25 June 2006

Trimming Down Voice Procedure

'Roger' and 'Wilco' are two words used in voice procedure (VP), which is the bizarre manner of speaking over radio communications. VP is the language of me the signaller during exercises (in NS) just as mathematics is the language of me the physicist in NUS. I believe the VP we use in the Singapore Army is modelled after NATO's, since Singapore's system is heavily influenced by the British and much of its infrastructure is derived from the colonial era.

'Roger' is the word used to acknowledge the receipt of information. Its origin can be traced back to the days when beep-beep-beeping Morse code was delivered over radio (voice could not be directly transmitted over radio then). Since using Morse code is damn bloody slow, the signallers at that time used the letter 'R' (which meant 'Received') to quickly acknowledge the receipt of a message. When telephony was possible over radio comms, the habit of using 'R' to mean 'Received' was carried over. But as all signallers know, letters spoken over radio comms are coverted to phonetic alphabets (such as 'Alpha' for 'A', 'Bravo' for 'B' and 'Charlie' for 'C') so as to avoid misinterpretations. Since the phonetic alphabet for 'R' at that time was 'Roger', it was thus used to mean 'Received', and we're now stuck with this ever since. (Of course, the phonetic alphabet for 'R' today is not 'Roger' but 'Romeo'.)

On the other hand, 'Wilco' is used to acknowledge the receipt of instructions and that appropriate actions will be taken. Usually, this is used in response to an instruction over radio comms such as "move to this location" or "halt all movement now" kind of commands, where there is a need for actions to be taken. In contrast, 'Roger' is used for messages such as "there are five enemy vehicles in the north" or "we have suffered a casualty". The word is probably a contraction of the term "will comply".

I have always wondered if there is a need for the distinction between 'Roger' and 'Wilco'. Is it possible to substitute 'Wilco' with 'Roger'? After all, many signallers, after graduating from their signaller course, will never utter 'Wilco' ever again. Most non-signallers are not even aware of the existence of such a word. Though taught in theory, it was seldom practised. In most exercises I'm involved in, I'm pretty certain I've never caught the word 'Wilco' flying over the radio waves.

I believe it is entirely possible to drop 'Wilco' and use 'Roger' in its place. When 'Roger' is used to acknowledge an instruction (in place of 'Wilco'), it is intrinsically implied that it will be carried out (just as what 'Wilco' meant). In the event the instruction is received but cannot be carried out, there will definitely be an appropriate response from the receipient, such as a clarification or a reply like "negative...". After all, what is the use of acknowledging the receipt of an instruction that cannot be carried out?

Although it should've vaporised from the minds of all NS signallers, I have heard 'Wilco' once again in my recent ICT. While I doubt I can (or is willing to) initiate a change in the entire VP system of the Singapore Army, I think at least we can stop using it within our battalion. It's kind of a redundant word that should've been eliminated long ago, but hasn't due to the immense size of the organisation.


Currytan said...

I have heard 'Wilco' once again in my recent ICT.

You are refering to me har? lol

And yes i do agree with you that 'wilco' is a redundant command over the coms which is very seldom used in excercises. I am sure some commanders dun even know this word exist.

Actually, its more of 'roger' that is the more redundant one by their meanings, since most messages requires an acknowledgement and certain actions to be taken. However, due to the widely use of the word, it's become more common than 'wilco'.

Pandemonium said...

Heh, I'm not sure who it was, but unless I'm mistakened, I heard it at least twice. I suppose it has something to do with the trainer reminding us the existence of such a word.

Anyway, I think it differs from appointments whether "Wilco" or "Roger" is more redundant. To an S2 signaller, for example, I think action is seldom taken. After all, for much of the duration of the exercise, there isn't much action to be taken for intelligence collection. I cannot be sure, of course, but I believe this is so.

Currytan said...

Whatever the case is, the fact is that 'wilco' is already being forgotten in the minds of many fellow signallers as well. And the only time we utter the word is only between fellow signallers, as its our language in army, just for the fun of it. So yes, i think more or less the word is not being use in our battalion already, ops-wise.

Btw, i think it was Jing Xi who uttered the word when bso gave us the order to return to base after the VP excercise.

Pandemonium said...

Ah well. Actually, now to think of it, when I first had the idea of writing something like this, it was more along the lines of highlighting the redundancy and unnecessity of VP (i.e. it probably needs some revision). After all, why learn it if it'll never be employed? Might as well save those brain cells for... erm... well... whatever.

But somehow, in the process of writing, the content shifted sideways into "let's abolish 'Wilco'" kind of message.

Ah whatever... I'm just venting out some random thoughts that has been lying stagnant in my brain. Better clear those out to leave space for others.