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India’s first Agniveers think big, look to become officers

Becoming Agniveers is not an end in itself for several bright young men and women who are set to pass out from the Indian Navy’s sprawling lakeside training facility, INS Chilka, in two days.

Shweta Singh Antal completed BA (hons) in sociology from Delhi’s Miranda House before she was selected under Agnipath scheme (HT Photo/Rahul Singh)

They are aiming higher.

Many of the trainees, aged between 17-and-a-half and 21 and India’s first Agniveers, have set their sights on becoming officers in the armed forces, and are focused on working their way up to more ambitious goals.

Shweta Singh Antal, 21, a non-medical student, scored 96% in the Class 12 Board exams and completed BA (hons) in sociology from Delhi’s Miranda House before she was selected under the pioneering Agnipath scheme for short-term recruitment of personnel below officer rank (PBOR) in the three services, and landed up at INS Chilka for basic naval training late last year.

She is among the 2,600 Agniveers including 273 women who will pass out from INS Chilka on March 28, after four gruelling months of training. Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar will attend the passing-out parade as the chief guest and the reviewing officer. The Agniveers will be attached to frontline warships for two weeks for their sea training before they undergo specialised training for four more months at different naval establishments based on the streams they have been assigned to.

“The Agnipath scheme is a stepping stone for me to become an officer in the navy or any of the other two services. I am not settling for anything less. The knowledge and skills that I have acquired during training, and will gain in the naval service that follows will put me in an advantageous position to achieve my goal,” said Shweta.

She took a shot at becoming an army officer last year but could not clear the Services Selection Board (SSB) interview to join the Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA). She is a National Cadet Corps (NCC) ‘C’ certificate holder. Those with NCC ‘C’ certificates get exemption from appearing for the Combined Defence Services Examination, conducted by Union Public Service Commission, to qualify for the SSB interview.

The Agnipath result was declared the day Shweta’s SSB result was announced.

“I didn’t want to sit at home, and chose to join INS Chilka. I will serve in the navy as a sailor, and simultaneously work hard to achieve my goals. After completing my basic four-month training here, I already feel I am better prepared to handle challenges and expected situations.”

The Agnipath model is a stark departure from the military’s decades-old recruitment system that ended after the government announced the new scheme last year. It seeks to recruit soldiers for only four years, with a provision to retain 25% of them in regular service for another 15 years after further screening. The navy’s ‘commission worthy’ scheme gives opportunities to deserving PBOR to successfullytransition to the officer cadre.

Deepak Chaudhary, a 20-year-old from Aligarh, is among the Agniveers who have set new goals for themselves, and are willing to give it their all to climb the career ladder. “If there’s one thing I have learnt during my training at INS Chilka, it is that I am capable of much more than I think. The training has broadened my horizons, and that’s why I am thinking big,” said Deepak.

The navy’s ‘commission worthy’ scheme gives opportunities to deserving PBOR to successfully transition to the officer cadre.

Many Agniveers, who are on the threshold of a challenging and exciting military career, say the training at INS Chilka has transformed them completely — toughened them up mentally and physically, made them more confident, helped them develop problem-solving skills, fostered discipline, team spirit and adaptability, taught them leadership lessons, and, above all, instilled into them core military values including honour, courage and commitment.

“All the things we have learnt here form the building blocks of success in all walks of life. And if you think you have the potential, then why should dreams not be chased. I see myself as a future officer in the navy,” said S Suresh, a 22-year-old from Tamil Nadu, who holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

In June 2022, India announced the Agnipath scheme replacing the legacy recruitment system to lower the age profile of the armed forces, ensure a fitter military, and create a technically skilled war-fighting force capable of meeting future challenges. The scheme is expected to bring down the average age of soldiers in the armed forces from the current 32 years to 24-26 years over the next five to six years.

Khushi Pathania, a 19-year-old from Punjab’s Pathankot, says she was raised to go after her dreams and never let go of them. “I am joining the navy as a sailor, and I am thrilled about it. The navy is a technology-intensive service and I don’t think any other entry-level job can give me that kind of exposure at my level,” she said.

“But that’s just the beginning of my journey. The dream of becoming a navy officer seems within my reach now. And who knows, I may someday return to INS Chilka as an officer instructor, and mentor others to work their way up to achieve their goals, just like I have been,” Khushi said.

Pointing to two slogans painted on a building near the imposing parade ground overlooking the Chilika lake, Deepak says he has found the twin mottos of his life, mottos that have strengthened his resolve to become an officer: Victory is My Profession and Train to Win.

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