In Malaysia, I rarely see soldiers, let alone chatting with them. In Thailand, especially in Southern Thailand, the soldiers are commonly seen. Today, after my shooting lesson, I walked across the road with a friend to chat with the soldiers. The weather was cool and they were relaxed.
I asked a few questions like about their clothing and their daily life in Betong. They were very friendly and answered me patiently. According to the soldiers, they are off duty for 15 days for each 45 working days. Many of them will go home during their off days and of course, they bear their own traveling expenses.
According to the army officer, conscripts are entitled to two sets of uniforms per year while regular cadres have to purchase their own uniforms. The material for the uniforms are bought from a government owned textile factory. I found the material of good quality, soft and comfortable, different to those fake uniforms sold in the market which are hard and hot to wear.
The armies carry M16 rifles and each riffle carries 30 bullets. The bullet proof jackets they wear seem bulky and heavy. I was shown the basic stuff they carried: 4 packs of extra bullets, walkie talkie and a flashlight.
Under Thai constitution, all Thai males are required to register when they reach 18 years old but are not liable for compulsory service until they reach twenty-one. At 21 those who have not undergone reserve training are subject to a draft. Volunteers are subject to six to eighteen months service depending on their education while those chosen at random are subject to twenty-four months full-time service. Students are allowed deferments until they have graduated.
Tu, 23, (middle in the above picture) was chosen by conscription and had another 6 months to go. According to Tu, should he opt to reenlist, he can continue his service if permitted, on a yearly contractual basis up to 5 years. If he opts not to reenlist, he will be released and placed on unassigned reserve status for an additional twenty-three years. During this period of reserve service he is subject to recall whenever a need arises. However, he said he had no intention to continue as he prefers to work elsewhere.
Currently there are about 200 army personnel stationed in Amphur Betong, under the leadership of the Commander of the Fourth Army Area. Soldiers don’t come to Southern Thailand alone; they brought with them a lot of stories….
Some locals complain that many inductees are so ignorant. While they are stationed in Southern Thailand, they bought pork which was not properly wrapped and walked around, not considering local custom and the feeling of locals.
The soldiers also had some romantic encounters which resulted in unpleasant situations. They are tall and handsome and attracted local girl students… Some of them also being taken care of by the affordable and lonely women, which may be a lot older than them…