Bunkmates to buddiesBeing real buddies means being able to give each other honest feedback, even when it's unpleasant. Meet LTA (NS) Nabil Abdul Latiff and LTA (NS) Prasad Shubhangam Rajesh in PIONEER's Buddies series!
// Story by Benita Teo
// Photos by Chua Soon Lye & courtesy of LTA (NS) Nabil & LTA (NS) Shubhangam
Buddies Lieutenant (LTA) (NS) Nabil Abdul Latiff and LTA (NS) Prasad Shubhangam Rajesh were bunkmates during their Officer Cadet School (OCS) days.
But sometimes they sound like an old married couple: "Nabil likes the heat, which is good for me because I can have all the fans in the bunk pointed at me." "Shubhangam will wait until lights out to open his Maggi Mee cup noodles and eat it in the dark."
Despite their different personalities – LTA (NS) Shubhangam is a vocal leader while LTA (NS) Nabil is a quiet worker – they've successfully avoided becoming another "bad roommate" statistic and even helped each other to grow as commanders.
Their secret? Always being honest with each other, and to just stay chill lah. Even when your buddy forgets to inform you that he's decided not to extend his National Service (NS) with you, and leaves you waiting outside his office after you've asked for a posting there.
We get LTA (NS) Nabil and LTA (NS) Shubhangam, both 21, to spill the beans on each other's weird habits and what makes them click so well.
Do you remember the day you first met?
LTA (NS) Shubhangam: During the professional term of OCS, I was posted to Echo wing, which Nabil was in. Echo was known to be a very siong (tough) wing (with very fierce instructors).
I remember carrying my kit up to the bunk on the fourth floor and feeling quite sian (in low spirits). But then I was very surprised to see this very happy, cheerful guy joking around inside the bunk.
There are many stories about nightmare roommates. How were you able to get along so well?
LTA (NS) Nabil: We've seen people who are afraid to speak their minds and set their buddies straight when they need to, and this causes problems to build up and worsen.
But the thing about us is that we're very honest with each other – we never hide anything from each other or talk behind the other's back.
LTA (NS) Shubhangam: Our agreement was that if there was truth in what was said and our buddy had room to improve, then we would tell him about it. Otherwise, we would speak up for him or tell (the person who has a problem with him) to approach him directly.
LTA (NS) Nabil: Our personalities are different, but we are similar in that we don't like drama.
Did your different personalities rub off on each other?
LTA (NS) Nabil: Shubhangam is a vocal leader who will state upfront what he wants from the team. He always has high expectations for everyone. I'm the sort who will just go and do the work myself. But as a leader, you need to do both.
I admire Shubhangam's confidence and his ability to just say what he wants and what he's thinking. I learned from Shubhangam to voice out my intentions and delegate the work.
LTA (NS) Shubhangam: Nabil's strong suit is that he connects very well with people. I used to be one of those people who would lay out the instructions very directly, which can sometimes lead to conflict.
Nabil has a natural charisma and is very good at mediating and making people receptive to him. That's something I learnt from him – how to connect better with people.
How did you go from being bunkmates to good friends?
LTA (NS) Nabil: We bonded over the hardship and always gave each other honest advice, even if it's not something the other party wanted to hear. So when I think he did something that wasn't right, I would tell him why and how he could improve. And he would do the same for me.
LTA (NS) Shubhangam: As training got tougher, our bunk became the only place we could sit down and have an honest conversation (about the challenges we were facing).
LTA (NS) Nabil: After OCS, I became a Platoon Commander (PC) in Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) while Shubhangam went to Infantry Training Institute (ITI). We would often check in on each other. I would also call him to ask about the right way to conduct infantry training since a lot of the instruction for BMT training came from ITI.
LTA (NS) Shubhangam: The International Cadets Conference in December 2019 was a particularly challenging moment for me during OCS as I was one of the delegates representing Singapore and was also part of the organising committee. After the conference, I was very tired and sleep deprived.
Knowing I hadn't had time to get my essentials, Nabil helped me to buy some of the things I needed. He also made sure my water bottle was filled and caught me up on the lessons that I'd missed out on while I was away. We had that level of trust where he understood what I was going through and knew exactly how to help.
LTA (NS) Shubhangam, what's this we heard about LTA (NS) Nabil "tricking" you into extending your NS?
LTA (NS) Shubhangam: I extended my NS thinking that he was extending too. I wanted to extend because I was looking for something more to my NS experience.
I enjoy being on the ground conducting training, but my role at ITI was quite deskbound. So I requested to go to BMTC because as a PC there, I could spend more time on the ground with the soldiers and it was the best touchpoint to train new recruits.
At that time, Nabil said he was planning to extend his NS, so I thought, "This is gonna be fun, we can reunite after so long!"
LTA (NS) Nabil: Everyone had thought I was going to extend – I even completed all the necessary medical check-ups. But in the end I felt that I wanted to spend time (before university started) pursuing some of my personal interests.
I remember I was at home [about a week after my Operationally Ready Date (ORD)] when Shubhangam called and asked, "Where are you? I'm at Pulau Tekong." And I was like, "What do you mean, bro? I ORD already!"
LTA (NS) Shubhangam: I was shocked! I was waiting to go into his office, thinking he was inside! In fact, the school I went to was the same one he was at! (to LTA (NS) Nabil:) You scammed me!
That said, I still would have extended even if I had known he wasn't extending. I enjoyed army life (during NS), so I wanted to spend more time (contributing) before university started, because after this it will just be the In-Camp Training once a year.
Spill the tea about each other's weird habits!
LTA (NS) Shubhangam: When it comes to comfort, Nabil is very lazy! Once, when we were training overseas, it was 45 degrees and everyone had already stripped off their tops because it was so hot. But this guy was sleeping peacefully, still in his No.4 and vest! When he says he loves the heat, he really loves the heat!
LTA (NS) Nabil: Back in OCS, Shubhangam loved to eat after lights out! While we were in our bunks at night, he had all the time to eat before we go to sleep, but he would just be there using his handphone.
But once we hit lights out, he would start opening his Maggi Mee, get hot water to cook it and then eat next to me in the dark. Till today, I still don't know why he did that!