Just read a post on Facebook that the Indian Air Force authorities are concerned about the fact that airmen in large numbers are leaving the Service after completion of their regular terms of engagement. A letter issued apparently states, among other things that: “The analysis of the data for the past five years, by Air Force Record Office (AFRO), has revealed that 45 per cent airmen proceeded on discharge after completion of initial regular engagement of 20 years without availing further extension of service.
Any professional organisation can ill afford to lose trained and experienced human resource, in such large numbers. It is essential that necessary steps need to be initiated to retain expertise, as it would have an adverse impact on the functioning of IAF.” It is also mentioned that IAF is a technology-intensive force and in order to maintain various platforms at a high state of readiness, it is imperative “to have experienced and trained manpower”.
I think it is important for our governing establishment, the military hierarchy, colleagues in uniform, the strategic fraternity and the wider community at large, to look at this phenomenon in the right perspective.
I personally came across these ramifications as a Commanding Officer almost five decades ago, when some of my finest non commissioned officers (NCOs - who had acquitted themselves with great credit on battle field and on the sports fields) came to me with requests to be released from the Service as their scope for further advancement was stymied by the terms and conditions and the rules and regulations that governed their promotion to junior commissioned officers (JCOs); which required specific educational qualifications that they were incapable of acquiring.
With a heavy heart I used to let them go without the slightest hesitation, in the knowledge that they would find satisfaction and fulfillment in whatever endeavour they chose to pursue. And almost without exception, they did well; by themselves and their families.
I came across similar instances after retirement as the Director United Service Institution of India, when many bright young Colonels (and equivalent level) who had served with me earlier, or dropped in just by virtue of the fact that they were members of the Institution, sought my advice on wishing to leave the respective Service on completion of the mandatory minimum pensionable period of 20 years.
And the crowning irony of this experience is that all these young men were among the best and the brightest; individuals who had commanded their battalions or regiments (or equivalents) with distinction (probably without being ‘yes-men’); had either done or were earmarked for the Higher Command courses. They were obviously conscious of the stiff competition for further advancement in the Service, possibly at the cost of their self-respect (which they were not prepared to compromise on).
And in some cases, because they felt having given the best years of their life to the Service, they needed to devote time to their spouses and children. Needless to say, I never had any hesitation in endorsing their decision. And it has been a matter of tremendous satisfaction that without exception these young men have done well in the fields they chose to serve when released from the Service. No surprise there; because they were individuals of proven merit, with vision, drive, determination, capacity for dedicated hard work, leadership skills, etc.
Hence my advice to my friends in the Indian Air Force hierarchy, as also to their colleagues in the other two Services, is not to bemoan the departure of these airmen. They have devoted the best years of their lives to the Nation and the Service, and in the process, more than repaid what the Government has spent on their training. They should be allowed to leave with grace and dignity. Their departure should be looked upon as a positive development in terms of opening up avenues for the advancement of their junior colleagues who would otherwise stagnate.
There is of course another remedy. Towards which many of us, while in uniform and after, have strived over the years; to no avail unfortunately. It would appropriate that the current military hierarchy, with all the trappings of ‘joint-ness’ makes a break-through.
Given the fact that individuals who wish to leave after the regulation period, are in about age group 40, with almost two more decades of useful contribution to the Nation, get hold of the various reports that are no doubt gathering dust somewhere in the bureaucratic maze, about lateral induction of Service personnel at various levels, to the para-military, central police organizations, state police, public sector undertakings, and so on, And somehow prevail on our political leadership to over-rule the bureaucratic resistance and vested interests, and implement the recommendations made therein.
Make full use of the trained, dedicated, disciplined, competent and highly motivated manpower that exists. The private sector has already recognized the value of such trained personnel and is making effective use of them.