As the ecstasy and pure, unadulterated bliss of receiving my IC recedes with the day coming to a close, I’ve had some quiet, deep introspection on my two years in National Service. And I discovered that while there were the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs, NS will definitely be a landmark in my life journey which I will deeply cherish. While I’m looking back at this journey of self-discovery, personal growth and one marked by countless new friendships forged, I can’t help but recall a Bible quote from the Book of Timothy.
”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”- 2 Timothy 4:7
On the 12th of March 2014 as I made my first forays into military life, there was a palpable sense of anticipation and apprehension. As a second generation permanent resident and the first in my family to undergo the rite of passage all Singaporean males are mandated to perform, I had expectations and goals I set out to achieve. As I recited the SAF Pledge and sang the national anthem, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of patriotism and pride strike me. I was born, raised and grew up here. (Yes, I am actually a Malaysian and it actually surprises new acquaintances that I am from across the Causeway because I lack the distinctive Malaysian accent and my lingua franca is mostly Singlish dotted with the ‘lahs’, ‘lehs’ and ‘lohs’) While I could not yet lay claim to the honour of being a Singaporean, this was my chance to repay the good faith and blessings this country had showered on me.
I was fortunate to have landed in the same BMT Company, platoon and section as three other fellow CJCians, Nicholas Teo, Lim Shuqi and Joel Cheung. That made my transition from the civilian realm to the military all the more seamless. It was also my honour to have forged new friendships with Kwek Zhi Yi, Oh Wei Lun Starey, Lee Cheng Xi, Merville Sin, Jing Wei Yeong and lastly but most importantly, my buddy,Jeremy Lau. This band of brothers made BMT just that bit more tolerable, meaningful and worthwhile. We shared weal and woe, sweat and tears together. If anything, my time in BMT is one I will cherish and remember fondly, for it gave me my first taste of the value of grit, teamwork, sacrifice and yes, independence. Grit, because it instilled a fiery determination in me. Teamwork, for I learnt to overcome differences and self-interest to work together towards a common objective. Sacrifice, because we learnt to give and take among friends. And yes, I became fitter and managed a record 10 pull ups during my time in BMT.
BMT was sheer joy for me because being put through our paces in the most gruelling of environments like that of field camp and taking regimental punishments collectively only served to strengthen our camaraderie and esprit de corps within the platoon. The milestone 24KM Route March seemed like only yesterday, and for one good reason: I was filled with gratitude during the route march for the friendship, love, kindness and personal growth I had experienced. To those of you whom I had the good fortune of getting acquainted with, a heartfelt thank you for being part of my life. You have touched me in so many ways and I hope I have touched you too.
Not making the cut for Command School was heartbreak, but I learnt to trust in God that he has a plan for all of us. That came as I was matriculated into SAF Medical Training Institute (SMTI) as a combat medic. If anything, I told myself that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Heartbreak soon translated into a determination to put in my utmost. I soon began to discover that by putting one’s soul wholeheartedly into an endeavor, one begins to enjoy and immerse himself in that very endeavor. I’ve come to appreciate my medic training at SMTI, even today. The competencies and skills, ranging from Intravenous Infusion to Basic Cardiac Life Support, we mastered as medics remain more relevant than ever.
Then came my posting to Jurong Camp Medical Centre. This is where I experienced my steepest learning curve and perhaps faced the greatest tests and tribulations. I had to contend with a difficult superior and immense responsibilities. (ironically, yes, as personal assistant to my superior) I signed extras, shed tears of sorrow and desperation and worked late hours, sometimes having to resort to bringing work back home. I had to learn, sometimes the hard way, how to deal fairly with colleagues while in a position of responsibility. And yes, I was force fed a routine of Microsoft Office that I can safely vouch that using Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint and Word have become second nature to me.
That imparted in me perhaps a few values. Responsibility: I learnt to take responsibility for my work and to stick to set deadlines without compromising on work quality, even if that meant working extra hours to accomplish what needed to be done. Leadership: Inevitably as the second-in-charge in the absence of my superior, I had to learn how to lead effectively. I may have had my shortcomings and my flaws, but I undoubtedly learnt the value of compromise, forging consensus and taking to task colleagues, if I needed to.
Tenacity: I had to work with what was undoubtedly a difficult superior. That drove me to the point of desperation and anxiety (as those in JCMC can attest to, I am a kancheong spider that cannot rest on my laurels if something is not yet done) but if there was one takeaway I am thankful for, it is that I have learnt a great deal about exercising forbearance, learning to stay composed and rational in the face of distress and frustration, as well as being better equipped to deal with a myriad of equally onerous superiors in the future.
If there is one thing I can be grateful for during my time at Jurong Camp Medical Centre, it would definitely be the friends I have made, who made the task that little less complicated and effortless. We’ve all toiled so hard towards that common objective to prove to ourselves what our hard work could achieve, and gosh, did we achieve wonders: from our EMSA Audit 2015 Gold Award, to the 100% achieved at the Annual Stock Take and finally, the climax of it all, our 2016 Mobilemet Emergency Drill Assessment Band 1 Achievement. We’ve climbed mountains we never thought possible.
Chee Chong Junwei Ong Muhammad Danial Irfan Ismail Travis Phey Lim Wen Chi Syafiq Chichawito Jethro Tan Ahmad Iqbal Wong Xiangshengand the rest, we’ve fought the good fight, we’ve run the race of our lives. Thank you for your commitment, effort and cooperation. I may have had my differences with some of you, but I certainly will cherish our shared tribulations under Ma’am. I wish you all the very best! For those still in service, your time will come and I certainly hope that when that day comes, you too will see and feel the same sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I have experienced during my time at JCMC. Keep your head down, stay focused and stay united. While being in JCMC is definitely an onerous task, make the most of your time there and you’ll bring along with you several valuable life lessons.
If I had to go through it again, would I have chosen to change anything? My answer is an affirmative no. I have had the privilege of serving as a combat medic in the service of the wounded and maimed. Being a medic may not command the same prestige as that of a commissioned officer, Commando or Naval Diver, but the medical vocation, just like the transport, logistics and other vocations in the SAF, are but single constituents of a whole institution. If I may draw an analogy to the human body, each vocation can be likened to a single organ. Be it the heart, brain, liver or prancreas, one cannot function without the other. Each serviceman has a unique role to play in the defence of the nation and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to save lives as a medic.
I am also grateful and humbled by the kindness and love I have encountered from those whom I have had the honour of crossing paths with. My fellow medics from JCMC and my BMT comrades, thank you for being a part of my life.
Lastly, I want to thank the people who have been my source of sustenance and inspiration; who have kept me going with their affirmations and belief in me. Without their unyielding and unconditional support, I would surely have faltered. My friends, you have been a God-given blessing. There are many people I would like to personally thank, and I’m sure you know who you all are. I deeply appreciate your company, words of affirmation and being a listening ear when I needed it the most.
And to my family and especially my dear mother, words cannot express my love for you. I may have made you worry immensely during my time in NS, and have on most occasions not been the perfect son you envision, but I do hope that you continue to put your trust in me and that I will repay the good faith that you have invested in me all this while. Thank you for your heartfelt letter during field camp that gave me the strength and willpower to carry on, despite how dejected I was feeling then, to the point of succumbing to failure.
”不要把自已与别人相比, 人各有自已的特点. 做不成大树可以做小草. 做不成船长可以做水手. 最重要的是认识自已, 找到最好的自已”
To translate, ” Don’t become preoccupied with comparing yourself with others, for each person has his own unique traits. If you can’t be a tree, be a shrub. If you can’t be the captain of the ship, be the sailor. What is key is to discover and learn about your strengths, and find the best within you and bring it to fruition”
These words from my mother remain as poignant as ever and speak of the belief and love she has invested in me.
As I conclude, I ask myself whether I have truly fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. It is a resounding yes.
My NS Journey has been a bittersweet one, but it has been a rite of passage I have had the honor of undergoing. It is a chapter in my life I will certainly recall with much wistfulness and fondness. If this is what it means to be Singaporean, I can, hand on heart, proclaim that my NS experience has only strengthened my resolve to become a Singaporean. I have no doubt whatsoever that this land that nurtured me, our way of life, and the people I grew up with is worth defending. Many a time, I have been reminded that in the Chinese word ”国家”, 国 (country) comes before the 家 (home). Likewise, I have grown appreciative of the fact that there can be no home without the country. Home, to me, represents bliss and love. These are blessings my family and friends have showered me with unconditionally. Yet, how am I to come home to seek solace and warmth when there is no country? This is why I believe in the continued importance of national service as a core pillar of the Singaporean state.
If there is one simple retort to the skeptics who doubt the value of National Service, I pose you this final question: If you don’t step up, who will? I may still hate the feeling of lugging my field pack, coupled with a stuffy Long 4,SBO and SAR 21 rifle around. I absolutely detest digging shellscrapes and having to contend with the uninhabitable outfield environment. But the hardships forged a steely resolve in me. It built my determination. It strengthened friendships. It is a rite of passage that I feel many before me will attest to, that has shaped characters and provided a fresh outlook on life. And that is a testimony by many who have served before me, and who will continue to serve this great nation. I am proud to say that I can come to terms with finally, calling myself your fellow compatriot, a Singaporean.
As I close the page to what has been a colourful two year chapter and landmark in my life journey, I look on the horizon that lies before me with optimism and hope, for I know God has been good to me, and will continue to be in the years to come.
CFC Vincent Lee Hong Hui
-Valor, Virtue, Victor, Viper! Platoon 1, Section 3, Viper Company, BMTC School 3 BMT 02/14
-Seek, Save, Serve -SMTI, JCMC EMT P020