Sunday, June 23, 2013

SHORT SERVICE COMMISSION (SSC) – A Raw Deal : Musings on a Military Career in the Army Navy and Air Force

Musings on a Military Career in the Army Navy and Air Force

1. Please read this blog post only if you have a sense of humour.
2 All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. 
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013 all rights reserved

Do you like sugarcane juice? 

They say sugarcane juice is healthy. 

Sugarcane juice strengthens your organs like your brain, heart, stomach, kidneys, eyes and sex organs.

Sugarcane juice has plenty of protein and iron, prevents sore throat, cold and flu, and is a panacea for many ills.

Besides, sugarcane juice is a most refreshing drink.

I just love a tall cool restorative glass of sugarcane juice on a hot dry afternoon to quench my thirst and beat the heat. 

Have you seen the way in which they extract sugarcane juice?

The sugarcane juice stall owner squeezes stalks of sugarcane through the roller crusher. 

First he pushes through the entire sugarcane stalk, at least twice, to squeeze the juice out. 

Then he folds the sugarcane stalk into halves and crushes it again and squeezes the juice out.

Then he repeats this crush and squeeze technique again and again till there is no juice left till and the crushed remains, the fibrous waste bagasse, is absolutely dry. 

Now the man knows that there is not a drop of juice left in the crushed sugarcane bagasse.

But still he will push the totally crushed sugarcane through the roller crusher once more just to make sure that he has extracted the juice till the very last drop.

I narrated this metaphorical example of “crush and squeeze” style of Human Resource (HR) Management at the farewell party of a Navy Short Service Commission (SSC) Officer.

His permanent commission “hard taskmaster” boss wanted to extract the “last drop” from the hapless SSC Officer by “crushing and squeezing” him and making him slog even on the last day of his service till there was no “juice” left in the poor young man.

As I talked to the SSC Officer, I felt sad for him.

He was still in his late 20’s, married with a small child.

He was feeling quite insecure about his future.

The 7 years he had slogged in the navy had passed in a jiffy and suddenly he was out on the civvy street left to fend for himself.

You may say that I am generalizing, but I have observed that Short Service Commission (SSC) Officers get a raw deal.

I have seen many Permanent Commission (PC) Officers who consider themselves prima donnas and have a “superiority complex” vis-à-vis Short Service Commission (SSC) Officers.

Many PC Officers feel that SSC Officers are merely in a “supporting role”.

The yeoman’s contribution of SSC Officers is not acknowledged and hence they do not get the recognition and respect they deserve.

In a metaphorical sense, like the “sugarcane”, they are “crushed and squeezed” till all the “juice” is extracted from them, and then they are left to fend for themselves in the civvy street.

The incident I narrated above happened more than 12 years ago when I was in the Naval Dockyard at Mumbai.

I observed that there were a large number of young SSC Technical Officers in the Dockyard and they were performing a stellar role.

All of them were Assistant Managers, who are the mainstay in a Dockyard, and their competence and performance were indeed praiseworthy.

It was ironical that while their permanent commission counterparts were busy undergoing training, doing PG Courses or enjoying cushy shore appointments following their sea tenure, the short service commission officers were slogging it out in the field.

In my opinion, SSC Technical Officers, most of whom were engineering graduates from premier institutions, were better suited for technical work on the “production floors” than the in-house engineers being produced by the navy.

There a few Women SSC Naval Officers too.

I distinctly remember a couple of Lady Naval Architects in the Naval Construction Branch who were giving an excellent account of themselves working shoulder-to-shoulder with their male colleagues on the dock-floor and in workshops. They were highly technically proficient and it was openly acknowledged that they were as good as, if not better than, their male counterparts.

I also remember two accomplished Computer Engineers who were engineering graduates from prestigious Regional Engineering Colleges or RECs 

(in 2003, all RECs became NITs or National Institutes of Technology).

Just because they were women, they were being employed as Education Officers though their talents could have been better utilized in the Technical Branches.

These technically gifted ladies had joined the Education Branch because, in the Navy, women could not join the Sea Going Technical Branches.

(those days, women officers did not serve on ships).

It was a sad waste of the finest human resource – a waste for the navy and a waste for the officers themselves.

In fact, this is what I feel about short service commission:

From a long term perspective, isn’t short service commission a waste of expertise for the navy and for the officers themselves?

I do not understand the rationale behind having short service commission.

More than that, I wonder why young people want to join as short service commission SSC Officers when the option of directly joining as a permanent commission PC Officer is available.

It is a myth that Short Service Commission prepares you for a second career.

Let me give you two reasons.

1. Firstly, if you are already thinking of a second career even before joining the navy, then why join the navy?

You might as well join your preferred civilian career directly from campus placement.

2. Secondly, it is a fact that “industry specific experience” is valued more in the civilian world than the “jack of all trades” experience you get in the army and navy.

So what is the point of dabbling with something which will not add as much to your CV or career value as compared to specialized experience in the industry you wish to finally join?

I have seen that most SSC Officers land up in the ubiquitous “HR” rather than in specialized technical front-line appointments in the industry.

I have met many SSC Officers who are doing well in the industry, but all of them agree that they would have done much better had they directly joined the industry after college instead of taking a career detour via a short service commission in the services.

And if you are really interested in a lifelong military career then why not join as a permanent commissioned officer?

I am not sure, but in the 1970’s, when I joined the Navy, there was no such thing as short service commission.

I do not recall any SSC Officer undergoing training with us.

Officers joined either via the National Defence Academy (NDA) Khadakwasla Pune or Naval Academy (NAVAC) Cochin (Kochi) and both entries were permanent commission.

An old Sea-Dog once told me that after the 1962 war, short service commission had been started in the navy for some years but then it was discontinued.

But it seems to have been restarted, since later, in the late 1980’s, I did come across a young short service commission (SSC) Engineer Officer on my ship while serving on a frontline destroyer.

I think short service commission proliferated in the 1990’s and thereafter  especially due to the induction of women officers in the navy.

I have heard of various durations of short service commission – 5 years, 7 years, 10 years and 14 years.

These tenure periods keep changing from time to time.

Someone told me that, at present, the tenure (or engagement period) of short service commission is 10 years.

Like I said earlier, if you are really interested in a lifelong military career then it is best to join as a permanent commissioned officer.

But if you are interested in a civilian career, it just makes no sense of wasting 5, 7 or 10 years of the prime of your life in the army or navy.

You don’t agree with me?

Let me give you two examples.

Suppose you a male and you take short service commission (say 5, 7 or 10 years).

You will be never able to settle down and enjoy your military life as the “Sword of Damocles” will be constantly hanging over your head as time ticks away.

I have seen many Male SSC Officers postpone their marriage till they settle down in their second innings in the civvy street.

If you are a Female SSC Officer, in the Indian Social Milieu, it will be difficult for you to remain unmarried till you settle down in your second career.

Maybe you will be almost 30 years old by the time you leave the navy and stabilize in your new career.

Now 30 is considered as an unmarriageable age for a girl in our traditional Indian society since there will be hardly any boys left to marry.

If you marry a civilian during your service then you will have to be ready for a long distance marriage which is quite painful especially in the first inchoate days of married life.

And if you marry a fellow naval officer – well then all your problems will be solved!

No wonder so many “sister” officers are marrying their “brother” officers – these “in-service” alliances are marriages of great convenience.

But let’s come to the moot point.

Why have a short service commission?

What is the solution?

As you know, in 2004, the government introduced a New Pension System (NPS) for all civilian government employees. 

NPS seems quite an attractive scheme due to its flexibility and its contributory nature (the government gives you a matching contribution).

One wonders why the Armed Forces were excluded from the NPS.

Maybe, as has happened in many other cases, like the Assured Career Progression (ACP) Scheme, the civilian bureaucrats did not want to give the benefit of NPS to the defence services.

Or possibly, the Military Top Brass did not want the NPS.

Maybe they feared an exodus of officers.

Because with the advent of the NPS, the “20 Year Syndrome” will disappear.

Also, if the New Pension Scheme (NPS) is introduced in the Armed Forces, concepts like Permanent Commission (PC) and Short Service Commission (SSC) will become irrelevant.

But that is another story.

Tell me, especially if you are a short service commission officer, did you like the “sugarcane juice story” and do you feel that SSC officers get a raw deal.

And, Rear Reader, if you are a PC Officer, or a manager anywhere, do think twice before you apply the “crush and squeeze” style of Human Resource (HR) Management.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this book review. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013 all rights reserved

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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