Love Thy Soldiers Than Thyself

Listening to an interview of Brigadier General Ross Coffman of the US Army on military leadership, I was fascinated by his revelation that it was his father who too served the US Army was the one who instilled in him a duty to serve the nation, and to love the men and women who fought alongside. General Coffman narrated an incident with his father.

A close relative was skimming through the pages of his father’s album and came across some photographs of his father as the Platoon Commander with Sergeant Elvis Presley.  He said “If you sell these photographs, you will earn huge money.”


(Images Courtesy US Army)

When Elvis Presley turned 18 on January 8, 1953, he fulfilled his patriotic duty and legal obligation by registering for the US Army draft.  At that time he was a rock and roll music sensation.  Though the US Army offered Presley an option to enlist in Special Services to entertain the troops, he decided to serve as a regular soldier. This earned him the respect of his fellow soldiers and countrymen.  Thus Presley became US Army Serial Number 53310761 and after his basic training was assigned to D Company of the Third Armored Division’s 1st Medium Tank Battalion.  This took him to Germany on October 1, 1958 and he served with the Regiment until March 2, 1960.  On January 20, 1960, Presley was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

What impressed young Ross the most was his dad’s reply.  “I love all the soldiers who served with me.  My love for them will never be on sale.

On assuming command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition(SATA) Regiment at our operational area in Rajasthan during June 2009, where we were deployed to go into battle at any moment, I walked into our office and asked for the ‘Last Will and Testimony’ of all soldiers.  I realised that most were incomplete or inaccurate with respect to the name of the next of kin, spouse and children. When I inspected the documents of the clerks who were responsible for their preparation, I found the same glaring errors and omissions.  Realising the gravity of the situation at the juncture when war clouds were looming, I decided to automate the personal documentation of our personnel, starting with the generation of the Last Will.

Having served throughout with a Medium Artillery Regiment, and on staff assignments, I had a very basic, broad based knowledge and exposure to the equipment and operational functioning of my new unit which was all about radars, surveillance equipment and survey. Achieving thorough proficiency in these subjects became my foremost priority. Therefore, my mornings were well spent on training with our soldiers on the equipment.  By noon it was too warm for any worthwhile learning and I used the rest of the day to familiarise with the soldiers by interviewing them at my office.  Please read https://rejinces.net/2015/12/28/firstmlname/

When I moved in to command, I had four boxes – two for my personal belongings and two housing my desktop computer, printer, scanner and various other accessories.  My personal computer was the only functional computer in our Regiment then.

I began my automation project by creating a basic database comprised of  the soldiers’ personal number, rank, name, next of kin, spouse and children. With each interview, the database expanded to include other relevant aspects.  By the time I completed the first round of interviews, I had to conduct another round as I had more data to collect.

With the assistance of three soldiers, we captured most of the required data and I programmed it to ease various documentation aspects – Part II Orders, pay & allowances, promotions, qualifications, training schedules, nominations for Insurance & Provident Fund, leave availed and printing of relevant forms and certificates concerning every aspect of documentation pertaining to soldiers.

The interviews went on to the third round and our soldiers appeared to enjoy the experience.  During one of the breaks while on a reconnaissance mission, my radio operator, Naik Ranjith, a good mimic, enacted a soldier’s expression on being summoned to the Commanding Officer’s (CO) tent for an interview.  It commenced with the discomfiture of the soldier seated on a chair in front of the CO.  Until then, soldiers always stood at attention in the CO’s office unless ordered to stand ‘at ease’.  On being seated, he was served a cup of tea and to complicate the matter further, he was offered a biscuit!  The soldier’s dilemma was,  how he could drink the tea and eat the biscuit while answering the volley of questions fired at him by his CO.  The seat in front of the CO’s table came to be named as the ‘hot seat’.

The ‘hot seat’ helped me to learn a lot about our soldiers and also to break the ice with them. Rather, it melted the ice altogether. At the end of this process, we had a robust database which could execute most documentation tasks at the click of a mouse. Our biggest achievement was that we could print all documents that were required to process the grant of  pension to soldiers who were due to retire, running into over sixty pages, accurately, without errors, with the click of a mouse.  It made the clerks redundant.


By the end of November 2002, we returned to our permanent location at Devlali as a cooperating unit of the School of Artillery.  The news about automated functioning and other welfare measures instituted in our Regiment reached the ears of Commandant, School of Artillery. Two weeks later, the Commandant directed me to be prepared to conduct Lieutenant General GS Sihota, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VM,   the Army Commander, Southern Command, during the administrative inspection of the School of Artillery.  I was tasked to conduct the General in our Regiment for thirty minutes after the briefing by the Commandant at his office.

General Sihota accompanied by the Commandant reached our Regiment and I straight away demonstrated the software and the automated office functioning.  We also discussed various welfare measures that we had initiated in our Regiment.  At the end of the discussion, the General asked me “If other Units of the Army would like to procure this software from you, how much would you expect?”

“Ten thousand rupees,”  I replied.

“Why ten thousand?”

“This software has been designed for our Regiment. I need to work to customise it for others.  I can provide it free of cost, but then, no CO would value it.  Only those COs who sincerely value the importance of documentation of their personnel will spend money to procure the software.”

The Army Commander was convinced with my reply and he gave me the go ahead.  We all left from our Regiment for lunch and the Commandant was happy that the administrative inspection of School of Artillery was concluded with the GOC-in-C’s visit to our Regiment.  About a hundred units, mostly Artillery Regiments and a few Infantry Battalions procured the software from us.

The money from the software accumulated in our Regimental Fund Account.  Our Second-in-Command, Maj Suresh approached me to say that it was my money as it was the fruit of my hard work.  I refused to accept a penny though Suresh was adamant that I take at least 25%.  I said:-

“I developed this software for our soldiers.  I love our soldiers from the bottom of my heart.  I cannot sell my love for our soldiers.  All the money we earn from this software must go to them.”

Having joined our Regiment with four boxes, I left the Regiment after a very fulfilling command tenure with two boxes, leaving behind my desktop computer which dutifully served me for seven years.

Making of a General : A Himalayan Echo by Lieutenant General Konsam Himalay Singh


Congratulations to the author for a well written book with the aim of motivating our youth – an aspect that very few military leaders have  attempted.  The journey of life of a young lad from Charangpat (Lake of the Dragonflies)- a remote hamlet in Manipur – ‘the Switzerland of India’,  to becoming a General in the Indian Army and on hanging his uniform.  His choice to return to his roots to serve  the society instead of enjoying a well-earned retirement at any place of his choosing, is well etched.  He was, in his own words, was a child who was physically weak, shy, scared of heights and the darkness.

Manipur has the highest per-capita number of officers in India’s armed forces.  Now, being the Chairman of the Manipur State Public Service Commission, I have a suggestion.  While appearing for Canadian citizenship, we were required to clear an examination which had 20% questions from Canada’s military history, mostly covering Canada’s contribution during the two World Wars.  India has a very eventful military history, especially post independence.  Through my various blogposts I have been suggesting that the Union Public Service Commission and State Public Service Commissions must have least five percent questions from Independent India’s military history.    This will enthuse the coming generation and will make them aware of the role and sacrifices of India’s Armed Forces. It is sure to make them feel proud.

All through the book, the author’s love for nature has been vividly painted, taking the reader through a visual fete. The description of the author’s grandfather ‘Even the horses kept silent when he coughed,’ kept me thinking for a while. The author’s initiative to recover plastic junk accumulated over the years of army deployment in the Siachen glacier is another example.

The impact of seeing a ten year old handle a weapon by; the need to have a dream in life – to dream big and how to pursue it; participating in family activities and chores; care  for his mother by buying her salt with all his pocket money; overcoming stage fear; moral fibre, by choosing to throw away that ‘chit’ carried by him to the examination hall; listening to the English news to enlarge his vocabulary; the importance of reading (even if not comprehended at that age;) the need to remain focused;   the power of pardon and  courage to be truthful; his adventurous train journey;  the importance of education in the development of any society; the need for hobby – great life lessons that any child will value and benefit from during his growing years.

13th Manipur Polo International 2019 underway
It was a revelation to me that the game of polo originated in Manipur.  His requesting for half a mark to make it to 60 – brought back memories of many of my class mates and also, officers during various courses, begging for a  mark or two to make a better grade.

Team spirit and camaraderie instilled in cadets at the National Defence Academy,  the lack of facilities and time to enhance individual skills; modification of curricula to incorporate leadership skill development;  have been well brought out.

The initial grooming and training  of a Young Officer in his Regiment; the need and role of a mentor; the impact of his carrying the additional load of a soldier during a gruelling professional competition; the importance of participating in adventure activities – provide an interesting peek into the development and growth of a military leader.

The need for re-orienting training and educating the soldiers in dealing with the local population – through the eyes of the author – recipient of the adverse effects of lack of empathy  by soldiers; the adverse effect of Armed Forces Special Powers Act; effect of movies to turn the youth to violence – have been well explained.

The author has given a first-hand information about the plight of the Bangladeshi Chakma refugees; peace-loving Mizos; the clashes between  Meiteis, Naga, Kuki tribes, Manipuri Muslims; religio-communal  divide and its present day implications; present cultural and socio-economic situation   – the voice of a true son of the soil.

Submitting Kanchejunga rolls out like a movie as one reads, especially the fall of the author into a crevasse, coming out of the jaws of death and the felicitation by the Prime Minister of India that followed.

The conviction of the author to stand up against an unsavoury remark against Manipuris by a General at the Defence Services Staff College and the methodology adopted to make the General retract his words shows the maturity of the author and his adeptness in dealing with ‘difficult ‘situations.

A tinge of well appreciated  subtle  humour – panic is fear at highest level of military; the golden epaulettes;   gifting of a telephone by a Pakistani soldier.

The first hand details of the attack on Point 5770, mostly unsung,  gives the reader goose bumps with each activity explained with brevity.  It showcases the leadership traits of the author.  My salute to you Sir for the respect you showed to the fallen enemy soldiers in keeping with the highest military values. Not being awarded the Battle Honour – I hope the Indian Army will make amends for the oversight even at this stage.  It needed an American author, Marcus P Acosta to bestow the honour the author’s Battalion 27 RAJPUT deserved.

The Siachen Glacier experience, the after effects on both the body and mind of the author is well expressed.  The dogs Pista and Pisti and the author pinning his commendation on Pisti, concern against  euthanasia of  aged mules shows the author’s love for all God’s creations.  His wish to command a brigade in the glacier – that too for a rupee – proves his military leadership traits.

The causes that led to the Ind-Chinese recent stand-off as viewed through the author’s eyes is worth a read.


As suggested by the author, the need for a test to assess the psychological and emotional condition of the officers prior to assuming command of units is of utmost importance. If implemented, it will prove to be extremely beneficial to the Army.  Also, the case of boots for soldiers – why every piece of the soldier’s uniform – were privately bought.  There is no worthwhile water-bottle for a soldier since 2000.  The author’s concern for the soldiers’ needs and his moral fibre  to convey it to none other than the Defence Minister in the presence of the Chief of the Army Staff shows the author’s convictions.

The author has fulfilled his childhood dream – he did not stop there – but went on to become a Lieutenant General of the  Indian Army.  He has rightfully credited his achievements to his family, his teachers, his superior and subordinate officers of the Indian Army; above all to the soldiers who served under him.

After writing this review, I felt that I missed a great deal in never getting an opportunity to meet or serve under our first General from the North-East – a true soldier and a gentleman. I sign off with a quote from this book:-

Meeting and interacting with thousands of officers and men under my command gave me more faith in the inner strength and capability of our officers to win any situation.  Only the Generals have to live up to it.

Book Review : Float My Boat by Anil Gonsalves


Statutory Warning :  Do not blame the author for gelastic syncope. 

Compliments to Captain Anil Gonsalves for an excellent biographical book.  The book begins with a well composed poem, which I wasn’t expecting in such a book, that too about our alma-mater, the National Defence Academy (NDA.)  Many pages have been written about NDA over and over and the ‘snake killed many times,  still being beaten harder.‘  Is the tail still moving??

This was a welcome change; something different. The narration, all humorously radiant with an infectious enthusiasm.  It is a collection of  hilarious, stimulating, and thoughtful set of events as they unfold.

When I read the anecdotes about life at the NDA, I relived it with a smile at the corner of my mouth though the real life experience was far too terrible.  The readers who have been through this type of training will enjoy reading  it with a smile, both in their hearts and on their face.  The author has captured all the important and landmark events in a Cadet’s life at the NDA.

The habits acquired at the NDA continue with us like the ‘never used, starched handkerchief.’  Measurements of distance and time during the reunion, I thought it was only my mind’s creation during our reunion.  Now I realise that I have company.  Returning to NDA, I too felt that I must not have grown up so quickly.

The author has effectively brought out nostalgic moments of his Naval life with a tinge of humour, beginning with the last sailing of the beautiful INS Mysore, the cadets’ training ship. Various life lessons the author has hilariously unwrapped are :-

  • Taking care of the sailors or soldiers or airmen, acceding to their request for leave even if it was fake, is sure to make any young officer feel like the Captain of the Titanic.
  • Life as a young officer was always about setting up a classic rattrap and ringing the bell, but every time the rattrap by itself and the tone of the bell had to be different.
  • The weatherman is always right on a wrong day and is the only one to keep his job or not get kicked even if he is wrong 75% of the time.
  • It’s the Commanding Officer who is responsible for every action of his ship and he is the ship.
  • Triskaidekaphobia‘ the fear of number 13 (from Greek tris (‘three’), kai (‘and’), and deka (‘ten’). Hence look intelligent, talk with technical terms, but always check one’ facts before blurting out.
  • English may not be you mother tongue – ‘working hardly’ on your language skills may not be beneficial always.
  • Beware of un-mastered Indian languages – they will land you in a soup.
  • Bathing nude at the NDA did has its advantages.
  • Bull-shit is Indian Army’s prerogative, never knew that it was Buffalo-shit in the Navy.
  • Gunners – the Naval and Army versions – are well known for their stiffness and pranks.
  • You can’t be thrice lucky – especially with a DRDO scientist – that too with a hammer.
  • You must salute the Armed Forces chopper pilots twice.
  • The hard service lesson to follow the Chetwode credo will remain etched in all Armed Forces officers’ minds even after retirement :-“The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”
  • Travel the world – you will realise how much you missed of the God’s beautiful creations and how much is left for you to see. The travelogues are excellent – I can vouch for the Canadian part of it – and provide excellent tips and a peek into places of interests.
  • The 16 hour flight from India to Toronto is as comfortable as the Taliban therapy.
  • Canadian side offers the best view of the Niagara Falls.
  • Canadians take courtesies to the extremes. They will say ‘sorry’ even if you stamp on their feet.  The magical words like ‘hi,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you’ – you have to punctuate every phrase you utter with least one of it. Racism or any racial comment or gesture is not liked – especially with young school going children around. (I have had it many a times from our children.)

A Glossary of NDA and Naval terms at the beginning or explanation of the terms would have benefited the reader.  If the reader finds difficulty in getting the meaning of those terms, always remember –It means the same as the first that came to your mind – else Google it up.

If you believe that ‘Laughter is the best Medicine,’ then this book is for you.

Buy Float My Boat Book Online at Low Prices in India | Float My Boat Reviews & Ratings – Amazon.in

Amazon.com: Float my Boat (Anil Gonsalves) (9798675829514): Gonsalves, Capt Anil Trevor: Books