Commander of the Army Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, with newly-promoted Major General Chandana Marasinghe of Sri Lanka Army Ordnance Corps, Major General Jagath Kodithuwakku of Sri Lanka Light Infantry, Major General Harendra Ranasinghe of Special Forces, Major General Priyanka Fernando of Gemunu Watch and Major General Channa Weerasooriya of Sri Lanka Light Infantry
Commander of the Army Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva awarding new rank to Director General Operation Major General Harendra Ranasingheâ€‹
- A record 14,617 soldier promotions this year, doubled the figure of 2019 under the rapid elevation scheme
- Gajaba Regiment enjoys the biggest chunk
- Women account for just 3% of the promotions
- Four male and female soldiers share their joy and aspirations
By Medha de Alwis
Within active service in the Army, age is no barrier for bravery. Same could be said of being promoted. Last month, the Army granted the highest ever number of promotions in its 70-year history. A total of 14,617 to be precise and it was double the amount granted in 2019 which was 7,268.
|Army Director Personnel Administration Brigadier Sisira Pilapitiya
|Army Director Media Brigadier Chandana Wickramasinghe
To bestow the promotions the Army chose 18 May coinciding with the National War Heroes’ Day, when the Liberation of Tamil Eelam Tigers (LTTE) was officially defeated way back in 2009. In 2019 the promotions were handed over on 10 October coinciding with the Army’s 70th anniversary.
The Army said that granting of the long-awaited promotions was to recognise the selfless service of the military personnel during natural disasters, terrorist threats, global epidemics, and whenever Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity is under threat.
The record number of promotions was partly because of the massive recruitment drive during the height of the war, past delays and clearing the backlog.
Understandably many of those who were promoted sounded jubilant as it was a dream come true. There were some disappointments and grumblings too by those who missed out or overlooked in the latest promotion despite having secured the necessary qualifications. Allegations included favouritism and influence though the Army dismissed those as baseless.
To better understand the record number of promotions, the Daily FT spoke to several top officers as well as some of those who were promoted. Army Director Personnel Administration Brigadier Sisira Pilapitiya and Director Media Brigadier Chandana Wickramasinghe gave useful insights.
There are two main requirements for a promotion. The first is that the candidate must have passed the relevant exam and fulfilled other necessary qualifications. The second is a vacancy arising for the specific appointment. The practice so far has been that promotions are made as and when an appointment becomes vacant, and this would be filled by the cadre that is qualified. But this year, under the rapid promotion scheme, the backlog was being cleared.
Army officials maintained that no one is deprived of any promotions if he fulfils all the criteria. The Army Act Section 32 and 33 provide for Redress of Grievances and there is an effective mechanism. One has to apply for redress in writing. If the grievance is genuine and justified at the Board, relief is granted always.
The Gajaba regiment recorded the highest number of promotions – 1,687. Incidentally, the present Army Commander is a product of the same Regiment.
The Vijayaba Infantry regiment and the Gemunu Watch regiment secured the 2nd and the 3rd places with 1,601 and 1,501 promotions respectively.
The Sri Lanka Light Infantry regiment, which had the highest number of promotions last year, had to settle with the lowest number of promotions this year amounting to 410.
Only 442 women secured promotions which put the female promotions to a mere 3.02% of the total promotions.
The Army was reluctant to provide details of the increment in the total salaries due to the massive number of promotions. FT learns that the salary hike could be anything from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 4,000 per person per month, increasing the salary and pension bill of the Army.
The promotion of 177 officers including five to the ranks of Major Generals and 172 more Officers to the rank of Brigadier, Lieutenant Colonel, Major and Lieutenant, are additional facets of the latest recognition.
In a rare gesture, all five senior Brigadiers of the Army who were elevated to the rank of Major General had the privilege of receiving their new rank insignia from their chief, Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army.
The five were Major General Chandana Marasinghe of Sri Lanka Army Ordnance Corps, Major General Jagath Kodithuwakku of Sri Lanka Light Infantry, Major General Harendra Ranasinghe of Special Forces, Major General Priyanka Fernando of Gemunu Watch and Major General Channa Weerasooriya of Sri Lanka Light Infantry.
After awarding their promoted rank insignia and swords to those five senior officers who have been rendering a valuable service to the Army in the past years, Lieutenant General Silva presented mementos to those officers and wished them good luck with their future undertakings.
What is it to be promoted?
Promotions are time for celebrations and the Daily FT managed to speak to four who were available to share their joy and future aspirations.
Lance Corporal Shehani Rathnasekera, the 27-year old lass from Magala, Ratnapura, joined the Army in need of a job. Having done the promotion course in 2018, after seven years of service, Shehani’s promotion had been delayed for some time.
“I am delighted to be promoted on the Victory Day,” admitted the excited woman soldier. She however is planning to retire from the Army upon completion of 15 years of service, a norm for a female soldier, unlike the service period of 22 years for the male counterparts.
The 34 year-old mother of two H.W.M. Nadeeshani whose husband is a Sailor, is another to be promoted as Staff Sergeant.
“My husband and I both joined the forces together. I have loved it so far and I am happy with the many benefits I get,” said a contended Nadeeshani whose two daughters are aged 7 and 2.
“We get a great salary and many allowances. Travel, medicine, uniforms are all free as well as many advantageous loans such as the housing loan,” she said. Having served 13 years so far, she was thankful to everyone who paved the way in the Army and the promotion.
A woman soldier would mandatorily retire after 15 years of service, mostly in her mid-thirties, as opposed to her male counterpart who retires after putting in 22 years. Women are not recruited to fighting infantry, but only to light jobs. Still their career span is held to be short which explains the severe dearth of women as high ranking officers.
The Daily FT also spoke to the junior most promoted soldier from the newest regiment – Sri Lanka National Guards, the 29 year old O.D.I. Chaturanga from Kottawa, Galle.
He has served 11 years at the lowest rank which is Private and is the first in his unit batch of 30 other soldiers to be promoted to the second lowest rank of Lance Corporal.
Chaturanga serves as a cook in the Army and got himself qualified from the trade mustering courses which are available for cooks, drivers and clerks. Chaturanga is a twin and the brother too is a soldier.
“I am delighted with this promotion,” said the happy and preserving Chaturanga who plans to pursue his next promotion at his earliest.
D.M.J. Thilakarathne is the senior most soldier promoted in the oldest regiment – the Armed Corps. Just like Chaturanga, Thilakaratne too is in the professional category as a clerk, hence has not been in the armed tanks as much as he has been at the clerk’s desk.
“I have put 22 years of service, having joined the Army at the age of 18,” recalled Thilakarathne. “I am delighted that I reached to Warrant Officer – the highest rank that a soldier can. This is a happy ending for my career in the Army job,” he said adding he would retire soon, according to the stipulated regulations.
For these four and thousands of others 18 May will remain memorable in their life and loved ones or inspire many to set sights on the next goal of their career in the Army. The jubilation experienced on the War Heroes Day, makes it all the more extra special.
Those deserving of a promotion but overlooked or missed out this year, are likely to pin their hopes on greater transparency and meritocracy going forward so the Army will truly live up to being ‘the defenders of the nation’.