Embracing the army and vitiligo


As Colonel Anand Sathi Kumar enters a meeting room in his offices at Mandai Hill Camp, it strikes me that I’m seeing a face from the past.

Rather serendipitously, we were schoolmates at St Andrew’s Secondary some three decades ago. And, while we weren’t friends at the time, he often stood out from the crowd because of his appearance.

Since he was four years old, Col Anand has been coping with vitiligo (pronounced vee-tuh-lai-go), a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes patches of skin to lose pigment or colour. Although treatment can help restore lost skin colour, there is no known cure.

Your vitiligo is a bit different from before, I say to him.

“It moves,” he replies. “If I show you a photo of me at four years old, (the condition) would look like how it is now – but if I show you a pic of me at 12, it’s different.”

Col Anand, Commander, 6th Singapore Division/ Headquarters Sense and Strike, in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), recalls the time he first spoke to a doctor about his condition.

“The doctor explained there was no oral medication he could give me – or cure – because there was no ‘system problem’, meaning also that it wasn’t life-threatening.

“But it’s very endearing to me. It’s been a part of me since I was young.”

When asked if it has ever been a hindrance to him in any way, Col Anand says: “My friends and family made a difference. Whether it was in school or the military. I’ve never seen my friends actually feel awkward or perturbed about it.”

Col Anand made the life-changing decision to be a military man at the age of 16, enlisting in the army as part of a scholarship programme that would fund his education.

Right after completing his three-year diploma course at Singapore Polytechnic, he found himself entrenched, so to speak, in a very different lifestyle.

“That first weekend in Pulau Tekong during (basic military training) was probably my first ‘I’m in the army’ moment. You smell the air, look around, and realise ‘oh I have to listen if I want to stay here’,” he says with a laugh.

“Of course, I had some initial doubts over whether I was cut out for this profession. But after I went to specialist cadet school, I realised that this profession has a lot of people who help to nurture you.

“Every time you’re on an assignment, whether you’re on the ground or at the senior level, someone will always reach out to you. ‘Are you okay? Everything all right?’ they’ll ask.

“I love the nurturing aspect of the army, it counterbalanced the fact that I was actually quite rebellious by nature. The leadership traits and the style of the army grew on me very quickly.”

After completing cadet school in 2000, Col Anand received another study award and went on to complete a degree in computing at the National University of Singapore.

His outstanding performance in the SAF propelled him to the rank of full colonel, and today, at the relatively young age of 45, he is in charge of some 20,000 men at the Mandai Hill camp.

When I ask if he’s the youngest colonel in the SAF, Col Anand says he’s unsure, but that it’s “highly doubtful”.

“My philosophy towards everything is to do the best you can so that everyone around you – and not just you – would benefit.

“I always remind myself of what I was told by my superiors when I was a trainee – that the rank is temporary, but the person is permanent. That has always stuck with me, so I’ve never really thought about the fact that I’m a division commander now. Don’t get me wrong though; I still understand the magnitude of the job and the responsibilities.”

On a typical day, Col Anand rises at 4am and does some exercises before taking meetings or doing ground inspections till lunch.

“In a week, no two days are the same,” he says. “Sometimes you’re dealing with national service training issues, sometimes with operations or capability development.

“I end my day a bit late, somewhere around 8pm. Then I head home and spend some quality time with my wife, who’s an amazing cook by the way.”

Evenings on the weekends are strictly for family time, says Col Anand, whose wife Unitha Vasu is a teacher, and son, Maadhav Lohem Vir, is 12 years old.

“Sunday mornings are breakfast time with my son. He’s extremely inquisitive, and asks me a lot of questions about my profession – how do you deal with so many people? Don’t you get tired? Of course, because he’s a young lad, he’ll also ask me things like, ‘do you all use drones to kill people?’.”

So will Maadhav follow in his father’s footsteps one day?

“Though he’s still young, he understands I’m in a profession where leadership matters,” Col Anand says.

“I’ll say this for someone who wants to be in this profession: It’s challenging and dynamic. You move through many appointments; sometimes you’ll be training in the field, sometimes you’re dealing with paperwork.

“It’s also a team sport. So if you’re someone who’s a better version of yourself when working in a team, you’ll fit right in.

“Finally, if you tend to have a sense of duty towards others, and you care enough to want to help people in all sorts of ways, then the SAF is the place for you.”

“I always remind myself of what I was told by my superiors when I was a trainee – that the rank is temporary, but the person is permanent.”
Col Anand Sathi Kumar (above left) with his wife
Unitha Vasu and son Maadhav

அதற்குள்ளாகவா? இந்தச் செய்திகளையும் படிக்கலாமே!

இந்தச் செய்திகளையும் படிக்கலாமே!