'Tour of Duty' Laudable or Laughable?

"Is an "internship” of three years necessary for the potential product to ‘‘experience army life, including serving in combat arms for three years”? Is it proposed to send such an officer/soldier directly on active combat duty?"

'Tour of Duty' Laudable or Laughable?

At the very outset it must be acknowledged that any proposal must be accorded a degree of due scrutiny before being accepted or rejected.

It appears that the focus of the “Tour of Duty” or “ToD” proposal is exclusively on reducing the cost to the exchequer – though without any consideration whatsoever to the price the Nation could have to pay in the future. Why are such schemes not being examined for the Police/NSG/SPG/Railway Police/PAC/ CRPF/BSF/Coast Guard? Why are the Defence Services being singled out for this signal honour? Certainly the “ToD’ concept, with suitable modifications, could apply to the IAS and IFS as well!

Surely ex-diplomats would be welcome in the corporate sector. While the element of economics is, without a shade of doubt, a very significant factor in almost any human activity, it is equally important to recognize and acknowledge that there could be other factors as important if not more important than the economic factor. The most important factor, and possibly the overriding one, would be to examine what effect such a scheme would have on national defence preparedness – all other factors pale into insignificance before this one.

Is an “internship” (on full pay) of three years necessary for the potential product to ‘‘experience army life, including serving in combat arms for three years”? Is it proposed to send such an officer/soldier directly to J&K/the East/field on active combat duty? A closer examination is quite in order. Of the three years “Tour of Duty”, six months would be spent on earned leave.

Personal experience indicates that it takes anything up to one year for a newly commissioned officer to inculcate significant elements of the Services culture – though in some cases it may take much longer. In the last year of this “Tour of Duty” the individual would be thinking of release and post - release rehabilitation. To expect him/her to show a significant commitment towards the Service would be rather unfair at this stage.

Thus the individual is effectively left with six months or, at the very best, one and a half years to enjoy the “glamour” of the Service (though without commitments). This does not include any period of sickness. If younger officers have acquitted themselves with exemplary dedication and courage in the Kargil conflict – then it must be recognized that they were career officers aspiring to climb many rungs of the ladder in the Service – and placed the honour of the Nation above their own well-being.

The ToD officer has just three rungs of the ladder to climb – and then hop off – or be cast off. Would such an officer enthusiastically volunteer to serve in the field, or prefer to serve in the rear, play safe, be a Staff Officer to a senior officer along with its “perks” and “glamour”, not rock the boat and bide time for the final third year to pass off peacefully? The reader is the best judge to answer the question.

If the rank at entry for the ToD officer is that of Lieutenant, what would be the rank after three years? At the very optimistic – that of a Captain. Now he/she would be released into the environment without pension or ECHS benefits to try getting into the corporate sector.

Colleagues who did not opt for this scheme would already have consolidated three years in the corporate sector and have an edge. Is the corporate sector actually panting to welcome such officers? A rather simplistic assumption on a basis that is at best questionable. The cultures of the Service and Corporate sector are different – simply because the aims are different as well.

If the shortfall of 7,680 officers is to be made good, then there are other approaches that need to be examined. Suitable jawans can be encouraged, with necessary inputs, to opt for commissioning – either Permanent, Short Service or Branch Commissioning. They are already exposed to the Service culture.

Famous personalities such as Marshal Georgy Zhukov and Vyacheslav Molotov came from very humble origins but very effectively “learned the ropes” – and survived Stalin’s tyranny to die in old age – a remarkable achievement indeed. So the position that other ranks may not have “what it takes” to be officers can be discounted.

All do not – but many certainly do. Another provocative option – reduce the NDA training to two years. Suitable graduates can be inculcated with the Service culture within that time. As a direct entry, we were exposed to arms drill within six months – whereas an NDA cadet did it after two years in the Fourth Term.

Direct entry officers held their own vis-à-vis NDA contemporaries without any difficulty whatsoever – and that too throughout the service tenure. While there is (quite understandably) a degree of emotional attachment to the three-year NDA training, there is no bar to reexamining it.

The proposal to introduce the “ToD” concept cannot be accepted or rejected without an in-depth study that would examine a wide spectrum of aspects. One approach could be to propose this as a Project to be studied at the College of Defence Management/College of Combat/National Defence College/College of Naval Warfare/ College of Air Warfare.

This would generate a wide spectrum of views. Merely looking for any consensus among veterans or by popular vote cannot be a viable solution – the stakes are very high indeed. It could be helpful to co-opt sociologists/psychologists from our Universities/DIPR as well. In the ultimate analysis the acid test is that whatever step is contemplated, national defence is paramount and cannot be compromised and/or negotiated – and not simply on economic grounds.

There has to be a balance between defence spending and national security – with the latter being an overriding factor. Wars are not video games that can be rolled back at a mouse – click. Professional armies are expected to not only fight wars, but to win them as well. Pay and pension is not a lamentable economic ‘burden’ that can be wished away – but the price to be paid for safeguarding our borders and Nation – and whatever our nation and civilization stands for.

And it is certainly worth defending to the very end of time. Throughout history, wars have been fought and won by professional armies that have been paid and pensioned handsomely. This truth must be accepted with equanimity and grace as a reality that cannot be wished away – and certainly not solely on the economic factor alone.

Guts, Grit and Glory | Army Deserves the Best

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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