Women at the National Defence Academy (NDA)

India’s Supreme Court on August 18, 2021, allowed women candidates to appear for NDA entrance exam scheduled on September 5, saying debarring them amounted to gender discrimination.

There has been a raging debate over the judgement among the Veterans community, with many voicing against the court ruling.  Some passed some scathing attacks on women while some came out with interesting memes and jokes.

Some questioned the physical abilities of Lady Cadets.  One theorised that the larger number of cases of stress fractures among Lady Cadets in comparison to their male counterparts was attributed to the difference in bone structure of women that the female hips are not meant to take the same stress as males because they have widened pelvis to enable child bearing.

With all these inputs, I decided to study the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), the military college of the Canadian Armed Forces and, since 1959, a degree-granting university training military officers.  Like the NDA, the RMC mission is to educate, train and develop Officer Cadets for leadership careers of effective service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army.

RMC opened its doors for the Lady Cadets in 1980.  The program introducing female cadets has worked well, mainly because the move was carefully planned, integrating both men and women. Lady Cadets are required to maintain the same exacting standards as Gentleman Cadets. They run the same obstacle course – a mandatory ordeal for which first-year recruits earn the right to wear the RMC uniform. They also compete in mixed inter-squadron sports.

2.4km Run – The Aerobic Component.   This portion consists of running 3 laps of an 800m course in the fastest time possible. 

Push-ups – The Upper Body Muscle Endurance Component.  During the test the candidates are required to perform their maximum push-up repetitions. There is no time limit and the push-up execution must comply with the Canadian Armed Forces push-up protocol

Agility Run – The Speed Component.  This test consists of sprinting 6 x 9 m by weaving around four obstacles (chairs) without touching any of them. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled. 

Sit-ups – The Mid-core Muscle Endurance Component.   This test consists of a two minute evaluation during which the candidates must perform their maximum repetitions of sit-ups according to Canadian Forces protocol. 

Standing Long Jump – The Leg Power Component.  The candidates are required to jump from both feet without hopping. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled.

RMC Physical Performance Test (RMC PPT.)  As part of the program, the students are being physically assessed two times a year. The completed evaluation is being scored out of 500 points where each item is worth a maximum of 100 points. A minimum of 250 points is required to successfully complete the RMC PPT. Five physical fitness components are evaluated through different testing items: the 2.4km Run, push-ups, agility run, sit-ups and a standing long jump.

 Male Female
 Pass100%Pass100%
Push-ups28771438
Sit-ups3510035100
Agility Run17.8 sec15.2 sec19.4 sec16.2 sec
Standing Long Jump195 cm277 cm146 cm229 cm
2.4km Run10:347:5812:129:05

Fitness for Operational Requirements of CAF Employment (FORCE) Evaluation

The FORCE Evaluation is a reflection of the CAF minimal physical employment standard related to common defence and security duties known as the Universality of Service principle, which stipulates that “CAF members are liable to perform general military duties and common defence and security duties, not just the duties of their military occupation or occupational specification.

FORCE was developed by experts who looked at more than 400 tasks performed by CAF personnel in all environments over the past 20 years. Using the data collected from CAF personnel, subject matter experts, laboratory and field measurements, the research team developed a revised fitness component of the minimum operational standard required based on the following six common tasks:

  • Escape to cover.
  • Pickets and wire carry.
  • Sandbag fortification.
  • Picking and digging.
  • Vehicle extrication.
  • Stretcher carry.

Some trades within the CAF require higher levels of fitness or operational readiness, but the minimum standards for the FORCE Evaluation are meant to reflect the baseline CAF physical employment standard that everyone must meet.

The FORCE Evaluation is designed to capture the movement patterns, energy systems, and muscle groups recruited in the performance of the Common Military Task Fitness Evaluation (CMTFE).

The FORCE evaluation comprises of three sections, which are as follows:

  • A health appraisal questionnaire where the candidates complete a health appraisal evaluation and the evaluator records vitals (heart rate and blood pressure).
  • An operational fitness evaluation. Four job related simulations are evaluated during the FORCE evaluation.
  • An exercise prescription where the evaluator provides the candidates with a program detailing the activity frequency, duration, intensity and rate of progression.

The FORCE Evaluation consists of four test components, each designed to measure different physical capabilities:

  • Sandbag Lift:   30 consecutive lifts of a 20 kg sandbag above a height of 91.5 cm, alternating between left and right sandbags separated by 1.25 m. Standard: 3 min 30 sec Intermittent
  • Loaded Shuttles:  Using the 20 m lines, complete ten shuttles (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back), alternating between a loaded shuttle with a 20 kg sandbag and an unloaded shuttle, for a total of 400 m. Standard: 5 min 21 sec 20-metre
  • Rushes:  Starting from prone, complete two shuttle sprints (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back) dropping to a prone position every 10m, for a total of 80 m. Standard: 51 sec
  • Sandbag Drag:  Carry one 20 kg sandbag and pull four on the floor over 20 m without stopping. Standard: Complete without stopping
  • If a member has not met the minimum fitness standards, a re-test can be attempted three months later.

Isn’t it high time the Indian Armed Forces take a re-look at the Physical Standards requirements for its cadets and recruits, considering women making their entry at all levels?

It may be pertinent for those in power and the Veterans to read “The Stone Frigate: The Royal Military College’s First Female Cadet Speaks Out” by Kate Armstrong, one of 32 women to first enter RMC in 1980 and graduate four years later. Her memoir captures the dominating, misogynistic world of one of Ontario’s most patriarchal institutions and her experience challenging it. 

Pongoes


On 13 January 1979 I joined the National Defence Academy, Pune India as an Army Cadet.  National Defence Academy is a Joint Services academy of Indian Armed Forces, where cadets of the three services – Army, Navy and Air Force train together.   This is to ensure jointmanship amongst the three services.

We, the Army Cadets, were often referred to as Pongoes or at times Grabbies, especially by the Naval fraternity – both officers and fellow cadets.  It often intrigued me as to from where these terms originated. In fact, I disliked it, like every other Army Cadet at the Academy.

The word Pongo is seemingly used in a somewhat derogatory sense evoking a sense of both stupidity and a bad smell, something like a ‘stinking moron’.  Although a bit derogatory, the word is often used by the Naval guys in a friendly manner when they referred to the Army guys.

It is interesting to go into the etymology of the word.

Pongo is a British slang dating from the mid nineteenth century meaning soldiers. The word itself stems from expressions used by comedians in theaters and music halls to get a cheap laugh. The two most common quotes were “where the army goes the pong goes”, or “when the wind blows the pong goes” – pong meaning stink. This quickly became pongoes meaning soldiers (plural) and pongo meaning an individual.

Another possible explanation is that the soldiers were being likened to a large, hairy, smelly ape called a pongo. The expression is still in use today although not common, confined mainly to those who saw service in World War II or in Korea or who did National Service in Britain while this was still compulsory.  (www.urbandictionary.com)

There is another explanation given in a blog post ‘Be Proud to be a Pongo’ at www.theobservationpost.com. During the Napoleonic wars, the British Army was based in Portugal from 1807-1814. The Portuguese word for bread is written pão (this could also be the origin of the Indian street bread – the Pav पाव), and pronounced pong. British soldiers coined the term pongo as there is a letter from a soldier complaining about the lack of pong. One of the distinctive differences in service between the sailors and soldiers of the time was that sailors lived on biscuit while, the army lived on bread. So a sailor meeting army soldiers and hearing them complain about the quality or quantity of pong might reasonably refer to soldiers as pong-goes – meaning bread eaters.

As per Appendix: Glossary of British military slang and expressions, an  Army soldier is referred to as Pongo meaning “Everywhere the army goes, the pong (stink) goes”; derived from the supposed inferior washing facilities in field compared to those on a navy vessel.

Pongo was also used by members of the Royal Navy or RAF.  Sailors noted the similarity of the sand-apes’ colour to the rough brown (khaki) uniform of the British Army.  They believed that a Pongo was an ape that when alarmed did not climb trees, but dug holes and hide itself on the ground reminding the onlooker of the infantrymen.  They said a pongo dug holes and filled it for no rhyme or reason.  However, the only mention of Pongo – the ape – I could find was in National Geographic website which refers to a new orangutan species, Pongo tapanuliensis, or the Tapanuli orangutanthe rarest great ape species on the planet – found in the high-altitude Sumatran forests.

The term Pongo comes from the days when soldiers were stationed on board ships to protect the Navy when sailing abroad. Usually the first to be sent ashore when the ship docked, soldiers carried out all sorts of different tasks.  One important (the most important… surely) task being setting up of a brewery. The main part of it, the still (apparatus used to distill alcoholic spirits) being called a pongo. Hence the nick-name given to the soldiers who were sent to do the job “send the pongos ashore”. The name seems to have filtered down through the years and is used today by the Navy towards members of the Army.  (www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/Pongo)

Our childhood adventure series – Enid Blyton’s Famous Five – in its fifth volume, Five Go Off in a Caravan (1946), has Pongo as a main character who is a circus chimpanzee.   In David Foster Wallace’s novel – Infinite Jest – refers to Checkpoint Pongo, a border post of the Concavity near Methuen, Massachusetts.

That is all about the poor Pongoes, but how did they get their nickname Grabbie?

It is said that the poorly fed soldiers on boarding a ship scrambled to the Galley – the ship’s kitchen – and would grab anything and everything edible

Here I would quote from The Sea Regiments published in The Navy and Army Illustrated MagazineOctober 1806, where it says ‘The Marines, in a word, are a military force maintained by the Admiralty for service in the fleet.  “What’s the good of ‘aving leather-necked grabbies aboard ship?”  said an ordinary seaman once to a private of the Royal Marines.  “To keep you flat-footed, ginger-whiskered swamp rats from eating one another!” was the prompt and unexpected reply.’

Another reference to grabbies I found was in the book The Cameronians – A Concise History by Trevor Royle.   ‘Amongst the officers of my Regiment, nice fellows as they were, only a few cared for the Army as a profession.  All were proud belonging to splendidly drilled Light Infantry Battalion – drilled according to the practice of War in the Peninsula, before the introduction of the rifled musket.  They thought themselves to be socially superior to the ordinary Regiments of the Line, which were always spoken of as grabbies.’

In the book Seven Sailors by Commander Kenneth Edwards ‘The history of British Empire is rife with examples of devotion of British sailors to their brothers in army.  These reached their zenith at Dunkirk, not only among the matelots and the grabbies, but all the way down from the Admiral and staff to the over tired infantrymen.

Matelots, a Naval slang, refers to a sailor and originates from 19th century from French, variant of matenot, from Dutch mattenoot meaning ‘bed companion’, because sailors had to share hammocks in twos.

Whatever you call a soldier, especially an Infantry Soldier, Victory is still measured on foot.