Spice of life: Army then and now

  • Col DS Cheema (retd)
  • Updated: May 14, 2015 09:25 IST

As an ex-soldier for 20 years, I don’t think it will be either ethical or appropriate for me to comment on the changes that have come into the army after I hung up my boots; but with a serving experience of 32 years, I can safely write about how soldiers’ personal lives have transformed since.

Most of the officers have become more politically correct than my generation; they choose their words carefully and cloak their ideas in sweet reasonableness, unlike the majority of us in the good old days. Perhaps they are better trained in handling the most important skill of all — communication; or perhaps they are more confident, much sharper.

In our days in the army, discussing politics, religion and women was a taboo; today’s serving soldier speaks about these issues freely. We considered buying property only as a retirement asset, the officers of today own, sell and purchase stocks and real-estate as a routine. They always have enough to invest.

Owning a car before one became a lieutenant colonel was a dream. Captains now speed past us in classy sedans. Much of it has to do with the fatter take-home pay. Our savings were hardly enough to pay the booking amount for even a scooter from the canteen stores department, for which we had to wait for a couple of years.

The modern officer is tech-savvy, who plays with laptops and desktops, and carries i-pods and Smartphone with style and confidence.

The new-age army has Facebook and Twitter accounts, and groups on WhatsApp. It was in 1974 that I saw my first computer, a card-punching machine housed in two huge air-conditioned rooms. We saw it on an industrial visit during an advanced course in telecommunication engineering.

A Wipro computer on my table at Leh in 1986 remained out of order for most part of my tenure, as getting a trained soldier from the command headquarters at Udhampur to repair it was a big hassle. Soldiers avoided ex-servicemen, scared that they would ask for some petty favour such as transport or a ration item. Now, both mix freely to foster esprit-de-corps and goodwill. I say that today’s men in uniform are wiser is because they down fewer shots and go slow on their drink; indeed a good sign for the army. In the hostile and stressful environments, they control their anger better, and self-destruct less. The misfits plan their retirement much in advance and have backup plans before they quit. All this augurs well for the army, as only the self-actualised, competent, professional, and honest soldiers continue serving the country.

The writer is a Panchkula-based retired army officer.

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