Field camp is easily the highlight of any Basic Military Training (BMT). While it might initially sound daunting to you as a fresh-faced recruit, it can actually be a memorable experience that will stick with you for a lifetime.
Whether it is digging shell scrapes, learning fire movement or finding out how truly garang your sergeants can be, this five to seven day outfield tests both your will and soldiering capabilities.
Take it from me, my first-ever field camp during National Service happened almost a decade ago in 2012, but I can recall every detail like it was yesterday. It was an opportunity to learn many life-changing lessons that I've brought with me into my adult life.
Life Lesson 1: Let go of things you can't control
Let's face it. Field camp ain't gonna be a walk in the park. You will be sleep-deprived. The only body maintenance you'll get to perform is with a soap sponge and powder. And the food rations you'll be consuming are not exactly Michelin standard.
Similarly, you can't control the cards life deals you. The only thing that you can control is your attitude towards the situation. If you approach field camp with a positive mindset, there's a higher chance that the days will be more manageable, and, before you know it, the week would have breezed by.
Life Lesson 2: Hold on to what matters most
There's a line from a famous marching song in NS that goes "with my rifle and my buddy and me". Your BMT buddy and rifle are truly the two most important things you need to look out for in field camp. And you better guard them with your life.
Our Singapore army operates on a buddy system at its most basic level, so you need to always watch out for his safety. You will also need to rely on him when things get tough outfield.
Similarly, you need to treat your rifle like your wife. Keep her real close, maintain her well, and make sure no one tries to steal her from you. Trust me, the commanders will definitely try to "stun" them away when you're least expecting it, and that might lead to disastrous consequences.
Life Lesson 3: Live simply
Do you really need to lead a life of extravagance? 'Cause during field camp, when you spend a week outdoors where the most luxurious food you'll have is either mess tin-cooked maggi or heated-up bean stews, you'll definitely start to appreciate the simple things in life more.
We haven't even gotten started on the need to dig up latrine points (especially when Nature makes call Number 2) and changing clothes in the dark with little illumination. I can attribute the minimalistic life I try to lead to my time in the army. A toilet with a bidet? Now, that's luxury.
Life Lesson 4: You can accomplish a lot in little time
One thousand. Two thousand. Three thousand. Four thousand. Down! That's how long we're given to sprint from cover to cover or risk being shot down by the enemy. Yep, four seconds - in full gear, helmet and rifle jangling in your hands, some more.
When the prospect of life and death boils down to a finite phase, you do start to realise that there is a lot that can be done with your life with the time given to you. Procrastination can be a killer, and field camp definitely teaches you to not waste any moment.
Life Lesson 5: Shared experiences bond strangers
At the end of the day, BMT field camp is one of those experiences that will define your NS journey. After two years of National Service and almost half a decade of reservist cycles, I've been through multiple outfield exercises - but I'll never forget my first one.
One of my favourite things about the BMT field camp is receiving letters from loved ones (as you will be away for quite some time, and won't be able to book out beforehand). I vividly recall tearing up reading mine.
But what was most heartening about that exercise was the multiple grown men doing the exact same thing around me. We're all just Singaporean sons going through this shared experience, and I would credit that to the friendships I've forged with some of my fellow NS buddies who've been my bros till today.
I think the most important takeaway is that you're never alone regardless of whatever difficult situations you encounter in life. Someone out there might just be going through the same thing as you. It's not a sign of weakness to ask for help, and it's always worth it to know what we're fighting for.
This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.