Military Service - A Year Later

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29 of May, 2014, 0600 (290600May2014). Loud whistle from the hallway: “ÄÄÄRATUS!” (rouse yourselves). My room (~13 men) gets out of beds and puts on not their usual military uniforms but jeans, T-shirts and other elements of civilian clothing. This is it: today is our last day in the force.

We hand over the last of our gear and clear out the closets and beds. The rooms, hallways and the bathrooms are cleaned and we wait… Most sit on their beds or stools, their gym and/or backpacks with personal items packed and ready to go.

Finally, the order comes to form up in front of the barracks - the same place we started our service eleven months ago. Like then, we’re in civilian clothes, but there’s a huge difference: now we stand in a proper military fashion with a year of training behind us.

The officers speak for a while. And then, then at last:

“Rühm, VALVEL! Seersant Pärnpuu, viige üksus reservi ära!” (“ATTENTION! Sergeant Pärnpuu, take the unit to the reserve!”)

The officers send us to the front gate. There is laughter and joy, relief and in some cases, nostalgia.

A lovely reunion

Many relatives and girlfriends wait in front of the gate and the men are not shy to greet them. I don’t linger, say my goodbyes and walk away to start living my life.

One of my closest friends is in town for the night. We go out to celebrate, not to a club or a wild party, but to a quiet bar to enjoy a glass of wine. Later, I discover she’s a fellow Whovian and we watch an episode.

I enjoy being able to be myself and do (what, when and with who) I want.

The next day I visit my family, the day after that raise a glass with a fellow serviceman/improviser/college mate Pvt Mk, whose girlfriend organized a surprise party to him.

FIIF 2014

I bought tickets to the Third Annual Finland International Improv Festival months ago. I went there alone to recover from military discipline and learn to laugh and play again. Improvisation has a wonderful, healing component, it’s the reason I fell in love with it in the first place. The festival was from 03 to 07 of June. I met new cool people, saw good theatre and laughed a lot. My extrovert brain was in overtime the whole time except for a few moments of deliberate solitude. The festival was fantastic and I returned, refreshed.

My eleven months of service are over as is the week of vacation (FIIF) I assigned to myself. Time to start living again and discover who I am.

A Job and a Place to Call Home

I started looking for software developer positions in March. I wasn’t good enough to work in my dream startup and many of the more professional Estonian coding facilities I felt attracted to (Codeborne, Elion) didn’t have open positions at the time.

In the end, it was my friend who talked me out of a poor employment decision and invited me to BigBank instead. I got through the job interview and test assignment and started working as a web developer on the third week of June. The salary was good, the office comfortable, I got to work with a team and feel challenged. All in all, a good decision and a promising future.

The compulsory military service has a big gaping hole: the service ends, but what is to become of someone without a permanent nest nearby? I had quit my job (a right decision no matter the future) and lost a place in the dorms prior to serving. My parents live 120km from Tallinn. The only viable plan was to find work as quickly as possible, find a home AND survive for the first two months on the money left on my bank account which was around 400 euros at the time. The military pays 100 - 150€ each month and even with rigorous saving (supposing you don’t smoke or party or want to buy sweets) it’s challenging.

I got through it only thanks to my friends. Whatever you do in life, value the people close to you. Choose who you hang out with, never take them for granted and be there for them when they need you - and they’ll do the same for you.

A Brief Record Of Service

My service lasted for eleven months in the Signal Battalion. I started in July 2013 and finished in May 2014.


The first two and a half months are always the SBC (Soldiers Basic Course), otherwise known as hell. Discipline is drilled on a daily bases. There’s never time to “get bored”, on principle. You run from one lesson to the next, study the basics of infantry, learn to obey orders. It’s harsh, rigorous and both physically and mentally demanding. The officers treat you like crap and you’re pushed to your breaking point - and sometimes, beyond. Get used to sweating and sleeplessness, the dark and running. It’s a miserable time especially when you’re a loner.

  • Weekend passes: 1x52h
  • Amount of fun: very little
  • Physical activity: high
  • Discomfort level: high
  • Free time: very little


After the SBC, I was assigned to the Drivers Specialty Course: learning to drive C (trucks) and CE (trucks with trailers) category machines. The SBC ended in September (I got to do all my crawling during the summer, to which I’m grateful) and now the weather started getting colder. This was ‘the golden age’. I had only two major duties: study driving (theory and practice) and do maintenance tasks in the car park. This took at most 50% of the day, the rest was ‘free time’. I read books, practiced theatre and spent time with my laptop. The officers left us to our own devices when we didn’t cause trouble - most of their focus went elsewhere. We watched the new SBC crawl and be miserable and were smug about it.

  • Weekend passes: Once every two weeks (with some exceptions)
  • Amount of fun: medium
  • Physical activity: low
  • Discomfort level: low
  • Free time: lots


The Tactics Basic Course came next, in January. We learned infantry tactics as a squad. The snow had arrived and it was Cold. We drove around in the woods, staging stakeouts and mock combat. We learned to handle communication equipment - radios, masts, servers - in preparation to the Unit Course. It wasn’t fun, but not as bad as the SBC, either. The drivers were treated a little bit better than the eight-month servicemen, which made life considerably easier.

  • Weekend passes: Once every two weeks (with some exceptions)
  • Amount of fun: medium
  • Physical activity: medium
  • Discomfort level: high
  • Free time: little


The Unit Course involved learning to work together as a team of three and in a wider perspective, as many teams of three, fulfilling the same collaborative mission. We spent the majority of time handling our IT and radio equipment, having camp after camp after camp in different forests all over Estonia. The unit course ended with the Spring Storm exercise: three weeks in the middle of nowhere.

  • Weekend passes: Three weekends out of four (with some exceptions)
  • Amount of fun: medium
  • Physical activity: medium
  • Discomfort level: medium
  • Free time: medium

I finished my service as a driver / comms specialist in a communication unit with the rank of a ‘private’.

Service In Key-Value Pairs…

  • Location: Tallinn, Estonia
  • Duration: 10 months / 47 weeks / 332 days
  • Rank: Private
  • Job Title: Driver / Communications Specialist
  • Temperature Range Experienced: -27°C - + 31°C (estimation), absolute difference: 58°C
  • Drivers Licence Obtained: B, C, CE
  • Number of Explanatory Notes Written: 1
  • Times on Duty as the ‘hallway’ officer (24h): 30+ (lost count)
  • Disciplinary Punishments: 0
  • Official Praise Or Other Rewards: 0
  • Days Spent Off Duty (sick bay, bed regime): 0
  • Number of Serious Injuries: 0
  • Number of Minor Injuries: 2
  • QRF alarms: around 8
  • SBC final hike: 50km in two days
  • Vacation days: 15
  • Best Experience: Urban Combat Training Camp
  • Worst Experience: SBC final hike
  • Number of Times I Wanted To Hit A Fellow Serviceman: 60
  • Number of Times I Actually Hit A Fellow Serviceman: 0
  • Number of Times I Lost My Temper Completely: 5
  • Max Number of continuous Push-Ups Performed: 66

How The Service Changed Me

I didn’t go to serve willingly, fearing the psychological effects of the environment. The service was tough for me, with some rare awesome exceptions where I felt proud for my country, the officers and fellow privates. Through the service, I was in near constant state of melancholy and at times, deeply depressed with two-three low-points.

I feared the depression would stay with me when I was released. Luckily, I was wrong.

The year in the army has changed me in small, but noticeable ways.

  • I walk with a more robust, military stride
  • It feels odd to be in a room while wearing a hat and on the street without a hat
  • I wear and will be wearing my dog tags. Sentimental + practical
  • I notice army cars (both green and civil) and men in uniform while moving in the city
  • I appreciate military items: quality material, very practical in design
  • I travel with more practicality, leaving behind items I don’t use, appreciating quality gear
  • I’ve acquired items such as combat boots and an army rucksack which I use regularly
  • I like to talk about the army, though it annoys my non-army friends
  • The service made me more of a patriot. I’d probably go when they call
  • Whenever I travel, I make sure to have some water and dry food with me as well as other practical items
  • I can estimate the distance I’m able to cover within a given timeframe. Walking 10k does not sound scary at all
  • I love being in the outdoors more
  • I am more conscious of time and how much of it do I need to do something

Shopping List to New Recruits

Here are the things you might find beneficial to take with you when you go to serve. Go for quality, I found it very much worth my while to buy a pair of socks for 20€. Yes, it’s 10x as expensive as “normal” socks, but a year later they’re still the best pair of socks I own.

Must Have

  • Extremely good socks and underwear. Standard-issue shorts are uncomfortable, you do not want to go to hikes with them. Good socks mean softer steps and better ventilation. Sock ideas
  • Hygiene products: shower gel, toothpaste+brush, a good razor (or three-bladed disposable ones), shaving cream, cotton swabs, cosmetic removal wet clothes (for removing camouflage), small scissors, paper tissues
  • Thin black duct tape (electrician tape) - recommended 2 small rolls
  • Lighter and / or storm matches - makes starting a fire so much faster
  • Small, powerful flashlight - It WILL get pitch-black, often. You need a good light source. The flashlight they provide you with is from year <1980. LED Lenser K2 is a really good choice for quick, powerful light in a small package. It’s small and with a long lifetime. Bonus points if the light has an optional red filter.
  • Quick energy food - for the hikes. Any kind of portable, high-energy sports food will do. Get at least 10.
  • Sweets, lots - Again, go for portability. Small candy bars (snickers) are preferable over 200g chocolates since you can consume it all at once, on the move. You’ll find that you’ve never eaten so much chocolate in your life.
  • Smartphone and a charger - You won’t get near a PC often, but maybe you still want to visit the Internet and call people. Also, GPS is of help.
  • Quality watch with alarm, stopwatch, back light - Bonus: water resistance! I used EXPEDITION® SHOCK-RESISTANT CHRONO ALARM TIMER and although the backlight failed on the first week, the watch itself is excellent.
  • Chewing gum - for quick mouth hygiene
  • A Spork - for convenient and quick lunches

Should Have

  • Black working gloves OR biker / assault gloves, thin. For hand camoflage and comfortable weapon handling. They might give you real, ‘tactical’ gloves.
  • Hand cream and lip balm, if you think you need it. Good for the winter season.
  • Weapon cleaning kit: WD-40 (or similar), toothpicks, cotton swabs, abrasive OR steel sponge
  • Leatherman or similar multi-tool
  • Sharpie, water-resistant
  • Vacuum flash - highly recommended. Really good to have during the winter or those cold nights in patrol. 330ml will fit nicely into your harness ammunition pouch for portability. Web-tex 330ml is my recommendation.
  • Cold medicine - Teas, nasal spray, throat tablets, your basic medical cocktail for common cold. The sick bay gives you elementary aid, but you might find their over-the-counter medicines less than effective.
  • Laundry net - for washing machines. It sucks to sort through others underwear to find yours.
  • Talcum powder - useful for those long walks and keeping feet dryer
  • A small, “dumb” mp3 player + headphones - Phones are frowned upon, but listening to music during a 30k stretch can be a life saver. Monotonous long, hard walking will pain you and music will offer relief. Get something that runs on AAA batteries and can handle harsher conditions.
  • A personal memento of a loved one - to remind you why the fu*k you’re doing all this
  • Warm winter underwear - something that can be concealed under the uniform during winter. Hiking stores offer thin fabrics that are with good thermal properties.

Luxury Items

  • Small mirror - camouflage, shaving, etc
  • Zip lock bags - Keeping stuff dry
  • Good headlamp (you’ll probably get one from them, but it might be crap)
  • Smartphone charging kit. I used a car charger kit I made myself. The old army trucks have cigarette lighter sockets and a suitable charger can give you +5V and a full battery in no time. All you have to do is to find a sympathetic driver. Or, you could go with solar power, though that won’t help you 50% of the time. There will be times when you’ve smuggled your phone into a week-long field camp and ran out of battery on the second day (cold saps the juice right out of it). Having a backup option for power is really nice.
  • Glow sticks of various sizes - Small sticks give you that soft, stealth glow (ex for checking the map), more powerful sticks are good for longer tasks (digging a trench). Red and white.
  • Various military accessories: carabiners, cooking, survival equipment
  • A (text)book or e-reader

Things They Provide

  • Smaller and bigger band aids
  • Batteries (AAA)
  • Work gloves
  • Garbage bags
  • Matches
  • Pens, paper
  • Anything you need if it’s justified enough

Remember: they search your things when you first arrive. Always go for minimalism: it helps to keep your closet in order and you really don’t want those extra pounds in your backpack.

Final Thoughts

I’m glad I went through the army, but I’m also glad I don’t have to go back for (hopefully) some years. The Estonian Army is not a bad place to be… It’s more of like a high-school for men only, with all the relating aspects and without the balancing power of women and escaping from other people after classes.