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Forward march

A career in the Army promises you an adventurous and exciting life… with a very secure future Vimal Chander Joshi Reports

education Updated: Jun 20, 2012 17:38 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

After graduation, Leena Mahendru* worked for one-and-a-half years as an insurance agent and also as a volunteer in a human rights body. Finding the adrenaline rush missing in both, Mahendru did some soul-searching and joined the Army.

“Nothing can be more exciting than the defence forces. It is meant for go-getters who are disciplined, programmed to follow their seniors’ instructions and orders,” says Mahendru, now an Army captain.

The Army takes you places. Capt Nihal Singh’s* love for adventure and sports, too, led him to the Army. “I wanted a secure job, which also promised some excitement. Every three or two years, we are posted to a new place. In five years I have spent time in J&K, Punjab and Mumbai. My next posting is likely to be in the Northeast. All this moving around helps you develop a new perspective and enriches you as a person and as an Indian,” says Singh.

For getting into the Army you must have the passion to serve the country and the courage to overcome obstacles. It is no cakewalk – with only less than 10 per cent of all Army hopefuls cracking the SSB (Service Selection Board) interviews. The SSB includes a five-day evaluation and an entrance test. The evaluations are done by three assessment officers who observe, analyse and grill candidates.

Mahendru provides logistical support and is part of the team supplying provisions to those on the field – but “handling administrative work doesn’t mean that I’m not trained to shoot the enemy,” she says. “We are trained to fight any sort of battle – with or without weapons.”

Her first challenge came with the first posting – she was sent to Ladakh, where she braved treacherous climate and survived on canned food. Now she’s stationed at a place with greenery all around... a vivid contrast to the previous station.

“For a civilian it’s tough, initially, but you get accustomed to it,” says Captain Nisha Thakur*. Most stations allow families to stay with you. A husband-wife pair in the Army can take advantage of the ‘spouse posting’ rules to get transferred to the same city .

It takes heavy-duty training to keep Army personnel geared for both combat and administrative work. One has to also study continuously to upgrade one’s skills. Brigadier (retired) HS Nagra joined the Army as a graduate but then did MSc and MPhil in strategic studies as “Army officers have to be experts in strategising”, he explains.

The Army broadly has three arms — for fighting, support and service. In the fighting arm officers deal with purchase of arms and ammunition, are sent on combat missions and handle risk-infested tasks. The support arm backs them with ancillary services like electric and mechanical repairs to equipment, telecommunication signals and other technical help. The service arms provide logistical support to the entire army e.g. food supplies, rations and medical services.

Post-retirement, there are employment opportunities now. Of late, the corporate world has opened its doors to retired Army personnel, for the method and discipline they bring to any operation. “You can't find a better manager than an Army guy,” says Nagra. “Barring money management, an Army officer can handle departments of human resource, strategy, logistics and administration with meticulous perfection.”
*names have been changed on request


An Army officer leads a platoon, company, division, brigade, corps, command or battalion in the Indian Army depending on his/her rank. It is an extremely responsible and challenging job to lead a dedicated team of young men and women in critical times of war or natural calamities and also in high-risk border areas. The job requires an officer to be strong — mentally and psychologically — in times of crises and peace

Clock Work
6 am: PT (physical training) with the men
8 am: Breakfast in mess
9 am: Train and supervise the training of soldiers
Noon: Inspect security in and around the unit, check out if plans for the Army exercise
are in order and if something else needs to be done
1 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Rest
4 pm: Play a round of squash at the club
6 pm: Head for commanding officer’s dining out party

The Pay Off
After the Sixth Pay Commission, a newly commissioned lieutenant gets around Rs 25,000 per month. A middle-level officer like lieutenant colonel/colonel gets around Rs 70,000 per month and a top officer like lieutenant general makes more than Rs 1 lakh per month. More than the money, a defence job is attractive for the perks — pension after retirement, subsidised accommodation, free rations, free medical treatment, insurance worth Rs 8 lakh through the Army Group Insurance Fund, Canteen Stores Department facilities and membership of clubs at subsidised rates

You need to have officer-like qualities (popularly known as OLQs) in order to become an officer. These qualities are: effective intelligence, reasoning ability, organising ability, power of expression, social adaptability, cooperation, sense of responsibility, initiative, speed of decision, group influencing ability, self confidence, liveliness, determination, courage and stamina

Learn some tips and tricks to ace the SSB interview at

How do i get there?
You can either write the National Defence Academy exam (if you have passed Class XII) for entry to NDA, Pune, or the Combined Defence Services exam (if you are a graduate) for entry to OTA (Officers’ Training Academy), Chennai, or IMA (Indian Military Academy), Dehradun. OTA is for officers who want to join the short-service commission, while candidates wanting permanent commission should apply for NDA or IMA.

There is a technical entry also, where budding and current engineers can apply. Technical entry is open for engineering graduates/engineering students (final year or pre-final year)/Class XII passed students (with physics-chemistry-maths). For all these entries, check out newspaper advertisements in March/April and October/November. After the written exam, you have to appear for the Service Selection Board (SSB) interview, which lasts for five days and tests your leadership qualities

Institutes & Urls
Depending on the entrance test you have cracked, you are sent to one of these
. National Defence Academy
. Indian Military Academy
. Officers Training Academy

Pros & Cons
Highly respected profession where you learn to live with a high degree of discipline
and ethics
. Very secure job like any other government service
. Family life may suffer as you have to move often, and at some stations, your family
cannot accompany you

You can get an IIM degree while in the army

This is not a career for someone who does not like challenges and prefers a cushy life

The biggest challenges in the Armed forces?
The biggest challenge is to live up to the expectations of the subordinates and troops as a role model, and to be an efficient manager/leader and also to remain battle-worthy.

How is the Army different from the way others see it?
For others, it is like any other profession, but for the Army personnel, it is essentially a way of life. It’s our first love.

Can the Indian Army fill its vacancies, now that salaries have risen considerably?
The number of vacancies is rather large. The recent hike in salaries may partially address the paucity. However, the primary reason for youngsters’ aversion to joining the Army is their reluctance to embrace a tough life riddled with challenges and hardships.

How important is it to continue studies while in the Army?
Officers are made to undergo a host of courses at various stages of their career, and to make that happen, they can take two years of study leave. Some seats are reserved for army officers in IIMs and XLRI. Your performance in studies has a strong bearing on your career profile. This motivates officers to bag degrees, which can work to their advantage in their second (post-retirement) career.

Any ‘scary’ experience you’ve had in the Army?
A leader of men cannot afford to be scared in life. The training moulds an officer cadet in such a manner as to survive the most difficult and frightening situations.

Has the Army changed in any way since your days?
The number of officers in units has decreased drastically, thereby not allowing enough time for proper regimentation, training and recreation. As a result, there is greater stress, affecting morale.

Lt Col (Retd) Ashokan Interviewed by Vimal Chander Joshi