Guest Column

An Open Letter From a Striking Myanmar Military Officer

By Htet Myat 1 April 2022

Htet Myat is a pseudonym for a Myanmar army major who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in June last year. He is a graduate of the Defense Services Academy (DSA) Intake 52 and served in the army from December 2009 till he joined the CDM in 2021. He is now taking shelter on the Thai-Myanmar border.

It is time for military personnel who are still serving in the military to decide whether or not to continue their military service. As an officer who served in the military for a decade, I will explain why they should act now.

Uncertainty over promotion

Junior officers who are in active military service would be aware that the system of giving promotions proportional to years of service no longer exists. What is sure is you will be a second lieutenant after you graduate, and promoted to lieutenant one year later and to captain three years later.

Unlike in the past, however, it is totally impossible that you will be promoted to major after five years of serving as a captain.

Junior officers might be aware what type of personnel are likely to get promoted under the regime leader.

For other ranks, it will take 10 or 15 years of service to get a chevron (though those who are particularly good at currying favor with their seniors can get one in one or two years). But then there is no guarantee that they will get higher promotions [to be commissioned officers]. So, for those who have joined the service to climb the ranks, it is time they left the army now.

Remuneration

In other countries, military personnel enjoy high pay. In Myanmar, the monthly salary of a captain is just over 300,000 kyats (US$168.35), which is chicken feed compared to living costs today.

The basic salary of a private is less than 200,000 kyats, which is barely enough to support their family. Some commissioned officers’ wives take advantage of this and lend them money at a 20-percent interest rate.

Meanwhile, after paying the grocery bills they owe to the onsite welfare grocery, and deducting other bills such as the monthly premium for mandatory life insurance, mandatory bank savings, and shares in military-owned business Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., all that is usually left is the receipts.

For those who have a family to support, the salary is a tiny amount with which to try and make ends meet.

Many commissioned officers can’t survive on their salaries and have to ask for financial support from their parents and relatives. Very few officers can support their family with the surplus from their salaries.

Dicing with death

Previously, fighting took place only in border areas where ethnic armed groups are based. But today, thanks to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s decision to provoke a fight with the people, many revolutionary groups have sprung up across the country.

The military therefore has to fight on various fronts across the country. Fresh DSA graduates, who have no experience in fighting, have been sent directly to the front lines.

Previously, combat troops alternately served on the front lines for one year and then rested for the next year. But today they barely have the “rest” year. Many have been on the front lines for more than two years, as there are no troops to relieve them. They do not know when they will be able to reunite with their families, or whether they will survive the fighting with their bodies intact. Junior officers including majors can die or lose their limbs before becoming brigadier generals.

At any time, they are expected to sacrifice their lives for the dictators. The situation will only get worse in the months to come. As the entire country has risen in revolt against the military dictatorship under the senior general, and many places across the country become battlegrounds, you can lose your life at any time. So, if you value your life, it is time you left the army now.

Privileges and rights

Unlike senior military leaders, lower level officers in Myanmar’s military enjoy hardly any rights. As the top brass’s power and privilege grow along with their ranks, they only use it for themselves and their families.

Opportunities do exist for those who are good at bootlicking. Only military generals and their families have seen great improvements in their living standards.

The military’s leave policy exists only on paper. Many military personnel are not granted leave even when their parents are critically ill, or to attend their funerals. So they can only weep from afar.

Meanwhile, those who marry military personnel, dubbed “Ye May” (female comrade), are forced not only to handle battalion chores but do the work of a domestic worker at the battalion commander’s house. Today, not only their wives but also their children are being forced to do things that they have nothing to do with.

Though they don’t want to do those things, they are being coerced with the word “order”. There are barely any rights and entitlements in the military. So, it is time you changed your life from being a terrorist soldier whose life is that of the “living dead”.

Depletion

Manpower is draining significantly from the military now. No youth are joining the military, which is killing the people. As the military only cares for finding new recruits, people of low caliber and moral standards are becoming soldiers.

The military is aware that it is impossible to attract new recruits now, so it has even scrapped the policy that requires battalions to recruit at least one soldier per month.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also responsible for the depletion. Due to the coup, military personnel have been forced to carry out military operations and security duty day and night, even during COVID-19 outbreaks. They die due to exhaustion and poor health care services.

Another cause of depletion is military operations. As revolutionary groups that oppose the unlawful coup have mushroomed across the country, it has become a battlefield for military personnel once they step out of their barracks.

Another cause is soldiers who have joined the CDM to stand with the people. Thousands of soldiers have joined the CDM. This is in addition to the as many as 1,000 soldiers who deserted the military annually even before the coup.

Future

This is most important. You have to think carefully about your future, and your family’s. Do you think you can afford to send your children for overseas study?

Can you even afford to send your children to a good local school with your salaries? You can only send your children to schools inside the barracks, where they can only receive poor schooling.

Children who receive such schooling end up in places like garment factories run by the military. They have to struggle, living a life of being forced to do what others ask them to do.

There is a saying that “Only when you work can you make a living,’ but it is important that what you receive is proportional to your hard work. It is said we have a 24-hour duty to protect the country and people, but it is high time you think about whether this suits the current situation.

Only when the army loves the people will the army be loved by the people. I want you to know that the people’s punishment of the military will be more frightening than it can imagine. Even if you love the military as much as your life, you will have to retire after you reach the retirement age and live back among the people.

Then, no military can protect you against the hatred of the people.

It is a noble cause to enter military service to protect the country and the people. But now, the military is being labeled a terrorist group as they are harming the people instead of protecting the people.

So, I would like to urge you to immediately leave the terrorist military, which does nothing good for you, your family, your race or your country. Now, countries like Australia are issuing visas for CDM soldiers.

There are many opportunities outside waiting for you to explore, depending on your capacity. So, I urge you to leave Min Aung Hlaing’s terrorist military—which can guarantee nothing for your life—as soon as possible, and join the people, and live your best life.

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