By now, we all must have seen the above picture flashed in every major media outlet all over the world. President designate Obama here is seen hugging Tammy Duckworth at Bronze Soldiers Memorial at Soldier Field, Chicago. She is seen with her husband in the second picture.
So who is Major Tammy Duckworth ?
Maj Duckworth, a brave daughter of an American father and Thai mother, is a National Guard Volunteer who opted for a tour of duty in Iraq where she got hit by a rocket propelled grenade and lost both her legs and also suffered other permanent injuries. For the uninitiated, the National Guard is a part-time national service voluntary force like our Territorial Army (TA). Maj Duckworth, despite her disability is still a National Guard volunteer and has also been appointed as the Director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for the State of Illinois. She stands decorated with the Air Medal, Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal.
The State Departments of Veterans’ Affairs have been in the forefront for veterans’ rights and policies in the US. What is strikingly refreshing is the fact that the State Governments in the US are not rank conscious while appointing heads of veterans’ affairs who are directly answerable to the State Governors and who play a major role in the lives of veterans and also their families.
We, on the other hand also have a proactive set up dealing with ex-servicemen (high time we shed this term – it should be gender neutral : either ex-servicemembers or veterans) welfare but the system is so much embroiled in red-tapism, hierarchism and rank-consciousness that the ultimate benefits do not efficiently percolate down to beneficiaries. The system is also lopsided at places and undermines military dignity. To take an example, all over India, DCs / DMs / Collectors of Districts, mostly young IAS officers are appointed Presidents of Zila Sainik Boards ex-officio. Kendriya Sainik Board guidelines however provide that in each district the Vice-President of the Sainik Board should be a retired General Officer. So we ourselves from within the Kendriya Sainik Board (whose Secretary is a serving defence officer) have initiated a hierarchy wherein young bureaucrats are placed as Presidents and retired Generals are placed as Vice-Presidents.
Secretaries of Zila Sainik Boards in each district (also variably known as Distt Sainik Welfare Officers) mostly used to be retired Honorary officers or released Commissioned officers of junior ranks earlier. However with our own policy in 1999, the Kendriya Sainik Board directed that such appointments must only be made from amongst retired officers of the rank of Major, Lt Col or Col. As a policy it may seem good but the modality not realized by the powers that be was (/is) that the post of Secy Zila Sainik Board in most states is an appointment under the Junior Time Scale (JTS) equal to a pay and status of a Lieutenant and in this light was it prudent for us in the Kendriya Sainik Board to have initiated an upward revision of ranks without first asking the States to upwardly revise the pay and thereby the status ? Isn’t it self deprecating asking Majors, Lt Cols and Cols to join lower rungs of civil hierarchy ?. Most young IAS officers usually extend due respect to retired military officers but it is not normally the case with officers from other state and provincial cadres. And here I also agree with civilian officers of mixed organizations who say that Army officers are often ready to take up lower level ‘below status’ appointments in MES etc to enjoy cushy stints – this definitely leads to status erosion in the longer run, but that’s my personal opinion of course.
Coming back to the Sainik welfare hierarchy. Secretaries of Rajya Sainik Boards (also known as State Directors of Sainik Welfare) are also to be appointed from amongst retired Brigadiers according to Kendriya Sainik Board Policy. It’s another story that most of such appointments were placed in the approx pay scale of a Major of the Army. If indeed an enhanced pay package cannot be provided then a contractual honorarium shall be better than a regular pay scale since it would atleast bypass any comparison with serving civil officers. If retired Brigadiers were to be recommended for such appointments, then firstly the nomenclature of the appointment should have been upgraded to ‘Director General’ and pay scale should have been enhanced. Even the Zila (District) level officers should have been made directly answerable to such State level heads and not civil district heads as is the present practice. Vice-Presidents of Zila Sainik Boards should have been designated as Advisors and not Vice-Presidents who are placed below young civil officers designated as Presidents. The above are small changes in nomenclature which can go a long way in enhancing the dignity of retired officers. But is anyone listening and is someone ready to challenge the status quo ante ?
The ideal set-up would be to have an accomplished veteran at the head of the State organization not based on rank but based on his or her achievements, Maj Tammy Duckworth anyone …?
By the way, this is what President-elect Obama had to say on the occasion yesterday :
“On this Veterans’ Day, let us rededicate ourselves to keep a sacred trust with all who have worn the uniform of the United States of America: that America will serve you as well as you have served your country. As your next Commander-in-Chief, I promise to work every single day to keep that sacred trust with all who have served. May God bless our veterans, and may God bless the United States of America,"
1st Photo Courtesy : Phillyburbs.com, Thank You.
2nd Photo Courtesy : Stripes.com, Thank You.