Stress Levels : Indian Army Officers


During a recent discussion with a Veteran Brigadier Azad Sameer of the Indian Army who was my mentor while I commanded our regiment, he was concerned about the spate of sudden deaths by heart attacks among number of middle level Indian Army officers (Majors / Lieutenant Colonels.) He attributed it to the increased stress level caused due to heavy operational commitments of the Indian Army.

Is it so?

I took my mind back to my Indian Army days – as a Second Lieutenant in 1982 to being a Commanding Officer  (Lieutenant Colonel) in 2004.  As the years rolled by, operational commitments did increase, but with it improved the availability of resources, life styles and more open interaction among officers at least at Battalion/ Regiment level.

The reasons for increased stress levels among Indian Army officers have been attributed by many to:-

  • Lack of freedom among junior officers to give free feedback about work concerns.
  • Incompetent senior officers.
  • Lack of avenues to express domestic and marital concerns.
  • Lack of support from senior level especially when situations went out of control.
  • Difficult and emotionally demanding work,
  • Uncomfortable management/leadership style of senior officers.
  • Non-recognition of efforts.
  • Complexity of performance review system – Annual Confidential Reports.
  • Lack of mutual trust and unsupportive culture, especially while one is in command of a Comp[any/ Battery/ Squadron – where the Annual Confidential Reports become critical for promotion to the rank of Colonel.

It was so when I joined in 1982 as a Second Lieutenant, but it did improve leaps and bounds as years passed by. To cite an example, when I was a Major, our General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Division passed an order that the entire Mechanical Transport of the Battalion/ Regiment to be jacked-up for a week in case of any vehicle accident.  Our neighbouring Regiment did have an accident and the Commanding Officer had to walk to the Divisional Headquarters for a dressing down by the GOC.  I always wondered as to whether that GOC knew how a Battalion/ Regiment functioned, especially its transport section.  Such Generals became a rarity as years went by and might even be extinct by now.

Another bugbear was the availability of married accommodation for officers and soldiers.  It improved tremendously over the years and Separated Family (SF) accommodation for those deployed in field areas too more than doubled. More married officers’ accommodation was available at training institutions where officers underwent various military courses.  During our young officer days, it was an anathema for any student officer to bring their spouse for a training course, but a lot had changed while I was in command at Devlali, co-located with School of Artillery.

Resources needed for executing operational tasks improved manifold with better weapon systems, equipment, vehicles, etc.  Grants and funds available at the disposal of the Commanding Officers multiplied  with each passing year, which tremendously improved operational efficiency.  There were marked improvements in the living condition of soldiers and officers in field areas, especially along the border and Line of Control.  The road communication network improved with time.  Soldiers and officers mostly travel today by air while proceeding on vacations – an unheard of luxury during my service days.

Improved communication with the advent of cellular phones have revolutionised the communication aspects of officers and soldiers.  Even the remotest posts have reliable communication systems and soldiers easily keep in touch with their family, spouse and children.  Gone are the days of the snail paced ‘Forces Letter.’

The better financial status of officers and soldiers coupled with modern banking facilities like credit/ debit cards, online banking, easy credit and advances have made life much more comfortable.  Gone are the days of ‘installments’ and being perpetually indebted to the Regimental Wet Canteen Contractor.  I remember buying Marina a Fashion Maker Sewing Machine, my first wedding anniversary gift to her on six monthly installments.

The lifestyles of today’s Indian army Officers and soldiers have gone up many a rung.  It was a rarity to find a Regimental officer other than the Commanding Officer owning a car during my young officer days.  While I commanded our Regiment, many soldiers were driving to the Regiment in their cars.

During our young officer days the common saying was “No one ever died because of work, but by the lack of it.”  It was also said that “It is better to be in a field area and carryout professional work than be in a peace station and carry out more administrative tasks.”

Taking into account the above two dictum to be true even today in the Indian Army, increased operational commitment should not result in over-stressed officers and soldiers.

Why there is increased stress among Officers and Soldiers?

Today’s military spouses – of both officers and soldiers – are better qualified with equal or greater aspirations than their spouses.  Many spouses prior to their marriage were working in managerial or high-end jobs and some had to leave their jobs to be with their spouses for a better family life. Those spouses continuing with their jobs remained separated, maintaining a long-distance relationship.

These factors causes work-family conflict which results in exhaustion, both physical and emotional.  Many a times this leads to depression, anxiety, frustration, anger and increased levels of psychological strain.  This work-family conflict adversely affects the quality of the officer’s/ soldier’s relationship with the spouse as well as the quality of time spent with children, family and friends.

Here I would again cite my personal example.  The evening the result of my promotion to the rank of Colonel was announced, Marina invited all our friends for a party at home.  Everyone trooped in and complimented me.  After everyone assembled, Marina said “This party is to celebrate my husband  not making it to a Colonel.  Now I can have my plans rolling and he can take a back seat.”  Marina emigrated to Canada and after two years the children followed and then I landed in Canada.  By then Marina was a licensed pharmacist and earning handsomely.  Thus, I became a house-husband taking care of our children and the household.  The turn of events may not be so for many Indian Army officers, especially those who do not make it in the deep selection to the rank of Colonel and then even deeper selection upwards.

Another major cause of concern for Indian Army is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  A study in Canadian Armed Forces showed that among those invalidated out or those who sought voluntary retirement due to medical disabilities, about 40 percent  were for mental health issues, about half of those were diagnosed as PTSD.  The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBCS) noted that military service meant moving often and spending time on duty far from family and was a major source of mental health risks – a standard practise for most Indian Army officers and soldiers.

Most Indian Army officers and soldiers suffer from PTSD due to the intense combat situations they face – Canadian Armed Forces hardly face any such situations. Luckily the military echelons never accepted the existence of PTSD in the Indian Army!  I had never even heard of PTSD while in service with the Indian Army until I read a paper by a US Military Doctor on the subject.  Now think of the PTSD suffered by the driver of the vehicle that met with an accident wherein the GOC jacked-up the entire Regimental fleet.  Did anyone address the PTSD suffered by that soldier driver?

Was I prepared to command the soldiers on being appointed the Commanding Officer?

I will emphatically say “NO.”  It was merely by observation of one’s Commanding Officers and analysis.  The Senior Command Course every officer underwent prior to taking over command was nothing but re-frying of what one learnt during Junior Command Course as a Major and also Staff College Course.

Our son when in Grade 12 worked at the city’s swimming pool as a swimming instructor and lifeguard.  One day he said “I teach the kids for thirty minute class and to become an instructor and lifeguard I had to undergo ten levels of swimming, three courses on leadership and swimming instructorship, first aid, Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), child psychology and obtain a life saving certificate What qualifications did you  have to parent?”

I did not have any qualifications to be a parent.  It was all by trial and error and also by the knowledge gained through reading and interactions.  Now I asked myself – “What qualifications did I have to be a Commanding Officer? Was I trained for it?  Did I have any formal qualifications like first aid, CPR or soldier psychology?”

There was a suggestion to employ more psychiatrists and psychologists to help soldiers tide over the pressure situations they face.  Where will these psychiatrists and psychologists be located? Will they be available to the officers and soldiers in the field?

It would be prudent to train the officers during Junior/ Senior Command Courses in the psychological aspects of command and HR management to be effective Company/Squadron/ Battery Commanders and Commanding Officers.

Soldiers’ Pensions and Disability


Recently the social media was abuzz with the news of Indian soldiers’ pension being cut by 50% for those seeking voluntary retirement after 20 years of service.  One suggested methodology is to follow the Canadian Armed Forces Pension scheme.  Canadian Armed Forces Pay scales are second only to the Australian.

It is a well established fact that the Armed Forces have a steep pyramidcal structure – more at the officers level – and also at the soldiers level.  The need is to have a young and large base – Lieutenants, Captains and Majors  for officers and Privates for soldiers.

Canadian Armed Forces offers 50% pension on completion of 10 years of service.  Officers who continue further are only put through command and staff courses and they rise up to command battalions/ regiments. This results in:-

  • Those wishing to retire after 10 years of service are generally about 35 years old and many even get married and raise their families on retirement.
  • The 50% pension assures them a constant income and facilitate them to embark on a new career.
  • The pyramidical structure of the Forces is considerably reduced.
  • Those wishing to serve beyond 10 years receive their pension on a sliding scale to be 100% with 20 years of service.

Among those invalidated out or those who sought voluntary retirement due to medical disabilities, about 40 per cent  were for mental health, about half of those were diagnosed as  post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Most Indian Army soldiers and officers do suffer from PTSD due to intense combat situations they face – Canadian Armed Forces hardly face any such situation. Luckily the military echelons never accepted the existence of PTSD in the Indian Army – hence no claimants for disability pension.

Canadian Veterans who qualify for disability benefits receive up to 75 per cent of the salary they were earning when they left the Forces. They are guaranteed benefits for 24 months initially, or until age 65 for those completely disabled, after which the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) kicks in.

The rise of mental health claims is often chalked up to Canada’s difficult 2002-11 combat mission in Afghanistan.  The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBCS) noted that the Afghanistan mission was  far from the only source of mental health risks. Even at home in Canada, military service means moving often and spending time on duty far from family – a standard practise for most Indian soldiers.

Common disability among Canadian soldiers  for Fiscal Year 2018–19 were:-

  • TINNITUS                              6,726
  • HEARING LOSS                   6,139
  • PTSD                                    2,440
  • ARTHROSIS OF KNEE          842
  • OSTEOARTHRITIS KNEE     781
  • DEPRESSIVE DISORDERS  721
  • LUMBAR DISC DISEASE      629
  • OSTEOARTHRITIS HIP         617
  • CERVICAL DISC DISEASE   578
  • FACET JOINT SYNDROME    50

Tinnitus is defined as the perception of a sound in one or both ears or in the head when it does not arise from a stimulus in the environment.  A single indication or complaint of tinnitus is not sufficient for diagnostic purposes. The condition must be present for at least 6 months.  Individuals who experience tinnitus have provided many different descriptions of what the tinnitus sounds like to them. Descriptions include high-pitched sound, ringing sound, whistle, squealing sound, hum, pulse-like sound, etc

There are two general types of Hearing Loss – sensorineural (sometimes called perceptive) and conductive hearing loss.  Sensorineural hearing loss is hearing loss due to a defect in the cochlea or the auditory nerve whereby nerve impulses from the cochlea to the brain are attenuated. Conductive hearing loss means the partial or complete loss of hearing due to defective sound conduction of the external auditory canal or of the middle ear. A mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive.  A hearing loss disability exists when there is a Decibel Sum Hearing Loss (DSHL) of 100 dB or greater at frequencies of 500,1000, 2000 and 3000 Hz in either ear, or 50 dB or more in both ears at 4000 Hz.

Most Indian Soldiers and Veterans will vouch that a great chunk of them are suffering from  Tinnitus or Hearing Loss and also that most soldiers under their command suffered from it – especially those from the Armoured Corps, Regiment of  Artillery, Aviation  and also Mechanised Infantry.

Will the Indian Military hierarchy ever be willing to accept the existence of Tinnitus, Hearing Loss or PTSD?

Over Structured Training in the Indian Army


While commanding the Regiment, I tasked our young officers to draft a letter in reply to a query from the higher Headquarters on deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones.)  After two days I asked them about the status of the draft and one of them said “Sir, why don’t you please write it as you write much better than all of us.”  I did not like it a wee bit, but my usual response I curtailed and I analysed the reason with them.  I explained to them:-

We all came through the Services Selection Board (SSB) where we were shown nine caricature images of which one could not make head and tail of.  We all wrote nine convincing stories.  The tenth was a blank and still we wrote a story.  We were flashed a hundred words at the rate of two words every minute and were all wrote a hundred sentences.  Had what we wrote not make sense or was not creative enough, none of us would be here.  Where did we lose all those critical thinking, analytical power and  creative thinking?”

A case study I projected to them.  It was about a section capturing two militants in a hideout by an infantry  section.  The situation was posed to ten Gentleman Cadets  (GC), ten Young Officers (YO) Course qualified officers, ten Junior Command (JC) Course qualified officers and ten Staff College qualified officers.

Ten GCs will come out with nine solutions of which eight will work.  Ten YOs will come out with seven solutions of which five  will work.  Ten JC officers  will come out with five solutions of which three  will work.  Ten Staff College qualified will come out with one solution which is sure to fail at its very first step.

It’s all because of the over structured training in the Army at various stages with the level of structuring increasing up the hierarchy.  

It all commenced from the very first document most of us as YOs in our regiments would have created – a Court of Inquiry mostly to regularise an injury suffered by a soldier while playing.  The task would be given by the Adjutant with a caveat “Refer to a previous Court of Inquiry and do the needful.”  From there commences the procedure of looking back and copying forward.

A decade ago, a friend, a Brigadier at DSSC was tasked to suggest methodology to make tactical exercises more creative.  My suggestion was based on the education here in Canada for Gifted Children who form 2% of students.  Gifted Children unusually possess advanced degree of general intellectual ability that requires differentiated learning experiences of a depth and breadth beyond those normally provided.  They are usually segregated at Grade 4 based on a written examination.

Gifted Children Programme is a  carefully designed the self-contained program to meet the needs, characteristics and interests of gifted students. Self-contained classes for gifted students offer a space where the child can relate to their intellectual peer group.

The programme is run by teachers who have additional qualification for such special education. It aims to provide:

  • Learning content more relevant to their interests and abilities than in a regular class.
  • The opportunity to work with and learn from other children with similar or higher intellectual aptitude.
  • The ability to work with like-minded peers who also have creative and complex ways of thinking.
  • The ability to relate with others who have similar interests.

It was mutually agreed that the Gifted Children situation is similar to the student officers at DSSC.  Based on the experience I gained working with both our children who were in Gifted Children programme, I suggested that for one tactical exercise let the students be given a blank map sheet with minimum inputs regarding force level, weapons, logistics etc and let the students commence by marking the International Boundary onward and create an exercise and also a solution.  Here no ‘pinks’ will come handy as every time only the map sheet is changed and there is no pre-made solution.  The instructors will have to work overtime to correct and assess each solution and one or two  among all the exercises may be conducted for the course.

The idea was presented to the DSSC Commandant who asked the Brigadier to present the same to the entire faculty.  At the end of the presentation, senior faculty members came out with a question “How will we assess the students?”

The ‘baby’  was thrown out of the window – with the bath, loofah and soap.  It appeared that the aim of all military training is to assess and not to teach.