2nd December 2011 : ORD loh!

Mu Yao with ORD Cert

2nd December 2011. Written by Mu Yao. Photos and Drawings by Xin Li and Mu Yao.
Mu Yao’s Operationally Ready Date

            You know. Its been a crazy year ahead since I enlisted in the army for almost 1 year and 10 months ago. I remember the anticipation and anxiety, the apprehension and the feeling of the apparent loss of innocence that I was going to have just not too long ago. Time flies, especially when you've had a life like mine. One that was just so terribly hectic that I almost forgot that I had existed in a world of warm love, with cups of friends everywhere, eager for you to bask in their tender warmth and loving care.

Thoughts Run Wild

            I remember the first day, where I went over to the sunny island of Tekong. It just seemed like yesterday. I mean, there wasn't any "omygosh I'm gonna die" type of trepidation that I would associate with fellow drama mamas like myself, but it was still a quiet, still uncomfortable sense of uncertainty coupled with plenty of my seniors' hearsay of this and that. I was posted to School 2, and when I received my posting to my company at first, my heart sank. I remember the person reading that to me was Daniel Pflug. One of my class/VS seniors that I never really knew, but when he drew a line and told me that "wait, you're in Leopard", I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Ninja and Leopard

            Still, I was tagged along with the other Ninja folks. I heard that was hell from Yee Jek and gang, but I persisted into telling myself, "If so many others could survive BMT, so would I." And in that, I was screamed at to try my new boots (which I had no idea how to wear) and shoes and what not, and asked whether I needed any sizes. I could see the fear in the others' eyes. But strangely, I wasn't sure I felt the same way. It was more of a falsified sense of bravado, one that dared me to challenge him to say, "okay, I can do this, you can't break me." But the challenge never came, and I just merely ended up being patient. And this was the attitude that led me to survive Army. By being patient, by learning to 忍, with a fervent belief that life could never tear me apart. By this, I found an unknown sense of solitude and strength that I never felt in me before. Maybe it was me growing up.

            So when I finally joined my fellow Leopard clan in the evening during RO, I told myself that it was going to get better. And it did. My time in Leopard was never a time of senseless tekan, as with what my fellow peers in Orion or Ninja were going through, but it was still a time where we were adjusting to the strict regimentation of BMT. This was where people like Jon Tay (Bunk IC!) and Bing Yang (the cool NCC dude that taught us how to polish boots and the finer points of regimentation in Army) and the clueless Vikram and the act smart friendly joker Zheng Da and the nice lovely big guy Sheng Kun with Alan (Chi An the nice nice MP) and Wai Neng (the fucking zai OCS stud) were bought together with people like me (and my blur as hell bed buddy, Timothy) together as a small family and section that stuck together for 9 weeks. And of course, who can forget the ever-smiling, can-never-be-fierce-no-matter-how-hard-he-try Sgt Yong Yuan (affectionately known as YY).

            We were a section not known for being outstanding (and churning out OCS graduates *cough*), but we still stuck together in a friendly, understanding and amicable manner that saw us through the best and worse of BMT. My enciks, ever so funny-in-their-army kinda way, And that told me something simple - that Army Leadership needn't need be about yelling and scaring the shit out of anyone to get your point across. This was a lesson in leadership that saw me taking this as a crucial part in army. No matter how unreasonable, mean or stubborn a person is, be firm in standing up for your principles in a cool-headed person without inspiring fear in your followers.

Two Enciks

            Soon enough, we left and we POP-ed. And we (me and Hans, my 'stick-with-me-since-kindergarten" buddy) left for the far west, in an ulu camp called Pasir Laba camp. I remember the day where Dad drove me and Hans there, and Dad was talking about his old army days in the old SISPEC, the current BCTC camp. We saw we were posted to Hotel Company. "Yikes," I told myself. This was the company that ah tee told me was very hellish. "My good days were numbered."


            Thankfully, it wasn't to be. I was put in a real nice place (even though we were on the top floor !#@$*) called Platoon 3 Section 2. I met the ever friendly (Chan) Yi Sheng, who was always so friendly but so serious and tough and determined in his dreams to see him go to OCS. And of course, his counterpart/bed buddy, the Lim (Yi Sheng) who's attitude was umm…. let's just say it took some getting useful. But if there's anything he taught me, it was that thing about having the courage to take a stand, have an opinion and making it known to people was not a wrong thing no matter where you are, even in the army. He certainly had the balls to do that (so much so that he walked around naked to the toilet after bathing every night - always secretly suspected that he took after Riduan). And Riduan, the garang leader of the pack and ADF regular who had so much to teach us freshies. He was a true master of soldiering and always had the patience to guide us every step of the way. And Victor Leung (the Hongkee who was always so nice and eager to listen to everyone), Daoyuan (the damn damn nice and patient Medic who always tended to others first before himself), Pak Chuen (who ended back in SISPEC somehow), Naz (the cool Mat with the big dick, as always mentioned to me by Zi Xuan), and Zi Xuan, who eventually became my PC. And who can forget Marcus, the butt of our many jokes and being the bunk's source of entertainment (thanks to his guitar, but also no thanks to his awful singing).

            All of you made my life in BSLC an exceptional one, even though I was a pretty clueless soldier myself. (Just look at me during NAVEX, where I eventually just resigned myself to carrying the signal set, haha.)

To Hotel Coy

            The next stage of my NS life eventually carried on, and saw me and Hans being posted out to somewhere even more ulu mooloo, so much so that it didn't even show up in Dad's street directory in his car. "Sungei Gedong?! Where the hell is that siah?!" I remember Hans exclaiming to me as we walked out dragging our duffel bags.

            And we ended up in the next and final stage of trainee life, the 23 weeks in AISL. I was first to admit that I didn't particularly fit in in my section, but I was particularly thankful to Wen Jian, with our long hours sharing his iPod to tell me how good and how awesome Alexandra Burke was, and his astute fascination of Brit Pop that made me discover it once more. I also can never forget my honey bear Abelo, who's a SC in 40SAR with me right now, for being my bed buddy and being so nice, patient and ever-helpful with whatever nonsense I had to deal with as the section's driver. I remember my VC, Yeong Chuan, for being a generally cool guy (except when he blows his top at Yi Jie) and his friendly outspoken self with wacky ideas on how to whack KKM. And the loudest, most wayang guy who's everyone's friend in the section, the love-him-or-hate-him Lim Jing Kai, who's astute obsession with cleanliness always leads others to attempt to sit on his bed, just for fun. The uncomfortable closeness which he held with Wen Jian was disconcerting at times (which led to certain, ahem, gossip), but looking back, their chemistry was, arm, cute to say the least.

            And perhaps the guy to which I was closest to (who OOCed in the end, sadly) was Daniel, who made me read even more voraciously (especially with regards to Modern Lit) with the likes of Samuel Beckett, my intellectual mentor offering a glimpse into the exciting, dark world of the literary arts that he loves. I love Watchmen like never before because of that. Thank you for all the runs and the long talks, knowing that you loved photography too was also cool. And yes, you are really this awesomely cool guy because I've never met anyone who builds his own weapons. I can never forget the dynamic Indian duo Aarommal and Aravind for their cock-a-nathan antics and lame jokes, and the smoking JJ who always reactions to situations always provoked a laugh or two. And yeah, my BOBBY who also OOCed cause of his pinkie. I'll never forget your whimsy laugh. You'll always be my "husband".

            There are too many people that I knew in AISL, especially amongst Platoon 4, with such a, err, FANTASTICALLY BRILLIANT PC, KINKY QUEK. And of course, it was always brilliantly amusing for him to be pitted against the equally fantastically caustic (but epitome of bad-ass encik) Warrant Khoo, who's initials really lived up to the way he treated us in AISL. We'll never forget when he laughed when his brilliant counterpart KK was teaching us about what to do when encountering Arty bombardments (DUCK IN VEHICLE!) and how to out flank another platoon when deep down the valley (CLIMB THE CLIFFS, CHIONG AND WHACK THEM!) much to our utter amusement.

            I'll never forget the wet and cold days huddled in the toner against blazing chilly winds in Fengshan, as I'll never forget the time where we almost lost (an ammo chute?) that caused us to come down at 3AM in the morning at the vehicle shed with poor L-CSM Yeong Chuan in pushup position all the way. I'll never forget the injustices of the mean KKM for confining us for something that totally wasn't warranted (especially in my case) in Taiwan, and threatening to court martial us. I'll never forget the prone-with-thrash-bag-and-blame-section-1-who-stuck-it-on-my-LBV QKK who made us do the platoon battle course again in the heavy, muddy rain. And I'll never forget my section instructor, Master (now 3WO) Tan for confining us for losing camo net pegs and all his weirdly cool kick-ass demeanor as our instructor, for teaching us to learn everything properly (especially setting up of camo nets). :)

Figure 11

            I know that there would be so many other experiences that I would have liked to share in my final stage of my trainee life, but I would just rattle on endlessly (which you would not be interested in reading). But I learnt, beyond the lessons that I was taught, that working in army and leading in army are utterly different things. The former is easy, but the latter is hard, knowing what your men would have to go through to do things the proper way, knowing that sometimes, your stubborn superiors would never understand the hardships you go through and go utterly unappreciated.

            I am proud to have gone through AISL with my course mates, even those not in my platoon, like the very friendly Eldwin and Tze Heng and peculiarly diva-drama-mama Royce, because we went through thick and thin together, and something immeasurably fruitful was formed - the implicit understanding that this son of singapore when through the exact same shit you went through, forming this strange sense of empathy and brotherhood towards him, because you know and you shared this experience. I felt I really understood what was camaraderie then.

 No Sun, No Garang, 3 tiao loh!

            No one could ever prepare for the day that I passed out and went over to this new, obscure camp called Keat Hong camp (even more ulu!). I felt like I was in BMT all over again, eagerly anticipating, especially with all the hearsay on how the 2nd year soldiers were gonna makan me and stuff like that. Of course, being a paranoid JC kid didn't help, especially when one didn't know how to deal with all the "ah beng" types. It just seemed terribly scary - for the general idea was, if you didn't know how to deal with them, you ended up becoming their slave of some sorts.

            So I got into 40SAR, and I was surprised at the level of regimentation even after what we went through as a course as cadets. I remember that everyone didn't want to go into Cougar at all, saying that the CSM very siong and fierce and everything. So I guess I counted my blessings when I got into Archer. Relax siol. And thankfully I had a PC that was an eager beaver, very willing to help, Mr Fu Shixi, especially when it came to me just railing and bitching about vehicle related stuff. And I can never forget the ever-perky and mr popular baba Gerald (which he was amongst the drivers). They made me feel at ease that they have my back in case anything happens, as I felt that I was a clueless spec right then, blur-like-sotong, dunno what to do.

            Then came my section. I remember the paranoia in me, and my section instructor telling me that I had to be strict with them or else. So I never remembered me talking very much at all in the first 3 weeks, trying as hard to maintain that poker face as far as possible. So it was funny, with me trying to formulate a coherent strategy to deal with you guys and stuff.

            Until I met someone. A senior who was a sergeant last time in NS. He told me, "Why Bother? They are all sons of Singapore. Treat them like you would treat any normal Singaporean - because they are your brothers in arms." So I told myself that I would be myself, and treat them like I would treat any normal person. They aren't your subordinates in a faceless money-eating workplace, but people you die with on the warfront. It turned out to be so right. From the day I tried to confine those who fell in late for breakfast (including ah geow and vincent, haha) I told myself that I wasn't going to be subjecting myself to mindless tekan sessions, and I was to maintain a strictly professional attitude to getting things done.

            Instructions, I told myself, must be as specific as possible, objectives must be set and stuff got done like a breeze. For that, I have my troopers to thank for, including my quite lazy driver, Junhong. Knowing that you always want to cut some corner or what, people have complained that I spoiled you too much - but I believe I haven't. I just wanted to "buy you over" by giving you some space, so that you would, realize things that would have needed to be done on your own sake. Self-initiative was what I wanted to guys to learn, and for that, i never once wanted to come down hard to shout at people to do this, to do that. That was never my style, and it never will be.

            So thank you Zheng Xian, for being the best 2IC in the battalion, seriously. For taking so much time on your own initiative to see what needed to be done and to mobilize people when needed. I think I wouldn't know what to do without you. So thank you Dun Yang, his loyal sidekick, despite all your suan-ings at me, I still appreciate your effort and your well-meaning intentions every single day. So thank you Eugene, for always helping out on your own goodwill every outfield, especially when it comes to mounting the BA kits for the weapons. So thank you Yuan Shan, for being cooperative and ever-ready to lend a helping hand, especially when it comes to setting up Camo nets. So thank you my mini-hulk Yi Kun, for always asking me "so 有什么要帮忙的吗" and doing all the carrying of stores and stuff - the sai-kang that no one wanna do. So thank you my most garang medic William, who's constant supply of snacks every outfield made this a little more bearable. Thank you guys - would have never done it without you.

Where wallabies can’t find us.

            Time passed by quickly in 40SAR. I'm so happy to have made friends with so many wonderful people too. Event after event, I remember everything - from the time I went up a bridge during AOAC to the time my vehicle got stuck in soft mud at an angle of 50 degrees in the middle of the night where i had to break track with poor jun hong. I remember the 3 times where my vehicle broke down in Wallaby, the agony of us being stranded outfield when knowing our engine exploded. I remember the blazing blue skies of R5, the miserable rain in R5 and AOAC at night, the utterly exhausted self just collapsing in my cupola. I remember the lonely cool of the starry skies when we had to continue with night missions with Yang Rong comms-ing people over the CVC, and the extra fun exercise golden sand with our massive barrage of snacks in each vehicle. I remember the first time we did 100 hour servicing with all the drivers and the smell of my number 4 reeking of SAE40. From the zombie like selves washing the vehicles at the washing bay with only 1 pathetic hose after section live firing to the pulling up of drains and digging up mud at the ATI washing bay with CSM, I remember them all - with too many memories to spare. Thank you everyone for being part of this memory, for I am proud to have walked this NS journey of mine with you.

            I would have never gone through all this without the help of all my colleagues. Special mentions go out to Jia Hong, my 2IC that got suay stay nominated by me, for proactively helping out with everything and noticing my stressed faces whenever I'm like such. Liang Zhou, for being the ever-caring CQ (OMG I THINK I STILL HAVEN'T RETURN YOU MY IRON PICKETS!) always there to provide a listening ear, and the battalion's cutest sergeant Niggerlers with his "Yarly and Nani?" for dishing out a word of sensible advice or two whenever I needed it. Thank you Yang Rong, for the many HTHTs that took place outside the armskote or whenever. I learnt a lot about being a leader from your fine example and the way you look at things. You are a truly selfless leader in always wanting to put others first before yourself, a leader with fine conviction and cause. Thank you, my retarded and fun bunk mates, Ee Hong, Bernard (sorry mannnn), Tse Siong and the ever-cool DJ Hu with your huge package you're so proud of.

            You guys made living and working with platoon 2 the best, especially with berd always somehow ta-ing all the sai-kang. (DAMNNNN!) But you guys always help out and understand my positions whenever I'm too tired to think (which I whine so every time). and the lengthy debates against mr berd - who can forget us arguing till late at night. Lip Young's epic caustic humor, Honey Bear's sweetness and cute laughter, Chee Yang's fun sarcasm and chemistry with Mr Nic, Zhi En's "HUH? its okay, relax man" and many pats on the shoulder, Colin's diligence in duty planning, Kenny's nice and generous offers and HTHTs with him - thank you for everything.


            Of course, I would never forget my senior commanders. From the (very fan) master wong who always likes to call me at odd hours and at odd times, to my OC and chillax 2IC, to the da niu CSM - thanks for all the guidance and instruction, especially for such a heavy appointment like mine. The never-stop-trying CSM of mine that I admire his "determined self"; the approachable OC and CPT Edwin who never fails to score one point against me - thank you for guiding us. We would never have moved an inch without you guys pushing us to get things done.

            My life in 40SAR taught me just one simple thing - that no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, each person matters in making bigger things happen. The power of people. No matter how brilliant you are you maybe at planning, no matter how efficient or hardworking you are next to everyone, you are just going to be an unappreciated, tired out creature that's chucked to one corner. What counts is the journey to doing it - the smiles, laughter and fond memories you share with your colleagues, men and superiors that accompany you through it every simple step of the way. The journey matters more than the eventual destination.

National Service

*Gun is an imitation (toy gun!)*

            My time in NS was a time where things moved fast, and time moved faster. They say that this journey is each Singaporean male's crusade into manhood. I don't think so. I just think that after this stage of my life as a Singaporean, I grew up seeing more, learning more and experiencing what it means to juggle the chains of responsibility with freedom to spread my wings as a little man out in this great big world.


  1. Some things never change (even after about 15 years since I left the old 40 SAR beside the MRT track in 1996),

    "So I got into 40SAR, and I was surprised at the level of regimentation even after what we went through as a course as cadets."



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