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Serbian Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Miloje Miletić

01. 02. 2011

Serbian Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Miloje Miletić


In every professional army, profession comes before and above particular personal interests. That is the essence of professionalism, and when it comes to essence - there are no compromises! The concept of democratic civilian control over the army is often superficially understood or misunderstood in Serbia. It doesn't mean that the army allowed the influence of daily politics on its structures. On the contrary, Serbian Army is depoliticized. There is, on one hand, the autonomy of military profession compared to political forces in society, and on the other, the army as an institution is not getting involved in the politics.

Lieutenant General Miloje Miletić is known to the members of the defense system as well as to the public as a first-class professional, true soldier, a man of profession and immense experience, performing the duty of the Chief of Staff for almost two years now. In those two years, the Serbian Army reformed its structure, reorganized its training and introduced a number of innovations in modern combat equipment...
Changes are numerous and we are judging them every day, whether we are willing to admit or not. Sometimes with certain control, sometimes not, always according to our own beliefs. Evaluating the year 2010 and the beginning of 2011, we talked to General Miletić about his beliefs, positions and decisions. We asked him how often he fails to be honest to himself, and how often to the man in uniform, performing his work.

According to the statistics, young people in Serbia want to be professional soldiers and build their carriers in the defense system. Many have applied for military schools and various positions in the professional army. Does that mean that the Serbian Army is an attractive employer or a guaranteed livelihood in the times of crisis? Or something even more?

Serbian Army is one of the largest employers in Serbia today. In the last few years of economic crisis, we have employed several thousands of young boys and girls, who are now professional soldiers. We intend to do the same in 2011, as well as in the years to come. However, our country has been struggling with unemployment longer before the world crisis. That certainly led many to consider employment in the army, but it was not a crucial factor. The army offers an opportunity to young people to have a responsible job, guaranteed personal income, social insurance and health care for themselves and their families, as well as constant advanced studies and progress according to their abilities and ambitions. They recognized and took that chance.

It has been often underlined recently that the professionalization the Serbian Army will create a modern defense system of the country. Today, Serbian Armed Forces are professional...

It is related to, above all, efficiency. Various forms of military organization were created during history and they replaced each other according to efficiency criteria. Professional soldiers are better trained and more prepared to perform their tasks because it is their choice, their vocation. The army invests more in them, their training has to be constant and to follow modern trends. They remain in the army for years, so the invested pays back in many ways. Regular military service had only one advantage - massiveness. In conditions involving contemporary security threats and the use of modern armament, the quality largely exceeds the quantity. This is the era of professional armies, as we can see from the examples in the neighboring countries and in the world.

Public opinion surveys have shown that Serbian citizens put their most trust in the Army. Why?

We, soldiers, do not weigh our actions according to the impression they will have on public. We tend to perform our missions and tasks professionally and in keeping with the Constitution and laws of our country. Recent public opinion survey has shown that Serbian citizens appreciate that. In the last few years, we managed to prevent events that undermine the reputation of the armed forces and military profession, and to demonstrate our true quality and values.

Peacekeeping missions offer an opportunity to gain experience in the international environment and improvement on a professional and personal level. Are these the only reasons our officers choose Blue Helmets?

There is a number of reasons why Serbian Army officers are choosing to participate in the multinational peacekeeping operations. I agree that it is an excellent opportunity to train for work in the international environment, as well as to gain experience on the field, which serves both them and the army. Furthermore, taking part in multinational peacekeeping operations offers help to those in need. Our doctors serving in missions in Congo and Chad, for example, managed to save many lives. Thus, apart from professional, there are also humanitarian motives. Taking part in international peacekeeping operations is also a chance to earn money. That too offers a significant motive. Our officers are very interested in joining peacekeeping missions. We can expect their interest to be even greater when some of the current participants return with enough money to build a house or buy a prestigious car. Other countries have similar experiences.

There were talks that the South Base would become a regional center for military training of soldiers taking part in peacekeeping missions.

It is one of the prospects of the base. There are plans for the South Base to become the leading training center for future peacekeeping troops. In the beginning, it will serve as a training center for our units, and later, in cooperation with a number of world partners, we will also form a regional center. Our intention is to broaden its capacities and training in a way that they offer something different that the similar centers in the neighboring countries, above all the Butmir training center in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Krivolak center in Macedonia. In these efforts, we very much appreciate the experience and help of our partners, above all the Ohio National Guard. This is going to be a joint project, significantly supported by our partners.

Are the 28 000 members of the professional army finally going to get a uniform which is not just a many times re-marked Yugoslav National Army uniform? Could it be that current uniform, its appearance and quality, is a reason why many officers are not so eager to come and go from work in their uniforms?

I believe in the old saying that "clothes do not make the man". When you have a clash between need and affordability, which has been our case for a rather long time, then you have to make compromises and respect priorities. If you cannot find a solution for everything, you choose the most important. Our current priority is to provide enough field and combat uniforms, M-10 camouflage uniforms, for all professional army members. It is a uniform which, judging by its quality, protective features and digital design, as well as its cut and appearance, matches the uniforms used by the most sophisticated armies in the world. Changing the official and formal uniform requires a significant amount of money, which we currently do not have. On the other hand, the existing uniform satisfies all the needs. There are some practical reasons for the officers not to be eager to come and go in their uniforms, such as traveling from afar, using public transport and carrying out some private business after working hours. Such people feel more comfortable in civilian clothes.

Do women really have an adequate place and role in the army, or is it exclusively "in the trousers"?

Military service has been for a long time considered a man's job. With the development of the gender equity conscience, such understanding of military profession has been significantly altered. We have offered opportunity to women in Serbia to become members of the armed forces, which has proven to be an excellent decision. Now we have excellent professional soldiers, Military Academy cadets, noncommissioned officers, officers, pilots... Currently, there are 17 women officers, 33 noncommissioned officers, more than 820 professional soldiers and around 1100 civilians in the Serbian Armed Forces, which is somewhat less than eight percent of the total number of professional members of the armed forces. Women are equal with their colleagues in training field, shooting range and the Ground Safety Zone, and when it comes to promotions in the military service. It does not matter which gender is the person that is getting promoted, but that he/she is getting promoted according to his/her competence. We should bear in mind that women officers and noncommissioned officers are rather new in our army. It is only a matter of time when the first woman general will also appear. The percentage of women is somewhat lower than in the most sophisticated armies in the world, in which it is around twenty percent, but I expect it to reach that level in a couple of years. The number of women in the air forces and the navy exceeds the number of women in the land forces. Regarding the fact that we have no navy, it is logical to expect the number of women in the Serbian Armed Forces to be around twelve to fifteen percent.

What changes are needed when it comes to the physical training and the overall fitness of the military professionals?

We need a motivated, well trained and fit professional soldier, capable of overcoming all potential obstacles and efficiently carrying out all tasks. It is clear that the professional soldiers have to be psychologically and physically fit above average. This requires severe psychological selection criteria and improved psychological training of personnel, as well as their physical training. It is evident that the measures we undertook to improve psychological and physical fitness have reached the desired effect. The results of the fitness tests carried out in 2010 show that the level of fitness has been improved by twenty percent. We are still not satisfied with the results, because are goal for all professional soldiers, regardless of their age, rank and duty, is to reach the required fitness standards. At the end of the 2010, the work on a new Serbian Armed Forces Instructions for physical training has begun and we expect them to be adopted in the first quarter of this year. Apart from age categories, it will also include three groups based on the position in the organization structure - for individuals performing duties in the battalion and similar units, for individuals employed in brigades or similar units, for officers assigned to operative level commands, General Staff or Defense Ministry. Furthermore, the evaluation of fitness of the professional soldiers will be included in the evaluation of operative capacity of the unit, as well as in the official evaluation of each of the individuals.

How will the training of officers, non commissioned officers and professional soldiers be carried out, certified and evaluated from now on?

The training of officers, noncommissioned officers and professional soldiers will be carried out within the individual and joint training, as well as within command training. The training and advanced studies will be continued both in the country and abroad. One should bear in mind that professional training is a process that continues until the end of a professional career.
Drills are most important, particularly those integrating staff activities with field training and testing decisions in the field.
Certification and evaluation of the training will be carried out in two directions. First of all, the level of training will be evaluated after various forms of individual training. Second, the individual tasks carried out by officers, noncommissioned officers and professional troops as a part of the joint unit tasks and assigned missions will also be evaluated. This means that they will be constantly evaluated, every day, during all joint and individual activities. The evaluation of individual training and individual tasks in joint training should be an integral part of the evaluation of professional members of the armed forces. Our principal idea is to evaluate their work as adequately as possible and to include that evaluation in their career progress.

You said recently that the members of the armed forces will be even more motivated to responsibly carry out their tasks in 2011 by the trust that Serbian citizens are putting into them. Do you believe that today professional soldiers are exclusively motivated by higher salary, better working conditions and the use of sophisticated military equipment?

I already told you that it is a question of obligation, more than a motive. The standard of the members of the armed forces is very important. One of our long-term goals is to increase that standard, but is not likely to expect the salaries to be much higher before the country recovers economically. We have to accept that. We are aware that the standard has been decreased in the last two years. In that, we share the destiny of all Serbian citizens. I am convinced that the members of the Serbian Armed Forces will continue to carry out their duties responsibly as always. We have proven that many times in history. Our attitude towards our tasks and duties is more a question of professionalism and ethics, and less a question of money.

Many officers are dissatisfied with their financial status, the ongoing housing program, i.e. poor existential conditions, which should not be something that preoccupies a mind of a soldier.

These are the problems with which the Defense Ministry and General Staff officers are faced with in their every day work. We are constantly trying to find solutions to improve financial situation in the army. We expect the economic progress, if it happens this year, to influence the improvement in the standard. I don't expect current economic situation to influence the attitude of the members of the armed forces towards their tasks. That never happened before. Our successes show our attitude regarding our work and prove our unity.

The last generation of soldiers in the regular military service has recently taken their solemn oath - to be true and loyal to their fatherland. Do you remember your oath? What has changed since then in terms of society, values and culture that made young people gladly greet the suspension of compulsory military service?

Military oath is an unforgettable experience for every man, particularly for us who chose to spend our life working in the armed forces. I took the solemn oath in the fall of 1972 in Belgrade, as a Military Academy cadet. The word have changed several time since then, as well as conditions, surroundings, uniform, country... Many things have changed, following the changes in our society.
I talked to many soldiers taking the December military oath. They all knew they were the last generation obliged to the compulsory military service. Nevertheless, they were there by their own free will. Young men have always been proud to serve the army in our country. Army offered them opportunity to, for the first time far away from parents and their homes, take over their duties, to become independent, get acquainted with people from other parts of the country, make new friends... They left the army more mature, more capable to take on all future challenges in life. I don't agree with you that all young people were glad that the compulsory military service was suspended. I am sure that there will be more military oaths in Serbia in future.

You are an artilleryman, you finished the most advanced military schools, performed the most basic and the most responsible duties. How much are the requirements of your profession in every day work a guiding principle regarding various interests - first of all daily political interests that even the army is not immune to being a part of society, and regarding your most personal values and moral beliefs? How often in such circumstances you fail to be honest to yourself, and how often to the man in uniform? Is there a suitable limitation?

In every professional army, profession comes before and above particular personal interests. That is the essence of professionalism, and when it comes to essence - there are no compromises! The concept of democratic civilian control over the army is often superficially understood or misunderstood in Serbia. It doesn't mean that the army allowed the influence of daily politics on its structures. On the contrary, Serbian Army is depoliticized. There is, on one hand, the autonomy of military profession compared to political forces in society, and on the other, the army as an institution is not getting involved in the politics. The question of democratic civilian control is above all the question of accepting the value system applied in the democratic society. I never act against my own beliefs. So far I have never been in a situation to suffer any kind of pressure.

What was the most difficult decision in your career so far, or the most difficult thing to forget?

Particularly difficult was the period between 1990 and 2000. I was the commander of a battalion, and then of an artillery motorized brigade. This period marked by wars, changing countries, heavy decisions, was the most difficult in our recent history.
We experienced a lot of difficult moments, but managed to overcome them. Regardless of everything, I never made a decision to be ashamed of today. There were moments that I would certainly like to forget...

Do you have role models? What circumstances did you find when you were appointed Chief of General Staff, and what will you live behind to your successors? Is there something you will be remembered by?

I don't have any role models, usually young people do. Sometimes I ask myself what would any of my predecessors do... Sometimes I even think of commander in chief Živojin Mišić. He left an indelible mark in Serbian history...
Before this duty, I was deputy Chief of Staff, so I was very much familiar with the situation in the Serbian Armed Forces. The reform was already underway. I never worry about what will people remember me by, but I suppose the professionalization of the armed forces will be one of the things.

Who is Miloje Miletić without the uniform? What makes him happy, what are his fears? What does he believe in? How does he survive in these somewhat confused times?

I am not very different than other colleagues. I am an ordinary man trying to spend every possible moment with his family. The success of our athletes makes me very happy - our tennis players, volleyball and water polo teams. I enjoy the victories of the Partizan football club, as well as all other international clubs. I believe Serbia is on the right path, that the crisis will soon be over, that we have a future in Europe and that all our citizens will lead better lives.

What are other tasks that the army has to perform to reach the required level of interoperability with its partner armies? To what extent should we remain different when it comes to joining the Euro Atlantic Security Initiative?

Reaching the interoperability is a constant developing process. We need to continue implementing the concepts of operative capacities, defense planning system, programming and financing, equipping with sophisticated armament and military equipment, developing current training model and learning foreign languages. Training the units to take part in multinational peacekeeping operations will contribute to interoperability with partner countries. Regardless of the entire interoperability process, the Serbian Armed Forces will retain its recognizable features and guiding principles and preserve its tradition.

What should be our primary investments in 2011? Multipurpose combat aircraft, sophisticated air defense systems, personnel...? What is the most important? To defend our skies? Infantryman of the 21st century?

It is important first of all to avoid procurement of small amounts of various assets . We should consider our real needs, rank our projects according to priority and complete them one by one in keeping with our resources. In 2011, we plan to equip our land forces applying the "M21 infantry model“, acquire "Lasta" training aircraft for pilot training, the electronic reconnaissance system, telecommunication devices and all/terrain vehicles. The equipping of the armed forces with complex combat systems, such as air force and air defense systems, is defined by the Long-term Development Plan of the Armed Forces. We expect the National Assembly to adopt the plan this year and the competent governmental institutions to deal with procurement and financing. 

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