Friday, June 08, 2007

In the ARMY: you just have to do it to understand

I woke up the next day with more red marks on my legs. The mosquitoes were indeed successful in making sure that I will remember them when I go back to my room in Baguio. They will sure be that constant reminder for me not to complain again while I sleep on my five inch mattress. As I was walking out of the bunker to urinate, I hear the sentinel at the front gate shout, "Andyan na sila." He was referring to my classmates who just conducted their first Combat Patrol. Later in the afternoon, it will be my turn.

A Combat Patrol is a routine activity of any combat unit in the Army. It is usually done, to check an area for any enemy activity and of course as a way to make the presence of the Army be felt in the community they are located. Not that is militarization as most leftist organizations would put it, its simply part of the jobs that they had to perform, the same as cops going around the city. Unlike the Combat Patrol we do in PMA, there is 101% certainty that there is no enemy. We do not have live ammunition and the emphasis is more on the way the patrol is done. We are expected to show that we learned the process in conducting one. In PMA, we conduct this patrol with other cadets, who, for most of the time consider this exercise a waste of time. The Patrol I will be conducting on the other hand will be very much different. For one, I will be conducting it in an area that is hostile. I will be doing it with Enlisted Personnel (the privates, corporals and others). The good thing is that I have live bullets loaded in my gun and the fearful thing is that... its the real thing. I was told by my OIC, if you are engaged (as in fired upon by the enemy) you will have to be the officer there. It wasn't like I did not know what to do when fired upon, I practically memorized the procedures to be done. In a manner of speaking, theoretically, I know more about Military Tactics than the soldiers that I will be leading in the Patrol. But the truth is, I have never been face to face with danger. I have not experienced being fired upon by live bullets, I was simply a student of soldiery with no combat experience.

The time came, although I tried to look calm, my heart was pounding. At the back of my mind I knew that the area I will be patrolling on is less likely to have enemy forces, but still there is this chance of meeting the enemy and although low, I was afraid. The Corporal in front of me was a confident one, he kept on telling me stories of his exploits and pointed to me places that he remembered encountering the NPAs. Behind me was a five-month old private, he was simply silent. Inside my head, I was thinking of the many scenarios I learned, I was on the lookout for advantageous positions in case of any eventuality. I was very observant and became fearful of people that we meet along the way. I did not realize that we were already entering the front gate back to the Company Headquarters.

My first real Combat Patrol is finished. When I graduate next year I know I will have more of that but as my OIC would put it, the first time is always the most fearsome. The lesson I learned is not anything near to being brave. I learned that the only way to understand the reality of the things that are to come is to simply do it. My first combat patrol wasn't that exciting. All we did was walk until we were able to return to the base. But I know that when the time comes for me to look back and recount memories that I will remember, I'm sure the experience will be one. Understanding how the soldiers I was with can sleep at night doing these patrols every now and then is difficult especially when you know the danger you will be facing. But unlike the many concepts that we learn in school (even those not in the military), the best lessons in life are those that were borne out of experience. To understand the importance and value of things comes through experiencing these things first hand.

When I conducted my Combat Patrol last Field Training Exercise a few days ago, I had with me the understanding of the importance of what I was doing. Although this was a simulated scenario, this isn't just an exercise to have a good grade, this time around, this is my time to learn and be prepared for the real thing.

To be continued

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