The team of military doctors gathered around to discuss their findings.
After some deliberation, they made their decision.
G4K4. Reserved for soldiers with serious medical conditions. No physical training of any kind is permissible. Administration duties only.
A few months before, my cardiologist assured me that due to my heart condition, I couldn’t do National Service. In all his career, none of his patients had ever been signed up. He gave me a typed, signed note in an envelope to give to the medical officers. It read:
“Gerhardus Francois Nel is not a suitable candidate for army training due to Aortic Incompetence and Mitral Stenosis.”
All new troops start their stint with 10 weeks of compulsory basic training. Having been given the medical classification of G4K4 by the army, I felt secure that the army would honour that ‘arrangement.’
From the age of 6, I was warned about my limits. Like any child, I desperately also wanted to run and play like other kids. When I got out of the hospital, my Brother gave me a newspaper clipping. It was about a friend of his from high school that also had Rheumatic Fever as a child. He defied the odds and went on to play for and captain both the rugby and cricket first teams and was elected as head boy.
He became my inspiration. If he could, I could.
For months I begged my parents to allow me to run. One day at one of our regular visits for a check-up, my Mom asked the cardiologist for advice. He looked at me said: You know you were a very sick little boy. It’s a miracle you are alive. He warned my Mom: So long as he is in control of when he can stop, he will be fine. For the rest of my school life, I carried a note to let teachers or people in authority know about my condition.
In school, I participated in sports activities, but always with the understanding that I could stop if I felt too exerted. I took part until I had to ask for a time-out and would sit out until I got my breath back. No-one in authority had ever suggested that I should continue training after I asked to stop.
I knew my limits well and was careful to always be in control.
Before the reality of the G4K4 ‘ruling’ could sink in, we were marched off to join the rest of our platoon on the parade ground. Over the next three weeks, we spent every day on the parade ground, learning to march. Every platoon had a turn to visit the quartermaster’s stores. Before your visit to the QMS, our clothing consisted of a brown overall, socks, boots, and a bush hat.
It is customary for new troops – called Roofies (Afrikaans for Scabs) – to receive a tough welcome. The corporal’s and sergeant’s main aim is for the men to learn to take orders without question.
Every day, the parade ground became their playground.
To ensure conformity and obedience, any troop making a mistake was made to run. The corporal would choose a tree or other landmark and tell you to run there and back. If the corporal felt you have taken too long, he sent you again.
On one occasion our platoon was drilled from early in the morning and into the night. It was punishment for some ‘error,’ the reason escapes me. It was past midnight when we got to bed, exhausted. As I lay listening to the rain falling on our tent, I remembered something. I rang out into the dark:
‘Hey guys, it was my birthday yesterday!’
The medical classification given to me by the army proved to be of no consequence.
For the first time, I feared losing control over my own life. For the first time, I knew my life could be taken away by someone in authority. And, for the first time, I feared those in authority.
Little did I know the weeks and months to follow were going to get even tougher.
Next week in the final Part III – Looking back.
Have an awesome weekend, stay safe!
As always, thanks for reading
1981 Original version of You’re in the Army Now by Bolland Bolland