Where even carrots become sticks

Trying to get meaningful work done in the army is typically understood to be a challenge. On the other hand, trying to get urgent work done in an underground military facility where everything from vehicles to work tools to lights are broken while you have politicking, distracted and regularly absent superiors is simply an impossibility.

I sometimes wonder why me and my fellow specs put in so much effort to complete our work up to standard when other teams led by army regulars give no fucks.

Early mornings are spent arguing over the distribution of severely strained manpower and highly limited vehicles. Late mornings are spent trying to obtain keys and equipment and signatures when everyone is scattered throughout the different levels of the underground where the reliability and quality of communication is reduced to the ancient era of messenger pigeons. Work can only start some half an hour before the 12pm lunch break – but that doesn’t include the long travel time to the underground, the time wasted opening and closing multiple blast doors and access hatches.

One guy insisted on me allowing him to work alone in complete pitch darkness with a torchlight, to meet a stocktake deadline in spite of a power outage. Another team led by my friend hastily conducts ammunition movements with heavy vehicles in a pitch black chamber filled to the brim with enough explosives to turn Mandai into a mini Sahara desert. And there I am, provided with only two newly-posted in guys to complete an urgent tasking where I have to multi-task between coolie work, teaching and directing, and driving a forklift that is rapidly running out of juice.

It is rare to come back to the aboveground surface in time to catch the shuttle bus out of the camp. I see the sunlight for less than 4 hours a day. And in the fading sunlight, I can finally see in better detail the microscopic metal splinters on my fingers – someone had robbed me of my work gloves.

Well if I don’t die of tetanus, I’ll eventually die of lung cancer. The PSI underground is enough to kill a horse.

The moment you reach the office to return keys and equipment, someone enlightens you with the rumours that the superiors want to take away the off-in-lieu compensation for overtimes and weekend duties. Another superior wants to permanently close the mess.

In an email titled “Carrots and sticks for NSFs” that has yet to be circulated, I see only sticks. The only carrots there are so hard and rotten, they are as good as sticks.

Princess Leia once rebutted a tyrant that “the more you tighten your grip… the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” And indeed, while you blissfully close your eyes to record low morale and the unhappiness on the ground, your tightening of regimentation will only see more absenteeism and skydiving work quality. And it will not help you in return. The typical NSF is an expert malingerer – fear, far from being the most effective means of motivation, is entirely counterproductive.

You are afflicted by what is called a great affective divide. You don’t know how emotions are on the ground. You don’t know the kind of effort and enthusiasm NSFs actually bother to put into their work, until they are eventually discouraged and spit upon. You only sit in your cosy offices, sending emails and tracking KPIs. You see only ill-discipline. You are blind to all else. You only focus on isolated cases of wrong-doings. You clamp down hard on our errors  when your errors (which have far greater consequences) are rapidly covered up. You only bother about the little unreasonable nitty-gritty details that will never ever matter. You insists on us not bringing bags to camp because bags will result in messy offices. You have this weird belief that rewarding NSFs with off-days equates to them gallivanting and committing crimes outside. You want to save money so you switch off all the remaining unspoilt lights underground and we now sometimes conduct dangerous ammunition work in darkness. You care so much about small things like regimentation when in contrast, you refuse to see the big things that matter. Your absence when you are needed is deafening. Your commander dialogues are more like monologues. Your hypocrisy and self-interests stinks.

As junior commanders, we can only do so much to protest and to reason and to inform, without upsetting the standards of subservience and professionalism. You’re not just blind but deaf. But regardless of how degrading working conditions get, you have our assurance that we will still put in our 120%. We acknowledge the greater significance of our unit’s cornerstone to national security beyond the in-fighting and inanities of the superiors. But it is not a fair expectation for everyone else.

I’m fine with overworking myself. I’ve been a workaholic since forever. But I feel self-loath for allowing this sense of being overworked and unappreciated to inflict the rest.

I’m only two weeks into this role and I will handle it better next time.

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