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.”

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 2002, where we were deployed to go into battle at any moment, I walked into our office and asked for the ‘Last Will and Testament’ 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 had dutifully served me for seven years.

4 thoughts on “Love Thy Soldiers Than Thyself

  1. Nice one 🙂 to You may like to change the last line to my desktop computer which HAD served me well for….” Add the “had” 🙂 You seem to be enjoying your post services time by writing the beautiful reminences… I enjoy reading the tit bits. Keep it up! My Love to your family… God Bless

    Liked by 1 person

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