Courtesy of Riggs Abuloc.

From the months of September to April, many students at U of T remain within the vast social, academic,  and professional network of this university and the Greater Toronto Area. Across all three campuses, U of T students are constantly  undertaking remarkable  experiences. Perhaps, though, the full potential of our community’s zest for life and sense of exploration  is most evident  in the four months between the  end of winter term and the beginning of fall. This summer series  covers but some of  the adventures  and  challenges of U of T’s bold and  ambitious globetrotters.

Chapter three: “It’s what you make of it”

Regor Abuloc, or “Riggs,” just got back from a two-week jaunt through Europe. He visited seven countries, took a cruise around the Baltic, and sampled all the sights, cuisines, and alcohols that he could manage.

This enviable vacation is just the tip of the iceberg in this second year University of Toronto Mississauga math student’s summer story. Based on what he told me, I hope his Europe trip was refreshing because he won’t be getting much rest or relaxation on his next excursion.

From June 14 until the end of the summer, Riggs will be spending his days at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, north of Quebec City. He will be there to complete basic training, the prerequisite for him to pursue a career in the Royal Canadian Navy.

“I’ve always wanted to serve…there is something noble about serving,” Riggs says.

“I guess you can still get that without being in the military,” he adds, but to Riggs, those in the service possess something unique, a “composure” that belongs only to them. “They just [have] something else,” he tells me. This elusive quality has enticed Riggs for a long time.

“I always had this vision in my head where I was going to join, but initially I was going to join the Army, not the Navy,” he says. He thought about it a lot in high school, without ever really looking into it.

In his first year of university, the idea occupied his mind even more. “I was doing not-too-well in my classes and I was thinking of alternative roads if [university] didn’t work out,” he says. While attending a UTM job fair, Riggs met a navy recruiter. “I was just like ‘Holy crap! I was just thinking about this.’ And then, maybe it’s my calling, right?”

Riggs won’t be leaving university. He has signed up as a reservist, which allows him to attend school during the year (and even reserve a partial reimbursement on his tuition) while giving his summers to the Canadian Forces.

His eventual trade has already been picked out: naval combat information operator. “You know you see in the movies where it is like ‘boop, boop’” he says, swinging his finger in a circle to mimick a radar display. “…[Basically]…we interpret all the little ‘boops,’ and then we pass it on to our chain of command.”

But before he can start learning the specifics of his trade, Riggs must go through the standard program that all new members of the armed forces must complete: basic training.

Just reading the first line of the Canadian Forces own description of the daily routine can be a bit intimidating: “Your days start at 5:00 a.m. and end at 11:00 p.m,” it says. There are also strenuous physical demands — in the 20-metre sandbag drag exercise, participants carry one 20-kilogram sandbag across the aforementioned distance, and then pull a minimum of four other sandbags across the floor. To pass this test you have to do it without stopping.

Riggs is not intimidated by the training to come. In fact, he’s spoken with fellow UTM students who’ve already gone through basic training, so he has a good idea of what to expect.

“You’re waking up early in the morning, and you’ve barely had any sleep at all,” he says, and then repeats for emphasis, “At all.”

Despite the sleep deprivation, Riggs tells me that recruits are expected to be fully attentive at all times. There are classes and lessons to complete. When trainees get a chance to eat, they had better do so quickly, because what isn’t finished in time stays that way.

And, Riggs says, don’t expect the instructors to go lightly on you. “They’re going to talk a lot of shit to you,” Riggs explains, “they’re going to make it so everything is your fault even though it was their fault, but you just say: ‘yes.’ Like, you just take it in.”

“Apparently it’s two things,” he says, summing up what others have told him, “the worst experience of your life and the best experience of your life.”

It could also be the last experience of his military career. If Riggs is not able to complete his basic training, to get through what he calls the “weeding out” of those unfit to serve, then come September he is going to need a new career plan.

I asked Riggs if he was beginning to feel pressured about the experience. “No. I know it’ll work out,” he says. “It’s like anything, it’s what you make of it.”

At first, Riggs’ mother did not want him to join the forces. “She kind of came around to the realisation that it is my decision to make, but she just wants me to not die. Apparently joining the military means you’re going to die, so… ” he says, trailing off in light-hearted laughter.

And yet, committing to military service can mean giving your life. The government lists the casualties from Afghanistan as 158 service men and women, with 2100 more injured and wounded in action.

But this was after over a decade of deployment in Canada’s bloodiest conflict since the 1950s, out of an armed force numbering in the tens of thousands. Furthermore, reservists are still given the choice whether to serve on such missions. The odds are in Riggs’ mother’s favour.

Still, as Riggs sits opposite me so calm and collected in contemplation of his service, I can’t help but say to him, “You might have to go to war.”

“Yes,” he replies, “but I would be prepared for that.

Correction: Abuloc will be a naval combat information operator, not a naval combat information officer.

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