A glimpse of military life and what we’re missing

Art by JR Magpantay

I used to think that I always made the right decisions. I finished elementary and high school with decent marks and consider myself a well-rounded person. It all depended on the way I take on problems and challenges, and I used to believe everything was well thought out for me. It was up until I had to decide between a civilian way of life and the military for college. It became the greatest leap of faith I ever came up against.

The profession of arms more commonly known as “the military” is probably the most esteemed track for aspiring soldiers if pursued through the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). Being deemed worthy of entering such institution is a very hard task as you would have to go against the 12,000 or more Filipinos praying that they too could get in. The first hurdle starts with written entrance exams that yearly happens on the month of September. Thankfully, I succeeded at this first challenge when I took the exam, back in 2015.

That examination was just the first among the long list of many more challenges. Among the pool of examinees, about 1,000 of us were tested to the physical limits on the PMA Complete Physical Exam (CPE) that is traditionally held at the premises of the Victoriano Luna (V. Luna) General Hospital. Here, both the physical and mental health matters. The physical exam consisted of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a 3.2 kilometer run wherein each test had a benchmark to be met. From a thousand applicants, only 300 would be picked for their physical capabilities and officially welcomed into the PMA. And yes, thankfully, I also leapt over that challenge.

“I entered the academy with a decision that was half-baked.”

After a two-month wait, I got a call from one of the officials of PMA asking me if I really wanted to enter. Despite the mixed emotions, I said yes. After uttering that yes, I was thinking that this was it, there was no going back. A part of me didn’t want to enter the academy because I was already enjoying my simple life as a civilian but a part of me wanted to know what lay beyond the high walls of a military life. Later, I would realize that I entered the academy with a decision that was half-baked.  My body was far from ready and I did not expect that I would be accepted because the results of my physical examination were just average. Nevertheless, I accepted my fate and marched on to the course of the training for the profession of the arms.

“The sound similar to a war zone and multiple exercises welcomed each one of us along with a 30-minute reception rite which I now dub as the longest thirty minutes of my life.”

When the day came for me to accept the military profession and to surrender my  life to the government and country, I remembered that my palms were sweating and my heart was thumping against my chest. We hurdled over the mountains of Baguio to finally reach the PMA campus and were welcomed by the sound of drums orchestrating my every step as we marched towards a new life as official cadets and plebes of PMA. The sound was similar to a war zone not to mention the multiple exercises that welcomed each one of us along with a 30-minute reception rite which I now dub as the longest 30 minutes of my life.

I remember being led to our respective rooms in order so we could settle in.  But we hardly had time to settle in before we were then again put to test with physical exercises. After which,  we move to the mess hall. In the military, the ‘mess’ would mean a place where the cadets would eat. However, to our shock, we observed how other classmen were trained to eat properly and systematically. This included moving the utensils in a very particular way to put the food inside the mouths along with distinct movements before even being able to chew and swallow. There would be specific ways on how to eat rice and the different kinds of viands depending on what was taught by the upperclassmen.

“In military, there are no room for mistakes. Certain mistakes equated to certain consequences.”

In the military, there are no room for mistakes. Certain mistakes are equated to certain consequences. These consequences, however, are actually helpful and reasonable as we eventually got used to it and it became less difficult with each day. Again, among the lessons I learned inside PMA was that you can’t achieve greatness without practice and determination.

Beyond all the hardships and sacrifices, there was still that someone always there by my side – God. I attended religious practices held every Sunday of the month. Truly, it succeeded with its aim of uplifting each and every cadet. We were to say “happy Sunday” as part of starting the week right as a barrage of activities were to hit us hard in the following days.

Aside from physical activities to enhance our capabilities, we were taught about the basics of being part of the military or what they call the “Basic Military Training.” Here, we’re introduced to the different kinds of military and warfare tactics including formations, movements, map reading, and the use of firearms. As cool as it sounds, it was not that easy as we were to learn these things as fast as possible, at the same time, fight the urge to rest.

“I had the brains and physical capabilities to be able to be part of the cadet corps, however, having a weak mind only weakened everything else.”

But being in the military would get the better part of me as in the end, mental toughness is more important than your intelligence and raw strength. I had the brains and physical capabilities to be able to be part of the cadet corps, however, having a weak mind only weakened everything else. Simple diseases become major ones to those with a weak mentality and I admit that. That was why, it lead me to a realization that a strong will and preparedness should be the two best friends when in comes to the profession of arms. I decided to quit.

The thought of leaving a battlefield was extremely soothing as I signed the final papers and talked to the PMA Superintendent. It went by like a breeze and the feeling of getting free from it all was such a relief. Going back to the course of the academy was all I ever thought of as I travelled back home looking outside the windows of our car as the streets of Baguio transitioned into something more familiar, the streets of Lipa.

The feeling of relief quickly was replaced by the feeling of disappointment as a flash of words came into my mind – my friends’ and family’s compliments and chants of pride when I got accepted to join Class 2021 of PMA. I remembered how my grandparents cried with joy, being so proud for my accomplishment. These were the things I had to face upon coming back home.

The first weeks were really a hard transition from military to civilian life. The teachings they instilled in me remained and it influenced how I talked and made other people feel. There were times where the waiters in restaurants would seem to be tense when I talked to them just because of my expressions and my tone. They would always think I was angry and was not satisfied though it was actually the complete opposite.

Even my eating etiquette was present. I would always arrange my rice into a half-moon form before eating in order while keeping my posture as perfect as possible. This habit was not just applied at home but everywhere else I ate. My classmates and friends would always notice and even make fun of me, but it was hard to refrain from doing it at first.

That was me for one good year. I thought that the experiences that had affected me would eventually get out of the picture, but it didn’t. Up to now, the images of me inside the academy still remain in the deepest part of my mind and it haunts me up until this day. Being out for nearly two years at this point, I initially realized that the civilian life was not that much different from that of a military life, it was just expressed in different ways. Like the difficulty in accepting criticism for one. When I thought that I was good enough to do certain tasks, I would be told that I wasn’t and the only way to compensate was to do better next time.  However, at times, I come to realize that life outside the academy is actually much worse.

“That became my new everyday routine, a routine I always felt was lacking. It was as if something was always missing.”

I go to school every day and with the hope that it would be better. I had a new routine – I attended class and tried not be late nor miss anything, listened to the professors on their lecture for the day, did seatworks, assignments, and all other college requirements. Those became my new everyday errands, a routine I felt that was always lacking. It was as if something, still, was always missing.

What was missing was that push to do things harder, that adrenaline rush and that thirst. There were some things in the academy that I was craving for yet I just could not find in school. I found myself missing the constant yells and punishments. Some may see to it as just merely getting yelled and dictated, but to me,  it was so much more. Those yells and punishments that made me achieve things that I could not have achieved before.

Something lacks in the system of education too, not just in De La Salle Lipa (DLSL) but as well as in other schools. Beyond the difference in curriculum and each institution’s governing ideals, school as compared to the academy will always have something lacking.

“There is more to school than just a place to get a degree and hope for a better future.”

Most students nowadays think school is only a place to just study and eye for high grades. Don’t get me wrong, but it shouldn’t merely be just that. There is more to school than just a place to get a degree and hope for a better future. It is always great to experience more than just the ‘by-the-book education’ each student is provided by their respective courses confined within the four corners of the classroom. To be a well-rounded citizen requires more than just that.

Teachers sharing about the knowledge from the book isn’t enough. During my stay in PMA, though not taught directly, I acquired the value of friendship and the love for your comrades which were two of the things I cherished each day. I learned that we all had each others’ backs  which molded our relationship as mistah’s. This is also the reason why I admire those college professors who would get out their way to share with their students the importance of camaraderie and being a good person overall which are essential in dealing with tasks, much more efficiently in practical scenarios outside the school.

Yes, I stepped off a path that seemed perfect for me, but I think I chose to follow what my heart and mind desires the most at this season of my life. Probably, it was just not my time to take the military academy and it was justified by the multiple responsibilities that was left for me to finish outside of the academy. But the learnings still remain and I will still choose to live up to those experiences that the academy taught me.

If someday a path for me opens back to that same course, I would gladly accept the challenge once again and with that chance, I will finish it wholeheartedly.

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