Best among the bravest

By Hiranthi Fernando
Second Lieutenant Tissa Udaya Bandara Jayaratne won the Sword of Honour at the passing-out parade of the Sri Lanka Military Academy (SLMA) in Diyatalawa last month. This much coveted award is presented by SLMA each year to the officer-cadet who tops the batch.A quiet, well-mannered young man of 23, Jayaratne has an inner strength and determination to succeed.
"I joined the Cadet Corps when I was schooling and loved wearing the uniform," said Jayaratne who hails from Kandy. The youngest in a family of three boys, Jayaratne was educated at Kadugannawa National School, where he sat his A'Ls. "Although my ambition was to be a lawyer, I saw a TV programme about the Kotelawala Military Academy (KDA) and was fascinated by the ceremonial uniform. A friend who had followed the course at KDA recommended it."

Jayaratne said his parents who at first opposed his decision as the war was still on, finally gave him their blessing.

At KDA, they were first taught English language as well as literature for six months. The degree programme, which was conducted in English started thereafter with lecturers from Sri Jayawardenepura University for the general subjects and officers handling the military subjects. Jayaratne followed a Bachelor of Arts course. He also had to study subjects such as military geography, map reading, field craft, tactics and weapon training. "It was mostly theory at KDA with some practicals in battle procedures at Biyagama.” At the end of the 2 1/2 year course at KDA, Jayaratne obtained the highest marks in the BA.

According to Jayaratne, there were 136 cadets, recruited by the three services, in his batch at KDA. Seventy-two cadets went on to the Sri Lanka Army Military Academy in Diyatalawa. "It was a hard practical training but I enjoyed it."

Jayaratne won the Sword of Honour for his all-round performance during the period spent at SLMA. In addition to the Sword of Honour, he came second in the order of merit.

After passing out, Jayaratne was assigned to the Artillery Regiment and posted to the Minneriya Artillery Training School for a young officers' course. At Minneriya, where we met him, he was engaged in advanced weapons training. This will be followed by a month of jungle training at Maduru Oya and another month of endurance training at Kuda Oya. Jayaratne will then be ready to join his regiment.

Jayaratne is content with his progress. "When I compare my life with that of many of my school friends, I find that they did not have the opportunities I had," he said. "Many hesitated to join the army because of the war. But it is wrong to think that with the peace process in progress, there will be no requirement for young officers. As junior leaders, we can make a significant contribution to the development of the country."

A close contender for the Sword of Honour was 2nd Lieutenant Subakthi Dewage, also 23. Subakthi, who was educated at Musaeus College, Colombo won the President's Award having been 1st in order of merit in the batch.

Subakthi had her own reasons for joining the army. "Although my friends did not take me seriously, I felt guilty that being in Colombo, we were not exposed to the reality of what our country was experiencing with the war. It is true that people in any field can contribute to the development of the country, but I felt that I could not be satisfied with that." She applied to the KDA after she did her A'Ls.

Subakthi took a degree in management and technical sciences. The course content was 25% military and 75% academic with drill and weapons training too. At Diyatalawa, the young women underwent advanced military training, both theory and practical, having their training along with the men. Other than a slight difference in physical training standards everything else was the same, Subakthi said.

"On the field, there are some things that we as women can do better, while there are some areas the men fare better in. So we have to help each other achieve our goals. We cannot say that we are inferior to the men. Some people have the view that women can't do the same training as men but we have done it."

"During my schooldays, it was felt that it was not ladylike to do cadeting," Subakthi remarked. "My teachers were very surprised at my decision to join the army, but now they are very happy about it." Subakthi said her father, an engineer had had some reservations but her mother had supported her choice, having been keen on joining the Police when she was young.

As women are not sent for the Young Officers' training course, Subakthi has already reported for work to the Regimental Headquarters of the Military Intelligence Corps in Colombo.

She is presently engaged in an orientation course and will have a course in basic intelligence work in July. Thereafter, she would be sent to the field in Vavuniya and Jaffna when necessary. She said theirs was the first intake of officer cadets, where women officers did not necessarily have to join the women's corps as done previously.
So what is Army life like for a woman? There were 23 women cadets, who passed out in the batch. "It is one's attitude that matters," she said.

"I have made a lot of friends. I can now see how restricted I was before, only seeing one side. At KDA and SLMA, there were people from all over the country in my batch. I got a wider view of life, gained many new experiences and also learned to cope with any situation."


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