The other day, there was a newspaper report about the enquiry into the drowning of a naval NS man. It was reported that when the victim was brought to the medical centre, there was no MO (medical officer) on duty because the centre had not been informed. I am not assuming any negligence or commenting about this particular case. But the incident reminds me of a couple of times when I was at the receiving end of negligence on the part of other officers – regulars, if I may add. So I hope that NS boys reading this post understand the importance of taking your NS duties seriously. Sometimes, if you “keng” or “twang” (basically it means to avoid work), it can result in serious consequences for others.
Both incidents took place when I was platoon commander of a ‘pioneer platoon’ around 1977 or 78. The men in my platoon were being trained to become combat engineers. One evening, we were supposed to do some kind of demolition raid. It involved us walking along the railway track somewhere near the present Methodist Girls’ School area, if I remember correctly. By the way, we were supposed to blow up a bridge over the Pandan River. According to the exercise planner, there was not supposed to be any trains running that evening. Whilst we were walking along the track, horror of horrors, we suddenly heard the rumble of an approaching train. Immediately, of course we gave command for the men to move to the side, which was actually a narrow gap between the railway tracks and thick vegetation. As the train passed by, all kinds of horrible thoughts went through my head.
On another occasion, we were supposed to do an amphibious raid. We took off on a few assault boats from near the Kranji River mouth and moved along the Straits of Johore to Sungei Gedong area. Along the way, we had to pass the Fibua (Fighting in Built-Up Area, for those who have not done NS) Village in Sarimbun. Again, according to the exercise planner, there was not supposed to be any live firing that night. But guess what? As we passed the area, we could hear the distinct rattle of M16s and GPMGs (you can easily tell the difference between the real thing and the sound of blanks), and before long, we saw tracers flying in the distance. I doubt any of the shots were aimed towards the sea, but still, you could feel your heart go cold. But strangely, the fear is more for your men than for yourself. I ordered my men to crouch low and prayed hard that my platoon sergeant and section commanders in the other boats had the common sense to do the same.
Although both incidents took place nearly 3 decades ago, I think you can understand why they remain fresh in my memory.
Thinking back, it does seem that the job of a demolition/engineer platoon commander is not easy. Every time there is a live demolition lesson, you have to remain behind (together with your NCOs of course) after the men shout, “Ignited!” and run for their lives, to ensure that all the circuits have really been properly ignited. Whenever there is a misfire, you have to be the one to go done down and check. Sometimes, my wife asks me why I should be the one to do it. My answer is, “If the commander doesn’t do it, who do you expect to do it?” Anyway, it is an unwritten rule. No wonder, some people like Chris are prompted to ask why our young men who have to take on such responsibilities are not even deemed mature enough to watch R21 movies.
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