminton, able to leap very high to effect a jump smash. Or change a ceiling light (haha).

Now, FOFO is basically suicide if you are the assaulting force. Assaulting any fortified objective always is: the enemy is entrenched in a superior position to yours. In real war, my advice is best to write that last letter to a loved one before any FOFO action starts.

Remember Hamburger Hill in Vietnam? That 1968 uphill assault by American and South Vietnamese troops incurred a massive 70% casualty rate! After ten assaults, 100 Americans were killed with 400 wounded. And that's just over a 10-day period.

Edward Kennedy called that battle "the most irresponsible military operation in history" and held then-President Nixon culpable for the deaths.

Certainly, we were taught not to assault a FOFO without air or mortar support. Or even proper recce. You really need to know where the deadly weapons (eg. machine guns) are in order not to be mowed down before you could even yell "Kaninabeh!".

During our time, our platoons were equipped with 60mm mortars. Though these buggers were tough to lug about, they were pretty effective as short-range weapons.

Well, I hope the powers that be today are more savvy in assaulting a FOFO. We should first blast that thing to kingdom come with artillery before sending the troops in to at least even up the odds!

During our training, I don't remember being taught how to grade an FOFO objective, you know, like how well it is protected, fortified, etc., i.e. do a proper 'pro vs con' evaluation. I remember being taught a battle being a numbers game. Was it 3-to-1 for any fortified objective? If history is any guide, I think a 100-to-1 ratio is the more likely the successful do. This is especially so when many of our cities are in built-up areas with many high-rise buildings and complexes. It's going to make any future war costly in terms of human casualty not to mention property loss. Our governments should really be serious about encouraging folks to have more kids to fill up those National Service ranks!

You know, I'll be damned if I am asked to send someone's son up a FOFO to be told later that the damn place is no longer strategic. This was what happened at Hamburger Hill. That place was later quickly abandoned to be occupied by enemy forces once again. It made the earlier battle seemed pointless and the losses even more tragic than it already is.


How does one fight on a FOFO that has a trench system?

Well, it does take a lot of coordination to prevent the whole exercise from descending into chaos or confusion.

For that period of engagement, we were basically fighting like rats in a maze, but with a key difference: we rats could get out of the maze anytime by climbing out of the trench or enter from somewhere else. That itself cut both ways because your enemy can do the same too. So, a FOFO assault could literally become a cat-and-mouse game!

And the battle gets worse when the area is blanketed by smoke. No one can tell who is friend or foe.

To combat that we consipred to communicate in codes and secret calls.

"Orange! Orange!" was the codeword for an enemy grenade landing nearby. "Apple! Apple!" for a friendly one about to be thrown. 

Haha, it became more like a salad war after a while with all those fruit names! Or a Sunday outing at the local wet market.

And like all diet wars, it's darn confusing.

The best you can hope for is to move fast, kill-and-clear as efficiently as possible and get the hell out of there.

Communication is key in such situations. It is not an operation for reticent folks. You have better shout to make your presence felt or to get some action done!

One assault method is to do it sector by sector, wave by wave.

In a training exercise, nobody dies of course. We were all heroes at the end of a FOFO exercise, which is hardly realistic. In actual battle, dead bodies would block up the trench and you would have to throw them out. People would be shot at close range; guts and body parts would be splattered all over. More people would be shot in the head than anytime during combat. Blinded also from stone splinters coming off the trench top edge.

No wonder trench fighting during WWI became so traumatic for many. Seeing your best buddy die is one thing. Seeing his body cut up like being put through a meat grinder is another. And being stuck with a dead body days on end.

This is one reason why I think giving each soldier a bullet-proof shield is such a wondrous thing. It would be especially so out in the field and in a trench! You can also peek out from behind a shield and not worry about getting your eyes shot out or hurt by splintering rock and sand.

The only casualties we had during FOFO training were some cadets breathing in too much hand grenade smoke. It was all very acrid, I tell you; and it burns the throat. And we all had to undergo a Chamber Smoke Acclimatization exercise on that FOFO hill, with each section taking turns to enter and stay in a smoke-filled command post. Wearing a gas mask was of little comfort in such a small room. The thick smoke that engulfed would sneak in and make everyone gag.

An alternative to the gas mask is to use a damp cloth or camouflage scarf. Also have plenty of water on standby to wash out those painful eyes stung by smoke. More importantly, come out with guns blazing, not as a wimpy, teary soldier. For us, it was really one of those "kenna sai" moments during our NS life.


FOFO is about winning by small margins; it is a patient war. But really? In this modern age of technological warfare of drones and sky cameras? What does a FOFO even mean in this context? Do you still want to sit atop a hill to wait for an assault? Get rained on by arty bombs, smart bombs and what not? (which was what happened at the battle of Dien Bien Phu between the Vietnamese and French).

One of the scariest thing in battle has to be being bombarded by cluster bombs or some incendiary device. Being a sitting duck is no fun.

I don't think the assaulting force feels any better.

Can you imagine a trench post being guarded by a machine gun totting, crab-like robot that could scamper away and come back to haunt you? Or trenches that are booby-trapped?

Maybe I am getting ahead of my time but FOFO will always be the same I feel. Lots of hard fighting, close-quarter fighting (hand to hand combat and bayoneting) that would result in high casualties on both sides.

And do even electronic jamming devices come into play?

I think the simplest thing is to just drop wasp nests into the trenches and let nature run its course. Oh man, I sometimes hate to be fighting me, haha. War does bring out the best and worst in some people!

Next story: About Hokkien Peng
Precious story: OCS Stress