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FIRST CHRISTIAN TAKES OVER AS INDIA´S ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF

Updated: July 08, 1990 05:00 PM GMT
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General Sunith Francis Rodrigues, a Catholic, took over as India´s new army chief of staff for a three-year term July 1.

"I will make no promises I cannot keep," said General Rodrigues, one of the most decorated officers in the Indian army, assuming charge amidst reports of tension on the Indo-Pakistan border.

Stating that the "nation is passing through a very critical period," he said the Indian armed forces "have the will and capacity to finish what we have started."

Questioned about his priorities, General Rodrigues pointed to an inscription on his office wall entitled "An Officer´s Prayer."

It read: "Lord make me worthy of the men I serve; Worthy of their loyalty and devotion to duty; Their wondrous willingness and ready laughter. Their great humility that asks so little and gives so much so readily without complaint. Grant their simple wishes Lord and bless them, please. For in this world no better soldiers breathe than these."

The Indian armed forces, drawn from the country´s diverse ethnic and religious groups and regions, are known for their communal harmony and hailed as the best example of national integration.

The first Christian to head the world´s fourth largest army, General Rodrigues, whose family is from the western coastal state of Goa, studied at Bombay´s Jesuit-run Saint Xavier´s High School.

He joined the National Defence Academy in 1949 and was commissioned in 1952. In 1972 he was awarded the Visisht Seva Medal for distinguished service during the 1971 India-Pakistan war. He was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal for his distinguished service of the most exceptional order on Jan. 26, 1989.

Taking over as chief of the army´s Western Command on Nov. 1, 1989, he continued in that post until his promotion as army chief.

-- Christians have earlier headed the country´s other armed services. Admirals Ronnie Pereira and Stan Dawson served as chiefs of the naval staff and Air Chief Marshall Denis de la Fontaine as chief of the air staff.

END

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