STF Training Academy: Inside the defenders’ realm | Sunday Observer

STF Training Academy: Inside the defenders’ realm

26 May, 2019
Instructor teaching new recruits
Instructor teaching new recruits

The opportunity to defend the motherland is bestowed on a select few. This becomes even more exclusive for those women aspiring to serve in the Special Task Force of the Sri Lanka Police.

The STF has done a tremendous service to the nation for the past 35 years. Their main training academy is at Katukurunda, covering many acres of rugged terrain. When I visited this School there was much activity, amidst heavy rain. This is the reality of service life, becoming accustomed to all weather conditions. The female recruit training batch No. 6 (intake 76) was training with enthusiasm.

The woman officer in charge of this all female batch is Inspector Sandana Kumari assisted by Sub Inspectors Kanchana Perera and Dilani Abeysinghe. The girls had returned from their morning PT routine and were getting ready for their lectures, attired in blue overalls and blue beret. Inspector Kumari explained, “Since 1985 the Special Task Force has recruited women. Initially, seven women were taken and trained for communication duty. Since then the training has evolved and we have the same combat training elements as the men. On June 13, 1992 the first batch of women police constables were recruited and given the basic para-military training, and today they have risen to hold the rank of Inspectors. The first direct Sub-Inspector batch was enlisted in 1997 comprising 10 women officers”.

Sub-Inspector Kanchana Perera is one of the first women to complete the parachute course (airborne) and serves the academy as an instructor. She said, “These new recruits come from all over the island and are in the age group of 20-25. After verifying their academic results they face an interview and a medical exam. Once considered fit for training they first go to the Sri Lanka Police College (Kalutara), for a duration of six months where they learn about the law and undergo a basic physical training. On completion of this stage they come to our academy where the total training period lasts about a year and a half. During this time we also give them a jungle training course, conducted in Ampara and Nuwara Eliya”.

The young women begin their day at 4.30 am, under the stern command of the female drill sergeant. They have to report to the grounds for tough physical training by 6 am. During this intense workout groups of five girls have to carry a log weighing 25 kilos, apart from running and pushups. This continues until 7.30 am after which they gather for breakfast. They begin their first lecture at 8.45 am. The subjects include map reading, communication, first aid, field craft (tactics), unarmed combat, communication, explosives, abseiling and weapon handling. At 12.30 pm they take a break for lunch and prepare for their next round of theory at 2 pm. Lectures end by 5pm and the girls gather once again in the playground to engage in sports or swimming - which is a mandatory lesson. The academy serves dinner at 7.30 pm and after a long and tiring day the ladies retire to bed by 9 pm after a daily roll call. This training empowers the mind and body, pushing these girls to rediscover themselves. Their instructor added, “During the training period we give them a special high protein diet, as they burn a lot of calories”. The recruits have exams. Sunday is their day off when they wash their uniforms and polish their boots. Parents are allowed to visit their daughters once a month.

Line of fire

We walked towards the firing range. This area is buffered by two high ridges on either side and live firing is in progress. The smell of gun powder permeates the air. Male and female instructors are busy teaching their students to fire - for in the line of duty shooting to hit the target is the thin line between life and death. Initially, the young women are taught to fire at the target from a distance of 25 metres, then progressing to 100 metres and finally aim accurately from 300 metres. The women will learn to fire the T-56 rifle and the Light Machine Gun (LMG) which is operated by a buddy pair.

Over the past three decades the STF had produced some of the finest marksmen and women. New recruits gain experience from firing in three positions - standing, kneeling and prone. This part of training is bound to be very exciting. I spoke to one of the girls Maneka Silva who said, “I am 22 years. My grandfather was in the Police. As a child I was influenced by him. My parents encouraged me to apply to the STF. I studied at St. Paul’s College, Waragoda. In my school I got national colours for volleyball and cricket. I have made new friends in my batch and am confident that I will complete my course”. For these young trainees this is their first time away from the comfort of their homes and families and they seemed to have bonded well. There are 41 girls in this batch. Some of the new subjects introduced this year are, public order management, basics of VIP security and how to conduct raids. In addition, the aspiring recruits are taught martial arts by Inspector Kulatunga. During field march they carry a backpack that weighs about eight kilograms, along with their rifles. This particular batch has been put to train alongside their male colleagues.

On the successful completion of their training they will display their newly acquired skills at a passing out parade. Thereafter, the young women will be deployed at various bases and branches depending on internal service requirements. Their probation period lasts three years from the date of enlistment. The women in the Special Task Force have the opportunity to learn and master skills similar to their male counterparts. At present there are only 185 women in active duty – 17 officers and 168 other rankers which make their role very exclusive. For these young rural women their transformation from amiable civilians into a formidable, effective and disciplined fighting unit comes with great effort and sacrifice. For that, their instructors put sincere effort to polish and augment the skills required to create another batch of fearless female defenders.