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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I Got Soul But I'm Not A Soldier

Just came back from a week's getaway in a boot camp in Johor.

To be precise, it was PULADA or Pusat Latihan Tempur Tentera Darat. From the name, I guess you could get a rough picture of what I went through:
Bawah sikit je dari Neraka.

Honestly, it wasn't that bad. Like, really. A few push-ups here and there, dragging around 10 ton army boots, jumping in and out of mudholes, getting deaf by the sound of M-16s. You know. The usual askar-askar stuff.

I used to imagine playing army soldiers when I was a kid. Like, which full-grown macho kid didn't back then? Nak jadi apa bila dah besar? It's either polis, askar or Superman. (I was the only one who wanted to be Supes)
20 years on, I got a taste of the askar and polis (to be explained in another posting)
And let me tell you I had a hell of an experience. Singing to the tune of The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done" on our 4 hour bus ride there, we were expecting the worse from the stories we heard about PULADA.
The first day we arrived there on Sunday the week before, it was push-shove from the word Go! We were exposed to basic army maneuvers, which was crawling and doing side rolls. I didn't have much trouble with the crawling, though some girls developed blisters the size of Sarawak on their elbows. It was nasty I tell ya. But the side rolling part was the gem. Imagine side rolling on the ground for about 50 meters. And coming back the same way. Imagine myself, who gets motion sickness just by reading in a moving vehicle. And what do you get? Imagine me throwing my guts out. Not once. Not twice. Three times, man! The colour? If you have to know, it was yellow. I think the ayam percik they served during lunchtime had something to do with it :)
But the best part about the whole thing was that it taught me to get a grip of myself. It was all in the mind really. Even though my body couldn't take it, throwing up all over the place, I was laughing and eating 10 minutes later. It was strange really. One minute I was feeling like s*** and next minute it was "What's for dinner?"
During the whole week we were exposed to a whole lot of army stuffs. We were each given 2 full uniforms with the boots, backpack and the works. Each of us were also given an M-16 to take care for the week and to be used for shooting practice on Wednesday. To be given your own M-16 to take care of or like the Captain said, "Jaga macam kekasih sendiri" was really something. It was main tembak-tembak revisited except this was the real thing and the only thing we didn't have was live ammunition.
We went camping in the woods, took a trek up a mountain (it was more like a hill) and learned a few basic survival tips in the jungle, which included knowing which tree can be consumed and which could not. And the best part was seeing them roast some monkeys, which I almost ate if they didn't tell me it was haram.
Shooting practice was certainly a highlight for the guys. Even though we were exposed to shooting a live handgun during Police training, shooting a live M-16 was whole different ball game. For one, the targets were farther. 100 meters to be precised. And let me tell you the targets were not the size of Sarawak. No sirree bob.
And the sound? Deafening. And we even had ear muffs on! My shooting wasn't one to be proud of, really. 2 hits out of 20 bullets. Some girls even managed 16. There was this small girl in my platoon (we were separated into 3 platoons) who looked as innocent as an angel can be. The typical budak melayu-UIA-grad look. She shot 15 out of 20 if I wasn't mistaken. I called her Kathy the Killer. Her husband should be pissing in his pants. Heh.
Another highlight of our PULADA escapade was the Battle Inoculation or 'Inokulasi Tempur'. I personally enjoyed this one because this was about teamwork, bravery and effort. Working in a platoon, we were put into competition with each other. Which got my competitive drive running. Battle inoculation is a simulation of a battlefield. What us poor civilians-cum-prebet-sapu had to do was crawl ourselves for about 70 meters through designated tracks which included some barb wires and a pond which doubled as an explosive agent. Remember I said that it simulated a battlefield? That's why they had heavy artillery machine guns blasting away above our heads. With live bullets too. And the pond I told you about? They put dynamites in there and had it blasted like Old Faithful on full swing. Even though they used live bullets, I think they fired waaayyyy above our heads. They warned us not to get up so as not to be shot, but honestly I think they shot about 7 feet up just to be safe. Not that I'm telling you to stand if you're doing it. Just don't blame me if your chest gets blown away.
But it really felt like a battlefield. Everyone was urging each other on, some cried, others shouted. The bullets above our head were deafening and when they blasted the pond, the water came down from the sky like rain. Our faces were filled with mud, water and sand. Remember the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan? This was Omaha Beach without the ocean. It was truly an incredible experience.
On the last day, still in competition mode, we were made to run a race. It was called a log relay race, where working together in a platoon you had to race while carrying a log, a bullet case filled with sand, and 10 eggs. The rules were simple: The log and the bullet case can't touch the ground and the eggs, of course can't be broken lah. Simple except that you had to run a course while wading through water and crawl under obstacles too. It was a relay in the sense that you separated the platoon into 3 teams, in which the last team had to roll a big tyre instead of the log. I honestly ran a hell of a race, and was quietly dissapointed that my team finished second. Oh well, you win some and lose them, eh?
In all, my platoon finished second overall. (coz we came second in evey competion) I had to be thankful because it certainly wasn't easy. This army module really taught me a lot, especially on teamwork and discipline. OBS taught me teamwork too, but this was from a different angle altogether, more because we were competing with one another. There were a few dissapointments because some of us (including yours truly) didn't get the chance to abseil because of rain. I really looked forward to abseil myself from about 40 meters but alas, it wasn't to be as rain got the better of the situation.
Apart from that, I had no complaints altogether. I learned a lot about our Army, how they seem to be sidelined after the Communists surrendered. But we have a lot to be proud of these guys. Our Men in Green are one of the best in the world in jungle warfare and are experts in handling insurgencies. That's why even the US Army comes down to PULADA to train. This was evident from the numerous plaques that hang from their walls. Even our lodging was in the Australian camp, which they manage and maintain themselves because of their annual visit there.
Overall, I had a great time there. The skin may be darker, the hair may be shorter and the scars may be evident, but the experience was priceless. I had a wonderful time with the people there, my platoon buddies and my fellow Gomen members who really made it memorable. Whether it was the daily trips on the lori askar a.k.a lori tanah, the shouting every morning to assemble, marching to every destination or just the dumb jokes we made to gain our sanity despite the rough conditions, it was all worthwhile. And it certainly wasn't as bad as the stories we heard prior to the trip. Talk about talking bull.
Personally, I found the Japanese blood in me last week. I may not be big and strong, but what got me through the week was my semangat. I never felt stronger in the log relay because of my urge to win. After everything was done and settled, then the pains and aches start to creep in.
Was it worth it? You betcha.
Would I do it again? I'm not that crazy!

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