The Story Of A Soldier’s Wife – The Dilemma

There are many ways of venting one’s frustration. My husband chose to plunge himself headlong in his job, much to my consternation. I felt that after the humiliation he suffered from failing the QHI course, he should just give the minimum required to keep him from getting into trouble. There was no point in getting so besotted with work when no one seemed to appreciate the services rendered.

Despite the dedication, he was seriously contemplating leaving the Air Force. There was so much disillusionment after the QHI course that made leaving the perfect solution. Besides, the lure of big money working as a pilot outside, was also hard to resist. But, there was also loyalty on the other end of the scale. Both disillussionment and loyalty were in perfect equilibrium making it extremely difficult for him to choose.

The future in the Air Force appeared grim and bleak. The news that one of the instructors at the QHI course took over the place he was supposed to fill in, pierced even more deeply into the still fresh and open wound. It was a sad and difficult phase for both of us.

While all these problems were brewing, I lost all interest in socialising. My already irregular attendance at the Wives Club came to a complete standstill. I knew my presence was too insignificant to be felt but it would NOT go unnoticed. THAT I was absolutely sure. When two of my neighbours threw a party and we were not on their list of guests, I knew that my absence at the Wives Club was interpreted as a show of defiance and arrogance. I suspected there were many more parties which missed my detection. Although I pretended indifference, it was extremely painful to be so publicly ostracised and treated as outcasts.
At this juncture, it made leaving the Air Force both appealing and desirable.

Despite the fears and worries, the ostracicm and the lure of the big fat salary outside, I was still not keen on him leaving, for reasons I, myself had no answer. So, when he finally made his decision, after months of deliberation, to stay on, I thought he made a wise choice. Little did we know that the frustrations we had endured so far were nothing compared to what awaited us in the future.

To be continued………

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The Story Of A Soldier’s Wife – The Sentence

Life in Butterworth was not much different from that of Kuantan. My husband was still doing a lot of flying. The first thing that came to my mind when he told me of his posting to Butterworth was that there would not be any more detachments to Butterworth since he would be there all the time. I was so wrong. They had detachments at Kroh instead. After the Gubir incident, I was constantly plagued by the fear that something equally tragic would happen again.

I was more relieved than happy when he was chosen for the Qualified Helicopter Instructor (QHI) course at Alor Setar. This meant that there would be a break from operational flying for him throughout the entire duration of the three-month course. It also meant that I, too, would have a break from worrying about his safety. Little did that I know, at that point in time, that this course would leave an indelible mark on his career. One which would haunt him AND me, as a wife, for a long time to come.

He would come home on weekends and I would ask how he was faring at the course. I was quite concerned, of course, because I was not there to coach him like I did for his Cats, like I wrote here. But, he proudly announced that he was doing fine. However, there was something else he told me that made me quiver uncomfortably inside. There were no written assessments as far as ground school was concerned. So, it was purely subjective was my mental conclusion. While written assessments are simple and clear-cut, a subjective assesment would require a certain amount of integrity on the part of the examiner. I know, because as a teacher, I had a tendency to be biased when evaluating my students subjectively. It was so easy to be swayed by emotions.

When he got news, just a few weeks into the course, that he would be posted to the Helicopter Training School in Kluang, Johor as one of the OCs (Officer Commanding) on completion of the course, it was like sending him to the gallows. It was a Major’s appointment and this meant that he would be promoted when he reported for duty in Kluang. In an organisation steeped in rank rivalry, the good news stayed with him only for a few days before it was cruelly snatched away. He flunked the course, never got to be posted to Kluang AND not promoted. (He passed his Captain to Major exams when he was in Kuantan)

It hit him hard but it hit me harder seeing him so frustrated and depressed. For the first time after joining the Air Force, he started talking about leaving it. He even sat for the Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) test soon after he failed the QHI course. While he started to pick up the pieces and resumed life back at the squadron, I turned Sherlock Holmes to try and unravel the sudden mysterious decline in his performance AFTER the posting order came.

I made some shocking discoveries which led to my husband’s early dismissal from the course. Suffice to say that he was a victim of circumstance. He was at the wrong place the wrong time. He might not have been a straight-A student but I know he could have passed the course. He was not that dumb and silly. It was so unfortuate that he was at the mercy of those also vying and eyeing to be promoted to Major. Remarks like “Don’t be too sure of your posting” and “I’ll make sure you don’t attend anymore QHI courses” were proof enough of their extreme animosity towards my husband AFTER he got the posting order. Had they been the ones chosen to be the OC at Kluang, my husband would have passed the course AND WITH FLYING COLOURS, TOO.

To be continued………

The Story Of A Soldier’s Wife – Butterworth Here We Come

Time flew by fast as lightning and before we knew it, it was time to move to Butterworth where my husband would assume the post of Deputy Flight Commander at No. 3 Squadron. It was a minor appointment, nothing to rave about but a recognition, nevertheless.

I submitted my application for transfer, too, and that was about all that I did on my own. The rest was handled by my super efficient husband. He had no qualms meeting the high-powered Education officials both at the ministerial and state levels to get my transfer approved at the same time as him, to a school of HIS choice NOT mine. He was not particularly bothered being given the cold shoulder each time he was granted an audience with these officials. I cringed every time he proudly announced how he bulldozed his way to get them to approve my transfer. I knew I had to bear the brunt of his brashness, brusqueness and boldness when I reported for duty at the new school. The principal would most certainly be briefed on how I managed to squeeze myself into his school in the first term of school. This would upset the entire time-table and worse, the teacher who prepared it. I shuddered at the thought of confronting her/him. But I knew how to play my cards to redeem my husband’s lack of tact in handling the case.

I gallantly came to the rescue when the school scouted hopelessly for parachutes to erect tents for the Annual School Sports. There were no mobile tents then, like what we have now. I pleaded with my husband to lend me some parachutes which were used to send in supplies to the interior regions using the Caribou aircraft. He brought home an assortment of red, blue, yellow and white parachutes which I distributed to the respective House Masters. Except for the Green House Master who was slightly disappointed at getting the white parachutes, the remaining three were ecstatic to get the exact colour that matched their House. Just for the record, Green House were losers even before the game started and they remained that way till the end, unfortunately. The principal was extremely pleased with my gesture, loaning the parachutes for free. He never failed to give me a broad smile and a nod, too, every time I passed by him.

My husband prided himself not only in getting my transfer approved but also in getting a school just next door to the Base and directly opposite our quarters. It was so convenient. I just had to cross the road to get to school. It was a dream come true EXCEPT that I had to climb the 20-foot-high fence that enclosed the whole living complex AND risked getting shot if I tried to clear the fence. I chose a safer route by driving to school.

St Mark’s Secondary School (SMKs were not implemented yet) was situated next to the runaway. Both our F5E jet fighters and the Australian Mirage would exert full power at the threshold before taking off. The noise was thunderously deafening, to put it mildly. I would shout and scream to make myself heard much to the amusement of my students. My voice would be completely drowned by the furious roar of the jet engines. My students would just stare blankly at me, some trying hard to suppress a laughter at my contorted facial expression after having screamed so much so loud so often.

Both the Malaysian Air Force and the Australian Air Force officers shared the same living complex but the Aussies got to stay in the quarters facing the sea and we had to face the trunk road for all traffic moving up north or down south. The North-South Expressway was non-existent yet. While they had the cool refreshing sea breeze caressing their faces, we had to inhale the hot carbon monoxide and dust particles from the continuous flow of traffic. We had both air and sound pollution right in front of our doorstep. But I had one consolation. The NAAFI was just a stone’s throw away from our quarters. What more could I ask for?

To be continued…….

The Story Of A Soldier’s Wife – The Cat

Flying was a passion for my husband, so when it became a career, it was both fun and gratifying for him. All the dangers that came with being a Nuri pilot at that time seemed insignificant compared to the job satisfaction derived. There were no complaints of having to work long gruelling hours almost every day. He would leave at dawn and returned at dusk, weary and hungry but there was never a sigh or a word of grumble. There were also no more talks of switching jobs ( he switched jobs twice before becoming a pilot), much to my relief. BUT, there was something about being a pilot that drove him up the wall……the periodic checks on pilots.

These checks were commonly referred to as “Cat”, short for ” Categorization”. Pilots were categorised based on these checks. Failing these checks would temporarily ground them until they were rechecked and certified fit to fly again. Ample warning would be given prior to the arrival of the examiners. These examiners (also Air Force officers) were feted upon by those sitting for the “Cat” from the moment they arrived until they left. The pilots were a courteous lot EXCEPT for one pilot who felt that there was no necessity to be extra nice to these examiners. And for that glaring misbehaviour, he had no choice but to pass the “Cat”. He was fully aware that he had nothing to fall back on, if he did badly in his “Cat”.

He was a desperate man and like all desperados, he had to make do with whatever that was available to him, to save his skin. He recruited me as his tutor. I was made to study those thick books on “Principles Of Flight” and “Meteorology” and explain the scientific concepts to him in the simplest way possible. I did Chemistry and Biology at UPM not Physics. But I soon learned that the little Physics that I knew was good enough for desperados like him. It was tough getting my students to understand science but I soon discovered that it was tougher getting him to believe what I was trying to explain. AND I was also appointed the drill master, not to drill him in marching but to drill him on the hundreds of Technical questions which required one-word answers. At the end of it all, I was as prepared as he was for the theory part of the “Cat”.

It was difficult the first time I turned tutor but subsequently I became quite good at it. My student, too, improved by leaps and bounds. He went from being a D-Cat to a B-Cat operational pilot and he NEVER failed his “CAT” throughout his entire flying career.

To be continued……..

The Story Of A Soldier’s Wife – The Second Year

Life resumed its normal course soon after the tragic Gubir crash. I did not know what went on in all the Nuri households but I was temporarily spared the agony of having to worry about my husband flying operational. But it was short-lived. He soon got what he had yearned for ever since becoming a Nuri copilot. He got his Nuri captaincy. His exuberance and enthusiasm did nothing to lift my spirits or lessen my fears.

While he was making a tortoise-pace progress in his career, he fared badly on the social scene. A man steeped in principles, there was no way he could be easily influenced. He would be outrightly blunt in his opinions, charging head-on much to the displeasure of both his fellow junior officers and the senior officers alike. My pleas for a more diplomatic approach in addressing a problem fell on deaf ears. This stand made him grossly unpopular and one which would cost him dearly in his career.

In an era when the colonial influence was still thick and heavy, any form of objection or refusal to adopt the culture was translated as ultra-conservative, old-fashioned and weird even. It was at a time when the Officers Mess hosted many fabulous parties ranging from the most casual to the most elaborate and formal ones. We, the wives would don ourselves in long flowing evening gowns, hair coiffered to perfection, face painstakingly painted up, stepping out in style in glittering stilettos, tapping our feet to the rhythm of the 70’s music. It was at a time when Port and Madeira wine flowed freely. It was trendy then to be a little bit tipsy or drunk even, but both my husband and I steered clear of the liquor.

There was an incident that happened during a Hari Raya open house which remains firmly fixed in my mind to this day. Although we never declared our house opened that morning first day of Raya, the officers came, one of them carrying a bottle of wine along knowing perfectly well that my husband hated the stuff. My husband would have told him off had it not been for the eye signals that I kept on sending him not to create a scene. While I played the gracious host, I noticed my husband was slowly turning green trying to suppress his anger. I really don’t know what the officer’s intentions were and I don’t like to speculate. I hope he was drunk enough that morning not to remember it was him I’m writing about here. Immediately after the party left I was given a crash course on Islam. My act of preventing him (my husband) from telling off the officer could be misinterpreted as condoning his actions.

While many chose to succumb to the demands of the day, my husband chose to go against the flow. He stood firm and formidable in his beliefs and principles, undaunted by all the taunts and torments that came his way. An admirable trait but one which saw him plunge further down the popularity ladder. I was not helping him either. My lukewarm attitude towards the Wives Club made me equally unpopular, too. So, we were the perfect match for each other.

Our unpopularity did not really bother us. Not yet, anyway. He was not due for promotion yet so there was no cause for immediate concern. Although the signs and symptoms were slowly showing, they were not obvious enough to stop us in our tracks and force us to reevaluate our strategy.

To be continued…….

The Story Of A Soldier’s Wife – The Tragedy Part 2

The Gubir tragedy was the first major air disaster involving a Nuri. It was shot down by the communists killing all eleven on board. There were five air crew members in the ill-fated aircraft and I knew four of them. The rest were Army personnel.

I chose to go and pay my condolences to the one nearest to my house first, the co-pilot’s wife. She was also a teacher but she was teaching in a different school. When I arrived at her quarters, there was already a small congregation comprising mostly of the Nuri, Tebuan and other non-flying Air Force wives. (Tebuan was the training aircraft for the fighter pilots then).They all looked grim and solemn and worried. I guess, like me, they were thinking who would be next in line. We were all young, in our early and mid-twenties. Most of the Major’s wives were slightly older than us probably in their late twenties or early thirties. The men preferred their women a few years younger than them during that period. The practice of taking someone older than them for a wife had not set in yet.

The Tebuan aIso had their share of crashes but theTebuan wives had an advantage over us, the Nuri wives. Their husbands could eject when in trouble, where as, ours had to go down with the aircraft. I remember a Tebuan wife once told me that she gave ample warning to her husband to think of her and the children and not try to be a hero and save the aircraft, when in trouble. She made her husband promise to eject as soon as he encountered a problem. I really don’t know whether there was a necessity for the husband to keep to the promise during his entire flying career. He went on to become a one-star general.

She (the co-pilot’s wife) was nowhere in sight when I arrived at her quarters. I was told that she was inside her room with her only child, a daughter. I was also told that she was in her early stage of pregnancy. All that I had rehearsed to say to her had to be put on hold. Then, she emerged, looking sad, dazed, forlorn and lost but otherwise, in complete control of herself. I had expected to see her in tears, grief-stricken to a point she had to be comforted by us. She was perfectly calm. In fact, too perfectly calm for my peace of mind. My wicked mind could not help but wonder whether she truly loved her husband. It was a mean and horrid thought, but for someone who had just lost her husband in such a terrible crash, it seemed impossible to remain so calm and composed. I would have howled the house down and gone hysterical had I been in her place. I just stared at her, open-mouthed and forgot all that I had rehearsed.

I was made to understand that she was still waiting for the official announcement from the Base Commander. She had been appropriately informed of the crash earlier on. She was also informed that all those on board were feared dead. But there was nothing OFFICIAL yet. There were procedures to follow before an official statement could be released. Probably she was still clinging on to the one last fragment of hope that the Base Commander would bring her the good news that her husband had miraculously survived the gruesome crash, although by that time, everyone else knew that ALL had perished.

The Base Commander and his wife finally arrived at a little past nine and went straight to where she was sitting. I sat bolt upright expecting an outburst of emotions. He spoke in low tones and she was seen nodding her head several times. But there were no outbursts of emotions, no crying, nothing. The Base Commander and his wife then made an understandably hurried exit. There were two more families waiting for his official announcement.

Then slowly the crowd began to disperse. I just cannot recall what I mumbled to her but I remember telling her that I would come and see her again tomorrow morning. On reaching home, my husband told me that he was appointed the officer to look into her affairs. Besides the immediate arrangement to have both she and her daughter flown over the very next morning for the burial ceremony, there was her transfer to attend to.

I didn’t have the chance to visit the other two families. We were told to organise ourselves into three groups and each group was advised to visit only one family. Under the circumstances, it was thought best not to have too big a crowd at all the three houses. This was obviously not a fiesta.

The next morning I tagged along with my husband to see her again before leaving for school. My husband had started making arrangements to have both she and her daughter flown over to her hometown where her husband would be laid to rest. We were in for another surprise when we reached her house. She was getting ready to go to school!!! My husband had to convince her that there was no necessity for her to go teaching given the circumstances she was in. Her dedication was praiseworthy but at that time I felt it was strangely odd. My wicked mind started weaving ugly thoughts again. I hated myself for it. I was still fighting hard to banish all evil thoughts from my mind when I bade her goodbye. That was the last time I saw her.

It took me more than three decades, when my husband was writing his book, to unveil the truth behind the strange behaviour that I mistook for disloyalty that night in Kuantan. It was, in fact, a display of both strength and courage befitting of a hero’s wife. The fact that she NEVER remarried although she was made a widow in her twenties, bears testament to the eternal, undying love and loyalty she had for her husband. As far as I am concerned, she is an epitome of the perfect soldier’s wife…

To be continued………..

The Story Of A Soldier’s Wife – The Tragedy Part 1

The hectic and erratic flying schedules were temporarily put on hold with the commencement of the Nuri captaincy conversion course which was held at the Base. Both my fears and worries were temporarily put on hold, too. For the first time since joining him, it  felt like being married to someone with a nine-to-five job. While he was ecstatic at the prospect of becoming a Nuri captain and wanted the course to be over as fast as possible, I, on the other hand, prayed silently that it would be prolonged. While he was having this break from operational flying I knew that all his other friends were still flying long and weary hours.

There was nothing peculiar about that evening 26 of April 1976 UNTIL I realised that he was unusually late in coming home.
When there was still no sign of him at 6.30, I began to feel a bit restless. I would have got bits and pieces of the latest updates through the wives’ grapevine had I been an active member of the wives’ groups that would gather around every evening just outside the quarters. Although I was showing a marked improvement in attendance at the Wives’ Club meetings, I had not reached the ranks of a true blue-blooded, full fledged soldier’s wife YET. While I was brooding over his late return, I heard the familiar sound of his old “kapcai” breaking the silence of the quiet evening.

It was a little over seven, when he finally came in. I looked at him questioningly. His face was devoid of any expression but I could sense that something was wrong. Then, he looked at me and blurted it out, “A Nuri crashed”. I knew that it was difficult for him to break the dreadful news NOT because he was not able to cope with the sudden demise of his friends. All soldiers are a hardy lot trained to handle any form of eventualities with great skill and professionalism. There was something else lurking disturbingly at the back of his mind. He knew that this would mean my trust in the aircraft would falter and disintegrate. He knew that he would have to face a greater challenge of restoring my faith in the aircraft and convincing me on the safety of his job.

The initial shock was nothing compared to what followed soon after. He let out on the names, leaving those that I knew to the very last. My mind was in a turmoil. It was devastating. I remember thinking “It could have been him”, over and over again. It was selfish but I could not help it. The only comfort was knowing that he would not be flying operational until he completed the conversion course and that would be for about a month more.

To be continued………