Every recruit in Basic Military Training (BMT) will be given a form (at least, during my time in 2009/10), asking him whether he would like to be considered for command school (where he’ll train to be a specialist or officer). The process of shading the option is generally a straightforward one – for most, “yes, duh” – because the prospects upon commissioning or graduation appear more alluring. The supposed tougher training aside, a higher rank will mean more allowance, more perks, and more power or control.
Yet, I said no. And I was posted to a company where all my counterparts said no as well.
Procedurally, the implications of sharing the “no” option were much less straightforward. I guess it wouldn’t reflect very well on the BMT company and school if they had recruits turning down these golden opportunities (“What? How can anyone refuse the possibilities? Are your commanders leading by example, inspiring them?”) For a while you’ll feel slightly flattered, because all your superiors – from your sergeants to your commanding officer – are heading down to give you little talks, to convince you to say “yes”. With all this hassle, why did I say “no” then? Maybe my fitness was sorely below average. Maybe I had no confidence in my leadership or teamwork abilities. Maybe it was a juvenile way of telling the army: “just this once, I am going to not do something you’ve told me to (I do remember telling someone that I wanted to have my weekends free, and confinements in the schools would’ve affected that)”.
Sometimes I do wonder if I regret doing so, saying “no”. There was a time (a short while) when I kept thinking that I could’ve finished one of the schools by the skin of my teeth. Who knows? Even if I did qualify for the command schools, my shoulder could’ve popped out earlier (here). In any case, like the decision to not even apply to the colleges overseas (here and here), these events do not resonate as soundly now, and strangely enough the act of saying “no” has featured like a little badge of honour.
As it turned out, I trained to be an infantry reconnaissance trooper, and my fast marches in the beginning were nothing short of miserable. But progressively we got used to the load and pace, went through the motion, and got our jungle hats. So it goes.
Beyond the great friendships and camaraderie, perhaps the greatest thing about being a lowly-ranked man in the army is that you get to experience the absolute worst of human behaviour. How you are ordered around to do unreasonable tasks; how you are yelled at for no rhyme and reason; and how you are always at the mercy of some “leaders”, who have no regard for who you are, or what you can actually do. But it also makes you stronger, more perceptive (as it has made me, I hope). To know that there is a long way for us to go before National Service is truly meaningful for everyone.