You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2016 03 03Article 420637

Opinions of Thursday, 3 March 2016

Columnist: A Concerned Citizen and a Recruit

The journey to change: The untold story

The date was 23/10/2015 and we were all waiting patiently for the arrival of the buses to convey us to our ultimate destination: Army Recruits Training School, Shai Hills.

The mood at the point of assembly (ELWAK) was of intense joy. It was a dream come true and a journey full of struggles, sleepless night and stress. But we made it out of thousands of applicants (approximately 27,000).

The experience was like millions of sperms racing through the womb to get access to the available egg for fertilization to begin. That is how our journey began. Intense and vigorous exercise was conducted from all corners of the country to get a few thousand shortlisted.

Then thorough investigations including laboratory tests were conducted to ensure that only the healthiest is enlisted. The final result was five hundred and one of us were enlisted.

Finally, the buses arrived late afternoon and we had also gone through final assessment and documentation. When we were all cleared, we boarded the buses to start the journey. We sang, danced, wept and prayed till we got to the training grounds. Another head count was made but the number was five hundred and two. One person had “smuggled” his way through. Another head count was made and it was still five hundred and two. So the master list was brought and all the names mentioned and the “alien” person fished out.

He sobbed like a baby and cried out loud that army is his life and wants to be part of those who will lay down their lives so others may live. But his plea was not taken since he was not part of the final list and so he was shown the exit.

Life at the training grounds was so demanding than we expected. Everything was time bound and the change from civilians to soldiers was rough and tough. Getting three hours a sleep a day is a luxury and bathing regularly is almost impossible.

Physical training is done twice a day: at dawn and late afternoon but sometimes three times a day if a particular company has circuit training on the time table. Drill is another form of physical training that drains even more energy from you than the usual physical training.

Training at dawn was not all that safe as the road we jogged on is full of deep pot holes which resulted in broken bones of over seven recruits. Six recruits run away because they couldn’t withstand the training but they were replaced. One recruit on the other hand, had a mental breakdown and could no longer train as expected, hence was dismissed.

Everything on the training ground was moving on smoothly as we got to know each other better and our body was getting used to the training. We all knew where we stand in the chain of command among ourselves.

The recruit with first regimental number is the senior recruit, followed by the second and in that order. Our actual number for the second batch was five hundred, but one recruit from the first batch joined us to make a total of five hundred and one. So the recruit who joined us was automatically the most senior recruit among us. He yielded so much power that you dare not go contrary to his command. So we respected him and obeyed his command.

The instructors will deal with you mercilessly if you disobey the senior recruit. The senior most recruit had some difficulties during training, partially due to the hernia operation he underwent some few months before training began. There were several occasions where he passed out during training and was revived at the clinic.

Training was going on normal as one company went for the second shooting range. We were also preparing for passing off square and induction service till something unpredictable happened.

The most senior recruit called a meeting between members of the company he belongs and he made it clear that the training is too intense, compared to the first batch and the authorities must be made aware of some of the ill treatment being meted out them.

So, it was agreed that a petition should be written to the company CSM for redress. That was the agreement that night (around 11pm of 01/12/2015). It was later realized that the most senior recruit called another meeting among the senior men of the three companies and a few number of recruits (about 15) around 01:00 hours.

We were awoken around 01:30 hours by the various senior men to wear our outing attire to meet the various CSM’s at the square for advice. The most senior recruit himself moved from room to room to wake everybody up. Almost 90% of the recruits wore their attire to go meet the authorities at the square for the advice.

The recruits were surprised by the turn of events when the instructors came and claimed we said we are going home. We were confused as there was no mention in anywhere that we said we are going home. The authorities wanted a head count but the recruits ran to their dorms confused.

All activities that morning seemed normal until lectures were disrupted. We were all instructed to form at the square for the school’s commander to address us. He asked for those interested to go home to fall out. No recruit came out. He went on to advice that such things are not tolerated in the army and its equivalent to strike or demonstration. We were all confused since were ordered that midnight to form at the square for the authorities advice.

The company in which the most senior recruit belongs to was ordered to change into their outing attire, pick their bags and documents and match to the gate for transport back home.

The commander asked one more time those interested to go home should fall out but all the recruits said they want to continue with the training. They wept and pleaded for mercy. The commander instructed that they should get back to the square for a special form of training to begin.

They were taken through intense and vigorous military training that they have never gone through before. For three conservative days, they were denied food and had to train like never before.

The ARTRAC commander came to address the recruit the next day (03/12/2015) and when he asked the most senior recruit what happened, he claimed the recruits said they were being maltreated hence want to go home. But he failed to mention those recruits. All the recruits were angry because that’s not what happened. Almost all the recruits were not happy because they did not demonstrate or are part of any form of demonstration whatsoever.

The ARTRAC commander said he has pardoned us since we were not privy to the military laws. He cautioned us not to be misled by anybody into engaging in any illegal activities. He encouraged us to train very hard to become the professional soldiers we want to be.

So life started to normalize at the training grounds but a board of enquiry was instituted to investigate the circumstances leading to what happened. The most senior recruit, the senior men of the various company and some recruits who orchestrated such action were hauled before the board on several occasions to give their account of the event.

Some of the instructors started calling us names and stated that we are already in the media and social commentators are already discussing the issues. As to how it got to the media, only the instructors can tell.

As the days went by, all activities including preparation for passing off square and induction service were cancelled. We were told that we will be going on Christmas break while investigation are still ongoing.

We were told the order is coming from headquarters. So the ARTRAC commander came to inform us that we shall be going on a Christmas break and will be called back once the investigations are over, but reiterated that we are not being sacked. The date was 23/12/2015, barely two months of training.

It was a mixed reaction as some of the recruits thought they have been sacked and their dreams shattered. Others believed what the commander said and are hopeful they will be called back to continue with the training. So we all left for our various places.

When we got home, the discussion on the radio and social media was totally different from what was on the ground. Some commentators labeled us as lazy recruits, traitors and coup makers who should face the firing squad.

Others politicized it by linking us to foot soldiers of a political party being trained to rig the 2016 elections. Others also said we are Togolese nationals under training, terrorist and so many others. The worse aspect of it all is that our side of the story was never told and people went on to demonize us.

We were deeply affected psychologically; our families, friends and loved ones were all affected. Now the Christmas break is over and we are still at home. The court of public opinion had given their judgment before we even came home.

The director of public relations of GAF was heard on various media platforms saying that we have been sacked from the army and we pose no threat to the nation since we were not train in weapon handling.

Some of his comments were far from the truth. We were even nearing the completion of weapon handling and training when the incident occurred. But since there was no one to tell our side of the story, anybody at all attacked us, verbally abused us and tagged us with political colours, which is extremely dangerous to the development of our dear nation.

It has been more than two months since we came home and we have not had any official statement from GAF or the government. Most of the medical professionals who were recruited had to resign from their various civilian jobs before joining the military.

Now they are unemployed together with the rest of the recruits. We are all not employed and finding it difficult to cope with life. The recruits are getting agitated and some have threatened to commit suicide. The recruits are not lazy but were misled and are deeply sorry for that.

It’s my hope that politicians do not give work to these recruits to perform. Its election year and anything can happen.

Let the authorities that be, hear the story and cry of these recruits before unscrupulous politicians take advantage of their ‘services’. Let the authorities wake up and say something to these unemployed but potentially “weapon of mass destruction” recruits should they find themselves in the wrong company. After all, the journey has changed. A word to the nation is ……..