Gajaba Regiment: where indomitable gallantry reigns | Daily News

Gajaba Regiment: where indomitable gallantry reigns

The military history of Sri Lanka has been marked with epic battles from centuries ago. Our ancient forefathers boldly withstood every threat and fought with dignity.

Of the ancient kingdoms, the city of Anuradhapura is one that reigned supreme, and even to this day manifests grandeur that beautifully blends history and Buddhist culture. One of the names synonymous with Anuradhapura is the name Saliyapura. Within this vast area lies the Headquarters of one of the most battled hardened infantry regiments in the Sri Lanka Army. The Gajaba Regiment (GR) has crossed many challenging hurdles in her journey of military excellence. Named after the famous warrior King Gajabahu, the regiment has produced many military leaders who have served the Motherland.

The birth of the Gajaba Regiment took place at a decisive moment in our nation’s history when the Army was facing challenges on many fronts. In 1981, the 1st Battalion of the Rajarata Rifles was deployed to the Jaffna Peninsula and after completion of the assigned duties, they returned to Saliyapura. The camp at this location was initially established with a platoon level strength. At the same time, the 2nd Battalion of the Rajarata Rifles was formed and stationed at Fort Fredrick, Trincomalee. In March 1981, the 1st Battalion of the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment was established and deployed in Vavuniya. Subsequently, a decision was taken by the Army Headquarters to amalgamate the 1st Battalion of the Rajarata Rifles and the 1st Battalion of the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment to create the new Gajaba Regiment. The motto of the regiment is ‘Samagiya Shakthiyai’ meaning unity is strength. The founding father of the formidable new regiment was Lieutenant Colonel Vijaya Wimalaratne (subsequently promoted as Major General). He was the first Commanding Officer of the Gajaba Regiment. The 1st Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment was commissioned on October 14, 1983.

Major General Vijaya Wimalaratne was a brilliant Army Officer and an exceptional human being. He joined the Army in 1962 and was trained at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. As a young officer, he was sent to Malaysia to specialize in jungle warfare. One can assume that he was influenced by the elite Gurkha Regiment whose symbol was the crossed kukri knives, as the Gajaba Regiment symbol depicts two crossed hatchets. A graduate of the British Army Staff College, he also introduced the training structure for fighting in built-up areas (FIBUA). He dedicated his life nurturing the young Gajaba Regiment officers. He was a taskmaster who positively influenced young officers. In his final appointment in Jaffna, he was deeply focused on planning a massive offensive against the LTTE. At that time Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne was accompanying Major General Denzil Kobbekaduwa when their land rover was blown up by a mine in August 1992. Major General Wimalaratne had served the Army with distinction.

Among the officers who were produced by the Gajaba Regiment, many proved their essence in the theatre of combat. One such officer is Lieutenant Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa (incumbent President) who enlisted in the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in May 1972. As a young infantry officer, he followed many military courses and attended the Command and Staff Course at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, India. He was also qualified to obtain an MSc in Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras. Lieutenant Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a graduate of the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Assam, India. He had the honour of being the second in command of the newly formed 1st Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment. He also augmented his career by following the Advance Infantry Course at the US Army Infantry School at Fort Benning. In 1989, he was duly appointed as the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, Gajaba Regiment. He was decorated for his courage with RWP and RSP medals. He served successfully as the Secretary of Defence Ministry.

The GR officers who served as Colonel of the Regiment (in the rank of Major General) are Vijaya Wimalaratne, S.T.T. Jayasundara, W.D.G.A. Gunasekera, S. Wanigasekera, U.B.L. Fernando, S.W.L. Daulagala, J.C. Dias, G.D.H.K. Gunaratne, A.K.S. Perera and D.U.A. Perera. Present Army Commander General Shavendra Silva is the incumbent Colonel of the Regiment.

The present Secretary of Defence Ministry General Kamal Gunaratne WWV, RWP, RSP enlisted in the Army in 1981. In 1994, Lieutenant Colonel Gunaratne took charge of 6 GR and fought actively in Operation Riviresa. As a Brigadier, he commanded the 53 and 55 Divisions. He also served as the Colonel of the Gajaba Regiment and was promoted Major General and subsequently General in 2020. He is the author of the bestselling book ‘The road to Nandikadal’.

Another respected officer from the Gajaba Regiment is Major General Chagie Gallage. As a young officer, his first independent command was to secure Nagadeepa Island with a platoon of soldiers. He commanded the 59 Division at a decisive stage during the war. Major General Jagath Dias is another dynamic product of this regiment who served as General Officer Commanding 57 Division which regained the entire Kilinochchi area fighting with concentrated effort. He was subsequently promoted Chief of Staff of the Army. The incumbent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Security Major General Jagath Alwis is yet another officer from this regiment.

The present Army Commander General Shavendra Silva is the first officer commissioned into the new Gajaba Regiment. On his first day as a new Second Lieutenant, he was sent into combat action. When he was still a Second Lieutenant, he was awarded three gallantry medals for exceptional bravery in the battlefield - WWV (Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya), RWP (Rana Wickrama Padakama) and RSP (Rana Soora Padakama), which remains an unbroken Sri Lankan military record. He went onto be a Commander of the Air Mobile Brigade and made his regiment proud by becoming the youngest Major General of the Sri Lanka Army. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prudent General was duly appointed as the Head of the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of the COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO). The Sri Lanka Army has made a great contribution to assist the nation to rise up and face these challenging times.

The Gajaba Regiment was appreciated for its major contribution during the war and bestowed with the President’s Colours on January 11, 2007, by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (current Prime Minister). Battle honours are embellished with the infantrymen’s blood and life. A total of 171 officers and 4,090 other ranks have made the supreme sacrifice. Officers and soldiers from this regiment have taken part in all the major military offensives. Four of the Gajaba Regiment men have been posthumously bestowed with the PWV medal (Parama Weera Vibushnaya – highest military medal for bravery in the battlefield). They are Lieutenant K.W.T. Nissanka, Captain P.N. Punsiri, Major W.S.B. Walisundara and Warrant Officer M.B.G. Gunasekera. This is a reminder for all Sri Lankans to stay united as one nation.

As the Army transitioned into peacetime duties, a contingent of GR soldiers was sent on a United Nations mission to Haiti in 2008. The Regimental Centre at Saliyapura has developed into a cantonment with modern facilities for the soldiers. The regiment operates a rehabilitation camp at Senapura, where many welfare projects continue to enhance the lifestyle of residents. Many of the regiment’s war veterans have been gifted with new houses. The annual Gajaba Super Cross motor race began in 1999 retaining its position as a spectacular event for motor racing fans. Soldiers are encouraged to participate in sports at inter regiment and national level tournaments. The ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu once said: “Regard your soldiers as your children and they will follow you into the deepest valley. Look on them as your sons and they will stand by you even unto death”. The spirit of camaraderie and unity continues to inspire this regiment. The Gajaba Regiment proudly remains a formidable infantry force of the Sri Lanka Army.