We’ve talked about it with relatives and friends, heard stories, and even watched a film on it. Amidst the elation and euphoria of post-graduation freedom, the thought of enlistment is both dreaded nightmare and inevitable reality.
Many of us are unwilling to forfeit our short-lived freedom and most are unfamiliar with the army. So here’s a list of 11 things I learnt in BMT, which I hope provides a glimpse into the first stage of military life.
1. Expect homesickness. For many of us, this will be the first time we are away from our family or friends for this long. Gone are the days where we can leave our beds in an untidy mess and return to sleep having it done for us. Communal living also means you have to be considerate to your friends in the same bunk. No one likes a person who throws his trash everywhere. Homesickness is common and it's part of the adjustment process. I recommend bringing along pictures of your friends or loved ones. It helps.
2. Expect long days and short nights. I always tell people that "you never really know how long a day is until you enlist", and that's a truth. As a recruit, you're constantly working round the clock. The first activity starts at six in the morning (or earlier) and only ends around ten at night. After that it's a mass orgy in the shower to meet the lights-out time. I’ll always remember having to share a shower cubicle which three section mates to expedite the showering process just so we can get to bed on time. This cycle goes on pretty much for the two months in BMT and the only respite you will probably have is your seven hours of ‘mandatory uninterrupted rest’. Military time and civilian time seem to run on different schedules. A day will feel like a year in Tekong. That thought may stress you up initially, but you'll soon come to terms with it.
3. Be prepared to learn a new language. Army lingo is unfamiliar to most and punctuated with many acronyms. Probably because it simplifies communication between troops in wartime. "No go", "half section", "drop five", "tio stun". You probably don’t understand their meanings now but rest assured you will be a well-versed native speaker soon. Then there's "IA IA IA IA IA" and "arty arty arty”. There are some which don’t really make sense like "bua long long" which actually means “to take your own sweet time”. And finally, the two most hated and dreaded words in BMT: "force prep" and "stand by" (which is pronounced in the weirdest way possible). When you hear them...be prepared to face the floor.
4. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. More often than not, you're going to disagree with some instructions your commanders give, their lack of understanding or their unreasonable punishments. That's normal. Things don't always go our way. Sometimes we are just unaware of the rationale behind those instructions. Sometimes, it simply does not make sense but we have to do it anyway. Instead of bearing grudges, take this as a learning point. How are you going to give instructions so that your subordinates understand your intent? How are you going to treat those ranked below you? Some of you will eventually go into specialist or officer school to be trained as commanders. Observe the different styles of your commanders, learn what you think is good and discard what you think is undesirable.
5. You'll look ridiculous. You're bald. Get over it.
6. Be prepared to be pushed beyond your limits, both physically and mentally. The last time most of you ran was probably a good half a year ago. Your physical fitness has definitely plummeted and it's time to start the engines running again. Physical fitness aside, there is another aspect of fitness that we train for in the military: combat fitness, which is a rough mix of grit, attitude, skill, endurance, and morale. Soon enough, you'll be donning your SBO and carrying field packs for route marches. It's no easy task. The sudden heavy load on your back would push you to your physical as well as mental limits, especially when you go on longer distances. Digging shell scrapes will also challenge the limits of your mental resilience. It's a herculean task that I have trouble with even today. My only advice: wear gloves, secure your rifle, keep digging.
7. Holding weapons is not as cool as it looks. Seriously, you will know what I mean soon enough. The excitement fades away as quickly as it comes. ND/AD, IA, rifle cleaning, handling with care, sleeping on it during SITEST. Suddenly a rifle becomes the most sacred thing in your life. Cool?
8. There will be a point in time you'll want to sign on. Kudos to the SAF recruiters for this and I guarantee that you will experience this phase. I concede that the SAF scholarships are attractive but it comes with a hefty price tag - six years of commitment. There are cases of scholars regretting joining the organization, but cannot leave. It becomes, at best, a painful obligation. I am not against the idea of having a career in the military but a military life is not everyone's cup of tea. There are also cases of scholars uttering loving their career. Look beyond the prospects of having an overseas education funded, or signing on just to get out of a seemingly difficult army life (it’s not much better elsewhere) - wait a little longer to see if the military suits you before making the commitment.
9. Don't live your life in army. An advice from a good friend. You'll be spending five, sometimes six, days a week in the army. Everything that revolves around you is about the army. When you meet your friends, you're going to speak about army. This often bores the girls out (we're sorry). Do not lose yourself in this vortex. Continue to pursue your interests or hobbies even with the limited time you have. You've got Monday to Friday for army. That’s more than enough.
10. Black tape is the panacea for everything. Fixing torn pants, securing items, silencing someone, concealment, bandage, and markings. Just about any problems you face under the sun, black tape never disappoints.
11. You're going to miss this place. You surely will. Especially when (or because) it’s over. I fondly recall my time in BMT and they were one of my most memorable moments. My section mates connected well and although we were quite the mavericks, we had the most fun out of the rest. You're going to meet people who will be your close friends even after you pass out of BMT - friends and commanders alike.
So there you go, 11 things I learned in BMT. Everyone will have different experiences and tell you different tales when they leave Tekong. There is a lot more you can learn, but I will leave that for you to discover yourself. In no time, you will be embarking on your baptism of fire - the 24km graduation march - and then you will have your share of experiences to brag about. All the best!
-written for my juniors and friends enlisting in Feb and May 2015.