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Reservist Brought Out the Worst in Me. This Article is Proof

Reservist Brought Out the Worst in Me. This Article is Proof

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My parade square is a Pokemon stop.

This sentence sums up everything you need to know about my half-arsed reservist in-camp training (ICT). It is also very apt because, like Pokemon Go, reservist is a meaningless waste of time that most people stopped caring about three years ago.

It is not an exaggeration or an example of my colourful humour. This is the hard truth about my most recent call back. Literally no one in my camp can summon two fucks to give about ICT.

The same applies for the commanders, the men and everybody in-between. The signals sergeant has forgotten how to turn on his radio, and my platoon commander collapsed after 17 push-ups. When you look into their eyes, you can see the distant, glassy look of men who are either somewhere far away or totally dead inside.

They are living in the separate dimension of ‘anywhere-but-here’.

(Photo: The Straits Times)
As for most of my bunkmates, the number of fucks given approaches negative infinity. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can call back our bodies, but they will never take our minds. Like extras from The Walking Dead, we sort of just loiter around until someone shepherds us to another spot where we can continue our rotting in peace.

This job usually falls on my platoon sergeant, the only person who shows signs of life inside his skull. We would totally hate him for making us do things that we have zero interest in, but we are mostly just annoyed because actual hating requires energy that we do not have.

The end result? We are not a platoon. We are not anyone’s mental image of a platoon. At the very best, we are a bunch of fat, middle-aged men reluctantly cosplaying as a platoon

(Photo: The Straits Times)
Which brings me to my point: what purpose does reservist serve? Why does it even exist?

According to Mindef, reservist training empowers us to be “operationally ready” NSmen who form the “backbone” of our defence.

If this is true, I eagerly welcome our new Malaysian Overlords. After all, most NSmen I know are only capable of storming the canteen or the smoking point.

When called upon to undertake actual operations or missions, we display the same fighting spirit as a Gardenia Cocoa Roll. The average Primary 5 Girl Guide shows more Gung-ho when she sells cookies.

To be fair, this is no fault of the SAF. It takes Basic Military Training (BMT) two months to squeeze a soldier out of an impressionable teenager. Four or five more months are needed if you want those recruits to do something more complex than screaming loudly and attacking inert vegetation.

However, it is impossible to replicate the same process in two weeks. There is simply not enough time or effort to retrain the thousands of NSmen, especially given that those gullible boys are now jaded marketing executives too preoccupied with their weight and marriage problems.

Even if you do manage to whip those auditors and writers into a fighting-fit battalion, you can be sure that it won’t last because you are no match for real life. Everything can be unlearnt, and what little is remembered from reservist training will evaporate the moment those No.4s hit the laundry.

The 823 SIR reservist unit became famous after its commanding officer published a Facebook note in 2015 praising the camaraderie and spirit of his soldiers. (Photo: The Straits Times)
There are careers, girlfriends and sick grandparents to worry about. There are emails to reply and bills to pay. By the time my pants have dried after exiting the wash, those weapon handling drills are already a distant memory.

As for “fitness”, IPPT doesn’t stand a chance against even the lousiest hawker centre. You can count on every NSmen to binge-eat his body weight upon book out.

In short, I believe that reservist is a waste of the SAF’s money and of everyone’s time. It is one of those institutions that came into being during a time of necessity and is now immovable thanks to inertia and tradition.

It brings out the worst in people because you are removing them from their everyday lives and making them relive the most pointless bits of National Service: the chao keng, the siam sai kang and the rush-to-wait, wait-to-rush.

It is also ineffective because you cannot be a good soldier and a good office drone at the same time. Those jobs require drastically different mindsets that do not overlap.

We are a bunch of fat, middle-aged men reluctantly cosplaying as a platoon.

That said, there is one possible circumstance where you might reasonably enjoy your reservist duty. And that is if your real life totally sucks.

Allow me to explain: how much you enjoy your ICT does not actually depend on your unit or ICT’s training programme. Rather, it depends on how shitty your life outside has become.

If you are getting worked to death by a Big-Four auditing firm that milks your lifeblood for endless spreadsheets, while your fiance grows impatient about the wedding, then ICT is a welcome respite from the hell of your “normal” life.

But if you are “funemployed” and jerking off everyday to your heart’s content, then ICT is like booking-in from heaven to prison.

Then-Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin (second from left) with a reservist unit in 2014. (Photo: Tan Chuan-Jin's Facebook page)
In the end, reservist exists as a nether-region, a sort of limbo between civilian life and regimental discipline where time does not flow and everything you do is consequence-free. You can’t really fuck anything up, but neither can you progress your life in any meaningful way.

For those who are being crushed by the merciless pressure cooker of Singaporean life, ICT is manna from heaven. It’s the god-given MC that lets you cop out from everything. You can slip away from project deadlines, or girlfriend troubles, or any form of responsibility to indulge in a two-week talk cock session with your buddies. All expenses paid too.

For someone who just wants to live his life, it’s just NS all over again. It’s a mild purgatory where the main punishment is boredom and being forced to watch your life slowly tick away, while constantly wondering how long more before you can rejoin the real world.

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Jeremy M. Foo Contributor