Looking Beyond Relegations: Responses by Veterans and Serving Officers

Responses by serving officers, and veterans on Journalist Aritra Banerjee's story, 'Looking Beyond Relegations' calling for the need to incorporate mandatory physical tests at the SSBs.

Looking Beyond Relegations: Responses by Veterans and Serving Officers

Aritra Banerjee’s story on the need for mandatory Physical Efficiency Tests (PET) at the Services Selection Board (SSB), with views and opinions by former Commandants (including former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash), Training Staff, SSB assessors and President have received overwhelming positive responses in favor of incorporation of, mandatory tests at our SSBs.

A few responses from experienced professionals in the field are given below as ample proof and justification for the 25-years-old proposal relentlessly pursued by our military training academies, especially NDA, IMA, and OTA.

Col R K Sinha, ex AAD, ex Dy President SSB

Sick and physically weak cannot be good military leaders. There must be a very fine balance of, 'Brain & Brawn', so as to be able to carry military duties. Therefore, the selection of would-be officers in the Armed forces has also to be looking into both these aspects.

My two decades of experience says that we are laying more emphasis on the intellectual part. My 5 yrs of association with Selection Centre (East)and also 15 yrs of experience in coaching the candidates strongly makes me believe that, if the fellow is a bit weak in physicals, the Academies will train him/her to be strong. In the bargain, we are losing out on those, who cannot speak convent English.

The Reasons, Why this is Happening are:

(a) The interviewer can only hear and the psychologist can only read what the candidate is speaking or writing respectively. The only person, who can judge the physical part of the candidate, is the GTO.

The GTO can be sidelined in the selection process, because if two say yes, the third has little or no say unless he vetoes him. The GTO also feels that the candidate is only physically weak & the Academy will take care of it.

(b) There is no tool with the GTO to actually test the strength and stamina of the candidate. He can generally test the physical courage and agility of the candidate, during individual tasks.

(c) The bias of Interviewer & Psychologist: We are enamored with the Academic Excellence of the candidates. The 90% score, with good English, scores over 65% of marks, even though he may have represented the school in a couple of games. But then, when this 90%  type of people enter NDA, IMA, or OTA, they find it difficult with the physical standards of the Academies.

This is because, when they had reached class IX, they were told that sports are not going to get them a seat in a good engineering or a medical college. Even cracking the NDA math’s paper, needs a very high standard of mathematics. Therefore, to get through Armed forces written & SSB, you got to be a high academic achiever.

Many of these high achievers, never entered a football or a hockey ground, leave aside a boxing ring, or ran x - country race (barring the military schoolboys). Overall, the SSB pays very little attention to the physical standards, because of, STRUCTURAL FAULT.

Suggested Remedy

(a) Let 1.6 Km running, 10 pull-ups & 15 pushups (or, whatever the Academy Board recommends), be part of 1st screening. Those who fail should be sent back.

(b) The balance should undergo a group discussion on a very general topic to test their power of expression, General Awareness, Cooperation, Adaptability, and Initiative & Confidence. The group in no case should be larger than 10 to 12 and min 10 min be given to each group.

(c)   Both the activities could end by 11:45 on the screening day and the second screening would leave us with limited number of candidates, to be put through for the rest of 3.5 days.

What will we Achieve by Implementing this?

(a) We will have physically fit boys and girls going for the second screening.

(b) The second screening will give a candidate adequate time to express. The present screening test PPDT is an only intellectual test of the capability to write a good story and to get into a group discussion. This being the only screening, the time is also being spent on those who are low on fitness.

(c) The assessors will now have a smaller lot to assess their caliber for the balance of 3.5 days.

Drawing from Two Decades of Experience

I have been associated with SSB selection process since 1999 when I got posted as the Deputy President of 19 SSB. I also had the great privilege of being the  Senior instructor twice, at AEC centre Panchmarhi and once for Army Air Defence looking after the Army jawans going for ACC entry. For the past 12 yrs, I am running a successful SSB Coaching Academy at Pune.

In all these years I have realised that there has been a perceptible decline in the physical fitness in both the genders. They know that in the entire 5 days of SSB, there is only one test of 3 minutes, where they would be subjected to an individual obstacle test.

The most amazing part that I found was that whether you did 7 obstacles or 14 obstacles (one is permitted to repeat obstacles, within the specified period), out of 10, it didn't have a material difference.

Not that one is advocating that physical fitness should be the main criteria of selection of an officer; nevertheless, men do not accept a physically weak commander as their leader. It has entered the head of most of the commanders that it is the machine that counts and not the man behind the machine.

Serving YO, Inf, Dec 19 IMA Commission

''After reading the news story I feel that what the author is suggesting is very true and not only do the tests require an overhaul at selection level but I feel they require an overall revision of physical tests which are conducted even post commissioning .

The current set of tests concentrates more on strength analysis .Keeping in mind the unforgiving terrain conditions in which our military serves the tests should focus on endurance capabilities of an individual

I agree with the suggestion of Brig LC Patnaik ,wherein he says that tests for TES/NDA entries can be moderated as training period is longer "

Serving Capt, Engrs

“Quoting from my experience, after clearing my  SSB, I faced a lot of problems in the initial period  at the academy as  I had  never, ever done even  a single 'sit up'. After joining the academy and before commissioning  I was required  to do 40 sit ups. Although this  is a very small example, the overall  tough and hard  training schedule  teaches and trains  you to meet all the qualifying physical standards and more  before are commissioned.

But, if we are already made aware and sensitized to these tests, we will surely start preparing and conditioning ourselves  for them not only before joining the academies but even before the SSBs. This will surely result in having less physical problems during our  initial  tough and trying period and result in our smoother and faster adjustment to the academy  training routine .

Also, the injuries presently being sustained  during training due to above reasons will reduce drastically if physical tests are introduced at SSBs as candidates will prepare themselves physically and will have some basic level of fitness resulting in enhanced level of fitness during training and also reduced wastage rate "

Maj Gen CD Sawant, ex GOC Inf Div, Comdt MLIRC

The news story is well researched and commented upon. I strongly feel that SSBs should also conduct same tests that are meant for screening of Army recruits. The officers are required to command and lead  the men, hence it is perfectly justifiable that the officer candidates should also undergo the same/similar  tests.

I do not recommend 2 mile run as civilians are not used to it. The existing PPT with slightly lower standards should be adequate. It is time that CDS thumps the table in MOD and ensures that DIPR/DRDO accept the recommendations of all Training Establishments.

Col CM Chavan, ex AAD

The recent relegation of 13 lady cadets at OTA has stirred up a hornet’s nest related to physical fitness. It has been a contemptuous issue for quite long that no physical fitness levels are tested during SSB (other than obstacle course), resulting in cadets sustaining injuries and not able to cope up with the physical standards at the academies. It is more surprising that while recruiting jawans, there is a physical fitness test but not for officers.

As has been brought out in the article that DIPR had conducted a survey of ten NDA courses (serial 96 to 106) which had an overall wastage rate of 18 percent despite it being an exclusively; a basic training institute.

The reasons are non-structured and non-scientific training under the garb of squadron esprit-de-corps and sport competitions. However, there is no denying the fact that a physically fit cadet can better endure the training at the academies.

The DIPR despite having conducted the survey still does not recommend the physical fitness test at SSB and has ignored the recommendations by the Army. Despite all three academies recommending for physical fitness test at SSB the DG Recruiting, AG and DIPR have maintained status quo.

As has been brought out the candidates coming from feeder institutes like Sainik Schools, RIMC or any such institutes fare much better. I have been coaching candidates for SSB with Col R K Sinha ( Retd)and have had similar experience. Most of the candidates are very low on physical levels of standard and we do our best to guide them to come up to the expected levels of physical standards.

We advocate that they should slowly build stamina to run 5 km in at least 27 to 28 minutes and should be able to do ten pull ups and chin ups. We also stress on building up mental stamina (by developing never to give up attitude) coupled with physical stamina as well. Compulsory NCC training in schools and colleges would do wonders to the candidates.

It is therefore essential that there should be physical fitness test conducted at SSB on the first day, as the physical screening test at academies on joining is a farce as no one is sent back. The academies on their part should review their training standards and switch over to 70:30 ratio of academics to physical training.

The physical training should be more scientifically designed and should be gradual. The minimum expected standards of physical fitness for both men and women should be intimated to all candidates aspiring for SSB so that they are physically fit. This will help in overcoming the relegations and wastage rate in academies.

Cdr Ravindra Pathak, ex Sqn Cdr NDA

It is my view that basic physical standards as tested at SSB are inadequate and need a more rigorous testing in line with the recruitment process of jawans. Also, these standards need to be achieved before any testing commences at the SSB so that time is saved in not doing psychological testing of physically unfit candidates. There is also a need to test the ability to with stand pressure at SSB level itself.

If this is done a lot of relegations and withdrawals at NDA due physical inability to achieve standards and as a result of collateral damage due to physical unfitness due injuries can be avoided.

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