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
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  1. Brilliant blog! Love your writing style! Really brings this reader back to his own memories of NS. I served mine from 92 to 95.

  2. Towards Excellence. Which I never got in. Heng ah! Actually I loved to be OCT Lee