From the White Horse’s mouth

Losers of the "Make My Head Look Most Like A Watermelon" Contest pose for a picture in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland, October 2005

I was enlisted in December 1988, just as the Army was changing their combat helmets from heavy steel to high tech Dupont Kevlar, and apart from my dog tags that said I was allergic to penicillin and triple antigen vaccines, my medical docket had this mysterious ink stamp that simply said, “W.H.”

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Water displacement formula, 40th attempt

Back when I was in full time NS, the cleaning of weapons was a mundane, time-consuming, daily chore. Between the 7 troopers in a combat section, we’d have around seven small arms (M16S1), couple of grenade launchers (M203), couple of light automatics (Ultimax100), two GPMGs, and a heavy machine gun (Browning .5 HMG).

Carbon residue would get stuck in the crevices and barrels of the weapons, which is the real reason why we were really really reluctant to fire our weapons during training. Of course, this was marketed as ‘ammunition conservation discipline’.

Every day when we were in camp, we’d be cleaning our weapons. When we were in the field, we’d clean our weapons. Nothing to do? Clean weapons. If there were to be a war, it’d have to have been put on hold because we were cleaning our weapons.

One of the hardest, and somehow most satisfying part of cleaning a weapon was the barrel pull through. This entailed putting a folded piece of flannelette (variously mispronounced as flannel-lite, fannelite and fantalite) in the eye of the pull through rod, and pulling the rod through the barrel of the weapon.

The thicker the flannelette, the more carbon residue it extracted. But the thicker the folded piece of flannelette, the harder it was to pull the entire thing through. Sometimes, you had to recruit your buddy to help hold your weapon while you pulled the rod through.

Four or five pulls, then another one with a new piece of flannelette usually did the trick, but not without a considerable amount of elbow grease.

Then one day, a platoon mate came to camp with a can of WD-40. He said it would work wonders with the weapons cleaning. Of course, we tried it. It worked. It cut down cleaning time by about 10 million years. We were free.

Queues at the canteen and payphones became longer. We spent more time and money on snacks, cigarettes and contact with the outside world. It was obvious that the fragile fabric of soldierly cohesion and solidarity was being threatened.

They banned the use of WD-40 in weapons cleaning. They then spread such disinformation as “WD-40 will cause barrel explosions and blow your pretty face off when you fire the weapon. Your buddy standing nearby will get it too”. Of course, that didn’t work, because one or two foolhardy troopers went ahead to try it, risking life, limb and the pretty face of their buddy standing nearby, firing their weapons uninhibitedly, knowing that they’d either die or have a lot of free time on their hands because they never had to spend so much time cleaning any more.

I had my car radio tuned to the BBC World Service yesterday morning, and listened to the most interesting story about WD-40, and how it evolved from a rocket scientist’s solution against missile corrosion, into one of the world’s most ubiquitous brands, but at the same time remaining unchanged as a product that always delivered beyond expectations.

I did not know that 20 years ago. Now I do.

When once the flag flew me

Flags for sale

Once, during NS, me and two other guys were made the battalion’s flag raising party for one of many early morning parades.

This task entailed picking up the flags from the Regimental Sergeant Major’s office, checking the cords to make sure nothing was frayed, and rehearsing our marching to the flag poles at the top of the parade square, and then doing it for real during the actual parade, complete with raising the national flag and the Army flag.

We were told several times to check and make sure that the loops for the flags were attached properly before raising the flag during the national anthem, and told in no uncertain terms, on pain of pain, that we should never, ever, raise the flag upside down.

To our horror, as the anthem played, the white portion of the national flag appeared to creep up the pole as we hoped against hope that the flag was merely impossibly crumpled and would unfurl itself soon enough.

It didn’t, and it was the longest Majulah Singapura I had ever heard. Our lives flashed before our eyes as we contemplated a long stint in detention, and we felt the ridicule and then the pity heaped on our backs from our battalion mates standing in parade behind us, as we raised the upside down flag the best we knew, and only took it down once the parade was over.

Completely useless Christmas gifts: the camouflage-patterned wallet

 Merchant2 Graphics 00000001 10630

Buy this for a friend doing his national service stint / reservist in-camp. Worried that he might lose it while on field training because his wallet looks just like foliage? Buy another one for him.

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On sale

Inmytimewhitetape-1
“..that there’s nothing that a little black tape cannot fix… …and that when there’s really something that black tape cannot fix, you need to mark it with white tape”..

I am very chuffed about my first book being on sale from today “at major bookstores”. I don’t know how other authors do it, or what they do, walking into bookshops and seeing their own work on the shelves.

What I’m going to do, is go to Kino and Borders, find the shelf “In My Time” sits on, bring a couple of copies to the bestsellers’ shelves and put them there. You know? So that people think it’s a bestseller? And will also buy? It works you know?

From today’s Straits Times Life!:

Blogger Mr Miyagi pens NS book

From water parades to ‘elephants’ in rifles, Benjamin Lee’s comic book chronicles the ins and outs of national service

by Stephanie Yap, Arts Reporter

IN November 2005, blogger Benjamin Lee, better known as Mr Miyagi, wrote a series of posts about his experiences during a Singapore Armed Forces exercise in Queensland, Australia, which his national service (NS) unit was a part of.

He took the posts down from his popular blog at miyagi.sg, however, after The Sunday Times asked the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) what its policy on blogging about military exercises was, leading the ministry to conduct an investigation.

In the end, Lee was given the go-ahead to blog about his national service (NS) experiences, though Mindef did ask him to refrain from re-posting one or two photographs due to security concerns.

Almost two years later, Lee has published a book about NS – with the full knowledge and support of Mindef.

In My Time, a 120-page comic book published by Marshall Cavendish with Mindef, presents NS in a humorous and nostalgic light. The title refers to how former NS men like to boast that things were much tougher back in their day.

The book, which has an initial print run of 2,000 copies, was launched at the Army Open House on Sept 1, and is available at major bookstores from today at $9.30 without GST.

“I enjoy telling army stories, and I thought it would be a good time to put a comic book of anecdotes together since it’s the 40th anniversary of NS,” says Lee, 37, who holds the rank of corporal and serves in the 433rd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment.

Organised as a guide to common characters and situations that NS men encounter during their years of service, the book makes inside references to water parades, elephants in rifles and the various
“kings” that one finds in a platoon – keng, bobo and topo, given respectively to malingerers, poor shots and bad navigators.

The book’s copyright is held by Mindef, and Lee says that the ministry helped him by supplying military-related photographs, which he used to guide illustrator Chua Jon Depp, a Malaysian artist based in Kuala Lumpur who was recommended to Lee by Marshall Cavendish after no suitable local illustrator could be found.

“He was really helpful… he saved some panels by injecting his own humour and style into the scenes,” says the freelance writer.

Meanwhile, readers of Lee’s blog should not expect to see as much of his trademark irreverence and sarcasm on the printed page. Lee says that the decision to leave out the more negative aspects of
NS was a personal choice.

“I do have darker stories about NS, but I intended for this to be a commemorative book. There are other forums for other NS stories,” he says.

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