Military & Aerospace

The Making of an Officer and a Gentleman-II
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 19 Apr , 2023

In my earlier write up, the aspect of training and molding a cadet through Academies was dwelt upon in brief. It built up further with Customs, Traditions and Culture. The shaping of an Officer and a Gentleman is only a continuous process influenced by the environment which includes Society, the Unit and the Unit’s custom and culture.

In the present piece, it is intended to touch upon further aspects of character, leadership and influence of social environment as one grows with the organisation.

Evolution Through Time

Rabindra Nath Tagore in a poetic manner touches upon the changing character of a mountain spring growing in to a river stream till it becomes a river finally ending up in an ocean. Through each phase, the pristine clarity of the waters undergoes change in colour, purity and turbulence to finally lose itself in an ocean where it loses its name, murkily fading into the ocean waters to be cleansed.

Life in the services and society in general too fits well into this description.

Young Officer to a Field Officer

On commission by the President of India, the proud Young Officer (YO) would join his Unit as a 2nd Lieutenant (2/Lt),he was addressed as Mr and placed understudy a (Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO). The YO was expected to be seen but not be ‘heard’ in the initial few years. He read the Units history, learnt the language, spent time in a village where his troops came from, passed a Unit History Test and where required a language test too.

It was only after the YO had passed the ‘Umeed war ’Cadre with his troops that, he was permitted to wear his rank! Thus, while the young officer was like putty, soft, pure and malleable, his character and conduct were molded into what was expected of an officer in that Unit.

In order to encourage him to gain confidence, he had the freedom of indulging in mischief and make mistakes without any retribution or punishment, he could thus get away with anything till he had the rank of Captain.

Captain oh my Captain

As a Captain of the world! The best and most enjoyable rank ever. One mixed with the troops, was doted upon by the elders and cared for by the ladies. Physically strong, mentally agile and loved by the troops for his adventures till he became a’ Field Officer ‘. The Commanding Officer was expected to give this young officer an opportunity to be the Adjutant and Quarter Master in the early years. Entitled a Butt Salute, and graduated to a full ‘Salami Shastra’ once he became a Field Officer, a ‘Field officer meant accountability and responsibility for his actions, he lost the immunity and protection enjoyed by a Captain. The Defense Services Regulations covers this in one of the sections. The rank of a Major made one a Field Officer and in times of old, one was given ‘Spurs’ to wear with riding boots to signify the elevation and attaining ‘Maturity’. He now commanded a Company/Squadron/Battery, responsible for their training and battle readiness, he could now be a Presiding Officer on a Board of Officers or a Court of Inquiry. With a Captain as his second in command, he was also responsible for the grooming of the Captain.

The waters of the pure mountain spring had by now travelled enough to become a stream. He had learned through experience and been taught by the system. The river raged through mountain slopes, cutting through and chartering a course for itself. He was now in competition, he could see Staff College, ACRs and further personal progress. This is when the mind and waters began to get muddied!

At mid-course, having gained recognition, like the muddied river he carried everything with him along with the flow of the current, mindless towards what came his way, little realizing that the fields had be watered, ecological balance maintained and other aquatic creatures preserved in this journey, before losing its identity on being consumed by an ocean! Just like Old soldiers fade away and never die. But, regardless of this unique journey, the environment around him, subordinates, peers and seniors watch and learn, thus his journey leaves a mark in the environment. The young minds are also watching and imbibing qualities exhibited by seniors and are quick to take a cue.

Social Impact

Through this journey, many a times the influence of society impacted the organisation and did not spare the officer cadre too!

Many changes have crept in over the years, social media, awareness of rights, access to courts and media, induction of woman cadre, Agniveer, Technology, making it necessary for all Officers of Field rank and higher to manage the environment.

The pressure on higher military leadership to deliver in an environment which is transparent, the thrust to meet Political demands, contain all aspects of Borders, Legalities, Media and the Organisational requirements which include individual aspirations and ambition. Issues like ‘Gender Equality’, Disability Pension, induction of new technology, border stand offs being some of the more prominent ones. Some of these indicate the need to set the house in order perhaps? However, change being the only constant, one needs to accept it by preparing well for it, by creating a strong system of feed back to pre-empt certain acts and prevent them from going out of hand. The future is likely to be more transparent, murky, under media glare and intervention by courts, especially with the Women Entry and Agniveer, if I may say so and this requires an attitudinal change in society too.

Today Statesmanship has been replaced by Political expediency. Leaders are replaced by Managers.

We have travelled through annals of time, many missed the fact that they would soon lose their identity and name to join the ocean called Veterans! Had they been conscious of this unavoidable fact, perhaps their focused contribution towards making the organisation better for their children and the Nation may just have resulted in measures which ‘Protected Organisational Interests from Human Weakness’? A potent feedback could be encouraged from Veteran Community the majority of whom have their children in service, this feedback certainly would be of use to address issues in house.

Bottom Line

The job today is an un-envious one at all levels, imagine the junior leadership at the Line of Control or Line of Actual Control facing a hostile enemy externally and a plethora of issues in the hinterland related to society’s responsibility towards the families, education of children, looking after the elders and so forth.

Written with malice towards none and goodwill for all the youngsters in service of the Nation today as they face the multiple challenges posed by the environment. I do hope that they enjoy the full support and honour to serve our society in recognition of their selfless sacrifices.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Pradeep Sharma

a regularly contributes defence related columns to news dailies.

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