By The Nation
DESPITE DENIALS by the deputy prime minister and general of a system that delivers “servant soldiers” to their superiors to do personal chores, sources within the Armed Forces have confirmed its existence.
Military draftees are systematically assigned as “personal staff members to attend to the superiors” or even some generals after they have retired, Nation TV’s “Fact Hunters” programme has revealed. A military source told the TV show that the matter had even been discussed at a meeting of a major military unit and criteria set for such requests.
Officers who request “military privates as personal staff members” must be of the rank of lieutenant colonel and above to be eligible, said the source.
It was also set that officers could only get one private, although in practice military draftees would be sent in rotation so that officers would have an uninterrupted flow of personal service staff, said the insider. The use of military draftees for personal service also reportedly extends to retired commanders, the Fact Hunters report found. Some military units also have an internal culture of serving superiors until the retired warriors died.
It was common for visitors to the home of a retired general to see a private or two doing chores around his house. Faced with media reports about an Army private having to take care of an officer’s chickens and fighting cocks in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, Deputy PM and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan on Tuesday insisted that there was no such thing as “servant soldiers”.
He insisted the practice of putting recruits to personal service was a thing of the past in the Armed Forces. Prawit, however, said some junior soldiers might be “willingly borrowed from other units to voluntarily serve their seniors”.
Thai military tradition commonly allowed military draftees to do chores around officers’ residences or run mundane errands. The inappropriateness of the tradition of assigning draftees to menial personal tasks was highlighted in a recent case that attracted strong condemnation from netizens.
A military private posted a video on Facebook complaining about having to live in unhygienic conditions while tending to an unidentified officer’s hens and cocks after he was drafted and assigned to Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Thanarat Infantry Camp. The private claimed that if he failed to meet expectations, he was often scolded rudely and even slapped on the face.
The video went viral, resulting in public criticism of the personal-servant regime and prompting a fact-finding probe against the still-unnamed officer. The findings are expected to reach Army chief General Chalermchai Sittisart yesterday. The private has already been returned to his unit, with Chalermchai stating that he had suffered no repercussions for going public.
Some former privates interviewed on the condition of anonymity told Fact Hunters that many draftees are enticed into agreeing to be “servant soldiers” on the assumption that they would live more comfortably than those who remain in boot camp. They saw advantages in retaining their salary or allowance while also enjoying additional benefits if they served to the officers’ satisfaction.