November 5, 2006

My name is 3SG NIZAM. I was a Section Commander of Section 2 Platoon 1 of Alpha Company and a proud SPARTAN of 6 SIR. The emphatic word being was, that is. I also undertook the dual responsibility of being the Administrative Specialist of my company. And today is the day of my ORD (Operationally Ready Date).

Its been a long 1 year 10 months. I would be lying to myself if I had said that I had not changed from this National Service Experience. And the ironic thing was that I so adamantly refused to loose myself, to protect myself from the lingering influences of the army, from the nonchalant vulgarities to the unwavering regimentation. And the fact is, I did. I tried to redefine what is means to be a sergeant, not following the basic practices of the stereotypical image of a sadistic sergeant.

Being the 1st Year Specialists, I trained my men from their enlistment into BMT in January 2006 to them turning operational in August 2006. It feels good to see the difference from the start, when they were still ignorant of what the army experience would have to offer. I hoped that I had made a difference, teaching them skills that they can use in their lives.

It was only in 6 SIR that I felt that I was at peace with myself. Throughout the whole NS experience, I felt as if I was inifinitely in transition, that I was perpetually on course (BMT, BSLC, ASLC) and under constant scrutiny, not being able to be in control of who I am. But being a Section Commander, the leader of six men, I knew exactly what my role was and I carried it out to the best of my abilities. Training with my men, from section training to POI training, I get to learn what it really means to become a Section Commander. I must confess that I initially had fears of going to a rifle company because I was afraid that I would not be able to interact with such individuals of a different economic strata (My Theory of the RJC Bubble). But I realised that they are just the same, though they may speak in a different language.

Being the Admin Spec, I learnt a lot on how to deal with people, especially with respect to rank and protocol. Though sometimes differences in rank have to be observed, sometimes you must not think that it defines entirely who you are. In the end, if you want a clerk from S1 branch to give you more time to collate all the Blue Booklets, you would have to treat them like any normal human being, with respect. Or if you want the clerk from S3 Branch to furnish you the results of your company as for this current workyear, you must ask nicely because though they are supposed to do their jobs, it does not mean that they owe you a living. I learnt to how talk to them and to became friends with them, such that we are now on a first name basis. And it really helps if you have friends in HQ, because in the end my job as the admin spec is further enhanced and I am able to execute my responsibilities more effectively.

And it feels good that i get recognition for my hard work, from my PCs, CSM and OC, as well as from the clerks in S1 Branch and Chief Clerk herself. She even told encik and I that I was the best Admin Spec in the battalion. This is not to say that did my job to earn such a praise. I did my job because I wanted to do it to the best of my abilities because in the end it will help my company function properly without any administrative lapses. What if the IPPT results were not submitted promptly? Will you clear your second year IPPT requirement and get your $200? What if your leave applications were not promptly sent to S1 Branch for approval? Will you still be able to go overseas? I felt even more proud that because of this, my encik and my 2IC decided to sent me to Platoon Sergeant Course 2 months before my ORD! And it feels good to have completed it, being one of two NSFs in the course to have done very well.

I am leaving my company with a heavy heart because of the strong bonds of friendship I have forged with my PCs, my CSM, my PSs and all the section commanders of Alpha Company.We went through hell together and made it through! Though the journey for them has not ended, my National Service has ended. I want to wish them all the best for their future missions, exercises etc and remember to enjoy themselves in between those tough training. These are the friends that you will remember for life.

To SSG BENEDICT, thank you encik for being the most understanding sergeant major! You are the first encik I know of that does not strike fear but while at the same time inspires respect and the command and control of everyone in the company. Your impeccable work ethic will get you further that what the army can offer and I hope you succeed in the future.

To 2LT IRVING, you are the best PC one can ever get! Having such an effervescent personality, you can’t help but be happy with him around. But remember sir that you cannot do everything, and that you need to delegate your job to other people and take a break sometimes! You deserve it!

To 1SG ALIF, though sometimes I don’t agree with you at times, but I feel that you are a good Platoon Sergeant, because you are able to bring out the best in all the men of the platoon! And you trust us enough to carry our jobs properly and step in when it is your time to take control. Thank you for giving my space to carry out my dual responsibility of Admin even though at times you were stretched to the limit.

To 2SG GABRIEL, 3SG ZAO YI and 3SG VASAANT. You guys rocked! We simply loved arguing with one another. If not on how to handle the smoking problem of the platoon, it was the COS duty for the next weekend or whether you can create atmosphere on the moon! We argued because we cared so much about doing things right, even though we have different ways of looking at an issue. I know that I am not always with the platoon because of my admin spec responsibilities but you three never once complained to anyone that I should be more involved and for that I thank you. I will leave Alpha with such fond memories of our missions and conversations together throughout my 6 SIR journey.


Protected: Army Nostalgia

December 23, 2005

I suddenly had the urge to look through my Taiwan pictures once again. I never realised how many hilarious pictures we took!

Here’s the four of us looking relatively dry and warm after going through the mother of all storms through the night, smiling! And you can see how the lack of hygiene has caused two bumps to appear on my forehead (which are thankfully gone now! Phew!).

This was another wacky photo! WE didn’t realise that Staff Boh was behind us until the shot was taken! Even though he looks innocent enough, the fact that we look so evil makes him even look even more suspicious! Hahahahah. He was hilarious though. I am especially thankful to him for being quite understanding when I was the Platoon Sergeant for a mission, shielding me from my PC which was a total monster!

All fous of us back in our bunk. Imagine forty odd people in one classroom size room! We’re like immigrants living in squatters in Singapore in the late 19th century! It was quite terrible though living in such conditions, sorely tested the boundaries of “no-privacy”. But an interesting experience nonetheless, one which I don’t wish to relive anytime soon.

Recruit woes!

December 12, 2005

My recruits enlisted on the 9th of December 2005. My initial response to this event was:


Anxiety, excitement, horror, anticipation, shock, enthusiasm, trepidation – I never knew I could feel so many emotions at once! How I got through that fateful enlistment day, I can never know but the recruits are here to stay until I ORD!

So much has happened for the past few days and I simply don’t know why to start. To give a more coherent structure to this entry, I decided to divide each individual event into different headings.

First and foremost,

The MOST EMBARASSING LAST PARADE in my life as a sergeant soldier

I was the Duty Sergeant (DS) of the platoon for the day, which meant that I was officially responsible for the recruits for that day, from bringing them to meals and lessons to teaching them how to do the most basic of drills (since the first lesson of the day was footdrill). During the last parade, I had to report the strength of my platoon by first bringing them to attention and then marching off to the Company Orderly Sergeant (COS) who later reports to the Company Duty Officer (CDO). Having only taught them the most basic of drills like sedia, senang diri, ke kiri pusing, ke kanan pusing and basic marching, it was clear in their minds what was right and wrong, even though they can’t properly execute them as a platoon (having learnt the drills only that same morning). Well, after I brought them to attention, I turned right and marched off to the COS. And what happened? I had to march using both my right hand and right leg together and vice versa! OMG! If you do not know how to march, try walking using your right leg while at the same time swinging your right hand up 90 degrees and you’ll know how wrong that is! I have never felt so embarassed in my entire life (expect for the floating light in fountain incident in Melaka which saw me plunging waist deep into disgusting murky water)! In front of my recruits and the whole company! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

I knew I had to salvage the situation. Thankfully my friend weiyang taught me a very important lesson in social skills (somethins which according to my brother I am severely lacking in). I knew I had to save my face and not loose respect of the recruits, while at the same time apologise to them for my severe lack of psychomotor skills. What weiyang told me was to ask them whether they noticed what I did was wrong and if they did, to make a joke out of it, and make it a learning point for them. Some did smile and laugh when I asked whether they noticed my apparent lack of psychomotor skills. I then apologised to them while at the same time emphasized that it was a wrong demonstration of basic marching. I was after all as tired and as sleepy as them, though going through BMT in different shoes. Hopefully this would not tar my image as a sergeant because without respect, it would extremely difficult to command and control 23 recruits who depend on you for instruction and guidance.

Argh. This would remain with me until the end of my NS (reservist included) cycle. ARGH!

The recruit with the broken nose

It all started during footdrill, when suddenly he wanted to fall out because he had difficulty breathing. I was shocked because a) it was relatively cloudy and cool that morning b) the drills had only progressed to ke kiri and ke kana pusing. It most definitely could not have been heat exhaustion or dehydration. I asked him why he had difficulty breathing. He then began telling me his story of the broken nose, how the operation failed to unblock the bone in one of the nostrils three times, how the difficulty in breathing causes him to feel giddy and nauseous, how the he lost his temper at the nose doctor at CMPB who manhandled his nose, causing the professor to disallow a downgrade for him. I thought the situation was quite serious since the company medic decided to bring him to the Medical Officer (MO). But the MO simply concluded that it was a case of nerves, causing him to be like a hypochondriac of sorts, not being able to withstand the harsh training of BMT (which I tried telling him that it was not, yet) because his lungs were clear and oxygen level was normal.

My course of action was to try to comfort him, telling him that it was normal to feel alone and afraid during the first few days after enlistment. But he should try to take everything with a positive mindset and try to go through all the training if he could. And if he can’t, he should try to take it at his own pace at least. I also told him to schedule his ENT appointment quick, since he wanted to do it anyway but didn’t, to get a professional opinion on his condition. He seemed relatively calmer after that, I think.

The recruit who cannot speak english

This was one of my fears, that I was not able to relate to the recruits having spoken English 99% of my life. I had to help one of the recruits fill up his Personal Particulars form for emergencies, in case we need such information ASAP. Under religion, he pointed it to me, asking me what it meant. I tried telling him “Your faith, your beliefs”. But that drew a blank look of incomprehension from him. Next I tried “Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism” and that also did not work! I gave up and them surrendered him to Zao yi who started to explain in Chinese.

Yesterday night, I was trying to teach them how to tie their ID tags properly in their bunks. That same Chinese guy was there and he started asking one of the other recruits in MALAY! @#$#!@#$#@%@%! Here I was trying to explain to them in disjointed and broken sentences when he suddenly asks one of the Malay recruits “Ini macam mana nak ikat?” I then exclaimed in Malay “Kau boleh cakap Melayu!” Then the Malay recruit he was asking said how the guy stayed in Malaysia since he was four and had to come back to Singapore for National Service! (Its amazing how the government manages to track almost every single male person born in Singapore to remind them of their forced obligation towards National Service).

On an unrelated note, my exclamation in Malay also drew some interest partly because of my seemingly Chinese features, despite my Malay name. They thought, as almost everyone else does, that I was Chinese, until I spoke in Malay. On another unrelated note, one of the recruits from my section studied in an American High School for seven years! And he’s Malay! Even his English had a slight tinge of American accent. How ironice this is that he just had to end up in my section! Even Vasaant’s section had about four guys who could run 2.4 under nine minutes like him! How coincidental that can be!

I can go on but I decided to end here. More army stories to come, if I’m simply not too exhausted to write.

Protected: The Muslim Identity: Our need for discourse

September 21, 2005

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Protected: Leaving Pulau Tekong..

August 22, 2005

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Protected: Posting and graduation.

August 20, 2005

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How halal is Halal?

August 15, 2005

I have never once pondered over this question until I was in Taiwan, a foreign country where Muslim presence is almost non-existent. The fact that pork is also the main staple for the Taiwanese people also did not alleviate my spiritual food problem a single bit.

It is important to note that while it may seem that the manner in which I phrase the question may lead some to believe that halal is an arbitrary term, in actual fact it is not. The fact that I am asking this question is to draw the line between what is halal and what is not, because there is a clear dichotomy between what can be eaten and what cannot.

The word ‘halal’ literally means permissible – and in translation it is usually used as lawful. Opposite to halal is haram, which means unlawful or forbidden. According to the Quran:

[5:3] “Prohibited for you are animals that die of themselves, blood, the meat of pigs,* and animals dedicated to other than GOD. (Animals that die of themselves include those) strangled, struck with an object, fallen from a height, gored, attacked by a wild animal – unless you save your animal before it dies – and animals sacrificed on altars. Also prohibited is dividing the meat through a game of chance; this is an abomination. “

Before I go on any further I must again dispel certain laughable myths about what it means to be halal. Pork is a definite no to all Muslims. However, meats such as chicken, mutton and beef not slaughtered according to Muslim law would also be non-halal (or haram). All seafood can be consumed since they cannot be slaughtered. (Imagine a fish or a squid being slaughtered?) However, amphibions fall under the category of pork and cannot be consumed as well.

This question occured to me when I realised I was the only one eating a few pieces of vegetables at a uncertified non-halal Chinese restaurant at the Muslim table. Most of my fellow Muslims refused to touch the vegetables simply because it was deemed to be non-halal, being served in a Chinese restaurant.

Strictly speaking, it would be best (and safe!) if I did not touch the vegetables simply because the same restaurant served numerous pork dishes and a plethora of non-halal dishes. But this restaurant also served Chinese Buddhist vegetarian food. What this would mean is that they would know how to serve vegetarian food, meaning no contact with meat whatsoever. (not using a pan soaked with pork lard or animal fat, remnants of a previous dish) Such innocuous looking vegetables would not be tainted or be haram in any way.

Why am I so concerned about whether or not something is Halal? Its not as if every single Muslim really cares the spiritual nature of the food they are eating. Going to Taiwan also exposed my naviete, that not all Muslims follow the basic Islamic codes of conduct, especially something so fundamental as food. And this is partly the reason why many others are so confused because such individuals are giving off the wrong signals. (Btw, there were nine muslim tables at the restaurant with ten people each. Only two opted to eat Singapore certified packet rations while the rest ate food made purely from the restaurant.)

How halal is Halal? The arbitrary nature of this question only comes to light because emotions are involved. Its a constant battle between temptation(and immediate gratification) and the fear of retribution. I sometimes try rationalise how halal the food is purely by the person cooking the meal, not by the food itself. When I encountered the first and only halal outlet selling kebabs at Ximen Ting (similar to Orchard road), I told myself that it was not halal simply because I did not trust the guy selling the food. It was only later when andee talked the guy who had begun interrogating him about the level of his faith that I believed that the food is halal.

Its so irrational sometimes. When our beliefs get intertwined with our emotions, all natural laws of logic and rationalism becomes askewed and subject to everything illogical and irrational.