Fit for the military

By Raffique Shah
January 25, 2015

Raffique ShahThere are many arguments in favour of extending the compulsory retirement age for members of the armed forces, the strongest being the fact that there are retirees receiving full pension at age 47, many of whom are fit and healthy and can easily work for another 20 years, which most do.

There is no other profession I know that offers such tempting retirement benefits at such an early age. Bear in mind, though, that pay scales in the forces are not as generous as those in other arms of the Public Service, that Defence Force personnel do not have unions that negotiate for wage increases or improved working conditions on their behalf, and, as far as I am aware, they are not entitled to overtime claims, however long they may be deployed in operations.

Having said all of that, I think the timing of the extension of service granted to Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Kenrick Maharaj, was all wrong, perhaps even embarrassing. To have waited until the day he ought to have retired, at age 55, came across as granting a favour to the general. It could leave a bitter taste in the mouths of his immediate subordinates whose legitimate expectations of being promoted have been thwarted by political fiat.

The Government, more so National Security Minister Captain Gary Griffith, will have been aware of this retirement age-anomaly in the TTDF ever since they took office in 2010. They ought to have moved with dispatch to correct it then, not wait for General Maharaj to appear to have been given a gift by a Government that favours him.

But the deed has been done, and the only thing good that can come out of it is for Government to move with dispatch to adjust the terms of service and retirement ages and benefits of all members of the TTDF.

I should point out that the terms of service for members of our armed forces are a replica of what obtains in Britain, as are the organisational structure, ranks, etc. I have read where, in the British Armed Forces, new terms of service, retirement ages and pension benefits will come into effect sometime this year. My understanding is that generals and senior warrant officers will be allowed to serve up to age 60, and the CDS up to age 65.

I know the British military well enough to surmise that these extended retirement ages will be absolutely conditional on the health and fitness of the officers concerned—a mere two per cent of all personnel, according to a Ministry of Defence spokesperson.

That stands to reason, and it should apply here as well to all ranks, from private to general. Because of the demands of military service, all personnel must maintain minimal levels of fitness that are determined by routine tests. After a few weeks training (certainly in my time), the recruit or officer cadet must do 44 press-ups and 50 sit-ups in two minutes (each), and run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes.

By the end of 12 weeks of intense training, these benchmarks become second nature. The soldier must now add a nine-mile forced march-and-shoot in two hours and ten minutes with full combat gear (about 25 kgs), and swim 50 metres in combat outfit in under four minutes. Throughout his career, a soldier, whatever his rank, must maintain these standards, with some adjustments made for age.

Also, he must be medically fit with no health issues that would adversely affect his performance.

Many non-military persons might question this emphasis on the physical in a modern military that is highly mechanised. In my view, it is this element that distinguishes the soldier from a civilian, and anytime the soldier cannot cope, he must resign or retire.

There is nothing to suggest that General Maharaj is not fit, so this question hardly arises. He also comes across as being bright, articulate and a leader who commands respect among his troops, which is perhaps the most important attribute of a military officer at any level of the command structure.

Still, the abrupt extension of his service does create problems down the chain, both from the perspectives of upward mobility and pension benefits. While the former is limited (there can be only so many warrant officers class one (WO1) or colonels in the organisation), Government must move swiftly to offer equally opportunities at all ranks—not just to brigadiers and generals.

“Other ranks” below WO1 and commissioned officers below colonels, once they meet the health and fitness requirements, ought to be allowed to serve beyond age 47, at least to 50 if not 55. At a glance, this might appear to be a formula for a massive bottleneck. Bear in mind though that most servicemen (and women) move on after eleven years, which, I believe, entitles them to part-pension when they reach the pensionable age.

The retention of General Maharaj will have meaning only if Government immediately amends the relevant legislation to the benefit of all Defence Force personnel. To do otherwise will leave a stench of political interference hovering over the military.

2 thoughts on “Fit for the military”

  1. Thanks for that informative piece. I got the impression that the retirement age was extended for all ranks in all branches of the military.

  2. A couple days ago I wrote these comments on another thread and wish to affix my contributions to the appropriate topic.
    “Neal, I write with great apprehension to the extension of service of Major General Ken Maharaj, upon reaching the compulsory age of 55. Raffique had done a fine job on his commentary and I subscribe to most of the comments that he has made. My fear is that this PP government has spoiled every other aspect of government service and the one remaining service that should not be trampled with, the Defense Force, has in fact been sacrificed at the hands of politics by this government. Having served in the formative years of the Defense Force and being well acquainted with the provisions of service, etiquette, physical conditioning and a host of other qualitative requirements, I am appalled that this government has seen it fit to include the defense of this country into it’s political map. I know not anything about the performance of the general but I do know that it is for good reason that retirement is called for at such an otherwise ‘early’ age. Although there are those who might consider the military ‘a job’, it is in fact not a job but a career. The basic requirements of the military calls for young, physically fit, mentally alert, intelligent, skillful and career oriented individuals. Sometimes what these men (and women) do in a short period of time is what an ordinary civilian may never go through in a lifetime. It is in effect a sacrifice of youth to serve in the military because, once enrolled, he (or she) cannot exercise the attitude to reverse the commitment they made to the military. If the occasion calls for staying in barracks for six weeks without being allowed to visit friends or family then the soldier (or military person) has to adhere to command orders. If per chance they are called upon to be on standby or be ready for action that might put their lives in danger, then so be it, the soldier must comply. The soldier go through a rigid training programme, with acute training in physical training, weaponry, tactical and field awareness training. Simple exercises may go on for weeks at a time and a lot is expected from the soldier. For these and other reasons, careers as a soldier takes up the best of one’s youth and best physical performance. Being in the command structure all of these requirements are expected plus one’s ability to command with precision and exercising qualities of most befitting of an officer with gentlemanly qualities as well. The officer should never be left (in command) to be bereft of these qualities, so it is with good reason that a compulsory age was set for retirement. One might argue that 55 might be too early or just about right to retire, but the occasion of having an unfit officer past the age of 55 commanding with incapacities should NEVER be allowed to occur because his (or her) state of mind is important to the proper functioning of every member of the force. One cannot emphasise this importance enough, because those who depend on promulgation of proper orders from the command structure to lead them with impunity will know if when things are not right with those issuing those orders. As far as I know, it has never been the practice of government to intervene in military practices that are governed by the Defense Act. Most see it as pure political and racial tampering that this PP government chose to exercise such authority. Why, you may ask, that I make such a charge? Well, the only other time such political interference took place into the affairs of the military or police service was when a Commissioner of Police service was extended beyond the compulsory age requirement was when Basdeo Panday was Prime Minister and COP Mohammed (part Indian) was allowed to forego the age requirement and be allowed to remain for another year. It does not look good when practices that favor exceptions are allowed to occur because the benefactor is Indian. Worse yet, what are we left to conclude that such practices occur when the prime minister who is Indian, makes it a point to accentuate Indian presence in positions where their history does not relate as common occurrence. It is a benefit to us, ex-soldiers that we have an opportunity to serve our country as young men and women then retiring at an age where we can still enjoy some semblance of youthfulness. Those of us who are lucky enough to have gone through to retirement are happy that our youth and training allowed us to be seen as protectors of our nation and we live that former service with pride and honor. The military should NEVER be about race, class or creed. Those who practice it are in fact spoiling the very essence of the reason why the military exists. No good can come out of this practice and I wish to say how disappointed I am in the Minister of National Security, the Attorney General and Prime Minister that they allowing such blatant disregard for military practice and protocol to occur.”

    Most of the ex-servicemen who commented on this matter felt that since a good military reason was not given, it is therefore one that was borne out of political consideration rather than sound military judgements.

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