This month is the 28th anniversary of the publication of my one and only letter to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) monthly magazine, Pioneer.
I wrote it during my full-time national service about my experience as a recruit on Pulau Tekong.
My letter was published, somewhat edited, in the April 1987 issue. (Yes, I’m that old.)
Here’s an excerpt:
We were resting on Botak Hill, watching the sunset after a hard day of field training. From where we sat, we can see the Singapore shoreline.
As dusk fell, the mainland flickered into illumination with lights showing where our homes were. It was a magnificent sight, especially for ‘marooned’ recruits like us.
Just then, the silhouette of Lieutenant (LTA) Sudi, the most senior of our platoon commanders, motioned towards the lights. ‘Look at that, gentlemen,’ he said. ‘Isn’t that worth fighting for?’
It was a moment that aroused many mixed feelings in me.
Every Singapore male will spend the prime of his youth in the SAF.
He will be frustrated by things he thinks he can do nothing about. He will have to work with people whom he thinks are just as frustrated and discontented.
For all the bureaucracy, loss of some personal freedom, endless duties, daily area cleaning and things we have to do ‘for the sake of training’, we ask ourselves: ‘Is it really worth it?’
When LTA Sudi posed the question to the company that evening on Botak Hill, like good recruits, we replied in half-unison: ‘Yes, sir!’
We did not sound as convincing as we would have liked, for the answer can only be found deep in our hearts.
Sure, it gets a bit hackneyed with the “deep in our hearts” nonsense at the end, but overall, I thought I painted a pretty evocative word picture with that whole sunset, flickering lights and silhouette thing.
My letter impressed my Encik enough that after it was published, he was civil to me for about two days before he went back to treating me like the insubordinate private I was.
Unlike my column in The New Paper on Sunday, the letter ran in Pioneer without my gorgeous face next to it.
So unlike the lucky readers of The New Paper on Sunday, the unlucky readers of the magazine were deprived of enjoying my beautiful words along with my entrancing visage.
Who knows? If Pioneer had published a photo of me 28 years ago, I might have become as famous as Military Expert 1 (ME1) Clarie Teo became last week.
ME1 Teo, who is in the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), was featured on the back page of last month’s issue of Pioneer, but she went viral only after Cyberpioneer (the online version of Pioneer) uploaded a video of her and shared it on Facebook on Monday.
She even made the news in Hong Kong, Indonesia and Canada.
Citizen journalism website Stomp reported: “‘Chiobu’ Singapore navy girl becomes Internet hit — after appearing in Mindef video.”
Mothership.sg called the video the “ultimate recruitment bait video” for RSN. This led to some criticism online that the “recruitment ad” was resorting to “sex appeal to attract men to join the navy”.
As a former navy man, I’m offended by this criticism.
Hey, the navy doesn’t need a 72-second video of a “chiobu” to entice guys to sign up.
We already have a feature-length movie for that. It’s called Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen. Heard of it?
The thing is, I don’t even think ME1 Teo’s video was ever meant to be a recruitment ad.
In fact, she has stated quite emphatically on her Dayre blog: “I’m not the Navy Poster Girl. Once again, Cyberpioneer magazine.”
Meaning she was just featured in the magazine as have many other individuals in the armed forces — and not chosen to be the face of RSN. At least not yet.
It's like mistaking my 1987 Pioneer letter for a recruitment ad for the army.
In February, another navy “chiobu”, Captain Marilyn Sim, was featured in Cyberpioneer with the accompanying makeover video et al, but because she didn't go viral, no one mistook her for the Navy Poster Girl.
Before that, “chiobu” of varying chio-ness from other branches of Mindef also got the Cyberpioneer treatment.
Actually, if Cyberpioneer should be criticised for anything, it’s for being sexist by featuring so many “chiobu” like they’re The New Paper New Face finalists or something.
Who knew there are so many “chiobu” in the SAF?
Which, I guess, is the point of these magazine features — to show that there are so many “chiobu” in the SAF, so that you would want to join…
Ohhhhh, I see.
If only I were 28 years younger.
- Published in The New Paper, 12 April 2015
UPDATE: From Clarie to Graci: Social media-created 'recruitment bait' arms race escalates