The safety, honour, and welfare of the country comes 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” , exhorts the inscription at the Chetwode hall, Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. Officers as good leaders should remember this maxim. Unfortunately, there is lack of officer men integration in this realm although very painstakingly developed by a well established process in the Army.
In units young officers are made to perform duties with the troops and are deployed together in pickets at night, every young officer who joins a unit is made to live in troop’s accommodation , he is made to perform duties of Duty Officer of the week, attend company roll calls, mount guards, attend sick parade and taste company food. Every young officer is made to undergo unit promotion cadres such as sepoys to unpaid Lance Naiks, Naik to Havildars, etc with the jawans. Every time a pre course training cadre is organized before an officer proceeds on a course, a few jawans, non commissioned and junior commissioned officers are also included in the training. They play games with the troops and lead troops in various professional and sports competitions. Officers irrespective of their religious affiliations regularly attend the weekly “Mandir Parade” in the unit with the troops.
Company training camps are yet another opportunity for better integration of officers and men. These processes make an officer practically live the early part of his military career with the troops and provide him an opportunity to exhibit his professional capabilities and leadership qualities. Above all it provides him ample opportunities to get to know the men and vice versa. If the officers have undergone this part of the grooming, there is no reason why their will be no integrationbetween officers and men in regiments.
Ranks do not confer on the officer the right to behave arrogantly. An officer loses respect in the eyes of the troops ifhe tells a deliberate lie, attempts to gain recognition, monetary and other benefits by corrupt means or when he fails to own responsibility for something where he has gone wrong. An officer who fails to stand up for truth, right and professionalism in front of his seniorsand men loses his pride and respect in the eyes of his seniors especially men and this weakens the bond of officer and men relationship.
The Commanding Officer (CO) has a number of channels available to him to get to know what is happening in theunit. Also, a CO is expected to move around the unit lines and the training area at various times to see for himself the happenings in the unit rather than being found spending his time in theoffice. Though adequate efforts are made to integrate officers and men into a fine team, every wrong doing by officers andjawans irrespective of its magnitude should be addressed and officers and men need to be counseled or punished if necessary by the appropriate authority.
In the Indian Army irrespective of the level to which an officer rises it is very important that officer respect and praise jawans for their good conduct, this will keep relationship of officer and jawans healthy.
Reasons leading to bitterness in officer and men relationships
The counter- insurgency environment may be one of the reason which leads to stress in the jawans but the main problem is back home – land disputes, tensions within the family, rising aspirations, not a very good pay and allowance, and also less supervision from some officers, all these factors have led to major stress.
Company commanders who lead units in counter-insurgency situations also believe that tensions at home make loose, faith and hope in men.
For an ordinary soldier, the smallest piece of land back home is the most precious property. Very often land gets encroached in his native village or there is a dispute over even the smallest of property. There is always tension or stress. There is also poor response from police/civil administration. His parents feel helpless, therefore he becomes tense every time he goes back home.
A jawan sees himself and compares himself with others and the insensitive civil administration creates tension in him. It is observed that most suicide cases take place after a soldier returns from leave. The feeling of frustration and helplessness that no one listens to him in Army seem to be the main reason which instigates him to take this step.
Rise in stress level in soldiers of Indian Army
The situation at the line of control is such that the Indian Army is always in operational mode leading to stress in men and which may be prone to indiscriminate violence.
It is a fact that summer, winter or rains the soldiers continue their daily patrols along the line of control in the Kashmir valley. Daily many foot patrol are sent with a hope to try and ambush the terrorist. This is quite risky and can even get monotonous, a bullet can come from anywhere anytime , therefore one has to be very alert in patrols. The uninterrupted operations in the valley to counter terrorism has given Army no respite. Though our men are fully trained to face any situation in counter insurgency environment, but the same routine leads to increase in stress levels in men.
It is seen that very young officers are commanding the companys . Even at the battalion headquarters, one officer is doing the duty of two or even three officers. It leaves no time with the officers to interact with the men. The shortage of officers is a big factor contributing to the increase in gap between soldiers and officers, thus men are neither able to share their problems with officers nor able to find a solution for their problems thereby increasing stress in them.
Increasing communication gap spoils officers and men relationships
There is a problem of communicationgap which is plaguing the Army today , this may lead to clashes in the regiments. Earlier , jawans mostly hailed from rural background, while officers came from higher strata and therefore subordination of jawans to officers was not an issue. But things have changed now. There is a feeling that more personal interactions between officers and jawans are required for a better bonding.
But the right amount of supervision is next to impossible leading to communication gaps between officers and jawans, and hence provoking men to take harsh actions.
Challenges faced by Unit Commanders in present environment
These can be identified in the following headings:-
Op Related-Due to the long borders with our neighbours and the internal unrest, a unit’s commitment will remain in the future also. Serving in an isolated, lonely and oxygen less high altitude areas effects physiologically andpsychologically.
Training- It is imperative that the unit should remain fully trained for its op tasks. Every individual in the unit has to be trained enough to carry out the tasks assigned to him. For this the sub unit commander has to ensure that the individuals are given correct orders and imparted right training.
Administrative- With the increased awareness of troops towards their perceived rights, domestic compulsions and also units projection has increased the administrative problems primarily due to less time with officers for men.
Problems related to families welfare- If the men are free from domestic problems they can perform well and give their best to the unit. The AWWA is considered to be doing its best.
Image Projection of The Unit- A unit commander is concerned that his unit is one of the best units in the formation which in turn may result in an unhealthy competition among officers of the unititself or with officers of other units. Social functions and showing good image of the unit leads to additional work load on the troops.
Shortage of Officers- In the present environment the situation itself is responsible for dilution of officer and men relationship. The units are left with only ‘hard scale’ of officers. With the normal commitments of courses, temporary duties, attachments, leave etc , a unit has to function with 6-8 officers. Therefore it becomes impossible for unit commander to know all his men and to look after their welfare adequately. A handful of officers have to perform all the tasks in the unit with each officer performing a variety of tasks leaving with them no time for the men.
Managing stress amongst troops- This is undoubtedly a serious problem which all officers should look into.
Some remedial measures
Some of the measures which can be helpful to improve officers and men relationship are:-
Better facilities- Our forces work under tremendous pressure. It should be ensured that besides counselling the officer should make sure that all the other needs of soldiers are taken care of. issues like grant of leave, and better facilities for example:- organising bada khana once a month, and recreational activities should be taken care of.
Training- A well trained unit develops positive espirit- de- Corps which is very important for homogeneity. It is acknowledged that men like to be trained for their op tasks. It keeps them away from family problems.
Performance Appraisal- Every individual has a desire to professionally advance in his career and has to be given opportunity to do so. Apart from ACR’s written for NCOs upwards a personnel interaction and interview by the platoon and company commanders makes him feel important and being cared for. A record of such interviews should be maintained. It helps in knowing the men and solve their problems.
Religious Functions- Mandir/ Gurudwara is a must for a unit .It should be organised every week .The faith binds men and officers.
Sainik Sammelans- This important event is the opportunity for the unitcommander to motivate his unit , and keep men aware of whatever is happening around them and whateverhe expects from them. Motivation comes with achievements. Officersshould set high goals, provide opportunities, time and resources to men to achieve those goals. Sainik Sammelans are a platform to praise men who have done good for themselves and for the unit. It motivates others to do well in life.
To build team spirit, men and officers have to train, play and live together as comrades. It is only then they can face a difficult situation and overcome challenges.
Maj Varun Pathak is a member of 64
Assault Engineer Regiment