The Last 25%: Final months as a NSF (Part I)

Post 90! So apparently my 80th post was during last November, so yes the frequency of posts here have been getting really slow (forever talking about this but still not posting enough). Hopefully I would be posting here more often, because I really miss just typing out stuff on my MacBook in this personal space of mines. It hasn’t been long since I came back from Thailand after my overseas exercise ended (EDIT: I started writing this 2 weeks ago but haven’t been able to complete it, so much for more posting here LOL), so it’s only natural for me to talk about it, which will be the focus of this post. Since there is much I can type out with 6 months remaining as my time as a soldier, I would touch on what the rest of all army-related thoughts in another post. (WARNING: DRY POST INCOMING SORRRRY >.<)

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MEN OF STEEL! ARTILLERY!

EX BATTLE KING! Since no one wanted to go for it, I got unfortunately arrowed to go for this exercise. At first thought, it looked horrible since I’m going to Thailand, which is going to be extremely hot, and I would have 2 weekends burnt, and to add on my misery, be away from my friends whom I used to see and talk to every week. But as time passed towards the mid-year, I got used to the mundane army life as week after week passes by, with some of my weekends burnt due to regimental and extra duties. Putting everything else aside, I went into BK with surprisingly a positive mindset and looked forward to get the most out of it. I was actually excited to going overseas since it has been close to 2 years since I haven’t travelled out of the country and I invite any changes to the really monotonous army life of mines. The actual thought of me being away for 2 weeks plus only struck quite late, so I panicked a little but I left Singapore with a light heart and off to Thailand I go! I had my first meal on a plane since I don’t know for how long as I have been always traveling on budget (no joke). As with any change in environment, at first I hated Thailand: The 75 men bunk, the poor shower facilities, the lousy cookhouse food and worst of all, I had no one to turn to and was all by myself in this foreign country. But throughout the whole exercise, I got used to the new environment, and it helped knowing that we aren’t going to stay here for long kinda subsided any sadness I experienced. Before I knew it, this exercise only became a distant memory, which ended up as a relaxing trip away from everything in Singapore and made me realize how reliant I am on technology. Now moving on the actual exercise…

The first 3 days of preparation was hell. The weather was hot, and there were many signal sets to be mounted. Not everyone was doing their share of work, so being the loner among the group, I just kept quiet in a corner did more than my share of work. I probably mounted more signal sets in Thailand than I ever did back in Singapore LOL (yes it was that many and it was so tiring). I never felt so shagged out before and for those few days, I fell asleep easily despite the sponge-like mattress and lack of ventilation in the bunk. My admin shirt changed color from all the sweat I did and from Day 1 of doing work, I started to realize how lucky I was to have such a “boring” army life, in a way that having nothing to do always is better than having something to do. With all the prep done, I was given kind of a major role during the exercise since I was the only ‘corporal’ signaler in the team. I was given a role with some responsibility. RESPONSIBILITY! Who would have known that word would be in the same sentence with my name. Imagine in a net diagram you see names of officers in charge of something and under rebro, you see CPL NICK LIM. After being in the army for so long, I was convinced I was never the leader-type material and should just stick to being a follower. You could say that I wasn’t that comfortable with my role, but there’s a first for everything. I had to draw my own stores, be a vehicle commander and be held responsible for any screw ups. So you could say that I was easily a victim of any angst from the signal officer-in-charge, yay for responsibility…

Onto Day 4, it was time to move off and it felt good to be driven along the rural areas of Thailand which I wouldn’t get to see if I wasn’t arrowed for this exercise. I don’t want to be rambling about 9 days of outfield so I will just focus on the more memorable moments. The first 2 days it was raining and I had to cuddle into my jacket. When I was hoping for slightly better weather, the days to follow the sun was blazing hot and I had a free tan and eventually became more blacker than I would wanted to be. Nightfall was very early there and by 7pm, the sky is totally dark to the extent that you can’t even see your own fingers. It was during that time where my thoughts start to wonder and the thinking starts yet again. Everyday passed by so slowly as the only thing I do is facing the goddamn radio waiting for something to happen, but somehow 9 days passed like that. I had to save my phone battery so I spent most of my time reading my book, and with that limited battery life I re-watched SNSD’s Hello Baby. You can tell how much remaining time I had to just stare blankly into space and die of boredom LOL. By the 6th day and the words of “exercise cut” gets closer, the motivation was there and time past quicker (it seemed). There was a distant lack of human interaction, as the people I talked to most was my Thai driver and liaison officer. How I wished I knew more Thai so that I could communicate with them instead of them trying to understand my English and sign language. My buddy wasn’t really enthusiastic about entertaining them so I tried my best to engage them in any random topic, from exchanging our army stories to random things about outside of army, where topics we talked about were derived from the outdated newspapers delivered to us. It wasn’t exactly an eye-opener, but it helped me understand the outside world better, especially when there is little to see and know in Singapore.  They treated me super well, providing drinks and food from the outside world, and the driver was a super funny guy who I could joke with easily. Although the whole exercise, for our side, didn’t go smoothly all the way, along with me being angst at times, somehow we survived and as the last convoy, he drove our way back to base camp. Oh how I missed my crappy and being able to sleep in a building and not in the open. Since I was only a support staff, I didn’t need to put on my helmet or ilbv, or put on that disgustingly hard to remove camo cream, or even draw rifle. You could say life was pretty good comparatively for me hahas…

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The view from outfield

After outfield ended, time past really quickly as the pressure on everyone was gone. Although we were supposed to have a break, we signalers still had to do some work for the NSmen who are coming in for their subsequent exercise (forever saikang warriors), but what to do? Suck thumb and move on, and the only thing that is motivating me is seeing that percentage go lower and lower. In the middle of all the recovery of stores, we chilled a little and played some dota games as well.  I apparently drunk-whatsapp someone LOL (so freaking embarrassing) and realized how low my alcohol tolerance is. The educational tour around Thailand was okay I suppose… nothing memorable since we spent most of our time traveling in the bus and there wasn’t anything outstanding that we visited. Apparently R&R was counted as an off day and 2 of my off days were deducted which was super depressing. Fortunately, old BSO (who’s in ORD mood already) was kind enough to top up those 2 day off so I got 5 days off from this exercise. Life got back pretty back to normal after I returned to Singapore, but I became more appreciative of the things around me and I’m always glad to receive this kind of enlightenment.

So there were many plus sides to this exercise, but nonetheless there always has to be an ugly side, and yes it was super ugly. Getting mistreated, scolded for absolutely nothing and unable to argue because doing so only would make the situation worse, which simply points to the problem between officer and men, and how some just want to show that they are superior to you. And what can I do? Nothing but SUCK THUMB! I do not have a good temper to be honest, but sucking it up ever since enlisting is something I have learnt well and just lived with it. There were also many showing of “bootlicking” (the civilized way of saying it). I have said this once and I would say it again, what is there to bootlick anyway? I know this would be common when I go to the workplace, but what IRKS me is the total attitude change of some, a total 180 degree change before and after exercise. I would love to continue ranting, but I would like to keep it positive and why so much hate over something that is over already right!

With all the negative things aside, this overseas exercise has taught me much, and one which I won’t be able to learn if I didn’t physically experience and see it for myself. I saw it for myself, how a less developed country (LDC) was and how blessed I was. And also despite them having a lower standard of living comparatively, they still led their lives happily. Whenever I feel life’s unfair, I should look at them and be ashamed of myself. They do not have many things and still living happily. You never realize how you take many things in life granted until they are taken away from you and you are put in a whole new environment without them. This experience also made me realize how different of a person I am with my friends and with people I don’t know, and it felt awful always being left out and alone. Fortunately, JJ came to this exercise as an instructor so yays for having at least 1 person I know here stuck in Thailand. I never really jelled well with the other signalers, would have loved to click with them but whatever, that didn’t happen so life goes back to the way it was before I left.

And that’s it for BK. Will do another post for the remaining army stuff which I didn’t talk about. To be continued….

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