I recently received an email from a retired army officer who had served in a unit of a formation of which I was its commander. We had somehow lost touch of each other for more than 10 years, and it was a wonderful feeling to be in touch once again with an old acquaintance. He reminded me of some of his experiences with me, which I could easily recall. I can also recall having to instruct him to lay a demonstration for the visiting Colonel -in-Chief, HRH the late Raja of Perlis, of a pair of snipers in action, as well as an assault in a build up area. These are some of the activities that I miss, and I suppose most of the officers and soldiers of the unit that had come under my charge, have all left the army too.
The officer, who opted for an early retirement was frank and forthright in explaining to me the reasons for quitting the army early. He joined the army out of sheer love for the military service, and being a non-bumiputra, he was commissioned into a Ranger battalion. I recall, the battalion had a high percentage of soldiers from Sarawak and Sabah, and one particular company of that battalion served with me in Cambodia under its able commander Major Christopher Joseph.
When in Cambodia, I recall Major Christopher was a highly religious Christian, and is always seen with a bible during period of leisure. It was his company that was ordered to be deployed to Treng in the Rattanak Mondol district by the Deputy Force Commander in the early stages of our deployment. I defied the orders because Treng is the battle area between the Cambodian forces and the Khmer Rouge. I feared for the safety of the soldiers, and worse still, there was no written orders issued for the company to be deployed to Treng. The Deputy Force Commander had to fly in to my location to reprimand me for my defiance, but I argued with him, that unless I get a full written orders from the Force Commander's office, I will not deploy the company.
My argument with the Deputy Force Commander was known to the Force Commander who later visited me, and accepted my reasoning for my defiance. Had I done the same to a Malaysian commander, I would certainly have been court martialled. For my defiance, I was accorded a distinction for my service with the UN in Cambodia, after my return home.
Now getting back to the retired army officer, he claimed that being a Christian himself, he was deprived of his religious obligations to conduct catechism classes with other Sarawakian and Sabahan Christian soldiers and their families in the camp. He reasoned out that the church was some distance away from the camp, and that the soldiers were not able to take their families to church regularly, because they do not have their own transport; besides them being out on training and operations most of the time. He thought that the most convenient way for his Christian soldiers and their families to get together for catechism classes, was to have it in their private homes in the camp. The officer cited that the instruction to disallow catechism to be conducted in camp was from the Division Commander, of which a copy of the instruction is still in his possession.
The above aptly described the grievance of a Malaysian Christian officer, residing in a predominantly Muslim community, who felt that he was being deprived of one of his religious obligation. I am not fully aware of any documented instructions from army headquarters, forbidding officers and soldiers of the Christian faith from conducting catechism classes in their private homes in the camp. If there was one, it has to be properly explained, and an alternative offered to them. I believe, the Division Commander had issued the instruction based on his own interpretation, without reference to any standing instructions. I personally think that it was wrongful for the Divisional Commander to issue the 'forbidding instruction' unilaterally.
Examples of cases like this do not go well in appealing to non bumiputra of other faith to join the army, and I believe, this could be a reason for their reluctance and poor acceptance to join. As a Muslim and a commander of troops, I constantly remind myself to be tolerant and fair to my charges, regardless of their faith and race. I only see the uniform that they wear which is similar to mine, and not the colour of their skin. The only difference between them and me is the rank that I shoulder, and with the rank comes the responsibilities; not one of self interest, but one that is suppose to care for all of them. This is where some commanders have failed, because they view the rank as being a sign of being more superior than others, and their charges are suppose to remain subservient.
I suppose the issue raised by the officer as explained above, do exist in the army till this day. This issue has to be addressed carefully, least the army is accused of being intolerant and disrespectful of other races and faith. The Federal Constitution is clear with regards to the freedom and rights to practice other faith in the country. And the army being a closed society of men and women of differing faith and race, ought to be a sterling example of how tolerance should be practice among the whole Malaysian society.
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION