“It’s all about the gear”, Dilbert Chua says as I pack my things on Sunday night for outfield training. He’s sniggering at the number of things I’ve packed for just two days’ field training. I’ve got fingerless gloves, a 3-litre camelbak, scarf, bungee cords, a field pack with selected stuff from one army-issue 24hr combat rations pack (mutton curry pasta, red bean dessert, two types of Kong Guan biscuits, peach iced tea powder, ovaltine candy, instant coffee powder, instant crysanthemum tea powder and two types of cereal bars), a mess tin set, motorbike helmet, combat helmet, floppy hat, skeletal battle order webbing, marker pens, notebook, black insulation tape, prickly heat powder, insect repellant, toothbrush, toothpaste and facial cleansing foam. Oh, and mobile phone in ziploc. And this is before we collect our weapons, ammunition and radio communications devices.
The field training itself was rather nondescript. The usual four missions, three day and one night, with the usual snafus because we only do this once a year, so mistakes are to be expected. The only noteworthy aspect of field training is the fact that we have to spend the night out in the bush. No lights allowed, very dark, and possibly very dangerous because hey, we’re civilians and usually when it gets dark, we turn the lights on.
These days my job’s pretty nondescript too. I ride around on a motorcycle, usually behind all the armoured fighting vehicles and battle tanks of the company, wait for orders to either look for a lost tank or to guide the replenishment truck to the company’s location. The job used to be more exciting, and I used to be asked to ride deep into ‘enemy’ territory, set up an observation post and report enemy movement. And because we’re not at war, it’s all pretty safe except for the odd chance I might get run over by one of the tanks, especially at night, and especially if I fall off the bike.
So, anyway, it’s all about the gear, and when it came time to take a short sleep break in the bush, one of the boys said he had a damn good kang tow for insect repellant. He’d just gone to Club Med a few weeks earlier and snaffled a bunch of citronella wipes. The nabehcheebye mosquito won’t bite if you wipe this on yourself, he said. And don’t throw away the wipe, tie it to something on you. So I tied the wipe on my floppy hat, earning sniggers from the boys who said, wah lan eh, tie ribbin ah?
The wipe worked a treat. No mozzies as I tried my best to sleep. It’s amazing how quickly you sleep when you’re tired, despite the obvious discomfort of sleeping on the ground. Most of us started snoring as soon as we hit the deck, with the exception of Sgt Foreskin, who was still telling all who would listen about his lack of a love life.
Then my hat fell off while I slept, and I woke up with my face numb. I thought at first it was because of the morning chill (it does get quite cold). Then I tried to drink from my water bottle and dribbled all over myself. I put my fingers to my face and felt a knobbly collection of welts, including two on my lips that were so big my mouth couldn’t close properly. The other boys then woke up, saw me and my knobbly face and laughed, saying I looked like a cross between Chow Yun-Fatt and Angelina Jolie.