Mental Blocks & Uniforms

"The army for the first time, has tried to finish this painful wart in the surface, by making at least one platform of visibility an equal playing field." Opines Neil John

Mental Blocks & Uniforms

I have been reading a lot of negative articles and comments by veterans who have voiced their agitation at changes being brought about in uniform. From personal barbs against the chief, which is  in bad taste, ridiculing the army commanders conference as a farce (while most of us don’t even know what happened there in the first place) and most of all trying to dissect the analogy by home grown perceptions, which a retired individual builds in the corners of his house through WhatsApp group talks, own ideologies harnessed through his exposure while sitting in that rather comfortable desk or maybe a sofa he seeks the controversy of the day. After all it makes for a good back slap and old fashioned guffaws.

The Indian army is an army that is going through a period of change. The Agniveer scheme seems to irk all veterans and somehow they have managed to bring that facet of employment and link it to change in uniform and pass a dictate that the army is going to the dogs, cause of dangerous ambitions and the tendency of senior military leadership to seek political empathy. Some even go down to whining and complaining about their times vs what’s happening now. While there are some veterans that debate a point, seek logic, vent out thoughtful advice and leave it to the military to gather the mood.

The most dangerous are the fastest finger first types. Forwarding anything and everything that is controversial. Evenings under the spell of two drinks gets even better, call a few like minded friends and thrash issues that you feel are taking the army down. Use a little slang, pick up that debatable forward from Twitter without even confirming if the handle posting the information is real. Consolidating a lie because some more of the veterans have liked a tweet and then comment on it cause the idea is that if he has then it must be the truth. Tweets range from criticising, ridiculing, propagating, there was one that asked for a court martial too. Gentlemen it’s a public platform, millions are reading it. You have lived with the army, in the army, have been party to this environment that exists, cause even if you didn’t create it, you have been in the middle of it.  You want to contribute and display your angst, there are multiple ways to reach the people who matter. The COAS has an open page for suggestions and issues. The Strategic Communications Branch is open to all. Believe me everything is read. Maybe the responses take time, after all we are a huge army. No one minds positive criticism, but then restrain from making it personal.

Back to the issue of uniformity of dress for Brigadiers. I somehow fail to understand the main logic of the argument which is being propagated that change of dress will decrease regimentation. For all who have served we understand that the Commanding Officer is the last man as a colonel that commands troops physically. That is the appointment who takes ownership and responsibility of his unit/ Battalion. After that appointment you command commanding officers and not troops, or are staff officers in HQs who promulgate orders of the hierarchy systematically, ensuring the CO has adequate tools to command well. That’s the simple logic.

After command all officers are on equal footing. There is no display of field acumen, you don’t wield rifles until absolutely necessary, as a brigade commander or a GOC of a division, you are still ensuring that the CO whoever he is and which ever arm or service is armed enough to command HIS troops.

Somewhere in the environment it was felt that there is a need to get out of the regimentation system after you pick up a senior rank. Small steps to being unbiased in making first impressions and forming ideas about people through a dress. Which is a human tendency. Haven’t we been this road before. We get to know people, but then slowly we segregate and find favour through squadron types, RIMC types, Sainik school types, Place types etc. the uniformity in dress is exactly that. When an officer stands to give a professional point, he shouldn’t ever be conscious of what and where he comes from. Because with 20 years of experience his inputs and his perceptions are valuable. When he stands in an environment of equals, he will be well received and heard without biases. A common uniform also ensures that leadership qualities and professional acumen are foremost. Because for the audience the man’s regimental background then takes a back seat, you are listening to his intellect. Remember even all military operations also are in three levels, Tactical level (sub-units, units and up to the brigades), Operational levels (divisional), Theatre levels (corps) and Strategic level (command & army). The direct prosecution of troops in battle ends at the commanding officer. That’s the real regimental level of soldiering. Having said that an officer will always remain part of his unit, battalion and regiment, nothing can change that and it shouldn’t. But regimentation sometimes leads to solidarity towards the weak and the wrong. That has to be avoided. What has the uniform got to do with it? A lot, it breaks biases and prevents those wanting to use your good offices for personal gains, while it might not change your values towards your regiment.

Just to bring in another scientific need, I would need to amplify a few facts.

Research shows that most people make a first impression of a person within 7 seconds. Experiments by Princeton researchers even suggest that people can make accurate judgments of others within 1/10 of a second. People develop first impressions of you even before you open your mouth. Research suggests that your appearance affects how trustworthy, promiscuous, and powerful people think you are. The reason why first impressions are so important is that they last well beyond that moment. This is thanks to something called the primacy effect, which means that when someone experiences something before other things in a sequence, they remember that first thing more.

"You don't get a second chance to make a first impression" says James Uleman, PhD, a psychology professor at New York University and researcher on impression management. "In spite of the congeniality of many professional gatherings, judgments are being made and impressions formed all the time." Substantial research has affirmed the importance of first impressions while exploring a variety of factors that contribute to their formation. For example, a 2009 study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that factors ranging from clothing style to posture play a role in how impressions are formed.

Quoting an extract from Makeovers Mart, “You project an image based on which people form a first impression about you. It just takes a few seconds for the first impression to get formed. This first impression then works like filter on the eyes of people and they see you through this filter always. People decide about your personality, values, success, authority and your intelligence based on this impression. It takes just about 3 to 5 seconds for this first impression to get formed. Latest research has shown that first impression lasts forever.”

I know many will argue that first impressions in the military are not based on a single meeting etc. let me also negate this understanding. In the military you have a three phase annual confidential reporting system. While the Initiating officer meets you frequently and is exposed to your work ethics and professional competence. The reviewing officer in most cases meets you only during a professional event or a social gathering. He is, as it is forming an opinion about you, on the feedback given to him about you by the IO. So in a first meeting with a handshake he decides whether he has to like you or not. Now please all of you reading this, keep a hand on your heart and say this hasn’t happened to you. If it hasn’t, then I salute you for breaking through a most amplified psychological definite syndrome. The senior reviewing officer, in most cases doesn’t even know you exist. Unless he sees you and someone whispers in his ears that you are the chosen one who needs his attention. Or unless you have been extraordinary in having a good and secure IO and a dynamic RO, who ensured you were highlighted for your good work. Therefore you see, your entire impression is going through multiple challenges and it’s this impression that dictates the numbers that you are going to be awarded.

The army for the first time, has tried to finish this painful wart in the surface, by making at least one platform of visibility an equal playing field. This step for us that are serving is welcome and at-least speaks of genuine intentions to move forward in an environment of futuristic needs. I know many will argue why not the same for combat arms, combat support arms, and services. Exactly my point, the same dress is the first step. Now no one knows whether you are a black beret, a maroon beret, a blue beret. Everyone is green - military green! not mine to justify, but I feel that they should let maroon berets be, cause that’s earned, while the others are commissioned into.

The author is a military analyst & commentator on national security issues

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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