What gives a member of the armed forces the strength, courage and conviction to face a bullet to protect his or her nation? We visited the Officers Training Academy in Chennai to get an answer.
Last year, to celebrate 69 years of Independence, we decided to drive a Mercedes-Benz GLA on a 2,200-kilometre road trip to the northern international borders of India in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh. And so a tradition was born!
We chose a GLA because, at 70, India is still a ‘young’ nation – and the three-pointed star reflects the aspirational values of a young and progressive country. So, we set out last year to pay homage to the people who fight for India and her freedom. These men and women brave the elements and the harshest conditions on the planet, and we salute them for their dedication to the spirit of freedom. It’s because of their courage and sacrifice that we can live our lives peacefully and freely.
But where does the courage and sense of purpose come from. Sure, it comes from within but what gives it shape – what moulds its structure? Well, we decided to pay a visit to Lieutenant General Bobby Mathews at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai to get an answer to our question. And we brought along a brand new Mercedes-Benz GLC, because, well, there was a tradition to maintain! And it’s an SUV that’s already proven itself by winning our comparison test a few issues ago.
As we drove into OTA Chennai, we couldn’t help but be struck by the stark contrast of two worlds – the chaos and madness, bordering on anarchy, of our big cities versus the order and discipline of the armed forces, all of which in this case is separated by just a large metal gate at the entrance to the Officers Training Academy, which borders the Chennai airport. Needless to say, the OTA campus (all 650 acres of it) is impeccably maintained. Now if only we could transfer the responsibilities of our civic bodies to the army, we may actually see some improvement to the living standards in our towns and cities. After all, the army is our first port of call not only to defend the nation but also to get it back on its feet when and if (god forbid) there’s a natural calamity.
As we sat across the table from the commandant of the OTA, we couldn’t help but wonder another thing – how different he was to the person we imagined him to be. We envisioned a stern and intimidating figure at the helm of an academy to turn civilians into officers in the short span of just one year for the Short Service Commission of the Indian Army. Instead, this decorated army officer, who had invited us into his home (literally), was warm and generous with his time. He exuded positivity! When asked about why people choose a career in the armed forces, he says, without hesitation, that it’s simply the joy of wearing the uniform and serving the country – nothing more. The academy provides a crash course, literally, as it moulds cadets into officers. The Lieutenant General says that the cadets who come through this academy are changed men and women after one year at OTA.
[caption id="attachment_76363" align="alignleft" width="642"] Lieutenant General Bobby Mathews, the Commandant of the Officers Training Academy[/caption]
In speaking with one of the trainers at the academy, Major Arvinder Singh – who incidentally finished at the top of his course when he himself graduated from OTA – he seems to echo what the commandant says. He says he falls in love with his uniform everyday. He’s brimming with confidence, as he talks about how the academy and his career in the army has changed his life.
OTA’s history dates back to the 1962 war with China. After the war, two Officers Training Schools (OTS) were set up – one in Pune and the other in Chennai (then Madras). These schools were established to train offers for the emergency commission. In 1988, it was renamed the Officers Training Academy – placing it on par with the Indian Military Academy (IMA) and National Defence Academy (NDA). When women were accepted in the Indian army, OTA was tasked with the job to train women cadets into able officers of the Indian Army. Till today, OTA Chennai remains the only academy in the country that trains women officers. The training regime of both men and women are identical – a fact attested to by Major Ponung Doming, the first woman officer from the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Like Major Singh, Major Doming is a graduate of OTA who’s back in order to impart her skill and knowledge to the young cadets at the academy. And like Major Singh, she exudes confidence, as she teaches young cadets how to shoot firearms. But OTA not only teaches cadets how to handle a firearm, but also how to manage counter insurgency operations thanks to its jungle shooting range and grenade lobbing area.
But it’s not all jungles and war paint, as cadets also need to know how to conduct themselves as officers – and so they get training on everything from how to dress to table manners and etiquette. Clearly, they have a lot to learn – and so a day in the life of a cadet starts at pre-dawn and carries on till late evening. And it’s pretty unrelenting, almost seven days a week, for the full year that they spend at OTA. The remarkable thing, though, is that the dropout rate is exceedingly low. And that’s a testament to the quality of the trainers and the effectiveness of the program.
There’s one thing, though, that connects everyone at the academy – and that’s the pride they take in putting on the uniform everyday. If only our elected officials felt half the pride in serving their country.
Every citizen of India owes their sovereignty and free will to the brave men and women of our armed forces – these unsung heroes who shun the spotlight as they rush to the call of duty. Fortunately for all of us, they’ve been trained at academies like the OTA to deal with any eventuality to secure our freedom.
Also read: Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 Review: First Drive