Cheng Chin Yuen

Saturday, December 10, 2005

ICT (28 Nov – 10 Dec)

Vikas Goel (chairman of eSys) is in the ‘business of efficiency’. My recent 2-week ICT has proven that yet again, the Army is just way too big to be efficient. Fortunately, motivated by the value of personal time, we reservists got along, got going and got by in hope that we would get out in due time.

‘Crrroooak…Crrrroooak…Crrroooak!!’ (My truly unique ringtone)


‘Hi Sir! Valli here, the ICT is at Pasir Labar Camp, not Mandai Hill Camp. Can you be at Jurong Camp at 7.45am for in-processing?’

‘Sure’ I replied, happy with the more accessible venue. It sure feels weird to be called ‘Sir’. NPCC, army days and McDonalds seemed so long ago.

It really doesn’t pay to be punctual on in-processing day. Walking through the gates of Jurong Camp at 7.45am, we only got down to constructive business at 10.30am, after a 2hrs 45 minute breakfast at the canteen. Day 1 of every ICT seems to be an eternal waiting game. Perhaps it is done on purpose since with waiting comes chatting and with chatting comes bonding and I suppose the good relations amongst the troops will help us win a war. With power comes great responsibility but somebody high up there had forgotten to inform the canteen vendors about the flood of reservists coming in on the 28th of November. The stalls were struggling to keep up with the queues and there were not enough chairs for everyone. Soldiers were having fried beehoon on the canteen floor!

In a Division exercise, there are hundreds of soldiers involved from the various air, land and sea units running and firing like mad men on the ground. In a computer simulated Division exercise, only the mad commanders are involved and the screaming takes place in front of PCs. In our cosy group, we had 10 men squinting at a single terminal. This ratio is much higher in the larger units. The result is a rather large congregation of ‘Lobos’ or people who have nothing to do. After all the coffee and chatting accomplished in the morning, the natural afternoon Lobo activity was to clock some Zs in the comfort of the air-conditioned facility. It was quite a sight to behold, grown men in their 30s and 40s, slouching in their chairs, plopped over tables and even lining the corridors, all dozing soundly, secure with the knowledge that MINDEF(aka taxpayers) will still be paying them salaries + rank pay (I of course will only get the latter). I am sure that at least 30 to 50 per cent of the manpower here could be trimmed. We did not need to know how to operate the program. The glorious ‘Cyberwarriors’ aka the one’s who did all the rapid mouse-clicking would do it for us. We were just there to give the commands which were communicated to us by ‘someone up there’ over the phone. The ‘Cyberwarriors’ apparently lacked ‘telephone’ training. And we primarily functioned as human relay stations. 10 months of OCS trained us well…

Typical exercise conversation begins with an irritating phone call from higher command.


‘@#$% so fast call again?!....Ello?’

‘Move chip XYZ up to IRAQ locality’

‘Roger Sir, Goodbye and have a nice afternoon nap’

Toooooo…phone conversation ends.

To Cyberwarrior

‘Eh brother, Move chip XYZ up to IRAQ locality’

‘Roger Sir, Have a nice afternoon nap’

‘Thank you, next time when the bloody phone rings say I go toilet…’

Waiting continues for another hour or so…

The wastage of food particularly the ‘night snack’, is still staggering. Reservists do find it hard to revert back to a paltry SFI ‘snack’ after sampling Fong Seng’s Nasi Lemak and Selegie’s Tau Huay and we are often resourceful enough to ship the desired supper into camp, even right into the ‘No Food and Drinks’ computer areas. A tactical repositioning of a whiteboard would shield the Jue Kway from the rare security personnel. McDonald’s delivery services come in really useful in times like these and no bribe is needed to get them past the guard house. Thus, by the end of two long weeks, the number of individually packed jam sandwiches, sponge cakes, custard buns, chocolate rolls, curry puffs etc donated to the bins would probably be in the figure of tens of thousands. Somehow I don't blame them, we lived in a time more than a decade ago, where on certain dark nights, night snack was truly inedible.

The Army is a huge complex organism and it can take quite a while for all the heads to agree and tell the toes where to wriggle to. The battle though virtual, is played in real time so by the time my humble unit gets to move its chips on the screen, it is already several hours after the start time. The gungho parties with their big guns had to secured the area before we the PWD went in to maintain the roads. So the real challenge is what to do with all this waiting time, especially if you are waiting at 4am in the morning.

We quickly organised ourselves into 10am to 10pm shifts so that we need not torture ourselves everyday. I willingly took the night shifts since I had no problems staying awake at 4am watching little rectangular blue chips moving up the roads of a visually uninispiring 2D computer generated map. If Mindef could outsource the whole program to Blizzard (creator of Warcraft), I am sure the battle would run smoother and our Cyberwarriors would be the champions of the next World Cyber Games. Time seem to pass faster at night and at 30, I could still muster enough energy to catch up with friends in the day, even if it means taking naps at certain spots in town (I would recommend the huge underground chamber near the Esplanade where kids skateboard and breakdance. It is air-conditioned and the hard marble is good on the back). Given the huge lapses in activity during the virtual battle, there is plenty of time to sleep even on shift.

Thanks to all the free time, I have dispatched ‘The Last Juror’ and half of ‘The City of Joy’, ticking off about 10 books in the past 4 months. The rest of the time was divided between intensive newspaper and Newpaper (I still marvel at all the nonsense that is published in this paper) reading, yakking and clocking my 100 hours of serious dreamtime training.

Some people are perpetually on the ball. These dudes, like meteorites burn out in no time. Some others are on the wrong ball and make only blunders and enemies. For the majority of the reservists on this particular exercise, I would say that they were on the right ball and knew when to play ball. Although some, like one of our Cyberwarriors caught no ball at all. We skived and enjoyed skiving when we could but when it was time to man the chips, well, we manned the chips. It was heartening to feel the excitement when the exercise went through its climaxes but there were quite a few communication difficulties. This was in an air-conditioned building and we were using telephones. I really did not know how all these complex coordination was going to work under real battle conditions with no Singtel, M1 or Starhub and needless to say no computers.

I guess we will be running on faith.

*Obviously I cannot reveal the exercise details.
*The reason why I am writing this is that I can’t play the piano very well.