*Record scratch. Freeze frame* Yep that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I got here. It all started when I received a letter on my birthday.
To my surprise, it was a birthday card from the government, congratulating me and telling me that the time had finally come for me to serve the nation. I scrambled frantically to find out as much as I could about National Service from my friends and relatives and anxiously finding out what I should bring with me. Little did I know that I would be in for an enlightening adventure.
From the very first day, the importance of responsibility was drilled into us. We were issued three essential items that we absolutely had to carry with us wherever we went. One of the items was our water bottle. Failing to bring our water bottles with us, or even worse, dropping it in view of any instructor carried a penalty anywhere between a stern scolding to doing push ups. What our superiors wanted us to understand was that responsibility should start from the small things. If we could not be responsible for even a water bottle, how could we be entrusted with a gun during our duties?
We also had to be responsible for each other. When we enlisted, we were told to choose our buddy. Regardless of whether we were going to eat, study, sleep, or use the toilet, our buddy must be with us at all times. If my buddy did not iron his shirt or polish his boots, it would be my fault as well. Although it was a little frustrating and stifling at first, it taught me that I can’t do everything on my own. We both had blind spots and there were times when we forget things, but by checking on and taking care of each other, we managed to get through basic training without having to do too many push ups.
Another thing I had to get used to was being in very close contact with about 30 strangers for 24 hours every day for 5 days. We all had different educational levels, different family situations, and different interests. It was through frequent conversations, sometimes even at unearthly hours, that we bonded and got to know each other better. Even though sometimes we had different perspectives, we always made an effort to understand and respect one another’s perspective.
In addition, the importance of respect was highlighted to us multiple times throughout the course of basic training. As trainees, we were of the lowest rank and therefore had to greet and offer correct salutations to anyone we encountered in the camp. This could just be a simple “good morning uncle” to one of the many cleaners around the camp, or a “good afternoon sir” accompanied by a salute to a senior officer. Regardless of the person’s occupation or rank, they are all people who deserve our respect. Now whenever I’m outside of camp, I make a greater effort to greet and thank the people I come into contact with. After all, my job and duty as a national serviceman is to serve the public, beginning with the people around me.
To some people, national service may not be a desired way to spend 2 years of one’s life. However since it’s mandatory, I think it’s important to go through it with the right attitude. An attitude that is always willing to learn and to see the bright side in everything. An attitude that says “I’ll try” even when it’s tiring or difficult. I have no idea what the next one and a half years have for me, but I know that if I manage to continue having this attitude all the way, I’ll come away from National Service with the better side of the bargain.