Recruit, recruitment, Soldiers, KDF Recruitment

How I joined the Military II

 

I got to the finishing line alright. I never fainted. I didn’t collapse. I took a fleeting look around the stadium which was full of people spectators and ‘aspirants’ as well. Soldiers don’t come to places like Kirinyaga central often. The nearest they get to Kirinyaga central is during military training deep in the Mt. Kenya forest, therefore you would expect the whole town – or almost to be at the only forum they can be with the Kenyan military – this recruitment exercise that happens annually. If you were to ask some of the residents, the much they know of the military’s job is to make people run, keep them bare-chested in-front of everybody else & dress smart to display spectacular shows for the president on National Holidays. This was part of the wrong conceptions that people had about the Kenyan military until the Al shabaab faced its wrath. 

 

Anyway… the race was everybody’s ‘main’ event especially the fact that over 3000 people would be running to try securing a position with the army. I picked the last of the papers after passing a few more guys who seemed to be in a worse state than I was. We were once again arranged in a line and I cannot really remember my actual position but it was between 19 and 25. Surprising huh? Yeah, above 25! Due to the high number of aspirants wishing to join the army & the probability of diluting the chances for the Naval & Air force candidates, they decided to let the Air force & Naval aspirants run in their own category that’s why the number was that good… I guess there were about 35 – 40 aspirants then. This was a definite walk over kind of thing coz at 40 people, they wouldn’t eliminate 20 people or more right? Those who finished the race were all ‘promoted’ to the next stage. They led us to a secluded area on the field & guided us through the warm down session. The ambulance was on standby, just in case someone passed out in the process. As I was jumping about like King Julian to the instructors commands, I looked at the ‘marathoner’ who had passed me on his way downhill as I was wheezing in agony uphill & wondered how it felt to use up so much energy only to realize it wasn’t a competition… I avoided rejoicing prematurely in these ‘grassroots’ lest the almighty decided that’s enough for a first timer… We rested for a while after the warm down and we got back to our weird sitting positions – in line. Feeling full of confidence, I reached for my ‘doped’ water bottle, high in glucose that my body so badly needed. The body was in so much anxiety to receive it that I could feel it tingling to the expectation. 
“WEWE!!! Hapa sio Hilton! Sawa Sawa!!???” (“You! This is not Hilton! Okay?)
I wore the most confused look ever! 
“Apana Kunywa maji hapa ovyo ovyo!!!” “Weka hiyo chupa mbali sana, ama utembee!” (You cannot just drink water here any way you want! Put that bottle away or walk!)

 

Picture that smile you used to wear in primary school, back in the caning days when the teacher was caning you in front of the class… with mushy eyes, flushed cheeks & blah blah… That was the moment. I was so wasted & my body was already programmed to receive a shot of glucose that was in the innocently rewound Dasani bottle. The officer went ahead to stand by my side to make sure I did not drink the water. That was a real blow! Several months later, I came to learn why that was not allowed.

 

I put my head in between my knees & got back to my prayer. They got us on the ‘elimination standards’ weighing scale again and I couldn’t believe how I could have lost the much I lost during that run, I was just on the cut line going towards the edge.
“Wewe, una bahatt sana!” “Nitakupitisha ukachujwe huko mbele sitaki unilaani.” (You, are very lucky! Go on ahead, you will be eliminated in the later stages. I don’t want you to curse me) I said a frail thank you & moved on.

 

Next was what I would consider the real medical examination. This involved blood, urine, balls and etc. Yeah I said balls. I was good with the eyes, I then went ahead to the urine & blood tests. This was an interesting part. Two tents were involved. The first tent was the one that this stage took place. The lady who was there, took my blood pressure & recorded it on a piece of paper & extracted a sample of blood which she passed on to an analyst at the back.
“Hii ni 55kgs kweli?” (“Is this 55kgs really?”)
I didn’t answer immediately, & not that I was planning to answer… but “Si naongea na wewe?” (“I think I am talking to you”) brought me to my senses. I told her that I had passed those stages. I looked at my scrawny form & was surprised & disappointed as well that it had taken a military doctor to influence me to take a good look at myself. She just replied with an “okay… Kimbia ukojolee hii alafu uniletee hapa” (Okay, run & pee on this, then you bring it to me here.) it could have been mistaken for a pregnancy test kit but looking closely it was a bit more urbane than a pregnancy kit.

 

Peeing on a peculiar looking strip of whatever it was that was, is no biggie, but being escorted & guarded while doing it was the eeriest thing ever by the time. By that time, moveable toilets were not that popular & the makeshift toilet was just a secluded area at the eastern end of the field under some trees, surrounded by sisal tent at the sides. Aiming at anything within & below waist level is piece of cake for a guy, But Alas!!! 20 seconds, 30 seconds, a minute… 
“Kijana unafanya nini?!!!” (Young man! What are you doing?!!!)
“Imekataa!” (It has refused)
“Imekataa nini? (What has it refused to do?)  
I dint know whether it was panic, anxiety or the embarrassment of peeing while ‘guarded’ with several thousands of people watching me. Two other guys came & left the makeshift urinal & I was still there waiting for my bladder valves to come through.

 

Eventually, it came, can’t tell after how long but it was quite a relief! I walked fast and took my urine sample to the tent. The doctor was smiling as I handed her the ‘returns’. She told me to join the rest outside the tent. We waited for the results as an Air force officer talked to us about general stuff. It then turned into a Q n A session.

 

The lab test results were not announced but they were just mentioned those who had passed. We had dropped to 9. We were led to the second tent. This is where the real drama of military recruitment takes place. I cannot tell what happens in the ladies tent, maybe a reader can enlighten us, but for our tent, the men’s tent wa!

 

I was asked to remove my clothes. Since I was shirtless, all I needed to do was to drop the track suit I had to the ankles. There was a split second of embarrassment and then I didn’t think twice about the whole striping thing. The doc was a male of around 35 – 45 years of age with a stone face as serious as death. 
He asked me to get closer to him which I did. He then gave me the two finger sign of opening wide. The legs of course.

 

He made me understand that as per the military standards requirement , he was going to check if I had all organs in place. I smiled as I said it was okay for him to carry on with his tests. Enough bush beating. He held my ‘areas’ and I could feel him searching for one lost ‘fellow’ who I understand was up in hiding & hadn’t dropped to his resting position coz of the run that I had just finished. It was pretty normal. This also happens when swimming. It’s a safety mechanism of sorts, just like planes have to retract their landing gear after taking off & keeping it in till when landing… when the lost thingy was found, he proceeded to the kidneys which weren’t hard to find. I was asked to inhale and exhale both deeply & shallowly and try out a dry cough until he got contented. Absence of scars meant, I hadn’t undergone through any surgery. He was kind enough to tell me that I was good for the job if I had gone that far. I pulled up my track & thanked him for the ‘encouragement’ as I walked out.

 

Back to the discussion outside, the officer was still answering questions from the curious ‘aspirants’. Then it got to the point on performance in relation to career choice. As obvious, I would ask stuff aviation whenever an opportunity arose. In a brief he told us that in the Air force, the line that we were targeting would not lead us ‘directly’ into flying. He asked if anybody would be willing to let go & give the chance to somebody else in the line that had a lower grade so that we could pursue the flying itself. This in other words, he meant, we give up the progress & wait for cadets’ recruitment instead. Then anyone willing; I especially, would be well aligned for a piloting career. On offer as an airman was just aeronautical engineering.

 

I considered the options but decided against giving my slot to someone “who did not have a chance to university” who was on the standby line back in the field. I was confident enough to decline the offer since I was aware that getting shortlisted for the cadet school is quite a hard chance. I chose to take aeronautical since the far I had come, was not an easy ride.

 

He then gave us advice on was expected of us in-case we sailed through & was again quick to emphasize that with our grades, we were better off as cadets not recruits. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Pretty simple in such a scenario & I shut out the possibilities of undergoing another process like such. Not that I couldn’t hack it, but to me, at that moment, that was a decision I certified as best & God was proving it every single step of the way. In my mind a voice was telling me to continue, some door will open up once inside as an airman.

 

He wished us all the best as we proceeded to an exam room modified hall. Here we were to do an aptitude test that would further eliminate people. The Air force was down to 8 people. I do not know where the Navy aspirants were taken, for we were just the 8 of us wishing to join the Air force.   

 

We were asked to produce our certificates for further scrutiny. The aptitude test was part of the elimination, as well as an interview for enrollment in the Defense Forces Technical College; then the Kenya Armed Forces Technical College. One guy accidentally produced credentials for a Diploma in Hotel Management & was quickly dismissed from the room. He was not even allowed to say anything. Their point was he had already gone through what most in the room hadn’t had an opportunity to get, at his level & he should go out there & find a job with his diploma.

 

I cannot judge their action because they had the right to do so. They however made him understand that they were seeking form IV leavers who didn’t have an opportunity like his. He walked out a very disenchanted man. There were no ladies at this level. We sat for the ever tricky aptitude test which was a series of papers with many short questions which seem very easy yet so tricky. By the glory of God I passed and was among the 4 people who were top on the list. I was so happy that I couldn’t even rejoice – I call it the other side of the curve. Somehow I felt rejoicing wouldn’t be enough. We were led to the documentation center which was at the dais of the stadium. From here everything moved very fast.

 

Here our documents were taken, the National ID never to return. Our finger prints were taken as well and documented. We then signed ‘The Contract’. Our ID’s were replaced by a ‘Calling Letter’ that would be our document of identification for the next two weeks till reporting day.

 

I did my prayer as we waited for the final word. It is then that I realized how deserted the field was – most of the people had left & the day was ending. We assembled at the middle of the field while the soldiers were busy tiding up & packing their belongings and loading them into their lorries. We were a total of 22 men and 2 ladies. We were briefed and the recruiting officer emphasized the need to keep ourselves safe, healthy & calm until we reported to the training school at Eldoret.

 

I said my prayer again after being dismissed and as evening was approaching, I walked to the hilly end of the field. I looked down, wondering how I looked among the aspirants trying out in the field that day. As I was lost in my own world, one of the friends who had earlier made fun of my trotting was wondering what I was doing there all confused and ‘looking’ disappointed. I told him I was just relaxing and re-hydrating as he could see from the bottle in hand. He told me I am too young to worry & should let things go as they fancied.

 

Little did he know that my heart was the calmest it had ever been in the recent past. I never mentioned that I had been recruited. There wasn’t a need to. I switched my phone & called Dominic & Ed for the routine evening coffee before we walked home. I didn’t mention anything. I grew up knowing great things are kept under covers till they succeeded – my parents.

 

Plan B was in Motion.

 

NB

 

– The military is self contained & there are all sorts of careers, from surgeons, to chiropractors, pilots to engineers, clerks, drivers, librarians, teachers, chefs, police, journalists, tailors, surveyors, lawyers et al. I only mentioned aeronautical engineering since it was my interest at the time, though the officer had suggested other courses as well.

 

– The term ‘Army’ has several meanings, one being serving the military as a career & another one being an organized force mandated to protect a country from external attacks on land. Thus Navy ocean, Army Land, Air force air. That includes logistics in their respective areas or responsibilities. I.e. Air force moving troops & cargo in the air, army on land & navy via the ocean. 

 

– On a controversial note, the term officer – as my colleagues would argue, is ‘normally’ meant to refer to ‘Commissioned officers’, however in this article I have used the term ‘Officer’ to refer to both ‘Commissioned & non commissioned officers’ in general its only fair in ‘my conscience’ to do so. Either way, they are all soldiers.

– This day – 27th March marks 4 years after graduation from basic training. Thanks be to the almighty.
Next. Life after recruitment.
Chapter 3
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