OTA Chennai offers the second toughest military training in the world, pushing one to limits of mental and physical endurance.
When these women don the war paint, they mean business. With red and green paint streaked across their faces, combat uniforms in place and their rifles loaded, the lady cadets of the Officers Training Academy (OTA), Chennai, are busy with their long range firing practice, interrupted briefly for this interview. Close to 15 per cent of the 58 women cadets assembled here are first generation army officer recruits.
“It was pride in wearing the uniform that made me join,” says Anusha Gopalakrishnan whose sister is in the Air Force. On the other hand, there is Radhika Jaggi, whose father and grandfather, were both in the army. “It is a good, honourable job and you’re working for the people,” she says. Parul Sharma, whose father is a journalist declares, “It is my privilege to serve in the army.”
There are two OTAs, one in Chennai which is 50 years old, and one in Gaya which is two years old. OTA Chennai is special because it offers facilities to train women cadets which is not there in Gaya. Officers are trained in the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun also, but it is for a Long Service Commission, which extends to 20 years, while the Short Service Commission is only for 10 years.
Getting into the OTA is non-trivial. After graduation, in addition to passing the UPSC, prospective cadets have to qualify in the medical and psychological tests conducted by the academy before they can join. Once they qualify, they are put through 10 months of rigorous and vigorous training which brings out the leader in them. Then they are taken in for the short service commission, which is service in the army for 10 years, after which they can take up civilian status. Their classroom training is in social science, computer science and communication skills, and outdoor training includes handling arms, endurance skills, equestrian practice, drills and much more.
“The training makes us mentally and physically tough.” This is a statement echoed by the gentlemen cadets as well as the ladies. To get an idea of the level of the endurance training — they are made to jog for 40 kilometres carrying weapon loads of about 20 kilograms on their backs! This, for your information, is equally tough on the ladies and gentlemen. “Perhaps the distance they run is a little less but ladies too carry the same load and run,” says Brigadier Arul Dennis, VSM, who is in charge of the training, himself an alumnus of OTA, Chennai.
“There are many misconceptions about the army. The way army personnel are portrayed in films is way off...” He continues, “It is a very good profession and we enjoy such a status and now even the pay is very good, the cadets get around Rs. 30, 000, which is much more than what we used to get in our days,” he reminisces.
Says Anubhav Singh, “I was in IMA, Dehradun, for a few months when I had to discontinue because of a physical problem. I wrote the exam again, and came back to OTA Chennai. This is supposed to be the second toughest military training in the world. During the first few months it is difficult, but we learn to adjust.”
When asked what they would opt for, the answers vary. They are ranked just like in any exam-oriented course and this affects their commissions. While Kiran Kumar would opt for Army Air Defence, Anubhav Singh would choose the mechanised infantry. His eyes shine as he says, “My first preference would be mechanised infantry. It would include a BMP — which is a machine similar to a tank. I feel mechanized infantry is the backbone of the Indian army. My second preference would be gurkhas.”
The demand for training for the SSC is on the rise; last year there were 380 officers who passed out. OTA Chennai is the only place where women can be trained, but due to the rising demand, two years ago, another academy was set up in Gaya, which now boasts of two batches of officers successfully trained and commissioned.
So here is a unique profession where you can push yourself to the limits, as Prashant Negi says, “When we run a 40 km distance with a 20 kg load, we know how much our bodies can take. It is not just physical toughness but mental robustness as well.”
On the way out, we come across three cadets jogging their way to some destination. Unless they are a squadron, they have to jog, that is the rule of the army school. So if you are one with a passion for discipline and rules, the army school is the place for you!