The 21st Century Officer

The future history indicates that of all the professions, it will be the 21st century armed forces officer who will be far better placed than anyone else to make use of his environment.

The 21st Century Officer

When every one's way of thinking is being influenced by the ever-opening environment, would it also affect the professional officer? Or will he continue to remain isolated, wedded to his regiment, a bearer of tradition, an executor of orders and entirely governed by the DSR (Defence Services Regulations), framed by the British in the 18th and 19th centuries and to which very little has been added after independence?

Or will the end of this decade see an officer who is much less regimented, questioning, not necessarily apolitical, part bureaucrat and more erudite than his predecessors!

The answers to such speculation lie in the current and environmental forces of the future. Besides, such questions are relevant in view of a horde of controversies which rage now and then and which are continuously debated in the newspapers.

The concept of professional soldiering itself is facing flak from new patterns of education and technology which give far more opportunities to accumulate degrees and qualify for diverse vocational avenues, an information revolution, glasnost and the opening society, mounting family pressures, the plight of ex-servicemen trying to fend for themselves and the individual perception of freedom viz discipline!

We already have the example of an ex COAS speaking up against the authorities in the past, a distinct departure from traditional propriety.

Such type of reactions have made it so difficult in Europe and other advanced countries to find full time professional soldiers. The youth is hesitant to trade freedom with too many rules and regulations in peace. Selective conception with increased emphasis on part-time soldering, has therefore become the norm - a pattern which will force itself on us by the late twenties if not earlier.

A major change which can therefore be anticipated is that most of the Officers may not like to serve all tenures as professionals, and sidestep to a civil job immediately on supersession or on earning minimum pension, most likely retaining their lien on the panel of Reservists or as Territorials.

Professional core officers could face serious shortages currently being felt in the medical corps and technical arms where the doctors and qualified technicians are so eager to move on to a more remunerative job in the civil as soon as they can.

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Officer as gentleman

A sad casualty is the concept of being an officer and a gentleman. It was a professional necessity but already stands bruised and badly eroded. For this the blame can be shared by the political masters, bureaucracy and the environment itself. The officer has been left with a feeling that a gentleman is a misfit in today's society and cannot survive.

The term professional itself is facing a challenge. The chief prerequisite for its development; the isolation of the military from the civil is no longer practical. An isolated professional in any case is overtaken by his environment, a fact which a soldier discovers on becoming an ex-serviceman. As regards some of the environmental forces which will exert in shaping the new officer.

The professional officer's upbringing and conditioning are based on the norms and tenets laid down in the DSR. His elevation in service depends on scoring well in the restricted number of qualities listed in the ACR (Annual Confidential Report) form. If he scores well he gets promoted otherwise he stagnates.

The promotion system itself is being increasingly debated and termed as closed and isolated. In an open society, the individual wants to be a partner in his career development. Unfortunately, a soldier's environment is a fixed one and closed right from recruitment tests, rank structures, promotion examinations, dress regulations, parade hours, leave and sickness rules and even the length and type of moustache he can keep is laid down. And wherever there are gaps, intermittent hierarchical structures ensure that these gaps are covered with local orders. The soldier thus has to function within brackets.

In this milieu, innovation, initiative and enterprise suffer. The first wave of glasnost, clashing with an environment based on the colonial model can therefore be seen. While a military system cannot open-up too much, but the individual wants more freedom.

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Family pressures

The contribution made by a soldier's family has been underestimated and taken for granted. The non-complaining separated family at home has been his sheet-anchor and biggest asset. It has enabled him to bear long tenures in desolate, high altitude or non-congenial areas cheerfully. Some wives have spent nearly fifty percent of their married lives without their spouses and brought up children. This situation will change as separated families, themselves are not finding it easy to contend with their immediate environmental problems.

With uneasiness at home, an officer’s task will be difficult. An army of our size on the other hand just cannot find too many slots in peace stations. The Government will have little option but to curtail rotational tenures of units and officers in field areas eventually cutting these down to one year or even six months.

We can also see an increasing demand for locally recruited territorial army units. Admittedly this is an infantry problem but then the infantry forms three fourths of the Army.

Coupled with shortage of accommodation in peace stations, rules and regulations, the second wave of family pressures can be seen exerting on the officer to quit for a more stable even a less remunerative job no sooner the pressure becomes unbearable.

The Indian society has not treated its ex-servicemen sympathetically. It has not realised that an ex-serviceman falls in a conditioned category and who is trained in and for an entirely different environment. He needs psychological re-orientation to fit in a civil society which takes time.

Throughout his service, a soldier is attuned to work by a fixed time schedule. This is not so in the civil. An ex-serviceman therefore feels disheartened when his work cannot be done in time by the civil departments. Also ,many programmes announced for resettlement by the states or the central Government have remained on paper. This is therefore the third wave clashing against the psyche of a serving officer.

And unlike his predecessors in the olden days who waited for a favourable offer to turn up on retirement ,the 21st century officer will prepare himself for an alternative occupation far ahead of his release date, And just as he earns his minimum pension, we can see him shifting to a new vocation.

Opening venues

The ever expanding mass media, correspondence courses, TV, radio, self-education cassettes together with an information revolution have opened up vast opportunities. Fortunately, no one is better qualified to make use of these than  the professional officer.

With a set routine, no labour trouble, availability of practically everything on a plate, he has a lot of time at his disposal. And he would learn to make use of this to add qualifications and widen his horizons. We can already witness this phenomena where NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) are obtaining PHDs by correspondence courses.

One can see the continuous procession of evolution and so it would be in future. The cavalry officer of yesteryears rode on a horse, today he handles a sophisticated tank and in the next four to five years, he would be piloting an armoured helicopter. The officer of the thirties would look at the present generation as if they lived in the stone age, just as we are inclined to think of our predecessors in the days of the mutiny.

Such are the processes of history. The future history indicates that of all the professions, it will be the 21st century armed forces officer who will be far better placed than anyone else to make use of his environment. Due to the invisible but sure environmental forces, he would train himself for multi-roles to fit in as a bureaucrat , politician ,in business or in a vocation of his calling and probably leave service by the time he turns forty years and  earned his minimum  pension.

Maj Gen. VK Madhok is a product of the 1st Course JSW/NDA and was commissioned into the 3 GR. He was the BGS HQ Southern Command and the COS at HQ 4 Corps. He retired as the ADG (TA). He lives in Pune. The author can be reached on Email: [email protected]

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

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