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Surviving The Scoldings of a Sergeant

How I made it past week two of boot camp.

By Alvin AngPublished 7 months ago 9 min read
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Photo by Pixabay

The rest of my confinement passed in a haze, a haze of hazings, route marches, and endless runs in the sun.

By book-out day I was tanned a nutty golden brown. My shaved head felt good in the sun and even better under the shower. It felt strange but wonderful to not need a towel, to let the wind blow dry my scalp and the sun heat-dry my skin. I even managed to pick up some useful skills during my two-week stay in camp. The two that come to mind are an uncanny ability to sleep anywhere and the neat trick of finishing all my meals in five minutes or less.

To say that we were all ready to book out would be an understatement. Everybody was in high spirits, and the smell of freedom was strong in the air. There were talks of what we were going to do on The Outside: the food we were going to eat, the family we were going to hug, and the girls we were going to sleep with—or try to. Some of the more bonded recruits were even making plans to meet up over the weekend. That, to me, was insane. Haven’t they seen each other enough over the past two weeks? Didn’t they have parents, friends, girlfriends, lives, better things to do and better people to do them with?

Dubious motivations aside, we were all ready to book out, all ready to go home, but before we could be set free we had to pass a little something called the Stand-By-Bunk, basically a routine bunk inspection. It was a small thing, a trifle, no problem, no problem at all—the only problem was Stand-By-Bunks were impossible to pass.

The standards were high. Impossibly so. Two hours before the inspection Sergeants Benny and Patrick arrived at our bunk bearing worried looks on their faces and worrying news on their lips. They warned us that bunk inspection would be difficult. They told us to clean everything. We took their advice to heart. For two long hours, we the members of Bravo Company, Platoon Five, Section Four made our beds, swept the floor, and dusted the tops of cupboards. We even took out the window panes one by one and wiped each piece clean with old newspapers dipped in soapy water. The other bunks were similarly busy.

Inspection time arrived to find us ready and confident. We were so ready and so confident we had formed up early outside our bunks, wearing fresh new uniforms on our backs and wide, smug smiles on our faces. Then the scowling face of Platoon Sergeant Hamil appeared around the corner, and the look on his face gave us pause. Hamil had a reputation, you see. He had a reputation for being a real son-of-a-bitch. He was buff, built like a bodybuilder, and he always had this look on his face. Come to think of it, all of our sergeants, with the exception of Benny, had this look on their faces, this look-down-on-you look that was so intentional it was probably cultivated. They looked at us like we were cockroaches instead of men.

I couldn’t understand it. They used to be recruits too, didn’t they? They too, knew what it was like to be oppressed and mistreated. So why are they doing the same thing to us?

It was then that I came to understand a little bit more about the strange and terrible nature of Man. Good men are strong. They take pain in stride. They use their hurts to reinforce themselves, so that when the time came and they were the ones in charge, they would have the strength to stand up for their fellow men. Bad men are weak. When bad things happen to them, they use it as an excuse, an excuse to be bastards. These bastards give many reasons for their actions, but at the end of the day, all they want is an excuse to inflict on others the same kind of humiliation they felt when they were helpless. Most of my sergeants were weak men turned bastards.

Anyway, Hamil was the guy in charge of all the other sergeants, and they lived in fear and awe of him. For him to show up in person meant trouble. That day, for reasons unknown, Hamil decided to inspect our bunk first. He stopped in front of us and proceeded to eyeball us with this exquisite sneer on his face. His lips came up just so, exposing the perfect ratio of teeth and mustache. Then he stepped in and took his sneer with him. Hamil spent a couple of minutes rooting around, looking for any signs of mess, for anything out of the ordinary. He couldn’t find any. For a brief moment, his sneer was replaced by a look of profound disappointment.

Then Hamil did it. He pulled the trick. He climbed halfway out the window, half his body and one leg dangling over a four-story drop. He stuck his hand out and ran it across the window-ledge outside. Then he held his palm out to us. It was coated in a fine layer of dust.

“What is this, gentlemen?” Hamil asked in a soft, cold voice. “What did I request for in my stand-by-bunk?”

“Cleanliness.” We echoed. Our smiles were gone now.

“THEN WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!” Hamil roared, eyes boggling, spittle flying everywhere, coming to rest on our uniforms, our boots, our faces. The poor bastard had driven himself into a frenzy. “Do you know what you’re saying when you disregard my orders, gentlemen?”

“No, Platoon Sergeant Hamil!” We echoed dutifully.

“What you’re saying is—FUCK PLATOON SERGEANT HAMIL! And when you fuck with Platoon Sergeant Hamil…PLATOON SERGEANT HAMIL WILL ALSO FUCK WITH YOU!”

He turned around to address the assembled crowd. “Gentlemen…our good friends from Section Four have failed their bunk inspection. And in Bravo, we’re all for one, one for all. So if they fail—everybody also fails!” They were no sounds of dissent but I could see it all right. I could see it out of the corner of my eye in the faces of tired men who just wanted to go home.

Then Hamil did something that shocked even the sergeants. He leapt into our bunk and, like a maddened chimp, proceeded to tear it apart. He kicked the shoes we so carefully placed and sent socks and sneakers spinning through the air. He yanked at our beds, and thin blue coverlets spilled on the floor like the ripped blouse of some poor violated girl. Then he walked over to my closet. He did so slowly, taking his time, admiring my picture with an appraising eye, tracing the sharp edge of my features with one delicate finger. Then he picked up my closet and flipped it upside down. My belongings inside made little clanging sounds begging him to stop. It was a display of strength, both physical and metaphorical. Then I understood.

We didn’t do anything wrong. We, the men of Platoon Five, Section Four, were simply a showpiece, a bunch of innocent lambs to the slaughter, served up as an example to the rest. Hamil’s little show was merely a display of Power, one meant to keep the might of the sergeants alive and strong in the minds of so many recruits going home.

To cap off this display, the whole of Bravo was ordered to do jumping jacks. The thunder of a hundred recruit boots filled the air, and each rep was followed not by a count but by the utterance, “I will clean my bunk properly, Platoon Sergeant Hamil!” By the end of the day, we must’ve each said Hamil’s name hundreds of times. This seemed to make him happy. The bastard left with a smirk. He had reamed us, alright.

But Hamil was all bark and no bite. After all the endless threats and needless calisthenics, we were ordered to clean up, form up, and go home. We did what we were told, and the dying light of the evening found us shivering in our sweat-soaked uniforms, marching out of camp.

And because I was going home I was in high spirits. In fact, my spirits were so high I couldn’t help but sing along with the rest:

Today is my book-out day,

Book out~

Book out~

Today is my book out day, book out, book out day.

Hey!

No more SOC

No IPPT

No more sergeant tekan me

Book out, book out day.

Hey!

I sang and I sang, and the next thing I knew I was free, free for the first time in two weeks.

The sleek cars of waiting parents were all around me, and the night air was filled with the squeals of joyful reunion.

My family did not come, nor did I expect them to, so I hailed a cab instead. The green light of a waiting taxi waved hello to me like the fingers of an old friend. I opened the back door and climbed in. The music on the radio was too loud, and the air-conditioning too cold against my sweat-soaked skin, but I did not mind. I was going home.

Human beings can get used to anything, this is our blessing and our curse, and since I was used to the abuse in camp I almost jumped at the courteous voice asking me, “Boy, where to?” It took me several seconds to find my civilian tongue, so long unused, and when I found it I replied, “Yishun please, uncle.”

What comforted me more than the driver’s courtesy was the view from his moving window. As he drove, the iron gates of Bedok Camp grew smaller and smaller. Soon it was nowhere to be seen. The dim light of passing streetlamps cast an eerie orange glow on everything: on the streets, on my face, on the raintrees bursting out of the ground like zombies. Ahead of me, the white line of the road was disappearing fast down the moving maw of the car.

These dismal scenes pleased me. I knew that every mad tree the taxi passed and every road line the car ate brought me one step closer to home. My surroundings grew more and more familiar. Here was the reservoir I had passed on my way to camp, fourteen days and one million years ago. Its glassy surface reflected the lights of the city and the stars in the jet-black sky.

The longer the cab drove, the more the madness and badness of camp faded away. Soon, it was nothing more than a bad taste at the back of my mouth, with only my shaved head and soaked fatigues to remind me of my time in prison. Something unclenched within me then, something I did not know I had been holding in, and I allowed myself, for the first time in a fortnight, to finally and utterly relax. I slid down low in the backseat and smiled a slow smile to myself.

I was going home.

-

The above story is an excerpt taken from my memoir, National Service: Confessions of a Skiving Soldier.

Memoir
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About the Creator

Alvin Ang

👑 Writer of scandalous stories. Author of "National Service: Confessions of a Skiving Soldier" and "Confessions of a Singaporean Weed Smoker." Buy my books here!

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