ABU DHABI // National Service recruits and volunteers have come away from military training with greater discipline, patience, appreciation for those serving in the Armed Forces, and life-long friends.
After months of physical and technical training at Armed Forces’ National Service centres across the country, Emirati conscripts said the time in service had had a profound effect on their physiques, attitude and outlook.
Hadi Al Badi, a National Service volunteer who during his period of service was called upon to serve in Yemen, said his views on life had changed.
“It is easy to take life for granted here, but when you see how many people are sacrificing their lives and time, you quickly appreciate what we have,” said Mr Al Badi, who is vice president of an energy company and a PhD student at UAE University.
The UAE has lost more than 100 servicemen in the ongoing conflict in Yemen participating as part of the Saudi-led coalition, an involvement that has contributed to the Armed Forces’ elevated role in society.
“Seeing guys sitting in the mountains over there and knowing they haven’t seen their family for three or four months really puts things in perspective,” said the 37-year-old, who was part of the first group of Emirati men between ages 30 and 40 to volunteer for National Service last July.
Mr Al Badi said his 15-week training taught him about surrendering to a greater cause. He learnt from challenges such as taking orders from people much younger than himself, marching in temperatures approaching 50°C and sharing cleaning duties with fellow cadets.
“Yes, in Islam, we know about surrendering to faith, but in the military you find out what fully surrendering to a leader and your country means,” Mr Al Badi said.
Similar sentiments were shared by other recruits.
“Everyone told me that my personality has changed,” said Naser Al Marzooqi, who completed his nine months of service at the end of 2015.
Mr Al Marzooqi, who was part of National Service’s third intake, said family, friends and colleagues told him that he had become more focused and organised.
“The training improved me mentally more than physically,” said the 29-year-old assistant financial manager.
Better time management, approaching tasks with more determination and a greater reliance on himself are traits Mr Al Marzooqi said he owed to National Service.
“It taught us how to be self-sufficient and take things on our own regardless of our economic situation,” he said.
Patience was another characteristic Mr Al Marzooqi developed early in his training.
“We had to train in summer, which was difficult, but it teaches you how to survive and be very patient,” he said.
Overcoming tough challenges with help from fellow recruits created strong bonds between those enlisted. Emiratis of different socio-economic classes trained, slept, ate and cleaned alongside each other.
“Even if we were all from the same country, we had different backgrounds, opinions and cultures. Our differences taught us a lot,” Mr Al Marzooqi said.
Abdulrahman Al Shamsi, who completed a year of service in January, said he served alongside cadets who had spent all their lives abroad.
“Some of them didn’t know much Arabic so we had to help them with the translation of the orders – something which brought us even closer together,” said the 30-year-old.
Mr Al Marzooqi and Mr Al Shamsi said they began considering many of their fellow recruits as family.
“In the beginning we used to go home and return to the camp in separate cars, but we quickly began packing in in one car. They are like brothers now,” Mr Al Shamsi said.
Since completing military training, Mr Al Shamsi has attended two weddings of fellow recruits, while Mr Al Marzooqi has been on vacation with some of his. Both regularly meet up with their brothers-in-arms.
But friendships and training aside, the most profound change recruits underwent, they said, was an appreciation for the sacrifices made by Emirati soldiers.