*Warning: Super long post*
This is the story about a time in my life when I met with up until now, the greatest failure and loss of dignity I have ever experienced. I wish it upon not many people and it still is hard to put into words.
Yet I blame no one but myself for this and I am simply recording this episode in my life so that when I am old and senile I can still enjoy it's details even when my memory has faded me.
We all have past failures and I always think it is good to look upon them to reflect and learn, so that not only do we not make the same mistakes but we also channel our energy towards more positive things.
In BMT (Basic Military Training), I had been identified for OCS (Officer Cadet School) rather early. Held several leadership positions. Yet was told that due to the large number of people signing on with the army (it coincided with the Global Financial Crisis then), I was unable to go and was told that I was likely to be selected in the Specialist phase.
In SISPEC (School of Infantry Specialists), I basically held a leadership appointment for ten out of the twelve weeks at various levels, from Section IC, Platoon IC to Company IC. I was pretty primed to head to OCS IMHO.
In the final week of BSLC (Basic Section Leaders Course), we had a Company address in the auditorium by our Officer Commanding (OC), a guy whose name I cannot remember but he went by the nickname of 'American Lye' and was a Master Warrant Officer.
Upon leading all the cadets into he auditorium, I had to bring the Company to attention and salute the OC for permission to carry on. I did everything as I thought normal and right when I saluted the OC, something in his stare at me didn't feel right. Indeed, I was holding on to my jockey cap in left hand all the while. Why? I dunno, probably due to the stress and excitement of meeting such a big shot. Who would've thought this big shot changed the course of my life?
He immediately took offense to my lack of protocol and berated me loudly in front of the whole company, even saying things like I wasn't fit to be a commander.
Then, in front of everyone, stripped me of my appointment, had my commander rank epulette removed, and handed over to another cadet. All in front of every single person sitting in that auditorium that day.
The humiliation was intense, yet I still vividly recall that I felt numb at that time. I calmly handed over the epulette to the guy taking over me. The whole company, it's officers, it's sergeants and all the cadets were still silent in shock.
After handing it over, I calmly walked up the steps of the auditorium and took a seat alone on the uppermost row which was vacant. From there, I stared down at everyone else and had an overview of all in attendance. I felt numb all this while and the ceremony continued on as through nothing happened.
Not Over Yet
Upon returning to our company line (our bunks), I was singled out for defaulters parade immediately by my sergeant. This was punishment by taking marching orders in double quick time. I was punished in front of the whole company, right below our block, right outside he company office.
It was here that the humiliation began to set in, as every one of my cadet mate shot on with area cleaning and were milling around. Orders were being barked loudly at me as I marched in double quick time till I was sweating profusely.
I remember it was here I began to crack. I started holding back tears that were welling up and misting up my NSF-thick black spectacles, yet still trying to put on a brave front and thinking distracting thoughts. I deeply remember how hard it was to control my crying, coughing and choking, and getting a grip of my emotions.
When it was all over after a half hour or so, I calmly walked back to my bunk, took my towel and went for my bath. It was there that I really started silently crying and letting my emotions get the better of me. Was it the humiliation? Was it the fact that I made a stupid mistake? Was it the spurning of my OCS chance? This I couldn't remember, but cry I definitely did.
The Days That Followed
The days that followed were terribly tedious. It was only a few more days till POP (Passing Out Parade), and given our busy training schedule, there wasn't much dwellings or open mention of that incident. I had a few good friends who rallied around me and probably helped keep the small talk away from me.
Yet beneath the still waters, word began to get out of the company where there was this crazy OC of Delta Coy stripping an appointment holder of his rank in front of everyone just because he saluted him holding his jockey cap in hand.
Two nights after the incident, my sergeant came up to talk to meat my bunk. It was deflating to hear him say I probably would not be making it to OCS. There were already rumours going around that the OC had immediately struck me off the OCS recommendations list right after that incident. Funny at the age of 19 I just accepted it as fact and never thought of seeking any form of redress or looking him up to plead my case.
What Happened Next
It was no surprise when the OCS namelist was announced. I wasn't in it. I remember feeling mildly disappointed since I had already resigned myself to that fate. I needed up being posted to 3 SIB BRC as a specialist, and the rest, as they say, is history. I would go on to complete the Recce Course and serve the rest of my army life with 3 SIB and 2 SIR.
How This Has Shaped Me
To actually say this incident and its repercussions had a fundamental impact on my life is a gross understatement. It was up until then, and probably still is, the most humiliating failure I have ever experienced. And never will I want to be thrust in such a limelight again. I had failed in my pursuit for military recognition and failed miserably, getting humiliated and my dignity crushed in the process.
Yet every cloud has a silver lining and I came out of this setback with a more positive mindset and attitude, with some retuned and earned values ingrained in me.
I learnt several important things from this:
1. I learnt never to count your chickens before they hatched
2. I learnt humility from this humiliation
3. I learnt that your reaction to a setback in life is more important than the setback itself
4. I learnt to have a more positive attitude in life
5. I learnt to have hope and confidence in myself by not giving up
6. I learnt that failing is all a part of life's journey
Do I Have Regrets?
Almost 20 years on, I cannot deny that I still look back at this failing and reminisce the what-ifs of my life. Particularly the main what-if of not fucking things up, where I would be and what kind of people I would become.
Every reservist call-up when I interact with officers, I wonder what if I bore that rank. How would people in the army treat me differently and give me more respect?
Yet there are a lot of positives as well. The experience itself was invaluable. A lot of who I am today is because of how I bounced back from that incident. Any lesser mortal might have crumbled and turned into an introverted recluse from the fear of such rejection again.
Instead, I went on to have a fulfilling experience in the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), where I value all the friendships I have forged even till this day in my reservist unit. I went to University with afar more positive and extroverted mindset, knowing failure can't get me down. I went to the USA alone for an entire summer as a camp counselor and had the best time of my life. I went on to have a great career in sales and management. And most importantly, I have my wonderful and supportive family, my parents, siblings, wife, and kids. I cannot ask for more.
Putting It To Use
I try to use my experience and positive mindset to motivate those around me. Up until now, I only relate this specific story when I trying to encourage someone close who's had a bad setback, that there are always positives to take away from their experiences, whether good or bad.
To a more forward-looking extent, I believe that such experiences are key to building character and good values. Without failure, there will never be appreciation and gratefulness of everything that helps lead you to success.
With that, this has been my story :)