Major. Pola Awich joined the army on 4th February 1988 after fleeing from a rebel group; the Uganda People’s Army that was fighting Government’s NRA forces.
He recalls, as a young man that the day he joined the army, he was recorded in an army register and sent to the ‘Kadogo school’ in Mbarara for ideological training. He then joined Ntare School, funded by the army in return for his service upon completion of the education cycle.
From a tank officer in Teso to an artillery officer in the 2nd Division in Mbarara, Awich says he had seen it all in the army. He fought in the ‘Operation Iron fist’ a massive military offensive launched in March 2002 against the LRA bases in southern Sudan and in the 2008 botched Garamba offensive against LRA codenamed Operation Lightning Thunder. He also spent a year on the frontlines in Central African Republic.
Awich took the decision to retire from the army in 2010. His major target at retirement was to contest for the Lira Municipality seat in Parliament.
The seat is currently held by Jimmy Akena, a son to former president Apollo Milton Obote. But this did not come with ease. His retirement request only came to pass this week four years down the road.
Army retirement is drag for senior officers like Awich. Though he is not frustrated, 2300 other officers await retirement from the UPDF look forward to getting the chance that Awich got to be retired from the army and pursue a civilian life.
Since 1992, the army has retired 50,200 soldiers despite a yearly intake of 3000 soldiers. The retirement from the army is governed by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces Act and requires soldiers below the rank of 2nd Lieutenant to have retired by 40 years of age and any other rank above that can voluntarily apply for retirement after clocking 55 years of age.
However, despite having over 2000 applications for retirement, the army has only managed to retire 14 soldiers this year. The retired soldiers include Maj Steven Namanyaki, Maj Amos Mukumbi, Maj Betty Ojekat Akello, Maj Aziz Kyeyune, Maj Fred Kyakulaga, Capt Dononzio Mugaba Mutabazi, Capt Kenneth Ruhweju, Capt Rodwick Byabura, Capt Abubaker Musa Kalume, Capt Ben Agaba and Lt Thomas Igaga.
Part of the reason the army has trudged on retirement is its own budget for pensions. Earlier in September, The Chief of Defence forces Gen. Katumba Wamala confessed that the army had a limited budget for pensions and was keeping officers in active service until they could afford paying their pension.
On average, the UPDF pays Ugx 22.1billion in pension to soldiers and men like Awich and 14 other people he has retired with are set to benefit from this.
To retire all the soldiers that have requested to be retired would take the UPDF a budget of up to Ugx 1 trillion, money that the force cannot afford at the moment. The arm has not yet come out on how much each soldier gets after retiring from the army.