Thursday, June 8, 2017

Surviving Iron River - RMC & UPNM

This post is purely my personal opinion and experience. If any reader feel the urge to criticize my perspective on how I look at things, I respect your freedom of speech so I hope you can voice out your opinion with some self respect. In the social media, UPNM is cursed with so many vulgar, immoral, harsh and real bad words. Their vulgar words vocabulary is just so impressive that I have learned a couple more words in this Holy Month. The worst of all, one of the so called ex-lecturer accused the UPNM cadets for doing blow jobs and oral sex! How could I not know after surviving in Kem Sungai Besi (bahasa omputeh Iron River) for over 10 years?! Where is his/her professionalism? This is going to be my very first blog post using the title of my blog, "Surviving Iron River". After more than 6 months of silence due to my work commitment, I have finally got the "kick" to start writing. This is partly because of the cruel death of my junior in UPNM, Officer Cadet Zulfarhan who was physically tortured by his fellow comrades. 80% burn, steam iron marks all over his body. It's wrong, it is crazy. The question is, how did that happen?

May be this write up could bridge the gap of understanding between military and civilian. We were brought up differently, I am serious. Year 2003 at the age of 13, I was sent to Kem Sungai Besi. Reluctantly, I walked up the hills and staircase to report to Royal Military College's Alpha Company. RMC has many stairs, many slopes, may hills. It is just so conducive for "hell". Week one, month one, year one felt like hell with the regimental routine and military training. I have squads from all over Malaysia, and I learned to understand the Kelantan and Terengganu slang. The funniest is still Sabahan slang. As a multi racial squad, we went through thick and thin together. If I were to tell my stories in RMC alone, I could write a book about it. From New Boy to Form 5, some sort of Zero to Hero. The culture, be it good or bad, made me who I am today. 2006 I graduated from RMC and I joined Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia a few months later, did not have my well deserved "break" from military. My intake, we call ourselves intake 2007. After 5 to 6 years of training, only 70% (my rough estimation) commissioned as an officer. Some got injured and got discharged, some academically incompetent, some suffered emotional stress, some changed their mind halfway, some felt like military is too tough of an adventure. So i spent a good 10 years in Kem Sungai Besi, my family have been supportive and drove me in and out for a good 10 years. So in 10 years time, I have seen many things as a teenager. 

 My RMC Squad, Alpha Company...

Culture Comparison
Royal Military College and University Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia are both very unique in the sense that both organizations have a strong military flavour. In RMC we salute the civilian teachers as we bump into them, they join us for our annual camp training and most of them served RMC over a decade. We love them. In UPNM is more or less the same, we report to lecturers and lecturers join our military activities. So the civilian and military bonding is quite good, and the civilian gradually blend in to understand how we do business. However, the culture inheritance in RMC is excellent compared to UPNM. The tradition is very well preserved, we sing company songs before dinner, we do the same company special (special push ups), and we sneak out from the same golf course. First year as a new boy, I wouldn't forget the pain and mental challenge. We were taught Hammerlight push ups, knuckles, kerinchi, forward roll, side roll, back roll, and many more basic PTs. The process of transforming a civilian mind to a military mindset is truly intimidating. Hey I was just 13 at that time! Mental torture? Yes it is. Maktab Tentera Diraja MTD, aka Mental Torture Department. But the outcome is amazing, I survived the first year and I became stronger than ever. My endurance improved, I learned to survive as a small fish in a sea of hungry sharks, I picked up some sports, and the best of all... I represented Kuala Lumpur for Cross Country at MSSM level. I played water polo, state level. Then I pushed my limit further by doing triathlon. At the age of 16, I already did 3 triathlons. From zero, to hero. I could handle more intensified work load now, but I'd still remember than pain I had as a young New Boy in RMC. How many secondary schools in Malaysia introduce a full time military environment to the students? I can't think of one. In terms of organization and management, the Commandant must be an Old Putera (RMC graduate). End of the day, we can opt to join the military or start the life full of freedom as a civilian.

 RMC Class 2 Beta...

UPNM on the other hand, has always experience administration change, routine shuffle, training module restructure and many more. Just like living on an active volcano, eruption can occur anytime and the landscape will change all over. I served under 3 Vice Chancellor in UPNM, the first was academically inclined, the second was average, the third was extremely military driven. Some strongly support academic, some enforce more military training, some loves landscaping and work up for new facilities. So the ideology extremities of the leader, smacked us Cadet real hard as we need to re-adapt to fit in. This is one of the reason why UPNM culture cannot be preserved, there is no consistent aim and the direction keeps changing. 

Weekend activities...

That's how i look at it. Other people might have different view. Because when I was on the lowest sector of the food chain, we were never heard. Who would want to listen to a Cadet? No question asked, just follow orders. Make sure pay mess bill in time, pay the Mont Blanc brief case in time (during my time), and pay whatever fees as ordered for all sorts of activities. Just follow the flow, don't ask. We have 4 Battalions, each battalion has less than 10 Officers and Staffs. The total Cadet's strength in UPNM is well over 1000 plus, imagine if everyone voices out their thoughts and opinion, the listener's brain would suffer massive brain jam. Every time we check strength, time taken is at least 40 minutes. So i totally understand why collective punishment, why nobody listen to us, why we have to just follow. Massive organization, too little instructors. Not an easy task for the UPNM management, not conducive for us too. But I survived. As I've mentioned many times, I joined UPNM because I wanted to become an Ironman. I want to finish the 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km marathon under the 17 hours cut off time. I needed money to buy a bike! Masuk askar, kena blasah, hujung bulan dapat gaji beli basikal. Simple dream, fruitful journey. Ironman kept me alive in UPNM because that's the medium I relieve my stress. 

Military Training
The ancient No4 uniform...

In RMC, I was given a taste of military training. Joining UPNM is an advance version of it, I was mature and ready for the bigger challenge ahead. Military training is like an every day thing. We do sports every evening, for me it's triathlon all year long. Friday is specifically allocated for Tempur Tanpa Senjata (TTS), Hand to hand Combat (in english). The training has a good mix of taekwondo, silat, judo. We use real bayonet and M16, so bruises and cuts are normal in training. We train and we sweat, it saves us from bleeding in the battlefield. Some aggression are instilled, to kill the enemy when we encounter one. As a man of war, we need that kind of training. Before we get commissioned, we should have earned our Black Belt. During my time, there was policy change due to leadership change. Me being a Taekwondo Black Belt started everything all over again from White Belt, re-learned from scratch to pass my Tempur Tanpa Senjata. Sadly, we ran out of time because commissioning parade was really close and i needed just one more exam to get my 2nd Black Belt. The 3 hours evening TTS is way harsher than taekwondo, it involves a lot of core workouts and close combat skills. I dislike rebahan berguling the most, because before we master the skill of fall techniques, we get blue blacks everywhere. While the civilians enjoy their Friday, my fellow comrades and I feeling tired and dehydrated under the sun. No Friday nights entertainment, we get ourselves prepared for the next training.

Saturday is a combination of PT, marching, map reading, physical training, and Ilmu Medan Perang. PT is my favourite because nothing is too hard for us triathletes. I could easily run an 8 minutes for 2.4km run, when I am at my best I could do a 7mins 30 secs. Eco Challenge is an annual event, I'd say this is the highlight of the year because all Battalions will fight to win the trophy, including a team from Palapes UPNM. In this multi challenge event, all the aspects of military training is tested. We'd hike over hills in a platoon and do cross country with FSMO and loads (5kg bullet case, 10kg backpack each , 15kg log, 30kg tyre), we do shootings, map reading, kayaking and so on. The body would get so super sore that I learned those major muscles group because it. 

Try la cross country bawak tayar lori dengan kayu balak sekali. I always want to finish it quick to throw aside all the loads so that I can catch some sleep with my muddy uniform, shower later. The event is a test of corporation, Command&Control, physical endurance, mental strength and aggression. It digs in every single ounce of motivation and determination by pushing the body to exhaustion. Some quiet nerdy cadet could endure it really well while some gym heavy weight lifters beg for help in the jungle. Military training unleashes the inner beast, that's when we see the true colours. This training simulates adverse condition, where the leader has to decide whether to fight or flight to save his men.

Felt like dying but still breathing, less drama and keep going!
Life After Lights Off 
Everyday we fall in a handful of times, go through a busy and hectic regimental routine, attend classes and all. By 2359H, it is time to turn off all lights. MANDATORY. The next day we would wake up around 0600H to stretch the bed and clean the room, put on our uniform and get ready for next day's challenge. For sure sometimes we have to do "covert" operation middle of the night, to shine shoes, to iron uniform, to finish up assignments, to submit lab reports, to study for exam, do everything in total darkness. Badan penat, otak penat, 24 hours is just not enough. We just have to survive like any other university students on top of enduring the military stresses. That's what we're paid for every month. The tax payer's money is invested to build a multitask, all rounded, and competent military personnel. Many other "events" happen after lights off. One of the most memorable one to me, is birthday celebration. We always keep the birth date like a top secret. If discovered, the naughty squads would treat u like a prisoner of war. My birth date was discovered once, whole bunch of people ambushed my room to catch me. Despite my struggle and fight with strongest will, these military trained fellas easily tied me up and kasi "mandi bunga". The rubbish bin was soaked with all sorts of unimaginably stinky stuff, then nicely poured all over this pathetic "prisoner of war". My body was painted with camo cream with their creative design, rupa macam orang asli pun ada. That's how birthday was celebrated, yang kena ikat kat ampaian pun ada, tapi kita tak ambik hati sebab ada hari ada balas. Lain hari, dia pulak yang kena! Our jokes are harsh, it is just us being military. Punishments are normal especially when we make mistakes, it intends to buck us up and be a better person. A simple 20 push ups, could be interpreted as ragging/bully, those who take it positively would say it's a strength training. Human interpretation is subjective. For that reason, please be careful with what u read. Orang makan sausage sebab lapar pun mungkin disilap sangka sebagai "blow job". Nafsu mengatasi minda, imaginasi yang amat liar.

Fatigue made us creative. UPNM - Universiti Penat Nak Mam**s. Ask any cadet, they know it.
We don't expect the civilian to understand, many things are too hard to explain, the military training has contributed to some of our rough jokes. Cultural thing is not an easy subject to comprehend. For example, some people sacrifice animals for religion offerings, some are vegetarian that thinks all living beings shouldn't be killed, some inherited superstitious believes. Seekor kambing takkan faham kenapa singa makan daging. So being cultural competent, we should have some tolerance and respect despite not understanding the purpose YET. In any operations or battlefield, we soldiers face decision dilemma. To kill or not to kill? In this peaceful country, someone has to do the dirty job. There is always someone guarding the borderline so that the country gets a peaceful sleep. Askar Malaysia tak pergi perang? Does that mean we stop training and stop all operations? Can u name me 10 operations done by either Army, Navy and Airforce? Just so you know, all the 3 services combined could hit the total number of more than 100 military exercises and operations, EASILY. So can u name me 10 of it? We do not expect the public to know everything we do, because of security and classified issues. In so many situations, our eyes see things that the public wouldn't want to see. Let us do our job, don't blanket the whole UPNM as "Bangsat", please.

My time in UPNM, we did many crazy and adventurous things but never went over board, not to the extend to Iron our own comrades. That's wrong. So recently when I read statements from key board warriors talking about UPNM, I cannot brain the fact that I went through the training but they sounded like they went through my training??? Just like a friend of mine said, "Aku makan murtabak, dia pulak yang komen rasa sedap ker tak?" 

Askar mana tak pernah makan penampar? Susah nak cari askar yang tak pernah kena tampar or sepak. I got my first penampar when I was 18. Kena ketuk dengan tongkat masa kawat tu perkara biasa, nak bagi kita pandai. Kalau tak, hari ni aku tak jadi pegawai. Inevitably, some minor man handling is possible to occur especially when someone lost his/her patience. Man handling is officially illegal in the military, but no one can guarantee it can be totally eliminated in an environment full of testosterone and adrenaline rush. It happens sometimes as a "wake up call", to correct a trainee from making catastrophic mistake like pointing the gun barrel to someone. In that life threatening situation, you want to whisper to his ears like "Yusuf Taiyoooob"??? Dalam askar ni paling pantang kalau bisik macam dalam kelambu. Nak sembang biar loud and clear. That is why when we do radio communication, we need to confirm if the friendly forces hear us strength 5! However, some people be it instructors/trainees/officers/staffs could go uncontrollably off the limit when the adrenaline kicks in. Poor anger management. We have a lot of screaming, yelling and scolding every single day. There's not a day went by without it. It helps to make our drills command sounds excellently thunderous at the parade square, as loud and as clear as a Brigade needs to hear! Outsiders might look at it as rude, but for us military, it is just another culture. We do punch our seniors, our squads occasionally... In the boxing ring. As a soldier, we need to have the anger and killer instinct. This useful skill is an important tool be used at the right time, right place, for the right reason. No disciplinary charges for punching till the opponent K.O as long as we do it in the boxing ring. Boxing, is another very important training for us to unleash the anger like a gentleman. See the difference? Having a strong emotion control is a quality of good officer. Just like any factory production, there could be some defective product. Killing people is wrong no matter how bad is the sin, who are we to Iron our friend to death? Human stress and environmental pressure pushes everyone to the limit, that's when we discover our true character. Kalau tak diuji, mana la tau jati diri sebenar. Duduk kat rumah goyang kaki memang best jadi commentator. So let me emphasize again, it takes someone to undergo the same environment and stress to really comprehend. Then u can write a long list of FAQ to answer all the Why, When, Who, Whom, Whose, How. Again, this is my opinion. You are free to defer. 


Know Your Enemy and Know Yourself, Wins A Thousand War 
The infamous quote of Sun Tzu has it's relevance in every organization. When we report to a new unit, we have to fill up a long list of details about ourselves and then report to every seniors to get their signature. Those seniors are all over the places. If the base has a perimeter of 15 kilometers, we have to go block to blocks and find out a suitable time to get their signature.  They're like an artist and I am their biggest fan. Most importantly, better memorize their details before seeing them. Hafal nombor pangkat nama, kena tau kampung dia mana, dah kahwin belum, intake mana, kepakaran apa... Some of them are heavily decorated like Christmas tree, sayap penerjunan ada 3-4 ketul, lencana kepakaran yang pelik-pelik, pingat berderet 4-5 tingkat. They are some sort like a very rare Pokemon, u go different place and u will find different one. We as juniors aka boogie aka new comers must "Know Your Senior and Know Yourself, Wins A Thousand War". Kalau boleh bini dia nama apa pun nak tau jugak supaya jangan silap mengorat bini orang nanti=p Mengarut tak? The whole process could take up to two weeks. Allow me to share with u the up side of it. This tradition helps a new comer in terms of base orientation, I get to know everyone through this process, familiarize myself with the base layout, facilities and the safety do and don'ts. It is part of learning process, in the military way. "Masuk rumah orang tapi tak kenal tuan rumah, tak bagi salam, tak memperkenalkan diri. Itu kalau dari segi adab ketimuran memang sesuai dipanggil biadap".

 Better know your senior's name, rank and service number...

Knowing the dos and don'ts also improve the safety and security of a military base, because we have classified and top secret information to be safe guarded. Not knowing the importance of it could easily cause information leak to the enemy's hands. Lain tempat lain cara, ini cara askar. Masuk kandang kambing mengembek, masuk kandang singa, serah diri jela. Out of so many bases I went to, the most intimidating is the 21 Gerup Gerak Khas, Kem Sungai Udang's front entrance. It says "Datangmu tidak diundang, Jika ragu sila pulang". Rimau biasa kita tengok kat dalam sangkar, tapi kat depan 21 GGK... Harimau dia dok kat luar sangkar! Different place, different culture. We learn to respect every tradition and culture. 

From A Boy to A Man
Lebih 10 tahun aku tinggalkan rumah sepanjang belajar di Kem Sungai Besi. Masa aku bersama skuad dan jurulatih lagi banyak daripada dengan keluarga. Sekarang aku dah jadi pegawai, sepanjang perjalanan hidup ni macam-macam kita jumpa. Sparuh hidup aku pakai uniform. Aku mengharapkan organisasi yang mengamalkan "Leadership by Example", kalau nak suro Kadet lari, kita make sure kita lari sepantas kadet. We demand our command to be obeyed so we must show a good example. Ada jurulatih yang sangat dedikasi sampai tak tido malam, ada yang sentiasa suka berkongsi pengalaman supaya we don't learn the hard way, ada yang perasan bagus, ada yang service document badly tainted with disciplinary charges. Ada yang baik, ada yang buruk. Kita manusia yang hina, tidak sempurna. Tapi kita usaha untuk menjadi lebih baik daripada semalam. UPNM sebuah organisasi yang agak kompleks disebabkan institusi ketenteraan dan universiti duduk di bawah satu payung. Not easy to handle. I have a quote that I love very much, I learned it in Dharma class when i was younger, "Be like a lotus. Let the beauty of your heart speak. Be grateful to the mud, water, air and the light." I survived UPNM and RMC. Anyway, thank you to all my lecturers, instructors, comrades, mess's staffs, civilian staffs for keeping UPNM and RMC running. 10 years have brought have huge impact to my friends and I. 

This is purely my personal view at my own page. It tells my story of Surviving Iron River, all pictures are my collection. Today, I continue my 18 years old dream to be an Ironman. 6 X Ironman Finisher Medals and still counting. I have served on board KD JEBAT, the Royal Malaysian Navy's Missile Guided Frigate. I am currently serving the 502 Squadron AS555 SN Fennec Helicopter as one of the Air Engineering Officer. Attended a handful of career advancement courses to make me a more competent officer. My involvement in military operations and exercises is a life time opportunity to discover our beautiful country. Some of the most high risk hostile areas are the prettiest actually.  

 First Ironman at the age of 18 years old. Officially an Ironman. See the outcome of military training?! Not all turned out to be bad apples. 

 First Appointment as Assistant Marine Engineering Officer, KD JEBAT.

Second Appointment as Training & Quality Assurance Officer, 502 Squadron.

 Our Beautiful Country.

God gives us two ears and a mouth, so that we listen more and talk what is necessary. I hope this simple post could enlighten a little about life in a military training center, RMC and UPNM. I hope the key board warriors can make a more responsible statement, "kalau nak comment pasal kesedapan murtabak, jom makan murtabak dulu". Jom masuk askar, kontrak 10 tahun kalau Tauliah Jangka Pendek. Mudah kan? I feel sad and sorrow for what had happened to my junior, damage is done and I really hope we could revamp our training syllabus. Those who did the torture to him, you guys wrongly unleash your aggression to friendly forces. We are trained to kill the enemy! Kita silap sekali, seribu yang baik pun orang lupa. Sehelai kertas putih dengan setitik tompok, yang orang nampak tu tompok hitam. Macam mana pun, kita amik iktibar dari pengajaran lepas. Ini bukan kali pertama terjadi di Kem Sungai Besi, don't just play the blame game. Let's solve this issue, stop manhandling and bully once and for all, everyone play our part as a team. Cadets are green in the service, they need inspiration from someone they could look up to. The instructors, officers, lecturers should be a good role model. The future of Malaysian Armed Forces lies in the hand of UPNM.  Being the biggest factory to produce military and civilian degree holder, what we do now will determine the country's future. 

SERVE TO LEAD 2003-2006