Sunday, 17 June 2012

Serve to Lead

~ The Royal Military College

In a few days, the school on top of the hill, the school that separated the men from the boys, the school that has given to so many, which is not even a school at all will celebrate its 60th year of its establishment since 1952. That 'school' is the Royal Military College of Sungei Besi, Kuala Lumpur.

I had  the privilege of going to that place, where my father for all the interest he had in the army decided to leave the elite Malay College of Kuala Kangsar in 1963 to pursue his dream as an army officer. He will return to this self discovery institution after being commissioned in the Royal Malay Regiment, as an Officer in Command (OC) of the Boy' Wing, fifteen years later.

And that is the beginning of my 'homecoming. I was born when he was the OC of that damned place. My photo album of my birth was a blue "Maktab Tentera Diraja" album which is neatly organised by the old man himself with his neat handwriting that only my brother inherited.

I grew up with his stories of the long hours from Johor Bahru to Kuala Kangsar which was interesting at first and then it grew into a broken record of old tapes. Then his stories of boxing in RMC when he was a Budak Boy - a name coined by the British non-commissioned officers, as I presumed they'd probably ignored  Budak which means kid/boy in Malay. He always said that in the 1960s everything white or British were believed to be superior than we Asians, which I think grew into a disgust for him when he had the chance to see the true face of an Englishmen in his later years with the opportunity to attend English military training institution. 

However he would tell us the story of his admired Englishmen teachers, the Mr. Whites, Mr. James for  they were a different breed. Always having passion to teach the boys and perhaps this was the love-hate relations that British former colonials had with her empire.

For his RMC stories, I was rather intrigued. He always repeated the stories about the classmate who was fast in 100m dash (10 seconds in 1960s was fast!), who came in the shape of OP Sheikh Ahmad, Dcoy - Colonel retired; the water carrier Budak Boy who later became Chief Secretary to the Government, OP Samsudin Osman, Gcoy - Tan Sri; OP Habibur Rahman, Dcoy - OPA Honorary Secretary, President, the legends and all. Then the most interesting part, he will tell me the story of his time when he was the OC in RMC.

Boy's Wing in 1979

This era was the time where the Racial Riots in 1969 occurred close to a decade before, with the fabric of the Malaysian society still trying to find its true identity. Are we Malaysians first or are we not? Are were here together to build a better nation? My father came at the time, when the boys were "not up to the standards" or NUTTS. The boys were not disciplined, lacked the necessary chain of command and control and the teachers were constantly complaining that the boys have deteriorated in terms of respect for rules and regulations.

There were reports that new boys were man-handled, teachers were scared of the Puteras (as they are now called to suit the Malaysianisation process), and everything was near to chaos. 

The first thing I remembered most was his story about a Senior Boy who screamed at his teacher. I would imagine probably the teacher lost control of the trying-to-be smart ass class clown who would have tested his or her patience and could not take the pressures from these boys. The teacher complained to the OC and the OC called up the Senior Boy and asked him:

OC: "What did you say to your teacher?"
Sr. Boy: "I did not say anything sir."
OC: "I heard reports that you screamed at your teacher, please do so here in my office."
Sr. Boy: "No thank you sir!"

Of course the Senior Boy would not dare do it because he knows if he mess with this OC, he knows where it will lead to. That was the first lesson he taught me, when you are serious, people will take you seriously. 

MCKK-RMC Carnival 1995
I am the one sitting in front of the soldier boy who is standing in the middle
The second incident were reports that older boys would instruct the new boys to buy coca cola drinks that was sold in transparent plastic bags in the NAFI or cafeteria for perhaps 50 sen in those days. The thing is, money would not be given to the new boys and he has to use his own money. It probably did not matter if the Boy came from a well off family, but what if the Boys were from less income group and had to scrape or collect money from other new boys. The OC studied the modus operandi and calls one of the boys who were buying the cokes and hastily making his way back to his barracks. He asked him who it is for. The new boy will of course say "It's mine sir." The OC replied "Don't lie to me, if you're not lying then drink it young man" - which the new boy will know he is in deep trouble whatever happens next, cross the path of the OC or the senior boy? Finally he says it's not his and succumb to the OC's interrogation.

Boys will be boys
The OC then asked the new boy to call up the senior who forced him to buy the drink, and to the horror of the senior boy, he was 'told' by the OC to drink the coke in one shot! With tears in his poor eyes having to forcefully drink the coke non-stop! The senior boy would have regretted that he craved the coke on that day and wished he never asked the juniors to buy one for him. 

These stories grew into legends and tactics to test the OC, but he said in later years that the Boys misjudged that he was once a Budak Boy himself, and what they have in their minds, he was two or four steps ahead of them. One of his tactics was parking his US made Ford Holden wagon which was nicknamed a hearst vehicle or kereta mayat in Malay, to scare the boys from doing anything "out of the ordinary". In later years, they found out he would park the car at the wing and walk home using a short cut. 

He was often reminded by my late mother whether he was concerned that the boys would slash the tyres, but he would tell my mother, the boys will eventually know why he is being tough on them, they'll know he did so because he loved them. 

In three months time, the Boy's Wing was straightened up, the parents and teachers were happy to see the turnaround. I was born in February a few months after his appointment as OC and I could sense that these Budak Boys must've cursed him and hoped that one day one of his offspring will feel how they felt when the OC of Boy's Wing was Hashim Hussein, Dcoy 1963-64, and that offspring would later be me.

Sickening OC, don't be charmed by his smile
The OC with his 'sons' 34 years later

In 1993, my school was also on top of the hill. The Sekolah Tinggi Port Dickson (STPD) is a fine school. The school where I was elected as Class Leader when I was nominated by a Chinese girl. My classmates consisted of Malays and a few Indians. Two years prior to this school, I attended two schools in the UK during my father's postgraduate studies in King's College. I had a tough school career with nine schools in the 11 years of school life. My sister had worse with 11 schools.

Along the 15 years of my early life, I had the glimpse of the camaraderie my father had with his Old Putera (OP) buddies. When they were together, they laughed and joked like teenage boys reminiscing their days as... Boys. 

There were the odd story of a boy who likes to sleep in class (especially Add Maths maybe), who would be woken up to clear the blackboard that the teacher had industriously written for 30 minutes, only to be erased by a boy in a blink of an eye because he was tricked by his classmates!  Of course he was later punished for that!

There were stories of why the water carriers became hot shots, Tan Sris, millionaires instead of the jocks or sportsman, the athlete - because when they made drinks, the drinks were mixed with their dirty socks and laundry. Hence the athletes became dumb and the water carriers became late bloomers and excelled! But some athletes were outstanding too! Maybe the secret recipe of water carriers made wonders after all.

Another story was a boy who was handsome and dashing, but his 'strong' reputation was wearing a single underwear for a week and only replaces it by turning the inside out and continue wearing them. I never really believed the stories but as a boy I could imagine them as if it was told yesterday.

Best in ASEAN
In Port Dickson, where we lived in a haunted 1930s British bungalows (more of this later), I had the privilege of accompanying my father to military functions such as iftar, dinners at the RMR Mess and the Masjid Jamek ceramahs. One occasion was when I had to wear a tie for a dinner with the Commandant of the Recruit Training Center (PLR - now Pusat Latihan Asas Tentera Darat, PUSASDA), and the tie I wore was a striped black and red school tie I acquired in the UK - St. John's High School for Boys in a small town in Sittingbourne, Kent. The commandant (probably color blind) asked me, "Are you Budak Boy from RMC?" I was surprised but felt a deep sense of pride that the commandant where men were turned into soldiers thought I was from RMC. "No sir, this is my St. John's tie from England" - ceh!

And he replied: "Well you look like a Budak Boy."

I was 15, and my PMR examinations was a few months apart, I had not made my mind which school I'd go to after PMR.

My mother had advice me to go to MRSM like my elder brother, do well and perhaps get a scholarship to the US. My father did not pressure me into it, but at some point he did pass a remark that RMC is not what it used to be, run down and had the reputation as a place where it was only second best, in sports, debating or other co-curricular activities, which was not that bad actually, but it used to be the best. So the idea of going to RMC faded for some time.

Only after my trial exams did my father revived the idea of sending me to RMC. But he knew it had to come from me, as he always did in his tactics of trying to push his kids but not too much. And so I filled in the form and sent it to my teacher Cikgu Jamil for his support and signature. He was also the Police Cadet Corps of Commandant in STPD. He was supportive and prayed for my success.

The Green Tie we wear proudly
The selection was done in August 1993, with my PMR trial results I met the requirements to attend the interview. We had the 2.4km run, the IQ test, the academic test, the testicle test, the blood and urine test - you name it, the Army will do it! 

I had the opportunity to do my RMC try outs at the Paratroop's Camp in Terendak, Melaka as Port Dickson candidates were centred around to this area of trials. Everyday was a daunting moment as one by one of the candidate's name would be called upon, and if your name was called, you would pack your belongings and go home. I never thought I'd pass the whole process, and just hope my name is not the first to be called. But then I passed the first day of exams, passed the second day of physical test. Then the medical test and finally you are called up for the interview.

The Commandant of RMC and the the board of panels would ask the ultimate question as why you want to be in RMC. Due to my English ability it was as they say plain sailing and I felt confident that I will excel. But my PMR results was only due in three months and that was the only hurdle for me to step on.

The boots you love to hate

So I returned to my normal life. My father would then go to Bosnia to command the Malaysian Battalion there, and we would move to Taman Melawati, Gombak. I registered to Sekolah Menengah Lembah Keramat (SMLK), and with my PMR results were placed in the first class of 5 Alpha. In that class, day by day my classmates would begin to leave after a week of the new school semester, they would go to good schools such as STAR, MCKK, Science Schools, KISAS, SMAP Labu, TKC, STF and other top schools in the nation. As I only applied for RMC and MRSM, I did not care much about the other schools. But I prayed hard RMC will call me soon. My two other classmates Qaddafi and Faiz got their admission letter to RMC. When they informed me on Monday morning, I was terrified that I was unsuccessful. But I played calm and just hoped RMC sent the letters to Port Dickson instead of Melawati.

Mondays turned to Tuesdays and new boys were asked to register on Thursday. Qaddafi and Faiz did not attend school as they were busy buying stuff to RMC. On Wednesday still no letters. I said to myself, RMC was not meant for me and hoped MRSM would be next. Thursday was the day they reported to RMC, and that day was going to be MY DAY! 

The Budak Boys in 2007 - 50 Years of Malaysia's Independence
Major Iskandar who served in PD with my father, was now an instructor at RMC. He called my mother and asked why Afdal was not reporting to RMC and did he not receive any letters from PD? Apparently the efficiency of the military was too efficient that they still send it to our old quarters in PD. I came back from SMLK and heard the good news when my mother said I have to buy white long sleeve shirts, black pants, black shoes, football boots, toiletries, new underwears, singlets, baju melayu and everything on the list that has been sent from PD. That evening, my brother who attended the RMC trials in 1986 but did not make it due to his age (he was already 14 when we came back from the US) but I could tell he was proud that his younger brother made it instead of himself, and drove me to Globe Silk Store, GS Gill and bought all the stuff required.

On Friday 22 December 1993, after the boys attended the Friday prayers I reported my first day as a Putera of the Royal Military College. From that day onwards, it has shaped the way I see things today, the way I bring myself and the way I see myself. 

For me, RMC was not only a place where we go and learn and study for our school certificate, it was the place where we learned what life will throw at you in the real world. A place where you are moulded into officers and gentlemen. As the charter to this day remains:

"The Royal Military College has been established with the objective of preparing young Malaysians to take places as Officers in the Malaysian Armed Forces, in the higher divisions of the public service and as leaders in the professional, commercial and industrial life of the country."

The only time when the KSN, Tri Service Chiefs were Old Puteras (1999)

Even though I turned down a career in the Army in 2002 and decided to pursue a career as a civil servant, RMC has shaped me in more ways than I can imagine.

The two years in RMC was a close sandwiched between hell and paradise. The paradise was when you laugh yourselves to pieces with your buddies, the hell... well you have to go there to feel it. 

Sportsman's Prayer
We had some issues with the Fourth Year Form 4, we respected them as seniors even at the same age. As any military institution, the brotherhood of feeling the pain is shared to their grave, and RMC was no exception. Some had to earned their friendship, some were taken advantage. In the end, the price that RMC had to pay for the 'mistake' of joining in the two batch of the same age was the worst SPM results in years - yes that was in 1995! The revival of taking in form 4s and to stop form 1s started in 1992. The number of newboy Form 4s escalated in that period. My intake was with the last bastion of form 1s or thoroughbreds as they are called. I do not bear grudge against my brothers of RMC who were seniors, since they join the college when they were 13, but I just hoped it could have been better.

After RMC, I remained close to my buddies who shared the same bed, the same plate and the same drinking cups. Some remained closer than when we were Boys, some drifted apart. Some Boys are proud to be from RMC, some wished they never applied to RMC. We have Boys who became millionaires, who made themselves rich, we have Boys who lead a simple life. 

We have Boys in our intake who went to West Point and another Boy who drop out from RMC but later went to Sandhurst. In all, my intake gone through all of its hell and humiliation built up their dignity and became gentlemen. One incident that was exemplary was a Putera from F company, who was man handled so badly that he almost became senile. Fortunately his father was an Old Putera and perhaps built his confidence afterwards. He had the balls to join ATMA and now serves as Malaysia's elite team of submariners. 

These are true stories that I will share with my sons of the story of my generation and perhaps they will share theirs to their own sons.

As most war movies will tell you, when all hells break loose and when you are facing the enemy - it does not matter of the political ideals you fought for, or the government who sent you into this damned war, it is the buddy next to you that you fight, you fight for his life, and you pray hard to God, he'll fight for you.

I can only pray that RMC will remain outstanding and relevant in sixty years more in 2072 and decades and decades after that, of producing leaders of the next century. 

To the senior Old Puteras who have given all they have to RMC, lands, money, energy and time - this I admire and salute you. You have laid the very foundation that when we are together, titles and ranks are out the window, we are all simply called Budak Boys - that is what separates us from the rest, we may dine with Kings and eat with paupers. The elitism does not consume the man, but the man builds character out of it.

I remembered my senior OP who served together in Washington, D.C. He said "Our alma mater's motto is Serve to Lead, but why do I feel like we only serve, and when is the time for us to lead?"

Well my OP brother, when we serve among men of distinction, you are in its truest form a leader of men.

This was the place we laughed and we cried, the place where we learned failures and success. The place where you know who you are and what you'll become.

Serve to Lead.

Putera Kanan 1995
Old Puteras at  Malaysia'sArmed Forces Reception 2009
Passing Out Parade 1995
New Boy Bloody Idle 1994
Old Puteras around the World

OP (Dr.) Shamsul Abu Bakar, Bcoy 1994, Blacksburg (2009)

OP Suhaimi Tajuddin Ecoy 1987, D.C. (2009)
A good mentor and pal
OP Mohiuddin Ghazali Ecoy 1993, Paris (2009)
OP Halim Alwi, OP Nazim Mohtar both Hcoy 1994, London (2009)
OP Colonel Aziz, Ecoy 72, Seoul (2012)

With Young OPs in Seoul under MINDEF Scholarships (2012)
Royal V94 Mischief

Intake's 94 BBQ at my house (Salak Tinggi 2010)
With current OPA President (RMC 2010)

We can't get enough of shooting ourselves to pieces! (Port Dickson 2010) 

With our Former Commandant, OP Colonel Yusop Hj Hussin (Salak Tinggi 2010)
OPA Annual Dinner (2010)
One of the many weddings we attended (OP Hafidz, Fcoy 2007)
OPA RMC Sticker at Toronto! (2009)
One of the many TTSes (Planning for the 2010 ~ 15 year Reunion)
Nak TTS macam ni kena ada alibi, nama-nama ustaz kena sebut dulu. Nak selamat sebut nama Bosz, Weng,
Faiz Amar. Wafa talian hayat je. Haha... (2011)
Tak puas dinner, second round TTS! (2010)
Fifteen Year Reunion at Port Dickson 2010

~ This entry is dedicated to all fathers especially to my father Hashim Hussein @ Jack Palance, my father-in-law Haji Abdullah Abdul Hamid and my grandfathers Allahyarham Hussein Mohamed and Allahyarham Abu Bakar Jaafar. 


  1. baca apa yg ko tulis menyebabkan aku sedar something... aku rasa aku org yg sgt bangga dgn RMC, even I think that's the best thing happened in my life, but u my friend, RMC dah kena tanam dlm diri ko...sukar utk aku mengakuinya tp dr segi spirit u beat me bro...

  2. In RMC - we are all the same bro.... and you know how I feel. That place not only laid the foundation for our spirit, but grew us "from caterpillars to butterflies, from ugly ducklings to beautiful swans" to quote OP Jack Palance in his article circa 1995... when we were in RMC.

  3. Good post Sir. Your post have answered some of my questions during those time of Form 1 and Form 4 intakes. What I can say is that history has repeated itself in 2006 and 2007 in which RMC has stopped taking Form 2s (the last Form 2 intake was in 2005), and Form 4 intakes started in 2006. Therefore, in 2006 and 2007, there are 2 batches of Form 4s.

    By the way, good to see that you have met some of my juniors who are studying in South Korea. I hope the OPism will be uphold by all of us, forever and always.insyaAllah.

    OP Syahin, C 08-09

  4. Thanks for the comments young man.

    We remain as Puteras despite the differences. It matter not if you entered RMC at 13 or 16... but as you aptly said the OPism to uphold.

    But it is easier said than done. But can be done.

    Keep in touch!

  5. Afdal, the nostalgia in the story made my eyes water.

    I have always yearned to have a test of military life or anything remotely associated with it. Of course my imagination has always concentrated on the good times, the laughter (which always seems genuine even on TV), the sexy jeeps and the cool uniforms. My pristine imagination as you can probably tell does not include the blood and sweat, the exercises and the all two vivid realisation that death lives close by.

    Your father is brave and wise. And while you may not have inherited his handwriting,am sure you have some of his wisdom. Great article man. Keep them coming.

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