Buddies without borders

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02 Jul 2021 | PEOPLE

Buddies without borders

One's a Singaporean who's spent his whole life living in Japan. The other is a PR who was born in the Philippines but calls Singapore home. In the first of PIONEER's Buddies series, find out how NSFs 3SG Asao Yosuke and 3SG Adzel Ardean Altoveros overcame language and cultural barriers to become best friends!

//Story by Benita Teo

//Photos by Ong Ji Xuan & courtesy of 3SG Asao

3SG Asao (right) had lived in Japan since he was two and knew little about Singapore culture, until his BMT buddy 3SG Altoveros introduced him to the local language and way of life.

3SG Asao (right) had lived in Japan since he was two and knew little about Singapore culture, until his BMT buddy 3SG Altoveros introduced him to the local language and way of life.

When 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Asao first enlisted for National Service (NS) in April last year, he was very nervous. Having lived in Japan since he was two, the 19-year-old did not know anyone in Singapore, and struggled to even understand the different languages around him.

But his section mate, 3SG Altoveros, 19, noticed him sitting alone in his bunk and reached out to break the ice by asking him about his life back in Japan. Little did they know they would become firm friends serving alongside each other in NS.

After graduating from Specialist Cadet School (SCS) together, where they both trained as infantry commanders, 3SG Asao and 3SG Altoveros are now platoon sergeants in Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC).

Thanks to 3SG Altoveros, 3SG Asao – who now speaks Singlish like a local – has come out of his shell to become a confident leader, training new generations of Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs).

Hi guys, tell us more about yourselves!

3SG Asao: I was born in Singapore, but I moved to Japan with my family when I was two. My father is Japanese and my mother is Singaporean. I came back alone for NS.

3SG Altoveros: I'm a PR (Permanent Resident) from the Philippines but I've been living here since I was about six years old.

Were you worried about enlisting in the Singapore Armed Forces and becoming a soldier?

3SG Altoveros: No, because I already know Singapore culture very well – I've been here since kindergarten. I knew what to expect in NS, so it wasn't a shock for me.

3SG Asao: Before NS, I had only visited Singapore a few times. So I was worried about whether I'd be able to adapt or make friends here. I was afraid that there would be a wall between me and my platoon mates because I was from overseas.

When they first met, 3SG Altoveros (left) recalled 3SG Asao as being very quiet and timid. But a year on, he has come out of his shell and grown into a confident section commander at BMTC.

3SG Altoveros, what was your first impressions of 3SG Asao?

3SG Altoveros: I remember him being very timid. He was very quiet and didn't like to express himself much. But now he has become very outgoing, and is no longer afraid to express himself to his commanders and superiors.

3SG Asao: When I first came to my bunk (in BMTC), I was a bit scared of everyone because I didn't know anybody. Everything was like a first for me!

How did 3SG Adzel bring you out of your shell?

3SG Asao: Back in BMT, I was very shy and would spend our free time just sitting on my bed quietly. Adzel would approach me and ask me about my life in Japan. It made me feel welcome and slowly I felt less nervous. And now he's become one of my best friends here in Singapore.

3SG Altoveros: We also stayed near each other, so we would share a cab when we booked in and out of camp, and grab a meal together along the way.

3SG Asao: He also helped me to understand Singapore culture. When I first came back to Singapore, I only spoke Japanese and English, and people here speak a mix of many languages. So sometimes when the sergeants spoke to me in Mandarin, he would translate so that I knew what they were saying. He also taught me the marching commands, which are in Malay, and taught me how to march as well.

3SG Altoveros: And also the slang used in NS! I remember the first time he heard the phrase "chao keng" (feigning illness) and he asked me what it meant!

Infantry specialist cadets (from 3SG Asao and 3SG Adzel's batch) undergoing urban operations training at SCS. The tough training to become infantry commanders was what brought the pair closer, they said. [Photo: SCS]

How did you end up becoming good friends?

3SG Asao: We became closer after going to SCS. We were both posted to infantry, which we dreaded at first because infantry training is known to be extremely tough. But Adzel encouraged me by saying, "Time will pass very quickly, so don't worry. Let's go together."

3SG Altoveros: It was a very tough journey – the training was rigorous and there were a lot of outfield exercises. It wasn't easy transitioning from BMT to command school. But we encouraged each other to finish the course and get the 3SG rank that we wanted.

3SG Asao: The outfield training was especially challenging. When Adzel knew I was going for outfield training, he would give me words of encouragement to keep my morale up. For instance, he would say, "It's okay, it's just five days. Let's go!" He always helped me to see the positive side of training.

3SG Altoveros: Asao was very consistent in his performance at SCS. It inspired me to follow suit and achieve his level of performance as well.

And how did you feel when you were both posted to BMTC as section commanders?

3SG Asao: We were joking like, "Why are you following me around throughout my NS life?" But actually we're happy to be posted here and working together.

3SG Asao (far right) and 3SG Altoveros (second from right) with their BMT section mates at a gathering last year. 3SG Asao’s worries about having language and cultural barriers proved unfounded, and his BMT buddies have become some of his closest friends.

What's the one thing you like the most about each other?

3SG Asao: Adzel is a joker and he always likes to joke around. But when it comes to training, he is very strict and wants things to be done properly.

3SG Altoveros: Asao is very approachable and reliable. He's always been there for me when I needed help, and it's very easy to open up to him with your problems, whether it's with work or personal matters.

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