Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reflection on the Jungle Confidence Course (JCC)

From 10th September to 3rd October, I was training in the wild jungles of Temburong, Brunei. Part of my training was going through a Jungle Confidence Course (JCC). In this course, we (in teams) were given 48 hours worth of rations to use for 9 days of survival. We walked over 25 km in the jungles and then built up an improvised shelter for 3 days worth of survival. It was a once in a lifetime experience. 

My team didn't manage to pass the course because of a tiny screw-up. But nonetheless, we did everything that those who passed the course did. We did our best. This is a reflection I wrote about the course.

JCC Defining Moments

During JCC I was the secondary plotter- meaning that I walked at the back of the team and confirmed our location every now and then with the primary plotter at the front. Because of this role, I wasn’t very involved with the actual decision making that was going on at the front. Since I couldn’t apply my initiative to make decisions during navigation, I took an initiative to make decisions while harbouring at night. Setting up the communal shelter and making a fire came under my charge and I thoroughly enjoyed managing these amenities. Setting up shelter amidst heavy downpours, foraging for dry wood in the wet rainforests and sharing hot food and drinks while drying our soaked hands and feet over the fire- those were my defining moments in JCC.

Learning Points

1.   Before the course, I never appreciated a fire. At the end of a long day in the field, I would rather sleep than put in an effort to make a fire. But during JCC, I came to understand the value of a fire. When you are tired, wet and lonely, a fire can really save the day. The heat from the fire can dry your soaked hands and feet. This can prevent skin related problems such as foot rot. The smoke from a fire keeps away insects like mosquitoes. A fire allows you to eat hot food and drink hot beverages- a real morale booster. Most importantly, a fire somehow connects you to civilization. It makes you feel safe and secure. It also gives you a deep sense of hope- something I believe is essential for survival. Thus I learnt the value of a fire.

2.   Being at the back of my team for most of JCC, I came to understand the dynamics between the front of the team and the back of team. Usually, what happens is that the front members will walk very fast- due to their initiative in navigation and lack of obstructions (people) in front of them- and the back members will walk relatively slower because of their natural lack of initiative and motivation. Sometimes, the front members realize that they are too far off from the members behind and to allow the team to re-group they wait for the back to catch up. The moment the last man arrives at the front, the front members move off again. This is a very common mistake that teams make. Why? While waiting for the back to catch up, the front members get a few minutes of rest, allowing their bodies to recuperate. But since the team moves off the moment the last guy arrives, the last few guys do not have the same amount of rest as the front guys. As this process repeats through the days, the back guys slowly get more fatigued compared to the front. That’s why it’s common to see the last man looking weak- not necessarily because he’s inherently weak but primarily because he never gets to rest like the others do. The solution to this is that rest timing (maybe 5 minutes) should be started when and only when the last man arrives at the rest point. The team should never move off when the last guy arrives but rather after a certain time after which the last guy arrives. This ensures equality. It’s easy to forget the needs of the last man. But remember, you could always be the last man and you could be forgotten too.

3.   Since food rations were very limited in JCC, I learnt how to maximize their utility. One useful tactic I learnt from my teammates is to expand the volume of food. This tricks your body and mind into thinking that you have a lot of food. How does one expand the volume of food? Firstly, add water to your mess tin and add food from, say, your main pack. Mix the food thoroughly and heat it till boiling point. This will expand the volume of the food, making you feel full. Once you’ve finished the food, some traces of unfinished food will remain in the mess tin. You can add water to the mess tin again and heat it. This will make a nice soup to supplement your initial meal. Once again, this adds volume to the meal consumed, making you feel full and ultimately, satisfied.

4.   The killing of the quail was a special experience for me. It made me realize how the hunters actually derived their meat. They really had to kill the animals. They really had to do the dirty work. It made me see the discrepancy between the lives of the hunters and the lives of us modern human beings. Today we eat meat without giving a thought about the animal that was killed. We pay someone to do the dirty work for us.

I felt terrible after killing the quail. It took me some time to come to terms with what I did. Eating the meat wasn’t enjoyable either. The entire experience made me question my meat-eating habits. Are these habits right? I still think about it today. Maybe there is something right about being vegetarian... This is something for me to ponder about.

5.   The last thing I learnt from JCC is being true to yourself. My team failed JCC because we did not acquire sufficient points for navigation. We knew about our failure halfway through JCC, upon the completion of Exercise Explorer. All 7 of us were devastated. This meant no JCC badge- no recognition for our efforts. We could have given up right there. We could have succumbed to the situation and performed poorly for Forager and Trekker. But we knew why we were in Brunei. We came all the way here to learn essential survival skills- skills that could only be learnt in the wild jungles of Temburong. We remained true to ourselves and true to our mission. We carried on with full might and did our absolute best for Forager and Trekker. The result- all of us passed Forager and came up third for Trekker! Mind you, this was us competing with teams that knew they passed JCC. I was very proud of my team at the end. We didn’t get the badge... but hey, we earned the experience of a lifetime.

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