The very first day at the railway station in Seremban was chaotic with hundreds of potential soldiers from a multi ethnic background. The senior NCO’ s were yelling away trying to bring order to a very chaotic situation. There was this gentleman who was moving along all pumped up with self importance he was making the situation worse by barking out to the already harassed NCO’ s. That action brought out the meanness in the NCO’ s who started abusing everyone in the language most foul, mentioning mothers, sisters, private parts, copulation and all of it brought about shocked stares from us. The strutting gentleman we later found out was the Commanding Officer of the Recruit Training Center in Port Dickson named Major Maarof. That guy we realized later in training was a cross between Gomer Pyle and Gilligan.
All of us were rounded up like the sheep we were onto trucks. It was twenty guys to a truck, of course we were warned, not to wave or yell to the public on the way to Port Dickson which was an hour away. This instruction was to preseve the good image of the Army. As though we were the guys who created the bad image, imagine all the curses and abuse at a public railway station in full hearing range of the public, especially on the matter that somebody’s mother’s private parts was diseased. These NCO’ s who were going to be our instructors were the most sadistic bunch of people I ever had the privilege of meeting. They would put the drill sergeant in the movie Full Metal Jacket to shame. Not too soon we reached the great big square. This is where you get to see the great military bullshit of being yelled at repeatedly.
You get sorted out, which platoon you going into, under which company, you are repeatedly shuffled from place to place under the blistering sun. The realization hits you then, what the fuck are doing in hell on earth.
After all the pathetic souls have been sorted out many times and some semblance of order has been retrieved, we are issued with plastic cups and plates to go for lunch. We are made to form in lines of three and herded to lunch. In most armies the place soldiers eat is known as a mess hall, here it is known as a cook house.
The guys were all famished, after a long journey many of us did not have much money on us, we were the poor middle class, to get rid of the hunger pangs we were always filling our bellies with water. Now when we were finally at the cook house imagine we had to line up, in four lines that snaked around the building 1500 of recruits! It’s mind boggling, in the US Army it would not be a problem, they are used to aircraft carriers, starving populations and they feed their army in style. The Malaysian Army does not believe in good logistics, don’t pamper your soldiers or they will become spoilt. That mentality has not been eradicated until now, I am already a pensioner. I managed to reach the food line, the rice is slopped down into your plate mind you not the white rice you normally get, it’s greyish ,on again no time to choose, it’s beef, never eaten beef before you say no, a sarcastic remark is passed with a sneer, can consume milk but can’t take beef. There’s one Indian cook who sympathetically with an encouraging smile plunks down a big drumstick with a bit of gravy. The Malaysian Army too has a large number of bigots and rednecks. Next they splash your plate with some vegetables ducked out from a huge container. After this it’s a major operation to find a sitting place.
It’s orderly but the instructors are yelling at the other guys who were in there earlier to gulp their food down. It was going to be our turn soon . The eating habits of a Malaysian other rank leaves much to be desired. It’s like manoeuvreing in a battle field to find a clear space to put your plate down.. At long last you are seated, now you notice your food, there’s one fat wiggly in the middle of the rice, the bastard cooks don’t even clean out the rice.
Before you realize you in the lowest ranks of the pecking order the instructors are yelling for us to clear the tables, desperately we start wolfing the food down. You are half way through, one burly instructor gives one powerful kick to my unfortunate neighbour who’s busy gobbling his food. The chair metal folding he is sitting on, is practically kicked out from under him. The instructor is using hob nailed boots. The poor guy looks up dumb founded at the glowering face, don't you understand your time to eat is over it screams. As for me I quickly scramble away before I became a point of focus. Then it is falling back in threes and being marched back with an accompaniment of curses, foul language, threat of bodily harm and the never ending reference to the diseased private parts of somebody’s mother.
Hunger pangs still there, we are led to dilipidated old building which will be our barracks for the next six months. We stand in the heat with me wondering whether I made the right career choice . We are split into two groups, one group is led away to a shed under a huge canopied tree. There the recruits hair is shorn without regard for style nor dignity. The second group is to draw equipment, for the duration of the stay. We are taught the basic rudiments of moving around in a tight formation. All these take up the rest of the day. Then it’s dinner time. Back to the same old routine. We are allowed half an hour to have our showers, some of us don’t make it as there is no more water in the storage tanks. There are eight toilets and one big tub for fifty three of us to bathe. After that we quickly dress up in blue shorts and green t-shirts, we are totally unrecognizable, my mother would not recognize me now. Come nightfall we are gathered and briefed on the do’s and don’ts until it’s time for roll call, where we are counted. When everyone is accounted for, we are to sleep at 2230hrs. It’s pure bliss, until the bed bugs come out to feast on you! Then suddenly as you are drifting out to sleep, the shrill sound of a whistle breaks the sound of snores and sniffles. Some of them are crying.
*Some of the names have been changed to preserve anonymity By Major(Rtd)D.Swami