It was two days ago when I first heard of the news about soldiers begging for food in Zamboanga City.
I was surprised. I was frustrated. "Anyare?"
I couldn't believe it but there was a photo of a soldier who, according to the FB 'story teller', was begging for food among the people whom he met in the streets.
I don't buy the idea that soldiers are deprived of supplies. I had been to the field myself. My unit was also involved in the mopping up operations when Misuari's men attacked Cabatangan complex and also took civilian hostages in November 2001.
I had an idea what happened but I held my thoughts until I would be able to talk to the people who are in the frontlines.
It was at around 7:30pm tonight (September 14) that I was able to talk to Cpt Arvin Llenaresas, the Company Commander of the 7th Scout Ranger Company (the same unit where I served as a Platoon Leader).
The 7th SRC is one of the units of the Special Operations Command which was deployed to Zamboanga City when Misuari's men attacked the city 5 days ago.
I was eager to know why some soldiers resorted to 'begging food' in the streets during the lull of fighting, as claimed by some people through the social media?
I threw my first two most important questions to him: "Arvin, did you have food provisions during your deployment?" "Did you also beg for food like the other soldiers?"
I could hear a hint of a smile in his voice as he replied: "Sir, we had dry rations with us during this deployment. Despite being heavily engaged with the attackers in the past two days, we did not ran out of food provisions. We brought Skyflakes and canned goods with us. That is our training in the Rangers."
I was glad that he gave me a clear answer. I became happier knowing that the Scout Rangers have maintained the same discipline as we had in the past.
We are trained on survival techniques. We can go on missions with only Skyflakes and sardines if extremely necessary. We are proud of that.
Dry or wet rations
Due to the nature of its deployment, Scout Rangers are always ready to be deployed to carry out direct action missions (raids/ambush) with only short notice.
We are like firefighters. We know the reason for our existence. We are created in order to fight the enemies of the state. We are trained to be a highly-disciplined force that is considered as the enemy's worst nightmare.
It is due to the aforementioned circumstances that a Scout Ranger unit must be prepared to move any time, anywhere.
What about our food provisions? Hmmmmm. Hey, it is not a top-secret thing. Units have operational funds. Individual soldiers have their own mess allowance but normally, it is not used when the unit has enough operational funds left in its 'baul'. Kaya nga ang mga military leaders ay tinuturuan din ng Management principles. Hmmm. POSDCORB.
Unit leaders (Company Commanders/Platoon Leaders/Team Leaders) merely follow the basic mission planning procedures in the military.
If you were not sleeping (or iskul-bukolling) during your ROTC class, you should know SMESC (Situation, Mission, Execution, Service Support, Command and Signal). Hmmmmm. What is that?
Hey, it's the 5-paragraph OPORD (operations order)! Easy, easy!
Okay, let's discuss the 4th paragraph (Service Support). It pertains to supplies. Soldiers need supplies to sustain themselves in combat missions. We need water, food, ammunitions, medicines, and the so-called 'mission-essential equipment'.
Let's concentrate on the basic need which is food. Interesting? Dapat lang! Ikaw kaya makipagbarilan na walang pagkain!
Unlike our counterparts in the US military and even the Armed Forces of richer nations, Filipino soldiers prefer steamed rice as part of their food supplies. Bigas? Yes. We make baon the bigas and so we also have the famous combat stove that is carried by our Tail Scout. Wow, kakaiba!
You might find it funny that we carry 'combat stoves' and also the bigas. Sorry, we really dislike the MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat). Even some of the American soldiesr hate MREs. Wag silang kunwari ha, we heard them curse their MREs!
I can vividly recall that the AFP provided us MREs in Sulu in 2000 during the Sipadan hostage rescue operations there. Aside from the unlikeable taste, majority of the soldiers dislike them, and I normally heard them say: "Sir, mag-saing na lang tayo!" We term it 'wet rations', kasi sinasabawan at niluluto. The provisions that fall under this category include steamed rice, dried fish, deep fried beef, sardines. Occasionally, we also look for 'labong na kawayan', 'pako' (ferns), alugbati and talong or any vegetables (or vegetable-looking plant) that we can find in the forest.
However, there are instances that we don't have time to cook our food due to the unique situation. We call it METTT-C (Mission, Enemy, Time, Terrain, Troops Available and Civilian/Community) considerations. Paano kapag reinforcement ang gagawin? Paano kapag kami inaatake? Paano kapag natigok ang tiga-luto? Paano kapag walang maluto? Paano pag walang tubig?
Because of those 'nagging questions', we also plan for alternate food provisions. We call it 'dry rations', because you can directly consume them. Dry rations for us in the Rangers include 3 packs or 9 'grid squares' of Skyflakes (sorry, let me advertise our fave crackers). Binubudburan ng condensed na Milkmaid, at palamanan ng isang pirasong sardinas. That's it for our meal!
As a Company Commander, I always stocked at least 7-day dry rations for each team. These provisions were already tagged and carefully packed according to our team organization. Pag bigla kaming tawagin para sa misyon, alam na ang isalaksak sa combat pack ng bawat miyembro ng team. Kasama yon sa training ng Scout Rangers.
Begging for food?
No, no, no! Ang sundalo ay matiisin!
If the soldiers and their company leaders failed to do their basic responsibility of preparing themselves for any eventualities, it should not be the problem of the people whom they are supposed to serve. Kahit magutom kami, di kami mamamatay kahit isang araw pang walang kain basta ma-accomplish ang mission. Kaya nga pinahihirapan kami sa survival techniques. Kailangan pa bang i-memorize yan?
We can accomplish our missions if we have the best disciplined soldiers. We need to have the best combat leaders to provide direction.
I want to mention that the Biblical man named Gideon selected the best fighters by removing from the ranks those who chose to drink water when they crossed a stream. Idol kita Gideon, di ka nakikiinom habang naghahanda para ipaglaban ang inyong mga kababayan!
Ganon pa man, we have appreciated the people in Zamboanga who tried to share what remained of their own food supplies to some of our soldiers.
We are happy to know that civilians have appreciated the services of the Kawal Pinoy.
But, we are there to help them, not become part of their problems.
The AFP is taking good care of our soldiers. I am aware of the fact that senior officers are constantly finding ways on how to keep the steady flow of food supplies for our military units now that there is almost nothing to buy there (business is paralyzed and most of the stores are temporarily closed down). Pabili po!
Like most Pinoy's we can find ways to solve our own problems, including our food provisions.
Hearing that the Rangers are not begging for food, they have done something to address that 'problem'.
Kung gusto, me paraan. Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan.