Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Ang Batang Mess Kit"


Lubigan CAA Detachment after the attack

Unknown to many in the civilian sector, soldiers' children are widely known as “mga batang mess kit” in the military community. In the past, you can usually see soldiers bring along their family members inside military camps (even in far-flung military detachments) to stay with them in their “bunkers” (billeting area, usually nipa huts).

Children who are reared by their parents inside military camps develop a certain culture so unique that they can be distinguished by the way they talk and behave. They normally adapt military terms and lingos; and, they also follow military routines and camp procedures such as camp defense drills, mess calls, personnel accounting, firearms maintenance procedures, etc. There had been numerous instances that family members were trapped inside military camps during heavy fighting with the attacking enemy forces. There were incidents that even the soldiers’ spouses shot it out with the enemy during extraordinary circumstances. There were instances that family members perished inside camps due to hostile enemy fire.

Today, the practice of bringing family members inside camps is highly discouraged especially in critical areas. However, visitations by family members are normally allowed for limited period of time. One of such frequent visitors inside military camps is John Joshua whose father, Pfc Esmeraldo de Asis, is assigned in the 22nd Infantry Battalion. He is one of the soldiers who manned the Lubigan Detachment which is located in the hinterlands of Sipocot, Camarines Sur.

Joshua is a typical 12year-old boy. He plays with his bike and watches his favorite cartoon shows everyday. He also helps his father clean his rifle and boots. As an additional income, Pfc de Asis is raising chickens inside camp. Feeding them is one of the responsibilities of Joshua during his vacation with his father. Almost everyday, Joshua participates in the routine camp defense drills implemented by the Detachment Commander. Everytime he hears the whistle sound, he rushes to the covered position that his father designated for him.

On 18 May 2009, Pfc De Asis told Joshua to remain inside camp because he was ordered to attend a 3-day seminar in 22nd IB Headquarters in Pili, Camarines Sur. The soldier father has briefed his son about his routine chores and reminded him about the camp defense drills. He left the camp without any hint that the camp was the target of enemy attack the very next day.

Seeing the Lubigan detachment as their pain in the neck, the CPP-NPA-NDF consolidated its forces in Camarines Sur to launch one of its biggest offensives on lightly-armed CAFGU detachments. Lubigan detachment is strategically located in the heart of Lubigan Junior, a baranggay near the boundary of Libmanan.

During the absence of his father, Joshua dutifully performed his assigned tasks. He cleans the surroundings of his father’s “bunkers”, goes to the mess hall during meal times and feed the chickens at least twice a day. He also ensures that his father’s issued firearm and accessories are locked inside the “bunkers”.

In the night of May 18, Joshua and all personnel in the detachment were unaware that the enemy had already positioned themselves at least 500m from the detachment. They were watching the popular TV shows as usual, until the “taps” was declared by Sgt Alcala. As all soldiers and CAFGU personnel were required to turn-off all lights inside the bunkers, Joshua went to bed say his prayers went to sleep.

At around two o’clock in the morning of May 20, Joshua was awakened by burst of gunfire from outside the detachment. His experience as a “batang mess kit” taught him the difference of a hostile enemy fire from a friendly fire. He confirmed it when he heard the duty sentinel shouting “kalaban!” (enemy!) while returning fire from the guard post. At first, he felt fear that he can’t explain. He feared for his life. Then, he was worried about the chickens. He was also worried about his bike and the TV set that might be hit by enemy bullets. Then, he was reminded about the stern warning of his father who said, “Takbo sa likod ng sandbags pag me putukan!”(Run towards the sandbags in the event of gunfire). So there he went to shield himself against the flying bullets which rained on them. In the middle of the firefight, he heard some CAFGU personnel who yelled “Bala, bala!” and “Ayaw pumutok baril ko!” (My gun doesn’t fire!). Remembering that his father entrusted him with his gun, he dashed back to the “bunkers” and retrieved the M16 Rifle and bandolier. Crawling along the trenches, he rushed towards his “Kuya CAFGU” whose M1 Carbine malfunctioned. The latter was so happy to get the much reliable M16 to continue fighting the advancing enemy forces who were throwing grenades and Molotov bombs on their nipa huts. Three hours into the firefight, Joshua can hear then enemy’s command “Atras, atras!”(retreat, retreat!) but he sensed that they were advancing and getting closer to their perimeter fence. Then, as if a lightning strike, Joshua saw that one of the huts was already burning. He heard the enemy was already beside the fence. With all the chaos happening, he heard that his chickens were howling. He saw that some of the enemy were already inside the fence. He heard that most CAFGU personnel were already out of ammo and were shouting “bala, bala!”. Then, he heard the distinctive voice of Sgt Alcala ordering his men “Withdraw!” when most of the personnel were already out of ammunitions.

Confused on what to do and worrying about the things his father entrusted to him, Joshua decided to stay as the soldiers and CAFGU personnel performed an organized withdrawal to evade the overwhelming enemy force. Moments later, Joshua heard the jubilant voices of the communist terrorists who had already controlled the small CAFGU detachment. Joshua felt helpless. The enemy started pillaging and burning the camp. Coming out of his hiding place, he shouted “Hoy, wag nyo nakawin ang mga manok ng Papa ko!” (don’t steal my father’s chickens). Surprised by the presence of an unarmed small boy, the NPA Commander replied “Sino ka ba? Sino Tatay mo?” (Who are you? Who is your father?). Without hesitation, Joshua confidently replied, “Sundalo Tatay ko!”(My father is a soldier!). Amused by his antics, the leader of the communist terrorists ordered his men not to harm Joshua and not to get his chickens. However, Joshua was so frustrated when the enemy torched down his father’s hut where his personal belongings were kept especially his beloved bicycle. He remained in the mess hall with his chickens as the enemy fled the burning CAFGU detachment until the reinforcements from the 31st Infantry Battalion came about an hour later.

On June 20, 2009, the Commanding General of the 9th Infantry Division, MGEN RUPERTO R PABUSTAN AFP, awarded Joshua with a new bicycle during a simple turn-over ceremony held in Camp Elias Angeles. Witnessed by the members of the Spear Bicycle Club, the courageous boy was so proud to receive his much deserve reward. Now he has good reasons to stay alive and pursue his dream of becoming a full-pledged soldier someday.

CG, 9ID and Staff awarding Joshua a new bike

1 comment:

  1. Very effective "force multiplier" i guess!Joshua's simple and basic desire to accomplish the responsibilities entrusted to him by his father, overtook all his fears. Well written major! God bless our troops and our people!