By: Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Ravi Arunthavanathan
SLAF No. 2 intake of officer cadets consisted of nine, along with few others in – service inductions. Of the nine, four were Thomians and Jayanath Laksen Chandri Salgado of “Preetheum”, Moratuwa was one of them.
Sala, as he was fondly called by his friends came in with an excellent school profile as one who had reached to represent Sri Lanka at the Indo – Sri Lanka athletic meet in his pet event 400 meters through ACE Athletic Club. Goes without saying that he had won his Public schools’ Colours, a college prefect, member of the Cadet Platoon, and also 2nd XV Rugby team. Sala’s father, Mr. Lloyd Salgado who was a proprietary planter was well known to my father who was one time Superintendent of Police of Moratuwa area. Later, even his Brother in law Surgeon Dr. Wimal Gunaratne, who too was a public school athlete, was well known to me. Cadet intakes were a result of post ’71 insurgency expansion which the services underwent in its wake with the infrastructure required not being able to keep pace. In this context, the No. 01 intake which was of 30 cadets took priority in available resources thus the ‘flyers’ of our batch had to wait ll they (No. 01) completed their phases, which applied to all other branches too. Diyatalawa (DLA) which is renowned for its salubrious climate was felt to us during morning PT in our thinnest possible vest, not in the same nostalgia. One might say we built up a dreadful respect for the “Siberian winter” which we had only read about hitherto!
On commissioning, the three flyers were posted to No. 03 Maritime Squadron flying Cessna 337 aircraft under Sq. Ldr. Christian being the CO. However, unexpectedly they were converted to Jet Provost (JPT) fighter aircraft which came into its own glory with the ’71 insurgency strike and interdiction sores. Sala and the batch mates kept on flying this aircraft until it was phased out. It took almost another two decades for the SLAF to get back to fighter jet aircraft flying, post “OP Poonamalai” by the Indian Air Force dropping relief supplies over Jaffna, beer known as the “Parippu drop”. The stagnation in training facilities made Sala and the flying cadets to follow the training that unfolded mainly for Regt. Cadets under then Commanding Officer (CO), Wg. Cdr. Bren Sosa and the Officer Commanding Training (OCT) Sqn Ldr. Tony Direckze. A component of it (No. 1 Officers’ Regt. course) was to do a jungle march to a Kuda – Oya area location in small batches and the flight cadets consisted one of them. It so happened that they reached the destination a day earlier than the other groups, perhaps due to a “flying navigational error” and had to take the “back bearing” to the DLA camp.
This all-round training had perhaps stood in good stead in later service life when commanding stations etc. and for Sala in particular when he was the Director Operons with ground ops coming under it. Sala, later qualified as a Flying instructor and he was selected to undergo No. 313 Qualified Flying Instructors (QFI) course at Central Flying School, Royal Air Force, Leeming, UK meeting a very demanding void felt in flying training which was long overdue. In his 7 years as a QFI, culminating the last 2 years as CO of the Flying Training Wing (FTW), generations of pilots had been churned out meeting the coveted RAF standards. He was the first to follow Air Warfare Course at the Air War College, Pakistan Air Force for over a period of a year. As a pilot, on his flyingmanship, what beer opinion than from his own batchmate who later became a very senior Captain with the Sri Lankan Airlines. He opined that “Sala was an exceptional flyer who could be cool as ever for military flying”.
He, in his rising career had gone through the ambit of appointments as Eastern and Western Zonal Commanders, Director Operations and finally as the Chief of Staff. He was a recipient of the Ranawickrema padakkama (RWP) very early in his career (1992), and without resting on his laurels on valour he continued with his operational contributions ll the very end.
Laksen leaves his wife Erandathie and children Laksith and Shalindri. We are grateful to Sala’s College friend HDK Silva for keeping us updated on his medical status, sparing us troubling Erandathie. Religious ceremonies were held at the Holy Emmanuel Church, Rawathawae, Moratuwa and a service funeral under health regulaons.
OLD SOLDIERS NEVER DIE, THEY ONLY FADE AWAY. MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE! Ravi Arunthavanathan Batchmate