The memories of 35 years will not fade away for 79 of us. Representing the true comradeship among the batch mates since June 6, 1985, we were committed to providing a selfless service to the Nation, sacrificing the most precious youth of our lives to safeguard the motherland and its peace-loving citizens. It was a [...]

Sunday Times 2

Tribute to Intake 21 of Sri Lanka Army as they cherish 35 years of service to the nation


The memories of 35 years will not fade away for 79 of us. Representing the true comradeship among the batch mates since June 6, 1985, we were committed to providing a selfless service to the Nation, sacrificing the most precious youth of our lives to safeguard the motherland and its peace-loving citizens.

After their training course in Pakistan

It was a journey through critical challenges under tough conditions. Combat and service endurance were experienced to the tip of the profession. Each one of us has a great story to share. However, the common thread will elaborate the immortality of Intake 21.

Terrorism was on the rise after Black July of 1983 while the country’s security situation, especially in the Northern and Eastern provinces, was worsening. Hence there was an urgent need to strengthen the defence forces.

Under these circumstances, we were the Army’s First Intake which crossed the 50-Officer-Cadet limit for a single batch. We went through a rigorous interview process. The final interview was with a board comprising the then Defence Secretary of and the then Army Commander. From thousands of applicants, 79 Officer Cadets were selected from Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Matara, Kurunegala, Bandarawela and Kegalle schools. Eleven of them were from Royal College and the rest were mainly from, Ananda, Nalanda, S. Thomas’, St Joseph’s, Prince of Wales, De La Salle, Trinity, Dharmaraja, Kingswood, Vidyartha, St Anthony’s, Richmond, Mahinda, Maliyadeva, St Anne’s, Rahula, Bandarawela Central and Kegalu Maha Vidyalaya.

Most of them were Sri Lanka Schools Coloursmen in athletics, soccer, basketball and cricket. Some were Senior School Cadets who held ranks in National Cadet Corps. The calibre of the intakes naturally raised the bar of expectation and created a competitive, but healthy, environment during training.  Having completed the basic training at the Sri Lanka Military Academy (SLMA) in Diyatalawa, 60 of us, including the triple Pereras — Harshana, Dhammika and Priyankara from the Air Force — were selected for one-year training in Pakistan. It was a comprehensive programme, covering both conventional and counter-terrorism warfare, under a knowledgeable and experienced panel of Pakistani Army instructors.

Some of the 27 Majors General who rose from Intake 21

We are grateful to our Course Officer Major General (Rtd) Lalith Wijetunge and Course Sergeant Warrant Officer Seneviratne Banda and Pakistani instructors – Brigadier (Rtd) Zafarullah Khan and Lt Colonel (Rtd) Shaheed lqbal Waraich for moulding us to be what we are today. The memories we share today are mostly made of pains and challenges that paved the way for great military careers.

Having returned to Sri Lanka, prior to joining the respective regiments, we followed a Counter Revolutionary Warfare course. The present Army Commander, Lt General Shavendra Silva, was from our senior SLMA batch. Going by the rich tradition, our senior batches inculcated the military discipline and military culture into us to uphold the reputation of the Service.

Based on the field demand, a majority of us were posted to Infantry Regiments. The others joined the Teeth Arms, Support and Service Regiments in the height of the war. Though, our parents and immediate family members were concerned about our lives, we were determined and ready to fight for our motherland. The fearlessness moved us forward to perform as desired and fit into the brave Force to fight in any terrain under any condition. Our batch mates fought from 1986 to 2009 for 23 long years. They faced the risks and fought as fighting soldiers from day one.

The nation would always salute the 10 batch mates who made the supreme sacrifice. The records will highlight this as the highest number of officers killed in action in a single intake of any Service in Sri Lanka. These unsung heroes are: Major Asela Dahanayake, Major Namal Mendis, Lt Col Thuwan Ahamath Pakeer, Major Deepal Waduge, Major Panduka Wanasinghe, Lt Buddhika Alakawala, Captain Shamendra Ranasinghe, Lt Col Dheera Liyanage, Col Jayantha Suraweera and Lt Col Susantha Punchihewa. Major Sumith Kaluarachchi and Major Jagath Prasanna Warnakula died after they retired from the service.

More than 15 batch mates were wounded in action and awarded “Deshaputhra” medal and other bravery medals. Major General Rajitha Ampemohotti, Major General Rajeewa Wickramasinghe, Col Lal Wijegunawardane and Lt Col Modestus Fernando were physically handicapped after they were wounded in battle, but they perform differently and effectively in life to set an example to others. Rajeewa represented Sri Lanka in archery at Para Olympics Games.  Rajitha took part in many international games in wheelchair racing. Modestus is recognised as a permanent panel member of the Institute of International Legal Studies in the United States. He is also associated with many United Nations sub-committees on human rights. Lal is employed in the United Nations in Iraq as a security adviser.

Maj General Ralf Nugera, Maj Gen Manoj Mudannayake, Maj Gen Rohitha Dharmasiri and Maj Gen Mahinda Mudalige, Maj Gen Gamini Vidyananda, Maj Gen Shantha Dissanayake, Maj Gen Sudath Perera, Lt Col Nishantha Mallikarachchi, Maj Dhammika Balasuriya and Col Sujeewa Gunawardana are some of the officers who were critically injured in battles. Some are affected with post-war mental conditions and are still under medication. Shouldn’t they deserve to be respected for the sacrifices they made to protect the people of Sri Lanka? The history would have been different, if not for the bravery of our heroic officers.

If I am to cite a single example, the automatic choice would be the story of our batch mate Major (Rtd) Jayantha Fernando who defended the Jaffna Fort for three months, before the siege was successfully ended by Lt Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, present President Lt Col (Rtd) Gotabaya Rajapaksa and our troops.

I also remember the brave leadership role played by Colonel Saman Fernando, a mechanical engineer, in defending the Mullaitivu camp when it was attacked by terrorists. Such heroic actions are countless to mention here. They, as Officers and Gentlemen, will not show off their bravery, but would prefer to live a humble life. We all can be proud of them and learn lessons of life.

However, their contributions and experiences in all major and minor operations, including “Wadamarachchi”, “Riviresa” and North and East Humanitarian Operations during the final battle, should be recorded as lessons learnt at least for academic purposes in the military.

The military leadership roles played during the final battle by the Infantry Divisions’ heroes — Maj Gen Ralf Nugera, Maj Gen Nishantha Wanniarachchi, Maj Gen Aruna Wanniaarachchi and Maj Gen Sudath Perera — are well known and their bravery will be written in the counterterrorism history of Sri Lanka.

The highlight of the Intake 21 is that it eventually produced 17 Majors General and it is a record in Sri Lankan Defence Forces. Further, the Sri Lanka Army’s present Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Rasika Namal Fernando holds the highest appointment among his batch mates as the youngest in the Intake. Intake 21 has produced a Military Secretary, four Security Force Commanders, a Volunteer Force Commander, Principal Staff Officers, Logistic Commanders, GOCs, Directors and many key officers in the Army. Those who opted for early retirement are well established in private and public sectors in Sri Lanka and overseas, including in the UN and the World Bank. Their success stories stem from their foundation in and experience gained from the Army.

The contribution of Intake 21 to end the three decades old war is immense and they fought courageously to end terrorism by May 2009 with the rest of the Army. They can die happily and respectfully with the feeling that they have brought back peace and safeguarded the sovereignty of our motherland. It is also vital to remember the parents, wives, children and immediate family members of our batch mates, for they bore the pains silently at home while their loved ones served the Nation.

Having served 35 long years, it is now time to share the experiences and knowledge with our next generation of officers. I also can assure that our batch mates are there to support others and the motherland in the time of need even in retirement. I wish my batch mates the good health and long life, in the midst of 35th Anniversary joy.

Lt Col (Rtd) Ajith Siyambalapitiya

Commanding Officer – 1st Regiment, Sri Lanka Corps of Military Police (2004 – 2006)

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