'I’m actually quite excited, to be honest. We’ve been hearing about it for so long and, now that it’s here, I’m ready.'
ABU DHABI // Thousands of young Emiratis say their farewells to family, friends and civilian life today as they embark on the first day of nine months of national military service.
Former schoolmates Ahmed Al Mansoury and Khalifa Al Marar drove together from Abu Dhabi to Seeh Al Hama military camp in Al Ain to begin their first day of boot camp.
It will be three weeks before they see their family, friends and home.
“It’s not like I’m sad or upset. Last night I just spent time with my family and got prepared for today,” said Mr Al Marar, 18, who has just finished secondary education at Al Ittihad school in Khalifa City and is looking forward to a new experience.
Mr Al Marar, along with a few thousand young Emiratis will arrive at one of five military barracks in Ajman and Al Ain this morning to begin the first three months of training.
This will be followed by another three months starting in November, when cadets will receive further training in the skills at which they have excelled. The officers in charge will take past experience, professions and areas of excellence into account for assignment.
“I’m actually quite excited, to be honest. We’ve been hearing about it for so long and, now that it’s here, I’m ready,” Mr Al Marar said.
Mr Al Mansoury, 17, was indifferent to the three-week absence from family, friends and civilian life during the initial boot camp.
“It’s like any other day, for me this is the duty we are made to serve and I am proud of it,” he said. “Also, I’m happy because of the friends I will make and to increase the bond with the friends I already have.”
After six months of military training, the young men will be deployed across the Army, Marines, Air Force, Police, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence.
Once the two schoolmates finish their nine months’ service they will go on to university but will continue to be a part of the reserve forces and can be called on each year for training, or in the case of an emergency.
However, for others this is the beginning of their lifetime careers.
“I want to be an officer and this is my start,” said Bilal Nuaimi, 18. “I will try to do my best. I want to make sure I do well so I can impress.”
A recent graduate of Hamdan bin Mohammed Secondary School in Baniyas, Mr Nuaimi plans to enrol in officer training when he finishes his nine months’ compulsory service.
Speaking at a majlis held by the Emirates Foundation in July, Staff Col Mohammed Al Mulla, of the National and Reserve Service Authority, said: “Mothers will notice the difference in their sons when they come back, and I think the general population will see a different side in our youth.”
The colonel said that even for those uninterested in a career as a solider, military training will provide Emiratis with skills such as communication and leadership, and employ about 24,000 unemployed nationals eligible for the programme.
He said national service would instil patriotism in citizens, and promote the idea of selflessness and viewing the UAE as a priority.
Ahmed El Salami, 22, a student of electrical engineering at Suffolk University, in Boston, Massachusetts, said he had volunteered for military experience before the mandatory military service programme and it changed his life.
“It was a great experience,” Mr El Salami said. “When I first entered they knew I was from a private school but they said this training will give you lessons for the rest of your life, so you’ll know you are Emirati and be proud of it.”