Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Dangers of NS

Once in a while, we read of cases of nasty accidents in the SAF, or of young NSmen dying of heart failure during training. Although this is extremely rare, nevertheless we parents still worry like crazy when we send our children to NS. Those of us who are religious pray for their safety from such accidents.

While such cases tend to be dramatic and attract lots of media attention, I feel that the danger from picking up harmful habits is much greater. Today, there was a front page report in the papers about 2 young men who were infected with the deadly HIV when they were doing NS. This reminds me of a case I encountered back in the 1970’s when I was a platoon commander in 30SCE in Mandai. One day, one of my men came to me for permission to go to Middle Road Hospital for treatment, twice a week (or something like that). At that time, Middle Road Hospital (hope I got the name correct) specialized in sexually transmitted diseases.

“You have VD is it?” I asked. “Yes”, he replied somewhat shyly. But to my horror, I detected a hint of pride in his voice. Apparently, my men have been organising tours to Hatyai for their R&R after they completed their BMT. Some of these young, immature kids were proud that they finally achieved manhood, and even have the evidence to prove it.

Another sad statistic to share with my readers. At the beginning of their 6-month course under me, there were only 2 smokers in the whole platoon of nearly 30 men. By the end of the course, there were only 2 non-smokers left, myself being one of them.

We know that the SAF is well-aware of this problem and is taking proactive measures to address it. I hope they succeed. But for today’s NSmen, I believe, the dangers may have increased considerably since my time.


Victor said...

Yes, Middle Road Hospital is correct. I know not because I was a patient but it was only a stone's throw from my primary school. On days when I walked to and from school, I would pass by this hospital. The clinic has since moved to Kelantan Lane many years ago.

My friend told me that his smoking habit started during NS because he wanted to mask the overpowering smell of the field toilets which he had to use during exercises.

I also remember that during my NS days in CMPB, the SAF sold very cheap Anchor beer. The big bottle sold for $1.80 each while the small bottle/can sold for only 90 cts each. However, each soldier was limited to buy either 3 big bottles or 6 small bottles/cans once every fortnight. Almost every Saturday, you would find me in the long queue which snaked around the SAFE supermarket in CMPB. I would sometimes ask my friends who did not buy for themselves to buy for me. Cheap beer could also be had at the officers' Temasik Club in Portsdown Road. My friend would always invite me to the club on weekends where we downed jugs of beer at about $4 a jug (much cheaper than hawker centre prices). The officers' mess also served cheap beer every Friday night.

I was enlisted into NS as a teetotaller but on ROD (run-out date), I was a near alcoholic!. Luckily beer became very expensive when I left NS and I kicked the habit.

Lam Chun See said...

I almost took up smoking in my army days. This happened when I was undergoing the Junior Officers Engineers Course at SOCE - School of Combat Engineers, Gilman Camp.

We were having a particularly tough exercise called Ex Alsatian. We were supposed to use explosives to blow up holes in the ground and then dig out trenches for artillery emplacements and that sort of stuff. According to the theory, if you digged the holes to the correct depth and layout the charges correctly, after the explosion, you will have a nice big hole of the correct configuration. After that all you needed to do was to put in the finishing touches.

But guess what. After my partner, Ong Chee Tiong and I set off the charges, what we saw was just a bit of crumbled ground. It was already past midnight, we were soaking wet (from the rain) and dead tired. The thought of having to complete 2 such trenches by the next day really did us in.

My friend took out pack and started to smoke. "Give me one." I said. Thank God, I didn't like it . And that was my first and last stick.

Chris Sim said...

I had my BMT at Tekong in 1983 and had the "arse" luck to be in Golf company, one of the most "on" companies. Others have 2 road marches, we have 4. Others were out in the canteen, we were doing area cleaning. Then I was posted to SAFTI for SAFINCO (I think they have changed the name)training to become a section leader. Life at SAFTI was sweeter 'cause the training in BMT has sort of toughened me up. What's more, I was the "blue-eye" boy to my CSM, feel kinda privileged.

We soldiers didn't really care much for hygiene while in the army. During IPPT, everyone used the same cups if they needed a little sip of water half-way through the 2.4 km rum. Nobody gave a damn about the possibility of catching hepatitis, perhaps out of ignorance. I wonder if the practice has changed.

I too have my share of experience at the Middle Road Hospital. I was bitten once by tics during training. Just one tiny bit on my ankle, and within days, it spread to my body and palms. The itch was quite unbearable and it began to bleed. It was horrible.

After 2 rounds of visit, I stopped because the doc insisted on giving me jabs to help me recover. My tics bite never really recovered. I still got bouts of attack every now and then....

Sometimes, the thought of my two boys having to serve the army when they come of age sort of worries me, just like the way my mum worried for me when I got unlisted in 1983. Perhaps the worry is unfounded. Other than the tic bites, I turned out none the worse. Army is good training ground for some discipline. It may do some wonder to my 13-year kid!

At the end of the day, I suppose we simply cannot deny that the army is a necessary devil, considering how some political leaders in the region have always referred to Singapore as a “small red dot".

Lam Chun See said...

Talking about being 'tekaned' I am reminded about my BMT and SISL days in SAFTI in '71. We were in Romeo-then-Lima coy located in one of the 4 corners of the parade square. Our OC's (shall I put it politely, a not so intellectual type by the name of Lta Teo) idea of outshining the other 3 coys was to give us lots of change parades and extra drills at night.

Good thing for our sons, such T-rexes are no longer around.

I definitely am going to blog about some of these strange characters one of these days. Hope I don't get sued though.

Anonymous said...

Having served in 2003, I can attest that more NSFs enlist already as smokers and a few pick it up along the way. Nobody quits because smoke breaks are a privilege (like being married) and are a good way to get friendly with your NCO regulars who are almost all smokers. When you do guard duty with them it makes for an easy time.

And yes, we still share our cups and water bottles. Not by choice but during mad rush water parades. I made my water bottle very distinctive and always made a mad rush to grab it. As a water point IC usually had a supply of fresh water though.