Al Truist was all grown-up now and his time came about for National Service. Here, his strong desire to stand up for all that was just and right was noted by his superiors as "good initiative". However, his strong desire to argue with superiors to ensure that things were done the just and right way meant that he was also labeled "stubborn and argumentative" by some superiors. He thus couldn't qualify for Officer Cadet School as only the best and brightest made it there. An Army cannot function if its officers questioned their superiors about the way things were done all the time. Better for a sergeant to pester just one officer supervising him.
Al took to all his tasks with great gusto: he was sold on the National Education message of National Service. If his country needed a strong military presence to deter her neighbours from invading, if such a military presence would help provide foreign investors a sense of security, if such a military could strengthen the psychological resolve of some of his weaker-willed brethren, Al was glad to help out.
After completing his infantry specialist training, Al was assigned to become a squad leader at a rifle battalion. A new batch of recruits was to be trained up to become operationally ready servicemen and Al was supposed to train his new squad of recruits. He relished his job: maybe he could impart some of his passion for righteousness onto some of them.
The new recruits sorely disappointed him. They seemed like they were dredged up from the underbelly of the nation. Like bitter bile, they probably served some function in the body, but being so bitter, the body would rather not think about them until they failed to serve the body any longer. Some of them were all bark and no byte, some of them wore fiendish expressions and would turn on their comrades over the littlest things. Al once had to request help from thugs from another squad to help break up the fight between his thug recruit and Mr Bark-no-Bit. The worst recruits were the apathetic ones and the fools.
Using fists to answer problems didn't quite bother Al. At least they believed in what they stood for (even though they might be misguided beliefs) and were willing to fight for such beliefs. Al could see how he had been fighting for his own beliefs his whole life. What Al couldn't stand was when people couldn't be bothered with what was happening around them or were alert enough to consider what was around them but refused to respond. "The world will be a much better place if people were willing to take ownership of problems and stand up for what is right!" By golly, he, Al Truist, was going to change things!
Towards the end of a training stint, Al had to lead his squad through "THE GAUNTLET OF FIRE", or what the higher-ups sedately call the "Battle Inoculation Course". In this course, the recruits had to crawl through mud, under barbed wire obstacles and over logs, all the while being fired upon overhead by real machine gun bullets. Before they entered the live firing range, Al gave his squad a pep talk. Al loved pep talks as they gave him a reason to drop nuggets of his truths. "Alright gentlemen, please remember what the purpose of this course is. If terrorists ever manage to steal GPMGs from our armouries and were wrecking havoc along Orchard Road, it will be good to know what GPMG rounds flying over your head will sound like. Besides that, hugging the mud will also be your safest bet so once we enter the course, stay low and leopard crawl all the way to the other end of the gauntlet. Understood?"
Bark-no-bite asked, "Sar-germ, simi gauntlet?"
Al hurriedly explained to Bark and rushed his troops into their ready positions in a concrete ditch safe from the MG fire. His officer was already staring at him to keep to the tight schedule. On the signal from the officer, Al shouted, "Ok guys, let's go! Go! Up the ditch, hit the dirt and crawl to the end!" His squad gave a blood-curdling scream as they clambered up from the ditch, reminiscent of the sound Norse invaders made. Al's heart swelled with pride; he had trained bitter bile into fighting men. However, his heart quickly swelled even more with shock. Instead of dropping into a leopard crawl after climbing up the ditch, Took had stood up straight, unslung his rifle and began shouting, "Bang! Bang!" over the din of MG slugs snapping overhead.
From the safety of the ditch, Al ran over to Took and with a mighty leap, jumped up and grabbed Took's utility vest. Took lost balance and fell backwards. His feet slipped back into the ditch and his body followed suit, but his unslung rifle jammed across the ditch opening and the sling had wrapped around his wrist, preventing Took from letting go of his rifle. Took was evacuated to the hospital with a broken wrist.
At the investigation, Al's company commander asked Al if he had performed his duties according to the training manual. Captain Kotak was a commander who followed all the rules in the book. His contemporaries have been promoted to Major by flouting some rules here and there, but Kotak believed his slow promotion was a bad mix of his Malay/Javanese heritage more than anything else.
"Sergeant Al Truist, do you understand what responsibility is?"
Al smiled, "Yes, in fact, I added the official definition of responsibility into the SISPEC creed. Previously, it just said 'responsibility to your fellow men' but now it says 'answerable or accountable, as for something within one's power, control, or management, for my colleagues'."
"Then tell me Sergeant, if you were being responsible, how did Took end up with a broken wrist?"
Al seethed. He had done everything in his power and yet an accident occurred and now this officer seemed to be putting the blame on him.
"Sir, if you were being responsible for all the men in your company, how did Took end up with a broken wrist?"
"Mr Truist, I delegated my responsibility of looking after the well-being of my men to their individual squad leaders, people like you! You can't expect me to be responsible for everyone in the army! If I was personally responsible for Took, it should have been spelled out in some regulation!"
"Sir, if everyone had their responsibilities defined, there would be no room for initiative, for the 'thinking soldier' our army desires. I was responsible for Took's training, I briefed my men very clearly before we entered the range that they had to stay down once the got into the range. How is it my responsibility that this idiot didn't understand my instructions, didn't clarify and simply thought he had to shoot at the people shooting him? Isn't that what we had trained them for all this while? To return fire when fired upon? Did that not prove I discharged my responsibility in training him such that he at least understands the concept of returning fire?"
"Sergeant, you are responsible. If you had suspected that he would be better off being some village's idiot, you could have pointed it out to me. He wouldn't have been in that unfortunate predicament in the first place!"
Al fumed. He knew that had he done as Kotak had suggested, he would have gotten a reprimand for not being able to "mould the man", been told to keep Took in his squad, and suffer a poor appraisal at the end of the year. Al wanted to point out how unjust and un-right it was, but let it slide.
Al sarcastically remarked, "Sir, if I'm meant to be responsible about the men under me, and I didn't want to have fools in my squad, what is the width of my responsibility? Can I tell parents not to have kids if I knew that they might end up as fools in my squad? Is that my responsibility as well?"
The cynicism was lost on Kotak, who replied with a straight face, "If you had the power to find out which parents would eventually bear fools, then I'm sure it must be your responsibility to stop them, for the greater good of society!"
Al wished he could have told Kotak's parents that.
"Sir, does responsibility also work both ways? I'm responsible for the welfare of my men, but at the same time I have a responsibility to you, my superior, to execute your orders in as efficient a manner as possible."
"Mr Truist, I think you're beginning to learn something from this episode. It's heartening."
"Well, sir, how do you reconcile conflicting responsibilities then? If the general ordered you to attack the objective, you have a responsibility to him to fulfill that objective. But at the same time, you didn't want me to put Took into obvious danger, saying I have a responsibility to ensure he stays safe. You have a responsibility to your own men to not put them into obvious danger, which cannot be achieved if you discharge your responsibility to the general. No matter how you see it, sir, you will be irresponsible!"
Captain Kotak sat back from his desk, lips parted, wearing a dumbfounded look. He was either taking a very long time to process the scenario Al painted for him, or was trying to wrap his mind into finding an answer. Al sat back with a satisfied grin. He was glad whenever he could change a person's mindset to help them achieve all that was right and good. In fact, he felt better than glad. He felt right and good.