AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN
TASNIM LOKMAN talks to CyberSecurity Malaysia chairman and former army chief General (Rtd) Tan Sri Mohd Azumi Mohamed about his passions, greatest achievements and a chance encounter in his youth, which led to an illustrious military career
DURING his youth, General (Rtd) Tan Sri Mohd Azumi Mohamed used to think about becoming either a politician or a lawyer.
Growing up in Perak he would follow closely the development in national politics and international affairs, and was surrounded by many friends who were from the law fraternity.
He counted the Seenivasagam brothers, who came from a family of prominent lawyers, as his mentors and close friends.
“I was very keen to become a politician. When I was in school, I had (Datuk Seri) S.P. (Sri Padhmaraja) and D.R. (Darma Raja) as my mentors,” said Azumi, 70.
But fate had other plans for Azumi. His involvement in sports in his youth led to an invitation to join the army.
As a youngster active in sports, he and his friends would go to Padang Ipoh to play hockey and that’s where they would dream of becoming hotshot lawyers.
He said one of the roads facing the field was Jalan Tun Sambanthan, which was dotted with top law firms in the state.
In 1966, he represented his home state of Perak in a hockey match against a team from the armed forces. He recalls how impressed he was with their demeanour, and that they were tough and courageous, even when they walked and talked with one another.
“Perak won that game,” he said. But an army major who saw him during that match was also impressed with Azumi’s character and sport prowess.
“Major Yaacob (General (Rtd) Tan Sri Yaacob Mohd Zain), who later became the armed forces chief, approached me and asked if I was interested in joining the service.
“I made my decision right on the spot. I looked at him, and I looked at the other officers… and I said yes,” said Azumi.
He said his school teachers were shocked upon hearing the news that he was joining the army, as they were convinced that he would have ended up in politics.
Looking back at his decision, he said he could not say no to an offer to serve his country.
He had befriended the hockey players from the army, and he admitted that the thought of protecting the country and serving in the army were enticing to him as a young man.
“I was impressed with the army men and I wanted to emulate what I saw.
“I wanted to carry myself with that level of confidence.
“The military trained me to be an officer and a gentleman.”
Azumi underwent cadet officer training at the Royal Military College in Sungai Besi before attending the Australian Cadet Officers School at Portsea near Melbourne.
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the Royal Malay Regiment in 1969 and was posted to the regiment’s Third Battalion.
During his stint in the Royal Malay Regiment’s Third Battalion, Azumi was based in Alor Star, Kedah, and served the current sultan of Kedah, Sultan Sallehuddin Sultan Badlishah, who was then the company’s second-in-command.
Azumi was serving as a platoon commander.
“We were involved in the security operation of tracking down communist insurgents along the Malaysian-Thai border. Later, our men were deployed to the islands off Sabah.
“The sultan of Kedah demonstrated fine qualities of an officer and a gentleman. He displayed good leadership qualities towards the platoon commanders.
“We quickly learn about humility when we lead other men.”
Azumi cited one of their missions in Sintok, Kedah, during the communist insurgency as their most gruelling challenge.
The soldiers were tasked with cordoning off a village and keeping the peace as they waited for the police to pick up communist sympathisers following a mass murder in the village.
“It was brutal... That is why we must be grateful for the peace, tranquillity and prosperity that we enjoy in Malaysia compared with other countries. There is so much destruction out there; civil wars, ethnic conflicts and people forced to leave their country and become refugees.
“But our country eradicated the communist threat. This was not only due to the government’s security and development policy, but also due to the fact that the majority of our people did not support the communist movement.”
Azumi later attended the United States’ Army Infantry Advanced Course in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1978 and was posted to the army training centre where he served for two years as an instructor in the All Arms Tactics Wing and in the Company Commander Course.
He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1983 and commanded the 305 Infantry Battalion.
He served as directing staff at the Armed Forces Staff College in 1985, where he taught the Internal Security and Development module.
On June 21, 1995, Azumi was promoted to brigadier-general, and this led to high-profile tasks overseas.
Among them was the deployment of Malaysian peacekeeping troops and military observers in Cambodia, Somalia and BosniaHerzegovina under the United Nations banner.
He and his men also represented the country at the UN Troop Contributing Nations meeting in Sarajevo.
Promoted to lieutenant-general in 2001, Azumi became the general officer commanding chief in Sabah and Sarawak from Dec 1, 2001, to Sept 10, 2003.
Azumi’s hard work paid off when he succeeded General (Rtd) Datuk Seri Mohd Shahrom Nordin and became the 20th army chief on Sept 10, 2003.
After retiring from the force at 55, Azumi continues to fulfil his duties as a board member in various organisations. He has participated in humanitarian missions in war-torn countries.
“I don’t feel like stopping any time soon. I will continue to work for as long as I can.
“I am motivated by the work of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed. He is 93 years old.
“So, what more for a 70-yearold retired general like me?”
He said his family has always supported him in his work and passions. His wife has participated in his overseas missions, including one time where she was a volunteer in a group that delivered medical supplies to Gaza four years ago.
His wife had accompanied him to Iraq once, where she visited displaced children and families two years ago.
In 2008, Azumi became the chairman of CyberSecurity Malaysia, an agency under the former Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (now known as the Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Ministry).
He described his role as challenging and interesting. He said he has always been passionate about security issues, ranging from internal and bilateral security as well as common border between countries.
He said the cyber world was something new and interesting to dive into.
“The cyberspace must be shared by everyone. Everyone has a responsibility in securing it for common use and the good of mankind,” he said.
In June, Azumi was bestowed the Professional Award 2018 for Development of Professional Relations in Information Security at the Ugra and National Forum for Information Security 2018 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
It was the third time he attended the conference, and the second time speaking in one of its sessions.
Despite his current role, Azumi said his 41 years in the military had shaped his character.
“Discipline and leadership by example are the two things that made me who I am today.
“I continue to look up to my superiors in the military as my role models. They had set the best examples.”
At 70, CyberSecurity Malaysia chairman General (Rtd) Tan Sri Mohd Azumi Mohamed says he has no intention of stopping and will continue to work as long as he can.