Monday, February 10, 2014

Reception: the way we do it

Last Saturday, three recently graduated Privates reported to my Company. They were two month old soldiers having graduated shortly before Christmas of 2013. They were soldiers reporting to their very first unit. We were more than happy to receive them… the way we knew it should be done.

Reception in the military is never the one that most civilian look forward to. In all occasions, it is something that we dread having gone through. Unlike the usual buffet and bonding with acquaintances, reception in the military is all about sweat, more sweat and sometimes tears.
Tradition has decreed that it is a means to introduce the neophytes to the hardships of military life. It is an introduction to what waits ahead of them as soldiers. It is their reception to a life of hardship as servants of the people.

My own reception.

My reception into the military is much grander (as it would seem). It was shorty after lunch where we were huddled in front of what I would later know as Melchor Hall. I knew what was to come as I was not new to the ways of the military, but the feeling going through it, I was clueless. There was a marching band in front of us, as we marched towards the sacred Borromeo Field. There were some officers in front of us. After some speeches, cadets started to march in front of us, they were to be our mentors; in the Academy they were called the Plebe Detail. It was the command of then Commandant of Cadets now retired General Cachuela that gave me the cue. As he gave the order for the upperclass to take charge of us, I said to myself: “This is it.”

Members of PMA Class 2002 came like roaring tigers. I was received by now Navy Lieutenants (and soon to be Lieutenant Commanders) Guevarra and Pahilanga. I did not know them but they knew my family name. I was unfortunately the brother of their upperclassmen whom they would describe as “magan.” The succeeding events came like a blur. I only remembered being shouted at, being totally confused and shocked. When it was finally time to sleep later that day, I shed my first tears. I wondered what I was doing there. I regretted my decision to enter the Philippine Military Academy. The day was April 1, 2000.

Dark days of Reception.

In the military tradition, Reception was never exempted from isolated cases of malpractices. A few years back, videos circulated about reception rites going out of control in some police training unit somewhere in Southern Luzon which depicted the recruits short of animals. The media caught this video and broadcasted it for all to see.
It is because of these cases that military organizations have been wary of exposing this kind of tradition to clueless civilians, whose understanding may not be as broad as we would want to be. When it was our time to receive the plebes then when were cadets, there was a whole set of rules on what we can and we can not do. More importantly we were told to remember the real meaning of why we were to have them undergo the reception rites. Today as an officer, the seven members of Class 2010 that I received are my good friends with some of them occasionally doing their “pangangaya” in text messages or in Facebook messages.

Today, there is a greater demand to be more cautious as to how these practices are performed. For my part, I feel that there is a greater need for us in the military to make people understand why and how we do these rites.

Receiving the new Privates.

As commander of an Army Infantry Company, I sanctioned the Reception rites of three new Privates. Shortly upon learning that a handful of them are to be assigned to our unit, I huddled up my key Non Commissioned Officers to discuss how we were going to do it. We decided on six stations at ten minutes each, one squad for each station. There was to be no body contact, only exercises. Since there was no Company Command Post, we decided on an isolated beach as the venue. The different squads manned their stations and my NCOs supervised the whole activity. I took the pictures.

The stations where all coupled with the usual squat thrusts, “helicopter” exercise and some rolling in all directions. One gimmick stood out as they used a pole where one Private sat while the other two carried the pole on their shoulders. The two were so tired carrying their classmate around with the pole as they were ordered to run back and forth from one end to the other. After all the stations, the whole company (at least those that were present), formed a line where all three crawled under. The three of them were then brought by the First Sergeant to a chair where everybody took turns to shake their hand as they formally welcome them to Charlie Company. A company boodlefight culminated the activity with grilled bangus and pork as viands.

Last night, I presented to the three our Company Implan. The Key NCOs discussed their expectations of the three as the most junior members of the unit. Right now they are on restricted status for the next month. We will be distributing them to the different squad after that period and hope that they will become good soldiers.

My own thoughts.

I posted the pictures that I took during the rites. There were mixed reactions and I felt that I had to say my piece on why I shared those pictures for the whole world to see. I understand the sensitivity of the matter as not all can comprehend the seemingly barbaric way of receiving new members in the military. But I feel that there is a greater importance in accepting that this is the life in the military. It is not a matter that should be hidden but rather should be celebrated. The civilian world will never understand their military unless we, as members of the organization, endeavour to make them understand. In the advent of IPSP “Bayanihan” where our primary tool is the support of the population on us, it has become important for them to understand the very nature of our organization. I feel that with the right supervision and elaborate planning, traditions in the military can actually be incorporated into the understanding of our civilian counterparts. When soldiers die in battle, people understand that it is part of our life us soldiers. But when we celebrate the coming of new members into our organization in a way that is uncommon to them, we are called barbaric.

Years from now, I will remember those three Privates. I pray that they will go on to become good soldiers. I pray that they will go through difficult circumstances to do what they are supposed to do.  I will also want them to do what we did to them when another batch of new soldiers join our ranks. Not the exercises or the sweat but the sacrifice and hardship it entails to be called noble soldiers who will serve the Filipino People. I hope.

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