INSIDE THE ROYAL THAI NAVAL ACADEMY
Please find below a very interesting account by Robert Guzman of the Bangkok Post all about the Royal Thai Naval Academy. Those Thai Navy boys and girls sure work hard but read below for the fun and benefits. They even get to scuba dive!!! Many things are learned from weapons training, naval strategies to ship handling. The training stands them in good stead to be good Navy officers and personnel and good citizens in the future. Go on have a read.
The Honour Guard marks special occasions.
Creating an elite for peace in a changing world
and pictures by ROBERT GUZMAN
He doesnít yet realize. A 16-year-old whoís had the fortitude to overcome the obstacles placed before admittance into the
Nothing overly strenuous here though?the usual
1,500-meter run, 100-meter dash, 13 chin-ups, 50 pushups, 50-meter swim ?a
moderately athletic high school student could do it. Theyíre not looking for
young Rambos. "I donít think weíre as hard on our students as the other
academies are," says Lt. Prakit Rumpungkun, professor of Marine Engineering
and himself a graduate of the
The Royal Thai Navy is aware that operating a modern fleet rests on its ability to turn out navigators and engineers. The English, the physical strengthening, the military etiquette can all come later. For now, the pre-cadet and the RTN seem happy to have found each other. At 16, this young man is locked in a relationship that might last through retirement and old age pension.
The inductee is now part of an elite group. He can glory for a while at being selected from over 15,000 candidates, competing for 120 slots, though a handful of those bypassed will fill a similar number of openings in one of the other branches.
A special feature of the pre-cadet program meme is that it is conjointly operated by the Thai Army, Navy, Airforce and Police. Some view the system as over-competitive, but most government strategists feel the teenage networking that takes place is a rare chance for the future leaders of all the armed forces to mix. This cohesion is no small concern in a new democracy where it is important for key players in government to agree on basic issues, particularly the preservation of democracy.
A question of balance
Completing the two-year prep-school programme, a pre-cadet
is guaranteed a place in the
For the new cadet, the comforts of guaranteed housing, adequate messing, a bit of spending money and having something to do are shadowed by the sobering thought that the normal life of a teenager is closed to him. The acne, partying, music and girlfriends that preoccupy young civilians are now lesser concerns as he comes to grips with centuries-old tactics devised by navies everywhere to instill leadership and seamanship skills in raw recruits.
Navies are the most exceptional of the armed forces. If
youíre gregarious, but require your "space" itís not for you.
"Navy people have a unique personality," explains the scholarly
Captain Thongbai Dhiranandankura, a former Buddhist monk, trained in
Then thereís the sea. Fifth-year cadet Saisuwan, 23,
from Chonburi applied because he loves it. Heíd better. Cadets become
certified SCUBA divers during third year ?but thatís fun. The annual
training cruises on one of the Navyís nearly 200 vessels are not. "Itís
for 45 days, thereís always something to do" (read hard work), says
second-year cadet "Johnny". "Itís hot and you get one shower a
week," an unheard of torture for all the cadets. "We come off those
ships so dirty and stinking, no one will come near us," says Lt. Prakit
Rumpungkun. Final cruise, 60 days long, made just before graduation, is
overseas. Cadets visit places like
More than any other service branch, you lose your privacy.
"It was the most difficult part of my adjustment, sometimes I wanted to
cry," sighs the Lieutenant. Dr. Prakit represents an extraordinary type of
educator. He speaks elegant English and has a Ph.D. in engineering from the
And the ladies?too ?20 percent of the faculty are women in an institution that trains no women. Not all agree with this policy. "I donít see why there shouldnít be women cadettes," says Lt. Commander Savapak Sudthichai, English instructor. "We should be able to serve aboard ships." How about an all female crew? "Great," says the Commander. "Women should have equal opportunity."
With their qualifications and experience, instructors could earn much more in the private sector. Whatís the reward? "First, I love teaching," says Captain Kobkun Chaiyakun, English instructor, who has been at her post 20-plus years. Thank goodness for that. Other than a modest retirement pension and housing if they need it, there have to be alternate reasons for staying on.
Veteran teacher Theresa Miller, a transplanted Bostonian,
agrees. "The salary is not the big attraction," admits Theresa, who
has also been at her desk for 20 years. "But the job is fun, the students
are polite, the staff is helpful. Itís just so friendly here." She is
currently one of only two foreigners working on base. Otherwise, the
A Day in the Life
From the moment he signs on the dotted line, 90 percent of a cadetís life is not his. He is told what time to wake up ?thatís 0530 hours ?for the better part of the next decade, excepting weekends and annual three-week home leave. He is told when and what to eat. Itís usually Thai food and they say they get enough of it. Unbelievable ?an institution where the inmates donít complain about the food. One reason ?cadets are responsible for their own messing! Student management teams plan the budget, design monthly menus and make daily purchasing trips to the Samut Prakan market.
He is told how to dress ?but no problem here. If styles on the outside are any gauge, cadets are high fashion. For some, good-looking uniforms were a reason for applying. After months of physical training and controlled diets, cadets look dashing, especially in "dress whites", mandatory for weekend leaves. The Navy generously supplies 14 uniforms, one for every occasion. Itís good PR ?and keeping a uniform white requires some pretty defined behavior.
Should they ever decide on another career, the Thai film industry would be happy to talk to many. Thatís unlikely, though. Cadets commit themselves for ten years after graduation. Breaking this contract means a hefty reimbursement fee.
In any training programme, cadets march and run miles. The distinction here is that boot camp meets university. They may be smartly dressed, wear spit-polished shoes and carry briefcases, but the 644 trainees proceed to and from classes by precision marching or jogging. Thereís no milling around.
Public behavior is discreet ?precious moments of free time are spent around a picnic table under a pradue, known here as the "navy tree". "They must call it that because all the blooms come out and fall off at the same time," says Captain Chunida Dechkum. The analogy?"Sailors ship out together and die together if the ship goes down," says this English instructor.
Courtesy is universal. "The first thing we are all taught to do here is greet people," says Captain Kasinee Jiamonpakit, head of Humanities. "Cadets are required to say sawadeekrap to everyone they meet, including roommates in the morning. Itís a tradition I havenít seen in the other academies."
Housing presents challenges. Students share comfortable four-bed rooms ?there are no barracks ?but the Navy has come up with a system for placing discipline and etiquette on a fast track. Alone among the armed forces, naval cadets are housed hierarchically. A room is shared by a senior, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman. Doesnít this invite abuse? "Not really," says Lt. Prakit, who remembers his own experience vividly. "Remember, aboard ship, billeting is so tight that you may have to sleep next to your commanding officer." Could this happen in the army or air force? "Never," says Prakit, "so youíd better get used to living with your boss."
Misuse of the system has been known ?a senior may require a roommate to do his homework or perform some personal service ?but he finds his authority limited by the grapevine. If cadet opinion decides an individual is abusing his rank, he must decide whether continuing the practice is worth a shredded reputation. Leadership is an acquired skill.
Academically, weapons training, naval strategies and shiphandling are important, but cadets study dozens of subjects, many non-technical. Course completion requirements seem reasonable. They need minimum training scores ranging from 60-65 percent. Teaching styles reveal flexibility, perhaps because in the Navy, on-the-job-training is so important. "I feel sorry for first and second-year students," says an instructor. "Their lives are so tough, I have to be a bit lenient with them. By third-year, itís much easier."
Many feel that a stricter programme would make the cadets too aggressive. To counter this, they are allowed to go to their families on weekends, wearing their dress whites, of course, carrying the Navy mystique to distant provinces.
A Region in Flux
No need to search for a methodology. The apprentice
system, where adolescents were given naval training, worked fine in 19th
The fledgling Navy practiced its skills in 1941, when it
repulsed a seven-ship French fleet in the
Given the external threats to
She may have a point. Interim governments, mediation
teams, foreign policy have often had RTN input. The Navy, for example, opposed
the alliance with
By the 1970s, Thais began calling for more democracy. In
the resulting upheaval, the Navy unwittingly found itself in a conciliatory
position. When violence broke out during a student demonstration, protesters
were forced into the
Today, as in the past, the four Armed Forces Academies serve as an escape valve, enabling needy students to acquire a career. The vast majority are from provincial families of modest economic resources. According to Dr Praon Sunthornwipat, head of the RTNA Statistics Division, 50 percent come from households earning less than 30,000 baht monthly, not enough to finance a university education. Without this outlet, a profession would be out of the question for some deserving students.
They muster five times a day, watch an hour of TV and are confined to campus Monday to Friday. Over a long period of their lives, bedtime is Waking moments are accounted for, private moments observed. With all these restrictions, is life at the Academy easy or difficult? "Easyyyyyy!" roars a third-year class, with plenty of irony. We might need to ask here why they do it. More to the point, how do they do it?
For a new instructor, the job is, at first, a handful and a challenge. In many ways, the academic atmosphere is more like an American liberal arts college. Each instructor decides classroom policy, including attendance, writes his own programme of instruction, formulates his own grading system, produces training aids, writes quizzes, decides evaluation methods.
There are typically 104 cadets on a teacherís roster,
some occasionally too exhausted by their training to stay awake. This can result
in an annoying classroom moment or two ?it is not