KUALA KUBU BARU: It has been a decade since they met at camp but for the National Service (NS) pioneers, friendships forged are for life.
The friends, who gathered to mark the 10th anniversary at the camp where it all started, were overjoyed at meeting each other again.
Celebrating unity, the group of 28-year-olds started chatting and laughing like old comrades.
Clinical psychologist Sindhu Nair jumped at the opportunity to catch up with her fellow trainees.
“I made many friends then and today, I’m still getting to know new people,” she said.
Auditor Pauline Chow, who was among those who volunteered to join NS, said being back reminded her that it was a sound decision.
“Unlike many who were picked to come, I requested to be part of NS and I am very happy I did.
“All trainees share a unique experience and memories that bind us for life,” she said.
They arrived here at Kem Bina Semangat yesterday. It was here that the NS programme was launched by former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Feb 22, 2004. Also present was his then deputy and now Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Quantity surveyor Syamsul Ikmal remembers being “very excited” when he handed a souvenir plaque to Abdullah.
“We had just recited the Rukun Negara and I was supposed to give the PM a souvenir.
“My parents were present and I was bursting with pride,” he said.
Despite leaving the camp a decade ago, the old friends have stayed connected via Facebook and Whatsapp.
The group was among more than 20 former trainees and trainers from the pioneer batch who arrived here yesterday.
The gathering was organised by ex-camp director Michael Yei, 59, one of 41 camp directors nationwide in charge of the programme’s physical module when it was started.
“I haven’t seen most of them since we broke camp. The trainers haven’t changed much physically — they can still fit into their uniforms.
“Our charges have turned out well. I’m very proud of them,” said Yei, who oversaw some 3,000 trainees during his year-long NS stint.
Recalling the first year of NS, he said it was not easy as there were no blueprints or seniors to refer to.
“It’s good to be back here recalling the good times and the challenges. Back then, we slept in tents but now there are dormitories — the facilities have improved so much,” he said.
Former commanding officer Ng Yee Guan, 28, said the tough times were too few to mention and the enjoyable moments too many to recount.
“Managing over 800 trainees from different cultural, religious and economic backgrounds was not easy but luckily, most were cooperative,” the academic officer said.
Reliving their experience with outdoor activities like river rafting and flying fox, some of them even came dressed in their old uniforms.