What is it that binds people together, year after year after year? A shared destiny, belief in a common cause, a unifying culture, cherished memories, and the strength that comes from an abiding relationship. This is the sum of a military professional’s espirit de corps, at the heart of the camaraderie that marks its members as part of a unique enterprise. Military men join up as strangers, arriving from disparate backgrounds and from all corners of the land. They begin to live together through all the vagaries that the demands of their solemn oath places upon them. They share great moments, reveling in each other’s joys and achievements, providing strength in their sorrows, and building around them a vast family that becomes a ‘band of brothers’ knitted together by collective experiences. When the time comes to bid farewell they merely fade away, but they can never leave. We are all soldiers for life!
Recently, I had the tremendous good fortune to witness all of this in person. The occasion was the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of 40th PMA Long Course held at Abbottabad from 5-7 May 2017. I led a three-man organizing committee tasked to arrange a gathering to celebrate the day we joined the Pakistan Army. It started off as an exploratory venture, but as time wore on it took a life of its own, drawing in some three hundred people across four generations and three continents, from age 87 years to six months old! Our ambitions for the event were propelled by the excitement that it generated amongst old friends, who not only wished to reconnect at the place of their first meeting but wanted their memories to be passed on to the following generations. As the magnitude of the task grew, so did the logistics of it. We were staring into the impossibility of delivering to expectations, when the military’s espirit de corps intervened. From the General Headquarters to PMA Kakul to institutions and units in Abbottabad, all embraced our desires as their own, lending enthusiasm and cooperation that was unprecedented and spontaneous. One motivation guided them all – “we do not forget our veterans and we will do all we can to make the bonds that keep us together even stronger”. One event, one celebration, one day that epitomizes the collective responsibility of the military family to its enduring ethos of togetherness!
The veterans of 40th PMA Long Course (May 7, 1967 - April 19, 1969) arrived at PMA, Kakul at 0930 hours on May 6, 2017 to commemorate the completion of exactly 50 years since they first entered these very same gates! A galaxy of 276 guests – the founding Term Commander, Platoon Commanders, Gentlemen Cadets, wives, children and grandchildren – were warmly welcomed behind the Main Mess, on the steps to the Rafiullah Drill Square (RDS). Out of 167 course-mates (including Naval Cadets) that formed the original batch, 126 are alive, of whom 65 attended this memorable occasion along with their families. There was an air of excitement as friends reconnected under a magical, nostalgic spell – embracing and hugging and patting each other amidst shouts of joy! The backdrop of the Main Mess served as the ideal platform to preserve the memory of this ‘Grand Gathering’ in group photographs with and without the families.
Finally, with heavy hearts and tearful eyes and leaden feet, this great family of friends took leave of each other, locking themselves in one last tight embrace, not wanting to let go. Then, they sauntered off into the distance, looking back and exchanging furtive glances, not knowing what lay in the future for them.
As the trumpets rang out, the PMA Drill Staff swung into action. The coursemates were mustered for the traditional ‘Parade’, organized into their original five platoons led by their respective SUOs (in our time 1st Pakistan Battalion comprised of five companies: Khalid, Tariq, Qasim, Salah-Ud-Din and Aurangzeb). They were then put through their paces, under the watchful eyes of the Adjutant as he sat astride his magnificent charger, and paraded around the RDS with long-forgotten skills. The Drill Subedar Major censured Tariq Platoon (the Champion in 1969) for their “poor drill”, to the amusement of the spectators and the other platoons! The families looked on from the enclosures, with rapt attention and curiosity, taking pictures and making videos. These retired and aging officers, once again perked up and became young cadets, as they proudly tried to recapture the glorious moments from the past.
The PMA Band played the same old tunes, as these “officers-turned-cadets” slow-marched up the stairs to the lilting strains of “Al Wida” in a re-enactment of their passing-out, to disappear once again into the Main Mess. Their families followed them and joined them for some well-earned ‘Hi-Tea’ and refreshments. The guests mingled around as they exchanged more memories, accomplishments and pleasantries with each other, introducing families and creating new friendships.
The guests were then divided into two groups and they embarked upon a ‘Tour of PMA’. The voyage through PMA, in fact, proved exciting as well as wistful. It was meant to be a drive-through the now massive PMA complex, but everybody demanded stops along the way to dismount from the buses to experience first-hand their respective Company Lines, the rooms they lived in, the many venues of their ‘ragging’, the Mile Track, Horse and Saddle Club, Visitors’ Centre, Museum etc. They cherished the places of their own time and admired the new structures. The officers and their families were especially mesmerized to find the original data of their time in the PMA Museum in the form of Long Roll, Rising Crescent, individual, group and company photos, the Honour Boards, memorabilia from their past, etc. In fact, the Museum took them back to their own time within a compact capsule.
The guests then arrived for the ‘Formal Commemoration Lunch’ at the imposing 3rd Pakistan Battalion Mess and relished the full-service meal, experiencing once again the formality and dignity of dining at the PMA, with its unique cooking aroma and the enthralling ambiance of their Alma Mater. During the lunch, a pictorial slideshow of their time, with the music of their own Passing Out Parade playing in the background, was projected on screens around the hall. Then, as the Course Senior, I rose up and led a silent prayer to honour the Shuhada and to remember the departed colleagues of the Course. In my address to the assembled guests, Ireminisced with the help of photographs and montages, sharing many interesting incidents from our training. I emphasized the value of this event, as a continuation of military traditions designed to foster ever greater cohesion. On behalf of the Course, I thanked Maj Gen Abdullah Dogar, Commandant PMA, and his team for extending extraordinary support to enable such an unprecedented celebration of our Golden Jubilee. Special thanks were extended to Lt Col Taimur, CO 3rd Pakistan Battalion; Maj Usman Sarwar, the Coordinating Officer; and Maj Sarfraz Ahmed, Exo Museum for their hardwork and cooperation. A standing ovation was given to two coursemates, Brig Ijaz Rasool (Retd) and Col Tahir Mumtaz (Retd), for their tireless efforts in organizing this memorable event on such an unprecedented scale. ‘Souvenirs’ were then presented by an eminent selection of Platoon Commanders, senior members and the Company SUOs to the many local institutions and units – the Baloch, Frontier Force and AMC Regimental Centres, the ASPT & MW, the MES, FWO, Topo Survey Unit, and Station Headquarters – who contributed most enthusiastically in hosting the event.
Finally, the founding Term Commander of 40th PMA Brig Azam Mirza (Retd), was invited to join me in unveiling the ‘Course Gift’ to PMA Kakul: a magnificent trophy representing the“Battle Standards of the Warriors of Islam”, a truly inspirational memento that we hope will serve as a lasting beacon for the gentlemen cadets.
The majestic ceremony came to an end around 1600 hours, with the Band playing familiar tunes as the Course departed the PMA grounds carrying with them unforgettable memories – from the past and the present.
This was not the end of the celebrations, however.
The guests reassembled at the Baloch Regimental Centre for ‘Dinner and Musical Evening’, which turned into a night of songs, dances, gaiety and fun. There was an air of informality and vitality as the families arrived at the beautifully decorated lawns overlooking the lights of Abbottabad. This was a moment for photographs and much laughter, before everyone settled down to hear Brig Ijaz Rasool (Retd) describe the year-long journey towards holding the Golden Jubilee. There were interesting facts and data, from ISSB selections to a full count of what and where each of our colleagues became, to details on attendance and financial stock-taking. The wives of our departed colleagues and of the organisers were then invited to cut the ‘Jubilee Cake’, crafted in the colours of PMA and the five companies of 1st Pak Battalion. A lavish sit-down dinner followed, served to the accompaniment of live music. Well satiated, the families joined together as they were regaled by the melodious voice of ‘Bulbul-e-Hazara’. The course mates became young again as they swayed to the rhythm of the songs, interspersed with the recounting of some light moments from the past by Brig Javed Aziz (Retd). The night wore on and not a single person was spared from taking the floor and moving to the tunes! There was much more fun in stock, but a wild storm and rain put a halt to the festivities around midnight. One surprise awaited the families as they exited the venue, however: individually packed and labelled ‘Gift Bags’ filled with especially prepared mementoes for each and every one – cadets, wives, children and grandchildren – all 276 of them!
The next day, before the Course departed for their homes, there was one last activity still waiting for them – a casual outing to the Piffers’ Golf Club for ‘Brunch and Picnic’, with games played out by all ages! The venue was exquisitely set up by the hosts amidst lush green lawns and towering maple trees in the backdrop of the Abbottabad hills. Stalls were set up with snacks and balloon-shooting and other games of skill for the children. The wives contested keenly at putting a golf ball; the girls ran the spoon and potato race; the boys, the wheelbarrow race. There were other events like thread-and-needle, sack, and three-legged races amidst a constant clamour to claim more than 40 prizes on offer! The men re-paired to one corner where a general body meeting of the ‘Fortieth Forte Association’ finalized course matters and lauded the contributions of past office bearers, Brig Tariq Mohar (Retd) and Mr. Osama Tariq to keep the fraternity together. Regret was expressed at the negative attitude of Bangladesh government in not allowing some of our desirous Bengali course mates from participating. Finally, it was unanimously agreed to begin the process of compiling a Memory Book for publication by April 19, 2019 to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Passing Out. With everyone tired from the activities all around, they now turned their attention to the sumptuous brunch, accompanied by more friendly banter and some much needed relaxing in the sun. As the hour of departure came nearer there was a last round of photographs, and vows all around to carry the flame of this 50 years bond of comradeship forward, into the next generation.
Finally, with heavy hearts and tearful eyes and leaden feet, this great family of friends took leave of each other, locking themselves in one last tight embrace, not wanting to let go. Then, they sauntered off into the distance, looking back and exchanging furtive glances, not knowing what lay in the future for them. Rumi had said: “This moment is all that there is. But, do not grieve. The moments you lose come around as memories that are forever.”The family of 40th PMA Long Course had lived their moments joyously, transforming them into priceless vignettes, reflected in everlasting memories. ‘Fortieth Forte Forever’!
On my return from the event, I wrote a letter of thanks on behalf of the Course to General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff. I said to the Chief: “We were blessed to have had these dedicated and committed institutions, as well as individuals with an abiding sense of personal devotion, working tirelessly to honour us and our memories. It was most humbling for us to receive such respect and attention, many years after we last wore our uniforms. Each and every one of us came away with renewed pride in our glorious heritage of camaraderie and espirit de corps, and in this great brotherhood and profession that will never cease to be a part of us. We wish to express our deepest appreciation and gratitude to all under your command for living up to the oldest and grandest of all military traditions: that we are one family – never forgotten, never separated, never retired.”
We are sure that those who follow us will continue to receive the Chief’s encouragement and the military’s institutional patronage. Fostering cohesion and developing a spirit of comradeship lies at the foundation of our profession, sustaining and nurturing its growth. Our prayers for the glory, strength, and well-being of the Pakistan Army!
Lt Gen Tariq Waseem Ghazi (Retired) was commissioned in the Baloch Regiment and served the Pakistan Army for 38 years. He has been a UN Chief Military Observer, Commander of a Corps, and Commandant of both Command & Staff College, Quetta and National Defence College, Islamabad (now university, NDU). He has also served as the country’s Secretary of Defence from 2005-2007.
E-mail: [email protected]
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