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Monday, July 6, 2009

The Soup Affair

No 3 Squadron, RMAF Base, Butterworth....We, particularly the nuri aircrew, were then flying in a hostile environment. As stated earlier, being a target practice for the CTs was the norm. But then our moral was very high.

I could not recall of any aircrew rejecting any task given to them or finding excuses not fly. In fact, all of us were looking forward to see our name on the tasking board at the Ops Room (OR). Before closing shop at 1600 hour, we would flock to the OR to see whether our name would be fortunate enough to be on the board for the next day's flying duty. It was the duty of the Flight Commander (FC) to determine who should fly. The problem was that he was himself a 'hogger'; he simply loved flying irrespective of whatever conditons. He led by example!

During Selamat Sawadee Ops, detailing aircrew to fly was not such a big problem since 3 to 4 nuri were tasked to support ground troops almost everyday. And a set of nuri aircrew for a weekly detachment at Kroh Camp.

Reporting sick was alien to us. The only time I had to go to RSAT (Rumah Sakit Angkatan Tentera) was for my annual aircrew medical check. This was applicable to others too.

Annual leave was a luxury. I was once fortunate enough to have my application for one week's leave approved. My leave had to coincide with the school holidays since my wife was a teacher.

Early one Saturday morning, my wife and I drove happily back to Taiping. I need a break after all those stressful flying! The next day, Sunday, guess what? Military Police (MP) personnel from Taiping Garrison came over to the house.

Captain Nor Ibrahim? he asked.....'Yes'. 'Tuan, you're required to report back to Base by today'. I just couldn't believe it! On a positive note, I felt flattered to know that I was 'indispensible'...! You see, the problem was that the sqn had a limited number of nuri captains. Had an early lunch and off to Butterworth Base, and straight to the sqn. There....my name was on the board for the next day's task. No problem........!

However, there were light moments during this period too. The Commanding Officer (CO) of the base, a nuri pilot himself, had a soft spot for No 3 Sqn; he had served the sqn as a sqn pilot before. Every morning he would drop by the sqn's OR and checked the 'authorisation sheet' ,ie, who were flying the day before, today and hours flown. Then he would join the aircrew in the crewroom for a cup of coffee.

One day, I returned from the detachment at Kroh.The next day I met the CO at the OR; there was no such thing as 'stand-down' or day-off after the one week detachment. He asked whether I had any problem while at Kroh. Casually I told him that the Officers Mess at Kroh refused to serve soup during lunch for me and my co-pilot. The resident unit at Kroh then was a unit from RAMD (Rejimen Askar Melayu Diraja). It's a tradition for the unit officers to wait for the CO for any meal, be it lunch or dinner. We, pilots, were not obligated to subscribe to this traditon. We were on standby and ready to fly at any time. Once lunch was ready, we took our lunch.

On one occassion, while having my lunch, the RAMD officers and the CO came in for lunch. I observed that soup was served to them at the main table. The CO heard when I enquired from the waiter why soup was not served to us. He responded by saying that there were insufficient soup bowls; the unit brought their own cutlery sets. They had style, man...........!

My main contention was that we paid our mess bill for the one-week detachment. We paid for all our meals and we deserved to get the same treatment.No free makan!

I didn't believe my CO's reponse to this casual complaint! He called the Base Ops Room through the intercom to contact Air HQ complaining why his pilots didn't get their soup! Mind you, whatever transmitted through the direct intercom system must be logged. I wonder what they wrote in the log book '........no soup for the pilots'. What a good laugh!

Well, the complaint worked. The replacement crew and the officers from other units, including from 2 Bde, got their soup. Before this incident, they too, were not served with soup. I was told by my colleague that the unit's CO told him that he was directed by the higher authority to ensure that pilots got their soup! Imagine the chain of command the complaint had to go through.....Base Ops to Air HQ to Div HQ to 2 Bde to unit Tac HQ ,ie, Kroh. The subject matter?........ SOUP!!

I salute my Base Commander. Thank you, sir.

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