The torrential downpour forced us into the training shed near the field camp site. It was a miracle that I could pause for a moment then to excogitate upon the goings-on of the past few days. I was staving off hunger, fighting the pressing need to nap, ignoring the sour stench of armpits, sweat and leftover food that permeated and mingled in the musty air. God – He was asking me why I was in such a sorry state.
And so I started to think.
Like most recruits, I entertained the notion that National Service, as much as it was crucial to survival of the nation-state, was a waste of time. I believe to a lesser extent now; the past 4 months had shown that NS does shape the fine young gentleman. Physically, I am less podgy. Mentally, I am better able to complete tasks on time, under external pressure and stress. Emotionally, I am able to stay calm and keep a cool head in the face of adversity.
My thoughts then shifted to the 8km route march 2 days ago. My spirits were high before embarkation. However, by the halfway mark, I was already struggling to keep my body upright. My commander told us before that â€œwhen the going gets tough, think of who you are defending â€“ your family, your friends, your loved ones, your country.â€ Yet, the aforementioned quote was lost on me as I spent the rest of the march withdrawn into my protective shell. Really, I was physically stronger than many; I should have helped lighten their loads or at the very least, encouraged the rest. But hindsight is twenty-twenty. I did not expect such selfish behaviour from myself.
Field camp was a litmus test of resilience. The blisters sustained from the route march seared on my feet and toes. The heat rash started to become more than just an irritant. The helmet and iLBV were also impediments to the tasks of building the perfect basha and digging a deep enough shellscrape. People faltering around me served only to discourage me. Yet, somehow, I made it through. Barely though. There was this time I hovered intently outside the medic tent, wondering if I should seek medical attention for my fever. It was enticing indeed; a few of my platoon mates were huddled in the cosy tent, sheltered from the elements. The rest of us, including myself, had just been punished for digging our shellscrapes too slowly. Definitely, more was to come. In the end, I steeled myself not to be a goldbricker and to continue what I have to do.
I had a private moment with myself at dawn while at alert position. My rifle and I â€“ illuminated weakly by the stirring sun â€“ must make quite a poignant sight. Both were soaked thoroughly from the indecisive rain. Both experienced the vicissitudes of army life. Both were muddied from the leopard crawl in Exercise Mail Run, after which I was presented with a letter, a poem rather, about angels from my mother, the contents of which are too private to be disclosed. But it made me weep then, and it made me weep now.
And thatâ€™s all that matters.
And as the last raindrops and teardrops fell, I wrapped up my quiet reflection. Just yesterday, I might be reluctant to push my physical and mental boundaries. But tomorrow, I will ready myself to be a better soldier, a better citizen, a better son. For today, let it be known to the world that this was my defining moment.