Monday, April 25, 2011
THE TALL MARINE manning the gate gave me a hard punch in the solar plexus. I winced and retreated away when the Marine held his Armalite, butt first, towards me. I faked the hurt so I could evade his aggressive challenge and the impending rifle butt blow. I succeeded there but I bade goodbye to my dinner and my freedom.
I am stuck inside the Navy headquarters in Roxas Boulevard together with 240 others on the night of August 14, 1988. I hadn't prepared much at the last minute and I missed my dinner and tomorrow we will all be trucked to faraway Camp Capinpin. An empty stomach tonight wouldn't help me and I hope breakfast will be served early morning.
Breakfast did not came and it was a shock. Let's see what this kid is made of. I grew up very pampered by my grandparents and I taste life very differently from the rest of my neighbors my age although I get to do chopping firewood at the behest of my grandma and the rest of the time I could do as I please even playing basketball from sunup to sundown almost everyday.
I was in the prime of my youth then at 25 and I am quite reckless when my mind sets on to something. I don't know how my civilian hardheadedness would fare under the baton of the military, but, I have got to try and test my manhood. I loathed the military in the early years when Martial Law was imposed in '72 and I disdained uniforms and any vestige of authority after that. I decide to change all that.
I marched with 1,800 other candidate soldiers from the Army, the Navy, the Constabulary, the Air Force and the Presidential Security Group into the barracks of the Armed Forces' training facility inside Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal after a whole day of toiling under the sun, without water and rest and a glorious stretch of an unimpeded roll down a high hill into a pond.
I cast my lot with the 8th Battalion after a head count and, at that moment, I was assigned as the provisional battalion commander because of my physique and height. Hell, if they only knew that I have never got a liking for the military's pomp and pageantry. If they only knew that the only field commands I know are in English learned during Boy Scout.
For one whole week I stuttered in Tagalog and got my head banged by my own steel helmet and my chest a target of enraged Tactical NCOs everytime I dished a wrong command until my throat gave way to sores and coughs and much more coughing weeks after that. It was a reprieve and a blessing in disguise as I was demoted to platoon sergeant then rose back to battalion staff owing to my pedigree – being a son of a policeman!
You are not allowed to sleep early, not until you hear the taps, which always came at ten in the evening and you are not allowed to stay in bed after 3:30 AM, for at four, the reveille1 will start. Early morning in Camp Capinpin is very cold and thick fogs envelop the area. You just wear Army shorts, sneakers and a white shirt and try your damnedest best to heat your body up during the Army Dozen2 to beat the cold.
After the reveille, the battalion then run as a group out of the camp and into a mountain road. It is not rare that other battalions would engage another in a test of strength and speed goaded behind by a Tactical NCO carrying a big stick. Honestly, my battalion always lose out every race to another and it is not a secret that our Tactical NCOs lose bets and gets the brunt of the taunts from their counterparts where, our battalion is forever bleached under the sun resulting from these losses.
Camp Capinpin lie at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range3. It is the headquarters of the 2nd Infantry Division. It is also the home of a detachment of Scout Rangers where we get to be taught by the finest and most battle-hardened instructors. This is the time where my senses are keen and I absorbed the instructions very well. Instructions that supplemented with what I learned from my grandfather and an uncle – all veterans of different wars.
I get to practice generosity in Capinpin by showing my Muslim brothers where to catch fish during a Ramadan season. I get to steep my endurance in an ever-increasing distance of uphill running into the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. I get to hone my courage by exceeding deeds beyond my expectations. Finally, I get to snare wisdom by outwitting veteran soldiers during practical soldierly undertakings.
I am a Cebuano-speaking rascal but I was able to get the sympathy and respect from my Muslim classmates – especially from the Tausugs – whom I considered as brothers of equal importance and skill. Aside that, I get to gain acceptance from the Visayan-speaking ethnics of Mindanao and from the higher-IQ residents of Metro Manila. Apart from them, I am but a promdi4 to others and my feeble diplomatic skills face a brick wall there.
During those road-running sorties up on the hills, my stamina increased each week. Of course, it is aided by the religious adherence to the exercise program which increases in repetition each day. Running also increases in distance from five kilometers on the first day until I get to run my first and only full marathon5 during the last week of training.
Courage in the face of threats and bodily harm, these I faced every day. Instead of wincing and feigning hurt, I get to show my full dignity as a warrior by absorbing all the blows without complaint and putting on a stoic countenance that discouraged unusually rude Tactical NCOs. My courage gets also tested by leading men onto unfamiliar territory and unimaginable success over extremely difficult situations.
One situation I couldn't forget is when our long-time tormentor, a PAF sergeant, caught my company in a different route and began butting everyone with the end of the rifle barrel on the abdomen. Since I did not wince, he dropped his rifle and started after me with a punch in full force at my solar plexus. But a lensatic compass hung over my neck and invisible from his view, got hit instead and he suffered from it that he let us go to save face.
Lastly, the lectures I had of with my grandpa and my uncle were of use during the escape and evasion practicals. While everyone were herded down the road, I decided to remain and become invisible in a patch of grass in the middle of the road. You couldn't imagine an awfully tall guy hiding among a surviving clump of grass between two furrows made by truck wheels? But I did. And just a few inches from my unknowing “captor” who let loose a magazine of 5.56-mm ammo at his “prisoners” in full daylight.
I have become adept at map reading and navigation but the best lesson I got is when I suffered from hypothermia right after crossing the Daraitan River. I am drenched and I shook for hours. I placed my palms right over a fire. I caught every heat of the fire inside my worn poncho, but I still shook. I ate a warm meal and the shaking is still there and I thought I might pass over. I took off my wet boots and socks and walk over every warmed up pebble everywhere and it was gone.
After that, I climbed my first mountain in my life, in Mount Daraitan, which is part of the Sierra Madre, and hit small targets during live-fire exercises. Then I crossed the Daraitan River once again, this time crawling over a 2-inch thick rope6 and, one last time, drifting along a makeshift raft of poncho, pole and dry grass. I get to meet a lot of Dumagat7 people along the way and felt kinship with them.
December in the Sierra Madre is very cold and the fog just as thick. Proper military courtesy is practiced to the fullest even in zero visibility else you bump an officer and suffer for it by producing sweat8 to top off a Coke bottle. Discipline is never given a slack even during Christmas. Not even the flu will give you that chance to stretch and lie on your bunk except after taps. On the other hand, the best cure for this sickness is by “sweat patrol” under the heat of the sun in full combat gear wearing your poncho.
I have good memories of Camp Capinpin and I am proud to be one of those who toiled as the “lowest mammal”. I ate, slept, ran, crawled, climbed and got whacked to feel the hardships that accompany entry and acceptance into the most noble of profession – the profession of arms – and I shared these all with my batchmates, with whom I know not anymore of their whereabouts. Most of them may have joined their Creator in the fulfillment of their duties and I cherished their memories as only a warrior could do for another. For the rest of the living ones, my fervent prayers of protection.
This journey of the heart took me more than twenty years to make and I take this to writing to demonstrate to the reader that there is such a place called Camp Capinpin – the gateway to the Sierra Madre - that bred unknown patriots who give life and limb for our country, our freedom and our way of life. They have shunned the unregimented civilian life just so they could provide something for their families. These are men of steel grit and they are humans to a touch. They are soldiers.
Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer
Images by Eduardo David Pardo, Philippine Army website and Philippine Navy website
Ballpoint pen sketch by PinoyApache
1Early morning exercises.
2A set of early morning exercises which consist of twelve (12) different figures to be completed in four (4) counts and several repetitions each which increase in intensity every week.
3A mountain range in Eastern Luzon that extend from Quezon Province in the south to Cagayan Province in the north.
4A discriminatory slang or acronym derived of “from the province” instituted by Manilans against those that came from the countrysides.
5A 42-kilometer run from Camp Capinpin to Tanay proper and back with Armalite rifle, combat boots, steel helmet, fatigue uniforms and a 10-kilo rucksack which I finish in less than eight hours.
6Commando crawl. You balance atop a swinging rope and crawl over it from end to end.
7A Southern Luzon indigenous tribe who live on the hinterlands of Rizal, Quezon and Nueva Vizcaya.
8Physical punishment wherein you do repetitive exercise and the sweat adhering on your shirt is wrung repeatedly to and collected inside of an 8-ounce bottle until it is full. This is rather difficult during cold weather and you have to exert more effort.