Of officer camaraderie, friendships

As a high-ranking Air Force officer who deals with killing machines, Djoko Suyanto becomes mellow as he reminisces fondly about life-long friendships. "Good friends are like stars. You don't always see them, but you know they're always there." That was the gist of a simple text message (SMS) sent by the four-star marshal to his friends via cell phone as the new year began.

The SMS was even received by friends from his teenage years at high school in his hometown, Madiun, East Java.

Memories of those friends are firmly etched in his mind.

Afterwards, as he continued his studies at the Military Academy, he acquired a new circle of friends.
"My friends and I, 20 Military Academy graduates from the year of 1973 from all services (including the police) liked to get together from time to time.

"In a series of discussions, we used to share our views on how the military could be professionalized by withdrawing from day-to-day politics as well as other fields that are the domain of civilians.
"We even used to invite experts and became involved in serious discussion about the country's future. That was in the 1980s. In those days we never thought that reform would ever materialize," Djoko recalled.

A former classmate from the Military Academy, (now President) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was eventually to select him as the new Indonesian Military (TNI) commander.

The phrase, "having the right man in the right place at the right time" has clearly been one of the President's considerations because the two spent quite a long time discussing the future of the country and how they could contribute to creating a "better" Indonesia.

Born on Dec. 2, 1950, Djoko never thought that one day he would achieve fame as the first-ever Air Force officer to reach the very highest rung of the military.

His appointment, indeed, might still touch raw nerves, provoking a strong reaction.
Air Force stigma

Under the 32 years of Soeharto's authoritarian rule, military politics was dominated by the Army, and the Air Force laid low after it was stigmatized as a sympathizer of the banned Indonesian Communist (PKI).

At that time, few Air Force officers held strategic posts at the TNI headquarters -- in stark contrast to the setup in the era of president Sukarno, Soeharto's predecessor.

The country's founding fathers even liked to dub Air Force officers Anak Lanang President, a Javanese phrase that means "the sons of the President."

The situation was reversed after the aborted 1965 coup blamed on the PKI. The incident claimed the lives of six Army generals and a lower-ranking Army officer.

Although the identities of the true masterminds of the attack are still a matter of debate today, Djoko has stated quite boldly that his career was never affected by such stigmatization.

"I must admit that several Air Force officers were implicated in the incident, but they were not representing the Air Force as an institution.
"I can even say that officers from other forces -- the Army, the Navy, and the police -- were involved in the incident, but they didn't represent their own institutions, either," Djoko said.
"The first star on my shoulder was given by (then president) Soeharto, anyway," he said, smiling.

Djoko, who is married with two children, became a commander of Air Force squadrons.
His senior responsibilities commenced in 1990 when he was appointed commander of the 14th Air Force Squadron in Madiun, where Indonesia's F-5E Tigers are stationed.

In 1992, Djoko moved to the country's easternmost province of Papua to serve as commander of Jayapura Military Air Base.

His career continued its rise when he was appointed commander of the Makassar-based Air Force Western Fleet -- a post for a two-star Air Force officer.

When he was appointed Air Force chief of staff in February 2005, he got another star on his shoulder. Months later, he became a full, four-star Air Force marshal.

He also took various courses abroad, such as the RAAF's Flying Instructor Course in Australia (1980); the Advanced Fighter Training Course (1982) and the Fighting Weapons Instructor Course (1983) in the United States.

He returned to Australia in 1995 to take a course at the Joint Services Staff College.

A brilliant career as an Air Force officer under the leadership of Soeharto did not preclude him from criticizing the machiavellian system of the New Order, which was backed by the military as its main political vehicle.

Winds of change
Along with his friends from the ""1973 discussion club"", Djoko shared his views about how to serve professionally, making his concerns clear on law enforcement, the improvement of soldiers' welfare, a proper appreciation of human rights and the strengthening of international relations.

In the wake of the spirit of reform his ideas were contained in a book titled Indonesia Baru dan Tantangan TNI -- Pemikiran Masa Depan (The New Indonesia and the TNI's challenges -- Thoughts for the Future).

The book, first launched in 1999, is a compilation of the thoughts of several military officers who have tried to champion reform within the military.

In the book, Djoko has even come up with the idea of a withdrawal of service personnel from the national legislature, and a repositioning of the TNI commander away from the formal government structure.

The armed forces, he says, should defend the interests of the state and its people, instead of clinging to power.

Besides Djoko, several names have also contributed their thoughts in the book, including the late Lt. Gen. Agus Wirahadikusumah, a former commander of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad); Vice Adm. Djoko Sumaryono, the current secretary-general of the office of Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs; and Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu, a former Army chief of staff.

As a new leader from the smallest force of the military, Djoko believes that his appointment has given it a moral boost.

Deep inside, though, Djoko realizes that he has a herculean task, leaving him with many unanswered questions as to whether he is up to the job.

"It's only human to have such self-doubt. I keep on saying to myself that this is a heavy task. As an Air Force officer, I can easily understand that you must strive to do better to avoid being defeated or killed.
"But as TNI chief, the problems are much more complex, as I must deal with large numbers of armed forces; also, the Army and Navy may have much more accumulated institutional experience than I," he said.

Djoko believes, though, that he will not be alone in carrying out his job as he has ""credible staff including officers who represent their own subordinates and who will do their best to assist me,"" he says.

"My staff are also officers who have grown up within the eight-year period of reform so they, too, are witnessing the winds of change blowing through the nation," Djoko said.

*Published by The Jakarta Post, 02/04/2006