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An ( Apparent) military coup in Sri Lanka! – Part Two

“A goodwill visit is a preplanned visit, and Men-of-War during peace time do not just sail in. There is no needing to maintain secrecy in this age of Internet and Google Earth. Everything that is needed to track can be/is/will be tracked.”

Link to Part One

Written By Day

(November 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Infighting or Internecine Warfare, Jealousy, or Personal Glory: It did not take a couple of weeks after silencing the guns with final volleys of tank and MLRS (Multi barrel) fire across the bow of Farah-III off the Mulaitive coast the infighting and frantic scramble for personal glory, jealousy at each other to appear in public domain. This manifested in an ugly, vulgar and pathetic manner in the interviews given to print media to include tabloids, TV and radio. Many of the braggadocios attempted to burnish their war hero image or credentials really well on ‘glossy’ at the expense of unsung heroes and national security. The Human Rights organizations, anti-Sri Lanka persons or movements, western governments etc selectively picked up snippets or excerpts detrimental or inimical to Sri Lanka to have been included in their negative reports being prepared against Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has already or is going to pay a heavy price with travel and trade embargoes imposed against, cancellations of trade agreements, or denial of foreign military training and equipment etc by foreign governments. This infighting takes many forms and is as follows.

Cliques and factions based on the Royal mania or Ananda mania (like Anglo mania) and Homeboys; the officers from one college think that they are better or superior than ones from another college. They fail to realize that in combat a bullet will not discriminate a Royalist, an Anandian, or a Mahindian. Only things that save a soldier’s life in combat is his military skills, knowledge, tactics, techniques, physical fitness, and survival skills and the strength of his moral fiber. I detested this ‘superior college’ thing so much. Though I was not a city slicker I was lucky enough to attend one of these ‘elite’ colleges. One day it was enough was enough for me. I stood up to an officer (now a very senior officer) when he brought up his alma mater while we were having an evening drink. I had to tell him in his face and in front of everybody present that his parents luckily realized the mistake they made by sending him to ‘R’ College, and decided to send his brother to ‘A’ College where his brother went on to become a ‘A’ College’s Head Prefect and Cadetting Sergeant, and to be very successful in civilian sector! He never expected that sort of logic! For that matter there is good, bad, and the ugly that have joined the Sri Lanka Security Forces, STF and Police from any school in the island. The ‘College Supremacy’ has no bearing, relevance or recognition beyond Sri Lankan shores. Believe it or not, only way you will be successful in a foreign country is on your merit or performing by excellence! The same difference in treatment is evident in the military depending on whether one is a city slicker or from a backward area.

Cliques and Factions Based on Cadet Entry, KDA Entry, Short Service Entry, or Direct Entry; Short service entry system did not last that long. Their training was short and enlistment for five years. It was a gap measure adopted to fill officer vacancies due to high attrition rate as a result of deaths and casualties in the military operations. After the initial five years they were given the option to leave or continue with a regular unit. Before Sir John Kotalawela Defence Academy (then KDA, now KDU) produced officers for tri-services there were no perceived threats or misplaced or genuine fears that Direct Entry Officers would take over and get all important and plum posts or slots in a particular service. There were only a few direct entry commissions a year at that time, mostly in medical and dental branches.

Those officers never pushed anyone out of their comfort zones or laid back or idyllic life styles. The direct entry officers also had the option to separate or continue after five years of initial service. With the KDA producing officers annually it became a threat to cadet entry officers’ future promotions, overseas courses, or flying slots in General Duties branch. A vast majority of cadet entry officers believe and act as if serving in the military is an esoteric Cadet Entry affair. This is clearly and without doubt manifest in unfair treatment, less flying slots and plum overseas courses for KDA entry officers. The statistics, if one calls for them, will bear me out. The unfair treatment range from; not saying ‘sir’ or reluctance to say ‘sir’ by a junior cadet entry officer to a senior KDA officer; the lack of alacrity or nonchalant way to carry out an order in the letter and spirit in which it is given or issued by a senior KDA entry officer to a cadet entry officer; the severity, session lengths and kinky nature of hazing (a.k.a. raging) by senior cadet entry officers on poor KDA entry officers; Subjecting KDA officers to public ridicule saying they are ‘soft’ or ‘chocolate officers’ and are only interested in his degree or university education.

Being called a ‘softie’, ‘weenie’, or ‘chocolate officer’ has some valid reasons too.

Since the toughest disciplinarian in the Sri Lanka Military’s history, the Commandant Col C.A.M.N. Silva (later Major General), left the KDA nobody has been able to fill that stickler for detail, brutally honest and upright officer’s shoes, and I doubt anyone will ever! (on a side note, if not then government manipulated the extension to a Service Commander such a manner to keep their darling, crony and favorite so that Maj Gen C.A.M.N. Silva could be forced into retirement after staying as a Major General in his rank for four years without promotion to next higher rank, Sri Lanka Army for sure would not have had the serious disciplinary issues and desertions you hear and know about in the Army today. This writer has witnessed another excellent officer, then Major V. S. M Jayawardena from the Field Engineers, and the 1st ever Under Officer from Army’s Sri Lanka trained Intake 1, sort of meditating before entering the Commandant’s office to get his thought process or train of thoughts, or talking point straight. Lt Col V.S.M. Jayawardena left the army prematurely. It was so sad see that we lost that fine, qualified, smart and athletic officer and gentleman with probity because of maltreatment). Next is the environment they are trained or exposed to with a lot of detractors such as garment girls, Majestic City, cinema halls, the Galle Face, discotheques, casinos etc. The Service Cadets tend to forget their two only obligations; training, while living in virtue, to be the best warriors to defend the nation and studying to be the academically qualified officers or tech-officers needed to develop the country. But the temptations for vices or the chances to be on the slippery slope are so much high or greater in Rathmalana. The initial training at KDA is not ‘Full Metal Jacket’ due to academic reasons, time and the facilities available. At times some of KDA entry officers have behaved as, what I call, ‘Civilians in Military Uniform’!

The other thing is fear, anxiety and uncertainty in the minds of cadet entry officers is such, in a future date if he is evaluated against a KDA officer for a Service Commander or a top slot the KDA officer has the edge since he is has a degree. So the cadet entry top brass create a non-conducive work environment very early so that quality KDA officers to include Under Officers and Best Cadets of Intakes leave the Services early. The stark and dark reality is such that no single GD branch officer from KDA from the 1st three Intakes. And the sole and only surviving one from the 4th Intake is said to have been grounded as a result of a situation in Singapore while on a mission. When it came to overseas training in US or UK a preponderance of courses always go to or are given exclusively to cadet entry officers over suitable or qualified KDA officers. These step-motherly or shabby treatments always cause bitterness and hard feelings among KDA entry officer. Most of the best, bright and smart from KDA have left the services disappointed and embittered.

Quartermaster Commission, Field Service Commissions or Upper Yardman commission; Officers commissioned under these processes or programs are disadvantaged for lack of an order of merit list or the backing from a person with authority and clout. You can imagine and visualize the treatment meted out them or their standing vis-à-vis to cadet entry officers. A derogatory way cadet entry officers identify them is ‘Once a Soldier/Sailor/Airman is always a Soldier/Sailor/Airman’. But the truth is there have been quality, able-bodied and classy Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen who rose through the ranks to commissioned officers.

Seva Vanitha Unit and Promotions, Transfers, Perks or Gravy Train: Another reason for dissatisfaction and disappointment or a segment of disgruntled officers are the power brokering and influence peddling by the wives of certain officers and some officers themselves associated with a Service’s Seva Vanitha Unit. Those all powerful wives in the Seva Vanitha Unit wittingly or unwittingly decide transfers, promotions, courses and seminars local and abroad with the information and details provided by the ‘ladies men who gladly do the ‘vanitha seva’ (serving the top brass’ wives). This sordid method of ‘Personnel Administration’ or ‘Human Resources Management’ of warriors creates a bunch of angry wives, and a group of demoralized and frustrated officers who spend an inordinate number of years serving in the forward or operation areas or onboard SLN ships. They miss their children and their birthdays and important school functions etc which are all required for a healthy and balanced growing up process of a child. The sorry story is when there is a foreign course a Defence Attaché in a Western Embassy or a High Commission, through the country coordinator, asks a Service to nominate a few capable and suitable officers for an interview and physical fitness test prior to a foreign course. Guess what, the favorites, the homeys, the cronies, the blue-eyed boys, or sycophants more often than not get the call to go for the test and interview. The capable and clever ones with merit ‘surprisingly’ are unable to be reached because they are in ‘operational areas’ or involved in ‘current’ operations! All of sudden military communications systems ‘go down’, military transport planes ‘do not ply’, military convoys ‘come to a standstill’, Navy passenger craft are docked, telephones ‘do not work’ and there is ‘no Internet’ in operational areas! Amazingly this ‘Radio Silence’ or ‘commo failure’ and transportation issues only last a few days i.e. until the Embassy/High Commission interview and test is over.

To be fair, only exception to a greater extent to this method of vetting and screening and selection and nomination has been Special Forces officers. Think of the other perks and freebies often the ‘Colombo’ or ‘Rear HQ’ officers or landlubbers get from time to time! A case in point, most of the time a Man-of -War on a goodwill visit to Sri Lanka hosts a ’Reception and Dinner’ on board or at a hotel and that Dinner and Reception is reciprocated either at SLNS Rangala or Naval HQ. Your guess is as good as mine as to the invitees. The small boat operators who patrol day in and day out the ‘cordon sanitaire’ in choppy waters , at times swallowing a lot of brine, at times getting shot at, doing their patriotic duty with constant risk to their lives and limbs are the unlucky ones. They do not get the required exposure nor learn customs and traditions interactively in a growing up or maturing process to be a knowledgeable military officer on par with or can brush shoulders with other nations’ officers.

A goodwill visit is a preplanned visit, and Men-of-War during peace time do not just sail in. There is no needing to maintain secrecy in this age of Internet and Google Earth. Everything that is needed to track can be/is/will be tracked. Why the military hierarchy cannot reward the bravery or the immense contribution of a young officer, irrespective of his service component, who killed Gangai Amaran, Shanker, or Charles, who almost single handedly destroyed LTTE craft, who unearthed a treasure trough of intelligence, weapons and equipment, who ‘convinced’ persons like Col K to be free from militancy, or who blasted the targets from air with pin-point accuracy? Why do not they do it in a fair and equitable manner? Only thing the so-called Director General Naval Operations has to do is to coordinate with the sister services to identify those deserving officers well in advance and have their leave arranged accordingly. Imagine the results if service top brass treat a hard charging officer from whatever the Service on merit, he will not have qualms or not be hesitant to take the ‘hill’ when the ‘balloon’ goes up next time! Imagine the benefits of inter-service camaraderie. Sadly if one takes a hard look at a Commander’s Album she/he will only see the same self promotion (burnishing his own image, not on ‘matte’ but on ‘glossy’!) and the same crowd on board for Reception and Dinners. That has not changed for last 30 years.
Only difference is that they have grown old, have bald heads, or their beard and hair is gray, if not dyed black! I am not sure whether they have learnt a lesson from the saga of the only surviving executive officer from an Intake, who was a frequent and obvious choice at Reception and Dinners. He fell in to the trap set by an ESL (English-As -Second –Language) teacher from UK, who frequented those types of receptions. She’s a ‘cougar’ and tricked the officer to get her in trouble, and the story was that she blackmailed him. He said bye-bye, Navy, instead of continuing to say Aye-Aye, Sir! A heck of lot of money was spent on him for his overseas and local courses. To no avail! The service lost another minority community officer and a cricketer!

To Be Continued…
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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