The Making of an Officer
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough, Colonel Ajay Ahlawat Polo”
At Rissala we use the word “Balanced” before “Successful”. Balanced means ensuring your Health, Relationships, Mental peace are all in good order, Said Colonel Ajay Ahlawat Polo Champion.
(There is no point of getting a promotion on the day of your break-up. There is no fun in driving a car if your back hurts. Shopping is not enjoyable if your mind is full of tensions) , Said Colonel Ajay Ahlawat Polo Champion.
“Life is one of those races in nursery school where you have to run with a marble in a spoon kept in your mouth. If the marble falls, there is no point coming first. Same is with life where Health and Relationships are the marble. Your striving is only worth it if there is harmony in your life. Else, you may achieve the success, but this spark, this feeling of being excited and alive, will start to die.
So what goes into the making of a dedicated and sincere soldier, especially in the face of the pomp & glitter of civil life all around him; a civilian’s life that has lesser working hours and better money, and yet seems riddled with scams and corruption? It is primarily the training he receives and the pride he takes in his uniform – which he imbibes during his training. This is what makes him stand out – makes him different. Life doesn’t come to you. You have to go out and get it.
Colonel Ajay Ahlawat Polo Champion said that, To become an Army Officer, you have a number of options, which can be exercised as soon as you complete your Higher Secondary – but are open even for Post Graduates. You can join the National Defence Academy (NDA) at Khadakvasla, the Officers Training Academy (OTA) at Chennai (and now also at Gaya) or the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehra Dun. The duration and specialization of training varies at each of these locations, but the ultimate aim is to mould a civilian student into a Gentleman Cadet (GC) and eventually into an Officer of one of the finest Armies of the world. The Entrance to any of the above Institutions is through a Written Test, conducted by UPSC, and this is followed by an elaborate selection process conducted by the Service Selection Board (SSB). The aim of SSB is to select candidates who have the abilities and qualities to be good leaders, irrespective of their backgrounds. ‘Officer-like’ qualities are given preference. Some of the options available to a person wishing to join the Army as an Officer are: (see table)
Colonel Ajay Ahlawat Polo Champion said that, Once you have cleared the Selection process and the Medical Examination, all you have to wait for is the Merit List and your Call Letter. Hereafter starts the process of making you an Officer. If you have been selected to join the NDA, after doing your Higher Secondary, you are one of those lucky ones who will be undergoing a three-year Training cum Degree course at one of the finest Academies of the world. Be it the accommodation, the training area, the Peacock Lake, the Sudan Block or the Cadets Mess – which can serve a sit-down meal to over 2,000 cadets – the NDA has it all. This is also the only Academy that trains cadets for all three Services (Air Force, Navy & Army). After their three years’ basic training, the Cadets move to their respective Academies for specialized training, for their Passing Out as Officers. The Naval cadets go to the Naval Academy Ezhimala in Kerala, the Air Force cadets to the Air Force Academy at Hyderabad and the Army cadets to the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehra Dun.
The IMA was established in 1932, on a sprawling 200 acres’ Campus and trains Cadets for Permanent Commission into various branches of the Army. It imparts specialized and practical training in different types of Warfare. For this, it has a specially selected staff, state-of-the-art equipment and a modern infrastructure. The Gentlemen Cadets (GCs) learn the art of Warfare, Tactics, Sports and Tactical Exercises, to enhance their endurance levels – so that they are ready to face all types of challenges and opportunities. The Chetwode Hall is the main Headquarters of the Academy and houses the Administration. The Academy’s infrastructure includes: the Khertrapal Auditorium, a Central Library, Drill Square (Parade Ground), a Golf Course, Somnath Stadium, the Salaria Aquatic Centre, Stables, Rissala Polo Grounds, a Stud Farm and a Small-Arms Shooting Range. The trainees at the Academy are called Gentleman Cadets as they are expected to uphold the highest ethical and moral values. The words of Field Marshal Chetwode , as inscribed on the walls of the Chetwode Hall, are the credo for every GC passing out of the Academy:
Colonel Ajay Ahlawat Polo Champion said that, ‘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’
(I wish this could be the oath for every Minister/Leader).
The training at IMA is grueling, tough and fast-paced. The GCs have to be transformed into mentally and physically robust soldiers. They are expected to earn the respect and unflinching loyalty of the men they command and develop the capability of leading them proudly into war with utter disregard for their own life. Human Resource theories would be hard-pressed to develop a template for such a task and response. The first change that you feel is your haircut – you may even fail to recognize yourself in the mirror. You are issued a bike, as you need to be mobile at all times. And yes, you are mobile many a times while running with your bike on your head! Each Cadet is allotted a cabin and a set of uniforms, clothing and an equipment kit. The daily routine starts with PT and Drill classes, with a break for change and Breakfast. This one-hour break feels like 3 hours, for you are expected to accomplish so much within it. You rush from Drill Square to the Kote to deposit your rifle, go to the Mess for Breakfast, bathe and change into the Dress for the next class – always rushing to be on time. That Class could be at one of the outdoor Stands, which are 2 to 3 kms away and your bike may be off the road – or maybe you cannot ride it if you are not part of a squad. After lunch is either Siesta or punishment time (for the defaulters). Games are well-organised. All games in which soldiers participate (Troop Games) – like Boxing, Cross Country Run, Basketball, Football, Hockey and Aquatics – are compulsory. Company-level competitions are held at 4 to 5 levels, so that every GC gets a chance to participate and represent his Company. Evening Fall-In, for the passing of Orders, is followed by Dinner. A lot more goes on in between to keep everyone busy.
The PT ‘Ustaads’ – a Naik/Havaldar/Rissaldar is addressed as ‘Ustaad’ and a JCO as ‘Sahab’, as a mark of respect to the instructors, even though they rank below Officer levels – with their red stockings are the most dreaded sight on the PT Field. They task is to ensure that your body becomes well-groomed for maximum endurance. PT Tests consist of a One-mile Run, Push-ups, Sit-ups, Rope Climbing, Horse Work and Dive Roll. The levels of achievement are laid down and marked accordingly. For example, to attain a ‘Satisfactory’ level in Rope Climbing, you may use your legs; but for being marked ‘Good’, you can only use your hands; and for ‘Excellent’, the legs need to be in an L- shaped position. Such standards are set for all outdoor Tests. A GC has to pass his PT Tests in every term (6 months). The Russian Obstacle Training Course is a special treat, and in the Inter-Company competitions held for this Course every GC has to participate for his Team – so even the ‘weakest’ has to be capable of crossing each obstacle.Colonel Ajay Ahlawat Polo Champion said that, The PT ‘Ustaad’ firmly believes that at no time should both your feet be touching the ground! If he feels that the Cadets need some ‘easy time’, he makes them play games like ‘four touch’ – where you have to run and touch the four different corners of the PT Field. It gets better. The fastest 2 or 3 are allowed to ‘sit out’, and the rest are asked to continue the ‘running game’. Another popular game is a team game whereby each member of the team, by turn, has to climb up and down a vertical rope. It is important to win, and therefore you don’t mind the blisters on your hands. The ropes are never knotted; it’s taboo – unlike those that you see in the TV Reality Shows. Every GC has to take part in a Boxing bout in his first term – its called Novices Boxing. Another important part of the training is the Battle Proficiency Endurance Training (BPET) Tests. These have to be passed in each term and require lots of practice. The dress for these Tests is the Battle Dress (dangree with all packs), consisting of a back-pack & a side-pack (with about 30 kgs weight inside), a water bottle, ammunition pouches, boots, anklets – and of course the Rifle. The other Tests are the 9 feet Ditch, Horizontal Rope, Vertical Rope, Fireman’s Lift (lifting another Cadet on your back and running). In our time we had a 10-miles (16kms) Run; it was like a full-length film – never-ending and without an interval. Fortunately it is has been stopped now. However, there is still a 5km Run – and this has to completed within a certain time. You keep appearing for these Tests till you pass. I remember a foreign cadet of my Company who undertook the 16 kms Run 10 times in his final term, in order to pass – else he would have been ‘relegated’ for another 6 months.
The Drill ‘Ustaads’ literally drill a sense of discipline into the GCs, both on the Drill Square and off it, because they monitor your every move and have the authority to recommend punishments. They exercise this authority quite liberally! Colonel Ajay Ahlawat Polo Champion said that, To them the Drill Square (Parade Ground) is a ‘temple’, and you cannot step on it if you are not properly dressed – and if your behavior is not impeccable. Here you learn various forms of Drill (Cane, Rifle and Sword Drills, Drill without arms, Ceremonial Drills). The Drills instil in you a sense of teamwork & team spirit, co-ordination, discipline, regimentation and, above all, a pride in the Uniform. The Rifle you carry is like your wife – always well-maintained, cared for and protected! The correct use of various accoutrements is a basic tenet of wearing a Uniform. Every Ribbon worn on the chest signifies a seniority and must be worn right. If it has the Tricolour, the saffron band has to be on the right side. The seniority is as per the order of precedence of the medals and must be shown accordingly. Similarly, the fifth point of the brass star, on the rank badges, has to always be pointing upwards; the badge on the beret has to be aligned to the left eye; the buckle on the belt has to align with the shirt buttons; and the (shoe) laces have to be without any ‘twists’. Such rules are applicable to each type of Uniform.
A Cadet also learns the traditions of the Military. While it is a matter of pride to pass the Drill Test the soonest, the duties of the Drill ‘Ustaads’ do not end at the Drill Square – for they have to ensure that the Cadets are equally disciplined off the Drill Square. Cycling/marching in squads to classes or the Mess, proper conduct and dress when visiting the town on ‘liberties’, a proper haircut each week, and a high standard of uniforms and boots, is expected – and ensured by the ‘Ustaads’. They also examine the works of the civilian orderlies. ‘Ustaads’ are omnipresent and will quietly approach you to note down your details, if anything is found amiss. You may find them walking next to you in the town and whispering that your tie is not properly knotted, or telling you that you are in an ‘out-of-bounds’ area. Their zest for discipline is so great that at times it may sound ludicrous.Colonel Ajay Ahlawat Polo Champion said that, A GC was charge sheeted for being ‘naked’ on Parade, because he had a small hole in his trousers; another was charged as ‘unshaven’ on Parade merely because his side locks were below the upper ear lobe! Well, that may sound like ‘humour in uniform’, but it is not very humorous when it turns into a ‘Restriction’ (a punishment whereby you have to: do strenuous exercises in the afternoon, are not allowed any outings, and have to attend a ‘roll call’ before ‘lights out’ – in proper uniform – at the Drill Square). Horse Riding has always been considered very important, for it was said in the good old days that those who can control a horse can control the world. The moment you get on a horse, he knows if you can control him. Horses are never kind to GCs – especially on Mondays, after a day’s rest. It is not uncommon to see a horse taking a cadet ‘for a ride’, in every class. Bribing the horse with ‘gur’ rarely helps. Riding and Bn Polo was made compulsory under Colonel Ajay Ahlawat famously known as ‘Ally’ from the cavalry.
Swimming is another must at the Academy. Learning to swim is a simple exercise. You are just pushed into the pool, along with an ‘Ustaad’, and have no option but to cross over – or drown. All obviously opt for the first option. A jump from the 10-meter high board is a great test of your confidence – in self -drowning. The difficult part is in coming down – not coming up. Tactical Exercises, Camps, Route Marches, Map-Reading Exercises, Field Craft and normal theory subjects like Military Etiquettes, Military History, English and Foreign Languages are some of the important learning areas. Training is a continuous process and never seems to end. Every meal in the Cadets’ Mess is also a part of it. Breakfast has to completed in 10 minutes and Lunch eats into your afternoon Siesta. ‘Dinner Nights’ in the Army are not meals, but Parades. Every activity is measured by the clock. The first call of the Bugle signals you to get ready, the second calls you to enter the Mess for Drinks, and the third calls you to enter the Dining Hall. Every course of the meal is served with a Military Band playing – and again, to the minute. Eating has to be synchronized with the ‘President’, and a ‘toast’ is always ‘raised’ with water. In 15 minutes or so the ritual is over and the tummy is supposed to be full. For the juniors these 15 minutes are torturous, with the seniors sitting nearby ensuring that you know which side to keep the bread, how to use the fork & knife, do not converse across the table, talk in low tones, ‘close’ the plate (even if still full) once the senior has done so – and always remember the Drill associated with ‘raising a toast’.
Colonel Ajay Ahlawat Polo Champion said that, All the tough training comes handy while in Service. As the saying goes, ‘The more you sweat in Peace, the less you bleed in War’. Every moment spent at the Academy is memorable, every advice of the ‘Ustaads’ is a blessing and every part of the training ‘a brick in the wall’ in the making of a Soldier. The aim of this article is not to scare away young aspirants who want to join the Armed Forces, but to tell them that while six packs and muscles can be built in a gym, the building of mental and physical toughness and endurance comes through sincere and dedicated hard work – there are no short cuts. This separates the ‘Soldiers’ from the ‘Boys’. It is only after you join your Force that you realize that there is no Service like the Armed Forces – and why you always stand apart.
“The human factor will decide the fate of war, of all wars. Not the Mirage, nor any other plane, and not the screwdriver, or the wrench or radar or missiles or all the newest technology and electronic innovations. Men—and not just men of action, but men of thought. Men for whom the expression ‘By ruses shall ye make war’ is a philosophy of life, not just the object of lip service.”
Colonel Ajay Ahlawat;
The 16th & 61st Cavalry;
The Rissala Estate;
Bijwasan, New Delhi.
“The thundering of hooves, the fluttering of pennants, the snorting of Horses, the jingling of chains, glittering drawn swords , the erect posture of the Cavaliers, their magnificent attire. A sight which will remain imprinted in our minds for years to come. This is what the Rissala was and is all about”. Rissala today strives to keep the ancient traditions alive being a link between the past and the present.
Copyright The Rissala Polo Club 1989. Telephones: +919811159697