Ashraf’s Column

Friday, June 16, 2006

A dream comes true

It was in the afternoon of 17 December, 1973. I, a Captain then, along with another Major reached Comilla Cantonment from Dhaka by a bus. We were two of the first fourteen army officers posted to the then nonexistent Bangladesh Military Academy (BMA) to establish the academy. A few of these fourteen were posted to BMA from units located in Comilla. But till then none of them joined BMA. At dusk we were led to the BOQ (bachelor officers’ quarters) of the 1st Field Regiment Artillery Officers’ Mess on a tiny mound. No sooner had I entered the room allotted to me than I leaped out of it. Believe you me, there was that strong pungent smell of fresh goat droppings! It took few minutes for me to muster my soldierly guts and bear with the smell ! Thanks God, the toilet was operational! After having a quick wash I went to the mess to have a cup of tea. I requested the Mess Havildar to arrange a sweeper to clean my room with phenyl or dettol. After long waiting at about 8 PM a sweeper came, but with no phenyl or dettol. The room was washed with water again making no difference in the intensity of the goat’s blessing! A cot newer was placed in the room. The bed was laid. But there were no stands to fix the mosquito net. It was impossible to sleep without a mosquito net. I sent a message to my old friend Captain Eric Rozario (now retired as a Colonel), the Quarter Master of the host unit, to help me out. 12 O’clock at night Eric came with two sets of mosquito net stands (one set for my companion). Eric was apologetic for the delay. 1300 soldiers, mostly repatriated ones from Pakistan, were at that time living in his unit which had the capacity to hold only 400 soldiers. All soldiers could not sleep at a time at night because of shortage of space under the roof, cots and mosquito nets. They slept by turns. Eric had to wait till 12 O’clock for one batch of soldiers to wake up and spare the mosquito net stands for us.

Next morning when we asked where was our (BMA) office we were shown some empty barracks not far way from the mess. I and my companion in full uniform walked to the area which gave a deserted look. We found some jackals moving freely. Soldiers on sentry duty with staves in hand warned us to be aware of those man-eating animals. They got the taste of human blood and flesh during the Liberation War in 1971. We managed to get a school type bench from a nearby barrack. We put it under the shade of a mango tree on a small mound and sat over it facing west to avoid direct sunlight on our faces. By about 1 O’clock some soldiers from the local signals unit came and placed a receiver set on the bench between me and my partner. So, we got a telephone! We were so happy! We talked to the local Brigade HQ on telephone and a CJ-5 jeep, allotted to BMA, with no overhead cover and silencer reported to us by 2 O’clock. Our joys knew no bounds. That was how the history of BMA started.

Then the million dollar question which stormed our mind was what to do next? Where from to start the raising of the organization of our dream , BMA? Yes, soon we got the answer to our question and started working under the very able leadership of Major A Manaf (later Major General and now deceased). Many skeptics at home and abroad had little confidence in our ability to establish a military academy. Many politicians and economists openly opposed the idea of having a military academy in Bangladesh by assigning many unreal reasons. But we, a bunch of mid level and young army officers, took the challenge in the right earnest. BMA started functioning. The first batch of gentleman cadets (GCs) arrived in January,1974. It was an excellent lot. All the boys were highly intelligent, hard working and patriotic. Many of them had already gathered war experience in our Liberation War. It was always a great pleasure dealing with them inside and outside the classroom. A dream started taking shape.

Today after 32 years our dream has come true. By the grace Allah and with the active support of the people of Bangladesh we have done it. The high quality of the professional training imparted in BMA is now recognized all over the world. In addition to our own officers many officers from friendly foreign countries have been receiving training in this academy. The people of Bangladesh can rightly feel proud of BMA and its officers.

Lieutenant General Moeen U Ahmed, one of our dear students from the 1st batch of BMA cadets, has been appointed as the Chief of Army Staff of Bangladesh Army and promoted to his present rank. With General Moeen heading the army a new golden chapter is added today to the history of BMA, to the military history of our country. My heartiest congratulations to you Moeen. We are proud of you. May Allah bless you with the physical, mental and moral strength to bear the responsibility He has reposed on you. I am grateful to Allah for keeping me alive to see this day.

Syed Ashrafuzzaman

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