Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The story of 'Batang Mess Kit': A child's baptism of fire

Lubigan detachment is located in the hinterlands of Sipocot, Camarines Sur. The presence of the military forces here have significantly reduced the NPA's extortion activities in the nearby villages. (9DPAO photo) 

 

Unknown to many, soldiers' children are widely known as “ batang mess kit” in the military community.
 
 In the past, you can usually see soldiers bring along their family members inside military camps (even in far-flung military detachments) to stay with them in their 'bunkers'. 
 
Soldiers generally refer to their individual nipa huts as a 'bunker'. Normally, this 'bunker' has its all-around protection against enemy fire. These are also interconnected by running trenches which the soldiers use to defend the camp against armed attackers.
 
Children who are reared by their parents inside military camps develop a certain culture so unique that they can be distinguished by the way they talk and behave.
 
They normally adapt military terms and lingos. They also follow military routines and camp procedures such as camp defense drills, mess calls, personnel accounting, firearms maintenance procedures.
 
The typical 'batang mess kit' also respects the senior NCOs and officers like their military fathers. They follow the same military rules implemented in the camp such as 'taps' and completeness call.
 
There were numerous instances that family members were trapped inside military camps during heavy fighting with the attacking enemy forces.
 
However, there are several disadvantages of bringing family members inside camp. There were incidents that  soldiers’ spouses helped in defending the camp against attacking bandits.
 
Sadly, there were instances wherein family members perished inside camps due to hostile enemy fire.
 
Today, the practice of bringing family members inside camps is highly discouraged especially in critical areas. However, visitations by family members are normally allowed for limited period of time.

(to learn more about this Pinoy military lingo 'batang mess kit', visit http://rangercabunzky.blogspot.com/2012/08/batang-mess-kit.html)

 
 
 Joshua's boot camp
 
One of such frequent visitors inside military camps is John Joshua, 12.
 
He is the son of  Pfc Esmeraldo de Asis of the 22nd Infantry (Valor) Battalion, the unit that administers all paramilitary forces in the Bicol Region. 
 
During school vacation, Joshua finds time to visit his father's detachment located in the hinterlands of Sipocot, Camarines Sur.
 
The elder de Asis seldom goes home so Joshua usually stays with his father in the camp to spend some bonding moments with him.
 
 While inside camp, Joshua spends his normal routine such as riding his bicycle towards the village center.
 
Everyday, he also watches his favorite cartoon shows inside the visitor's lounge.
 
His father also taught  him how to clean  the rifle and boots. He loved his tasks because he had long wanted to become a professional soldier.
 
As an additional income, his father is raising native chickens inside camp. Part of Joshua's tasks is to feed them twice a day.
 
Everytime the soldiers undergo the camp defence drill, Joshua observes them. He enjoys following his father towards his designated sector during simulated enemy attack.

He has learned where to hide during enemy attacks. He knew exactly the coded whistle commands and follow them religiously.
 
 
In the line of fire
 
On 18 May 2009, Pfc De Asis told Joshua to remain inside camp because he was ordered to attend a 3-day training at the 22nd IB headquarters.
 
"Take good care of our chickens and belongings here. Strictly observe the camp procedures while I am away," said Pfc de Asis.
 
Knowing that his father had entrusted to him his gun and chickens, Joshua became prouder. He felt that he was already considered a grown man. He felt like a newly trained soldier.
 
While his father was away for training, Joshua dutifully performed his assigned tasks.
 
He cleans the surroundings, goes to the mess hall during meal times and feed the chickens twice a day.
 
He also ensures that his father’s issued firearm and accessories are locked inside the “bunkers”.
 
In the night of May 18, Joshua and his soldier companions were unaware that more or less 50 bandits had already positioned themselves at least 500m from the detachment.
 
When Sgt Alcala sounded 'taps', Joshua retreated to his bed and said his prayers and followed the 'lights out' SOP observed in the camp.
 
At around two o’clock in the morning of May 20, Joshua was awakened by burst of gunfire from outside the detachment.
 
He knew that they were under attack based on the whizzing sound of flying bullets, some of them piercing through the walls of his 'bunker'.
 
He confirmed it when he heard the duty sentinel shouting “kalaban!” (enemy!) as he responded with automatic fires from the guard post.
 
At first, he was very afraid and so he lay  motionless on the ground while observing the chaos outside.

He did know what he feared of, and, he was so worried about his beloved chickens.
 
He was worried about everything he loved like his bike and the TV set which entertains him in that lonely place in the boondocks.
 
Then, he was reminded about the stern warning of his father who said, “Takbo sa likod ng sandbags pag me putukan!”(Run towards the sandbags in the event of gunfire).
 
So there he went to shield himself against the flying bullets which rained on them.
 
In the middle of the firefight, he heard some CAFGU personnel who yelled “Bala, bala!” and “Ayaw pumutok baril ko!” (My gun doesn’t fire!).
 
Remembering that his father entrusted him with his gun, he dashed back to the “bunkers” and retrieved his father's M16 Rifle and bandolier.
 
Crawling along the trenches, he rushed towards his “Kuya CAFGU” whose M1 Carbine malfunctioned.
 
The latter was so happy to get the much reliable M16 to continue fighting the advancing enemy forces who were throwing grenades and Molotov bombs on their nipa huts.
 
Three hours into the firefight, Joshua can hear then enemy’s command “Atras, atras!”(retreat, retreat!) but he sensed that they were advancing and getting closer to their perimeter fence.

Then, as if a lightning strike, Joshua saw that one of the huts was already burning.
 
 He heard the enemy was already beside the fence. With all the chaos happening, he heard that his chickens were howling.
 
He saw that some of the enemy were already inside the fence. He heard that most CAFGU personnel were already out of ammo and were shouting “bala, bala!”.
 
 Then, he heard the distinctive voice of Sgt Alcala ordering his men “Withdraw!” when most of the personnel were already out of ammunitions.
 
Confused on what to do and worrying about the things his father entrusted to him, Joshua decided to stay inside the camp as the soldiers and CAFGU personnel performed an organized withdrawal to evade the overwhelming enemy force.
 
 Moments later, Joshua heard the jubilant voices of the communist terrorists who had already controlled the small CAFGU detachment. Joshua felt helpless. The bandits were shouting, raising their guns in the air.
 
The enemy started pillaging and burning the camp. Coming out of his hiding place, he shouted “Hoy, wag nyo nakawin ang mga manok ng Papa ko!” (don’t steal my father’s chickens).
 
 Surprised by the presence of an unarmed small boy, the NPA Commander replied “Sino ka ba? Sino Tatay mo?” (Who are you? Who is your father?).
 
Without hesitation, Joshua confidently replied, “Sundalo Tatay ko!”(My father is a soldier!).
 
Amused by his antics, the leader of the communist terrorists ordered his men not to harm Joshua and not to get his beloved pets. However, Joshua was so frustrated when the enemy torched down his father’s hut where his personal belongings were kept including his beloved bicycle.
 
 He remained in the mess hall with his chickens as the enemy fled the burning CAFGU detachment until the reinforcements from the 31st Infantry Battalion came about an hour later.
 
He was there when I joined my Commander in visiting the soldiers who survived the attack.
 
Joshua remained calm and innocent looking despite his ordeal. He said that he was just 'following orders' from his dad.
 
"I merely followed the orders from Tatay. I stayed because I have to take good care of all his belongings," he said.
 


Overpowered by an overwhelming enemy force, the NPA rebels were able to capture the camp after the soldiers escaped to call for reinforcements. (9th DPAO photo)

More or less 50 NPA bandits attacked the small military detachment. I was saddened to see the burned camp but I couldn't do anything but sigh. Later in the day, a team of 31st Infantry Battalion led by 1st Lt Armando Bohol which tracked the rebels, engaged them in a fierce firefight, killing at least 5 rebels, capturing two of them and seizing several firearms. (9th PAO photo)
 
 
On June 20, 2009, the Commanding General of the 9th Infantry Division, Major General Ruperto 'Raffy' Pabustan, awarded Joshua with a new bicycle during a simple turn-over ceremony held in Camp Elias Angeles, Pili Camarines Sur. Witnessed by the members of the Spear Bicycle Club, the courageous boy proudly received his much deserved reward. He has more good reasons to stay alive and pursue his dream of becoming a full-pledged soldier someday.
 

4 comments:

  1. very brave son of a soldier.. salute!
    -nikki john

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice Story Sir Cabunzky.
    Entertaining post. Inspiring Story.
    Please post some more.

    -Drey Roque
    (pagduaw.com)

    ReplyDelete