On 6th March 2020, at around 1500hrs the DSO at 3AFSB Gandhinagar said “Chest number 50” and life has been completely different thereafter. Hello readers, I’m Vamshi E from Bangalore, writing this blog to take you through my journey from being a confused nerd to joining the prestigious Indian Military Academy. Right from my childhood, anytime anyone asked me what I’d like to become when I grow up, I gave answers like IAS, pilot, scientist and doctor. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d someday become an army officer! I was always fascinated by the armed forces, especially the lifestyle of an officer, but never considered it as a serious career option, mainly due to lack of awareness and motivation. Things changed in 2017 when I started exploring more and more about the forces. I was attracted by perks like the pride in wearing the uniform, respect in the society, work satisfaction, traveling around the country meeting new people and learning new things everyday, leading men from a very young age, the excellent camaraderie between fellow servicemen, sports, adventure and above all being a part of India’s most exciting workplace and leading a life less ordinary! I realized that this is the career that offers everything I wanted in life and fixed my mind about joining the services, with the Air Force being my first preference. Everyone in my family and friends circle was surprised with my decision. I told them in many ways why I chose this completely unexpected route. Most of them came to terms eventually, but some are still surprised!
I explored everything there is to know about the selection procedure. The concept of Officer Like Qualities, psychological testing, a 5 day long SSB interview, all these seemed very strange in the beginning because I had never heard of a selection system like this before. It took a long time just to understand the rationale behind the testing process and why the selection rate was so less. I realized this interview was not easy and required preparation on a daily basis. After elaborate self-introspection I made a note of my strengths and weaknesses. I was weak in areas like general awareness, confidence while addressing a group of people, physical fitness and power of expression. I took personal mentorship from Col MM Nehru sir. With his help, I prepared a daily routine to overcome my weaknesses. My daily routine included running, reading newspaper, watching debates and discussions, elocution in front of a mirror, group discussion, working out in the gym and preparing for written exams (CDSE and AFCAT). I continued doing these everyday and within few months, I could notice the change. I had reduced 22kgs, felt physically more confident, better equipped for group discussions and personal interview – a better person overall. I was so well-prepared and oozing with confidence that I thought there was nothing to stop me from getting selected. I cleared CDSE and gave my first SSB in 2AFSB Mysore. Around 250 candidates reported. OIR and PPDT went well and I was screened in with 78 others. In psych tests, I wrote good stories on all 12 TAT pictures, attempted all WATs and more than 50 SRTs, wrote a Self Description I had already prepared. The SD I wrote was mostly about praising myself showing all the required qualities! The personal interview was mainly about my PIQ and nothing else. All the current affairs, IAF related questions and GK I had studied were not at all useful. In group tasks, I gave good points and drove the GD, narrated the common group solution in GPE, gave ideas and led the team in PGT and HGT. My command task was moderate, lecturette was decent and I could do 6 individual obstacles. Overall I did fairly well in psych tests, group tasks and personal interview (according to my perception!!!). My conference was very short. Of course, there was nothing to discuss, I had everything in me and I had shown them the same, the officers just had to recommended me, that’s all – this is what I thought after the conference. All my expectations crumbled to dust when I was conferenced out. 4 people were recommended.
At first I was shocked, but after reviewing my performance myself, I thought may be I was good but not good enough. I couldn’t find where exactly I went wrong but I could’ve been better overall. This first SSB was a truly humbling experience and made me realize no amount of preparation can guarantee success. My biggest mistake was expecting the positive result instead of just giving my best and leaving the assessment to the board. Since I was sure of getting selected, the pain of failure was more than what it would’ve been if I had gone with zero expectations. I’ve seen many other candidates also doing this – thinking too much about getting recommended, being desperate to impress the assessors, thinking too much about what went wrong after getting conferenced out etc. My suggestion to them is to just keep it simple, give your best during each task, don’t think about the outcome and most importantly, enjoy the process. SSB interview is a wonderful experience. You visit a new place, make good friends, stay there for 5 days without your smartphone. Don’t let the anxiety of selection get in the way of enjoying the process. Do well in the tasks and once you’re done there, forget it and have fun. All I’m trying to say is, the journey matters more than the result. It might sound idealistic but trust me, you’ll feel the same once you experience it. Recommendation in SSB is a dream for most of you reading this, but since you can’t control the outcome, it’s better to go there with an open mind, not having any expectations at all. This mindset actually helps you perform better!
It took few days to get back to normal and start preparing for the next attempt. The 2nd attempt was for AFCAT in 4AFSB Varanasi. I reached one day before and stayed in a lodge. Next day morning, when I was all set and ready to leave for reporting, I got a call from my mother. I thought it might be to wish me good luck. I took the call and heard my mother crying. I was confused. I could hear voices of people around her, it was chaotic and I couldn’t understand anything. I was told that my father passed away! I didn’t know what to do or how to react. Hundreds of things went through my mind in a span of few seconds. I don’t have words to describe what I went through in those few minutes, it was horrible. I wrote an email to the board President requesting to postpone my SSB and immediately flew back to Bangalore. After 2 days I got a reply from the President about my new SSB date. I didn’t do any preparation this time, I was not in a position to do anything! I reported as per the given date. Out of around 280 candidates, 56 were screened in including me. You can imagine my state of mind then. I was very dull and low on morale, lacked energy and naturally my performance was bad. I tried as much as possible not to show it, but it was visible. I was conferenced out. This time it did not hurt that much because I was already broken! 4 were recommended. I decided to take a break from studies and SSBs for some months, but got a call letter from 2AFSB for CDS entry for which I didn’t have the option to choose the date. I reported on the given date. Out of around 130 of us, 26 were screened in including myself. I won’t say I performed very well, but it was better than my previous attempt – attempted all WATs, around 45 SRTs and wrote the same SD I had prepared for my first attempt, did somewhat okay in PI and GTO tasks. I was not satisfied with my performance, I knew the result before it was declared. This time the entire batch was washed out, none of us were selected!
I took a break of 6 months from SSBs, but I continued my daily routine for preparation. The next SSB, my 4th attempt was in Jan 2020 for AFCAT. By then, I had learnt from my previous attempts, improved upon my weak areas, prepared enough to go with confidence and get recommended. Out of around 240 candidates, 63 were screened in and I made it to stage 2 as usual. I did well in psych tests. This time I had changed my Self Description. I had prepared it after taking honest feedback from friends, employer and doing a lot of self-introspection myself. I wrote both my strengths and weaknesses honestly. Personal interview went very well, the interviewing officer looked impressed. GT was not as good as expected because there was lack of cooperation among our groupmates. Discussions were like a fish-market, everyone tried to dominate in PGT and HGT. It was a collective failure. No one was better than others. I did well in lecturette, did 8 individual obstacles and got a difficult command task, which I tackled successfully. I was satisfied with my overall performance and was hoping to get recommended. Unfortunately I was conferenced out again! 6 were recommended. I knew I had given my best and I was very close to making it, but couldn’t. This was my best performance so far and I was still not selected! I lost faith in the selection procedure, started cursing the board and even thought of giving up. I felt less deserving candidates were recommended but I was not. I decided not to attend any SSBs in future. All this was due to the disappointment of not getting what I wanted. I had the same feeling for a few hours. Later after thinking deeply about it, I realized how wrong I was in feeling that way. I fixed my mind about one thing – no matter what happens, I’d never give up, keep trying until I get what I deserve, even if it takes another 10 attempts. This is the most admirable quality I’ve seen in all hardcore repeaters. They have this never-say-die attitude. My respect to all the repeater friends reading this, I hope all of you get that bloody + mark on your chest very soon. Keep the josh high!
My 5th attempt was in Gandhinagar in March 2020 for CDS. As usual I did well in OIR, wrote a story after observing the PPDT picture carefully, narrated the story confidently and contributed 2-3 points in the discussion. I was screened in. 76 reported and 55 were screened in, the highest screen-in ratio I’ve ever seen. In psych tests, I wrote simple TAT stories with the hero solving the problem visible in the picture with available resources, relating most of the stories with my personal experiences. I attempted all 60 WATs and 45 SRTs. I wrote the same honest SD I had prepared for the previous attempt. Personal interview went very well, I handled all the cross questions with ease and looked confident throughout. After coming out of the interview room, I had the feeling that I had killed it and the only thing I had to do was make sure I do well in the group tasks and I have a good chance. We had a very mature and co-operative group. We had a heated discussion, but not like complete chaos. I managed to give few points and listened to others carefully throughout the GD. We came to a common group solution in GPE and the person we nominated narrated it (not me). PGT and HGT went well, I gave ideas in some difficult situations, helped the other members when I had no ideas. Lecturette was good too, I chose a difficult topic and spoke well. I did 8 individual obstacles in spite of falling down from the tyre obstacle and getting an injured. I got a difficult command task and the GTO further increased difficulty by changing colours of the structures, taking back one helping material and trying to increase pressure by reminding about time left. I stayed calm and solved the task in multiple ways. After all the tests were done, I was very happy with my performance. I knew I had done my best and even if the result was not as expected, I thought I’d be fine. I waited for almost 15mins before entering the conference room, I thought I had a great chance, just shouldn’t mess it up in the conference.
I was asked many tricky questions based on my PIQ during the conference, which I can’t recall now. I answered them honestly. Conference of all candidates got over soon. We were made to wait in the auditorium. I had a strong feeling I would get selected, but had some nagging doubt at the same time. The DSO walked in with a file and went onto the dias, gave the regular closing speech. All this while, I was feeling restless and wanted him to announce the results first, I couldn’t wait anymore!!! After 5 minutes or so, he said he had the results and is going to call the chest numbers of recommended candidates. I was extremely nervous by now, shaking my legs, closed my eyes tightly. He started calling chest numbers and I heard “Chest number 50”. This was it, I waited for almost 2 years for this moment. Suddenly it seemed like the world came to a pause and I could see my entire journey in my mind. I couldn’t feel anything external, I was numb for a while. After 2-3 seconds, I stood up, punched the air in delight and walked towards the dias with pride. I wish I had words to describe that feeling I had for those 2 minutes, it was the best feeling ever. All the hardwork paid off and I was deemed worthy of the life I dreamt of. One needs to experience it, I can’t explain! 10 of us were recommended. We had our documentation later that day, the DSO and the board President congratulated us and we were dropped at the bus station. We clicked pictures and exchanged numbers.
Later in my medicals, I was declared unfit for flying because of substandard vision. Dreams of becoming a fighter pilot were shattered! I opted for my second preference – IMA, cleared the medicals for army and got AIR 34 for IMA in CDS 2 2019. I’m looking forward to leading an exciting life in the army. It’s going to be a new beginning, a new life. I’m going to dive into a world where I’m going to be a different person, a person I’ve always wanted to be.
Perseverance always helps, I’ve seen it come true. This entire journey was full of ups and downs and has transformed me into a better version of myself. Thanks to everyone who’s been a part of it, directly or indirectly. Thank you, team SSBCRACK. I was fortunate to get what I wanted in the end. I hope you all get it too. Good luck to everybody, keep the josh high!