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Sunday, 16 February 2014

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A volunteer reserve - the need of the hour

The new trends in security need more professionals than soldiers. Today a battlefield is not the only place where a war can take place. Cyber war fare is a new trend where only the experts of the field can mitigate the intensity safe guarding the country. A natural disaster, epidemic or any such calamity need experts to mitigate the situation. The trend of the world is to form a volunteer reserve of professionals who will be called out for duty on requirement. And Sri Lanka, being an island enjoying the freshness of peace has no exception than a volunteer reserve to face new trends in threats to national security and disaster management. Thus in such a back drop Sri Lanka Army's Volunteers are in a better position to collect this professional reserve.

Commander of the Volunteer Force,
Major General Prasad Samarasinghe


Kotelawala Defence University Medical Faculty Head,
Colonel Ranjana Seneviratne

“We need professional people to deal with the new situations that the world is facing,” said Major General Prasad Samarasinghe, Commander of the Volunteer Force. With the Volunteer Force anyone can join the Army at any time with less restrictions and the country would benefit immensely, according to Maj. Gen. Samarasinghe.

The trend in the world is to develop a stronger Volunteer Force and specially attracting professionals from various fields. “In any country professionals are less likely to get attracted to a Regular Force with its limitations,” he explained. Volunteers have a stronger potential to serve the country. “In a small and developing country like ours it is essential for the military and the civil communities to work together for the development and security of the country. In that way Volunteer Force can play a bigger role by making a large reserve of professionals to serve the country,” said Maj. Gen. Samarasinghe.

The origins of the volunteer movement was in 1861 when the governor wrote to the war office for approval of such a movement. The volunteer movement grew out of a civilian rifle club and was broad-based for infantry soldiering by a proclamation issued by the Lieutenant Governor Sir John Douglas in the government gazette of April 1, 1881 authorizing the formation of “the Ceylon Light Infantry Volunteers”. Thirteen days later, Lieutenant Colonel John Scott Armitage was appointed as the Commanding Officer.

His Royal Highness Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (The Late King Edward VII) accepted the Honorary Colonelcy of the Regiment and permitted the use of his motto “Ich Dien” and his personal insignia to the Regiment.

In 1890, the then Governor of Ceylon, Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon was appointed as the Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Regiment. In the earliest years, the Force was armed with the long Snider rifle. This was replaced in 1890 by the Martini - Henry and there was a further change in the same year when the entire Force was re-armed with Martini-Enfield rifles and carbines taking the service 303 cartridge.


Sri Lanka's first Prime Minister at a demonstration presented by the Army Volunteers. (File photo)

The beginnings of the Ceylon Light Infantry Volunteers formed the underpinnings not only of the volunteer military movement in Sri Lanka but also of the Sri Lanka Army.

Today to man the demanding development of the country the Volunteer Forces are seeking more professionals from all segments of the society. A senior spokesperson of the Volunteer Force said that their institute is hoping to open up for enthusiastic citizens from all social segments and professions who wish to extend their service to the nation holding the prestige of volunteer forces.

From its beginnings in 1896, as a force of little over thousand personnel the Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force has today grown to fifty five battalions consisting of 1,100 Officers and 45,000 other ranks deployed in defensive and offensive operations. While a regular soldier brings to the profession of arms a great degree of expertise, the volunteer soldier matches it with enthusiasm and a keen sense of duty.

The Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force (SLAVF) is now enlisting professionals under the age of 55 and on completion of enlistment they will be commissioned as Lieutenant Colonels, Colonels and etc accordingly.

Almost all the urban development projects are presently handled by army personnel and among them majority consist from the volunteers - mainly the Engineering Services Regiment, known as ESR. Constructions at the new port at Hambantota, beautification works around the parliament area, reconstruction works in Pettah are some of the major works of the Volunteers. Moreover, the pavement stretching along Bauddhaloka Mawatha is another picturesque area in the city from the road near Thunmulla Junction. Driving from Rajagiriya, the pavements with chairs along the Diyawanna Lake enriches the panoramic view of the city. In the construction of the new Defence headquarters in Akuregoda the ESR plays a major role.

According to the Commander of the Volunteer Force there is more work for the Volunteers. “Volunteers comprised professionals of various fields and that is our strength in providing a significant service,” the Commander said.

“I believe it is the time for Sri Lankans to join hands with us to rebuild the country,Ó” he added.

Today in the Volunteer Force fifteen medical doctors, 88 civil and mechanical engineers, 20 legal officers, 19 accountants, ten agriculture officers, ten physiotherapists and 30 English instructors are serving. In addition seven University academics who joined the Volunteer Force are now serving in the Kotelawala Defence University. It is General Sir John Kotelawala who donated land of his Kandawela Estate to set up the Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy for the training of young Officer Cadets, was also a gracious member of the Volunteer Force. Those who join the Volunteers become members of an esteemed line of citizens starting from Sri Lanka's First Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake who served in the Volunteer Artillery as an active member for many years.

Major E.A. Nugawela of the Ceylon Light Infantry Volunteers was the Minister for Education in the first Cabinet of independent Sri Lanka.

The first Commanding Officer of third Volunteer Battalion the Gemunu Watch, Colonel C.A. Dharmapala was a Member of Parliament and later became the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence and Security Advisor to the President during 1977-1979. Major Montague Jayawickrama, who was the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Plantations and Captain C.P.J. Senevirathne, who was the Labour Minister during 1977-1983 were active members of the second Volunteer Ceylon Light Infantry and Ceylon Cadet Corps respectively. General Ranjan Wijerathne who revived the Planters’ Rifle Corps was the Deputy Minister of Defence during 1989-1992. General Anuruddha Ratwatte, former deputy Defence Minister was a member of the second volunteers of the Sinha Regiment.

Today serving as the Medical Faculty head at the Kotelawala Defence University, Colonel Ranjana Seneviratne said when he joined the Volunteers in 1990 it was out of sheer inspiration from his family and Alma Mater. “I joined the volunteer force inspired by my grandfather who was a history teacher and disciplined education I received from my Alma Mater Richmond College,” the proud volunteer said. “By the time I reached my adulthood there was a war going on in the country. And we hear heavy casualties every day. And I learned that there was a short of doctors and I believed it was my chance to fulfill the duty. So soon after I graduated from the Ruhunu University Medical Faculty, as a pre-intern, I joined the Volunteer Force,” he added. It was the time of the Operation Balavegaya. It was the largest amphibious assault launched by the Sri Lankan Military in its history. Operation Balavegaya was launched in response to siege of Elephant Pass by the LTTE terrorists. It is believed that Operation Balavegaya was the largest and most successful military operation of the Sri Lankan Military until Operation Riviresa in 1995. As a young officer Col. Seneviratne was deployed in Jaffna.

Creating a turning point with the start of the Eelam War IV, Volunteers were handed over duties just like the Regular Forces. Yet in the good old days, when Colonel Seneviratne joined there were the esteem senior members of the Volunteers. “When I joined there were the officers from the old Volunteer Force. They were well established with their civil employments and were coming from respectable social back grounds. They were holding esteem positions even as civil servants,” explained Col. Senevirtne.

Some of them had been diplomats, Assistant Government Agents, Engineers and Principals. “The recruiting officer at the time I joined was a surveyor by profession. The Second in Command of the Battalion I joined was Professor Bobby Dias who was a professor in the University of Colombo. My Commanding officer was Dr. R.C. Rajapakse who was the then Director of Sri Jaywardanapura Hospital. So there were quite a number of high profile people from society were serving as volunteers,” he added.

With the changes over time professionals with civil employment found it difficult to adhere to the full time requirement that came up with the escalation of terrorist activities. Thus the Volunteer Force became similar to the Regular Force giving full time commitment to safeguard the country.

Ensuring the sovereignty and integrity of the country since 1983, more than 2,500 volunteer personnel were killed in action and over 1,100 were wounded. Col. Seneviratne himself is a proud officer of the Volunteers decorated with a gallantry award for his bravery during his unique service as a doctor in Palali camp, Jaffna in 2000.

“Army was a facing a great difficulty during April - July when Palali camp came under bombardment causing heavy casualty. I worked as a doctor for the Palali base on a roster basis.

It was my roster during the time the base came under constant bombardment in 2000 and there were heavy casualties and evacuation was extremely difficult as air and sea transport were blocked. There was so much to do to save the soldiers and I did my duty with my utmost ability," he added in reminiscence of those difficult days.

If the success of an organisation is measured in terms of its contribution to the society, then the volunteer force of the Sri Lanka Army reaches veritable heights with leading contributions made by many of its members in the fight against terrorism and national development.

Today they are the forces are involved in the urban development and mega construction works that we see around.

A major part of the development work is shouldered by Army's volunteer forces as it is they who have civil engineers, technicians, masons, carpenters, plumbers in their organisation that formed the teams for construction work.

Going beyond these boundaries the Volunteers in their latest campaign 'Api Army' (we are Army) welcomes professionals of all fields to join their effort to form a volunteer reserve to serve the motherland. As the first step Doctor Sudath Damsinghe and nurse Pushpa Ramyani joined the Volunteer Force last week. The Volunteers need such experts from various fields to strengthen the development of the country.

 

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