KUALA LUMPUR: The country will have its first non-Malay, female ‘two-star’ general on Saturday.
Creating history will be Brigadier-General Suriakala Suriabagavan who will be promoted to major-general at a ceremony in conjunction with the 87th Army Day in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, on Sunday.
Army chief Gen Tan Sri Ahmad Hasbullah Mohd Nawawi commended Suriakala, a grandmother of two, for her astute leadership and top-notch officer quality.
“She is one that needs minimal (or no) supervision and can deliver when it matters most. Suriakala is a very dedicated officer and we are proud and honoured to have someone like her serving not only the Army, but the entire Armed Forces and nation.
“We need more calibre staff like her, of all ranks, as she is a fine example for others to emulate.
“The Army is very proud to present her the second ‘star’.
“Well done!” Hasbullah told The New Straits Times.
He said that despite the challenges and hindrances faced by her in her private life and at work, Suriakala carried out her duties exceptionally well.
Suriakala, who will turn 60 on Oct 26, said she was very touched by the gesture from the Army and the Armed Forces to reward her for her untiring efforts to maintain the credibility of the organisations.
“Never did I imagine that someday I will break ranks to be promoted to such an esteemed level.
“My family and I are ever grateful to the Army for where I am today and will do my utmost to continue giving my best.
"I hope my achievement will spur other Malaysian women to pursue a rewarding career in the Armed Forces,” she said.
Suriakala from Klang, Selangor, has two sons. She is from the third intake of women cadet officers from the short-service commission who enlisted with the Armed Forces in December 1981. Her coursemate includes deputy Army chief Lieutenant-General Datuk Hasagaya Abdullah.
After completion of a year’s training at the Officer Cadet School in Port Dickson, she was commissioned as a second-lieutenant in 1982.
She began as an assistant records officer with the Records and Pensions Directorate on Dec 18 that year.
From there on, Suriakala continued her 38-year career with the directorate, rising through the ranks to become a major in August 1993 and lieutenant-colonel in December 2000.
In October 2008, she was promoted to colonel and made the Army’s human resources (policy and development) director.
On June 3, 2015, she was made a brigadier-general to become personnel services division (manpower branch) director at the Armed Forces Headquarters.
Suriakala has a ‘double’ Masters degree in management from University of Malaya, and social science (defence studies) from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
In May 2012, she attended a defence resource management course at the United States Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
For the record, dental specialist Major-General (Rtd) Datuk (Dr) Roshidah Ishak was the first ‘one-star’ woman in the military in January 2007, before becoming a ‘two-star’ general in November 2015.
Brigadier-General Datuk Dr Thavachelvi Tangarajah became the second woman to be made a ‘one-star’ in 2009, and is still serving as an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist at the Tuanku Mizan Armed Forces Hospital in Wangsa Maju.
However, military intelligence officer and former Armed Forces sportswoman-of-the-year, Brigadier-General (Rtd) Datuk Norhuda Ahmad, was the first woman non-medical officer to became a ‘one-star’ general in February 2011.
The Defence Ministry’s former public relations deputy director, Major-General (Rtd) Datuk Fadzlette Othman Merican Idris Merican was the second woman ‘two-star’ general, but as Press secretary to former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in November 2017.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force had its first ‘one-star’ woman in Brigadier-General (Rtd) Datuk Yohanez Ahmad in August 2016.
The Royal Malaysian Navy has yet to see its first ‘one-star’ admiral.