The Gen-X Space: I Could Have Been an Army Man

By M.Zulkifli

Many, many moons ago, The Star published an interesting feature story that triggered some very fond memories for me. It was about the gruelling “interview” process young hopefuls need to endure for admission into the prestigious Royal Military College (RMC, also known as “Sandhurst Malaya”).

It’s something I went through myself some 38 years ago (phew!) and the experience left quite a lasting impression on me. And no, I wasn’t forced into it at all, but from the time I received my Penilaian Darjah 5 results (4As 1B, not bad lah), someone or something had placed that thought deep in me.

So, I genuinely wanted to be an RMC boy. And to serve my country as a soldier was actually one of my “cita-cita” then, if you would believe it. (Along with “engineer”, which I had no clue what it was all about, and “lawyer”.)

Anyway, the whole process started back in my hometown JB when I was in standard 6. Candidates had to take some sort of written test, and then undergo a thorough medical check-up (which included the dreaded “cough test” – if you know, you know). Pass both, and you’re off to RMC itself in Sungai Besi, KL. Which I managed to do.

The journey itself was pretty memorable. I remember taking the KTM train from JB to KL along with dozens of other army-wannabes. Some were my schoolmates from STAR 2 (Sekolah Temenggong Abdul Rahman 2), while others were from the other schools in Johor.

Upon arrival at the KTM station in KL, all of us were loaded on to army trucks to take us to the college. I was super excited just sitting in the back of the truck while breathing in the polluted KL air. “This is going to be the rest of my life,” I genuinely thought then.

At the college, we were assigned dorm rooms and the “interview” process began. I remember we could only wear all-white sportswear most of the time, and we were immediately taught how to make our beds, military style.

Somehow, this skill hasn’t quite stuck with me. There are far too many wrinkles when I make the bed now, I must confess. (Of course, “making the bed” really means placing the duvet over the pillows as straight as I can lah, haha).

We also had to always stand in line and listen to “taklimat”s. And everything was on time, of course. From the moment we woke up until the lights went out, we had to adhere to a tight and enforced schedule.

I was also in awe of the seniors every time I saw them at the canteen or elsewhere on the RMC grounds, with their “muka kerek” and all. I tried striking up a conversation with one or two of the seniors, but only received one-word answers. Indirectly telling me, “Kau belum masuk RMC pun lagi, tak yah nak banyak cakap!” 

Here’s the only photo I have now of that RMC experience
taken with my Kodak camera

After a couple more written tests, it was then time for the gruelling physical examination that lasted a good couple of days. We ran under the scorching sun, did tons of push-ups and chin-ups, climbed up and through some obstacle courses, and underwent other forms of organised torture.

I remember some of us throwing up while others just completely gave up towards the end. And yes, our instructors were actual army officers who showed little mercy to us scrawny, 12-year-old boys!

Those who failed this bit were then sent home, no second chances. But guess what? Yours truly passed the Ninja Warrior segment with flying colours and actually got into the final interview stage.

Ah, the interview stage. If everything else prior to that wasn’t intimidating enough, the interview had us sitting in front of at least five army generals decked out in their full uniform, asking us all sorts of general knowledge questions.

To be honest, I still felt confident that I’d get in despite fluffing a couple of my answers during that session, but a few weeks later, I received the rejection letter. I was crushed, but I think my late parents were kind of relieved.

I guess “Major M. Zulkifli” wasn’t written for me, but I’m ever grateful for those few action-packed days when I lived like an army man. Well, almost.

M.Zulkifli is co-founder of

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