It has been almost 14 years, the day that I returned home from Cambodia after completing my 15 months tour of duty as the Malaysian Army Contingent Commander serving the UN on peacekeeping operation. The mission had 15,900 military personnel , 3,600 police personnel, and 2,400 civilian staffs. In all, there were more than 36 countries participated in the mission. The Malaysia was represented by an Army Contingent comprising of 860 personnel. This does not include the military observers and those appointed as military staffs.
A month ago, several soldiers who had served with the contingent and are now retired from the army, hosted a reunion dinner at Johor Baru. I was fortunate to have been invited, and to once again meet the soldiers that had served me in Cambodia.
For me, it was an emotional reunion, and the long 14 years has taken its toil on some of the ex-soldiers; in age and as well as in their physical well being. Gone are their youthful look, but their laughter and cheerfulness that has motivated me to perform well throughout the trying period of my command, is still very much alive in them, throughout the evening.
I was speechless as names of those who have died (for various reasons) were mentioned, and there were no less than ten of them. I could still remember them, and even felt their presence among us that evening.
I have always taken my ex-soldiers to be my best of friends, and the 15 months in Cambodia with them, is something that I shall cherish till the end of my dying day.
Surely, there were many things to talk about, but what pleases me most is to meet the families of my ex-soldiers, most of whom I have not met before. I therefore had to play ‘grandpa’ that evening, for some of their children are of the same age as my grandchildren.
I returned home that evening with sadness in my heart. I was wondering if I could once again be able to join them the next time, and to reminisce the past. And true to the spirit of soldiering, the espirit-de-corps among them has not withered the least. On the contrary, it remained strong and I believe, it shall remain strong for as long as they live.