A General’s Formula for Happiness
Having a clear focus has helped a military man get to the top
The deputy commander of the Lithuanian armed forces, Brigadier General Valdas Tutkus, is a happy man. From an early age he had a dream that one day he would wear an officer’s uniform, and eventually a general’s star.
It is a dream come true. But the 42-year-old general, who is in charge of the country’s land forces, has decided that this is not enough. He does not now refer to his aspirations with the words “a dream”. It is the most important objective of Lithuanian troops on their way to Nato.
“The Grand Duke Algirdas Motorised Infantry Battalion, which is stationed in Rukla, won international recognition last year,” Tutkus says.
“Foreign experts concluded that it is trained and equipped according to Nato standards. In the future we will have more such battalions. Our men are like ambassadors in uniform. They are involved in nine international missions in the hot spots of the world.”
A MILITARY MAN
Brigadier General Tutkus started his military career before the restoration of the country’s independence and the establishment of the Lithuanian army.
When he was a child, his father, also an army officer, was his role model. Later, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, and rose to the rank of major in the Soviet army.
In 1991, Tutkus applied for service in the country’s newly formed volunteer army.
“Tutkus is a military man to the marrow,” says Jonas Gečas, vice minister of defence. “He built his career by honest means and hard work. He has a good military education, and has seen action. He gets on well with commanders and private soldiers.”
Before his appointment as commander of the land forces in August 2001, Tutkus worked as defence attaché to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg, and at the same time acted as military envoy to Nato and the European Union.
Even now, after working at home for two years, he could find his way blindfolded around the numerous corridors of the Nato headquarters in Brussels.
LESSONS IN AFGHANISTAN
Tutkus spent eight years at various military schools. He studied at Tashkent School for Infantry Commanders, Frunze Military Academy and the Nato Defence College in Rome. He is far from being only a theoretician, though. As a Soviet army officer, he took part in operations in Afghanistan.
The war came as a shock. As a result of Soviet propaganda at the time, he sincerely believed that his role would be to help the people of Afghanistan. He soon realised that this was far from the truth. The country was engaged in a struggle against the Soviet army.
“In Afghanistan you knew you could get a bullet in your head practically anywhere. I knew that I was part of an occupying force. Soldiers got killed. My friends were injured. I was injured too. The most important thing was to know friends from foes.”
He remembers the first time he commanded a military operation. His troops ran into fierce resistance in a mountainous area, and the inexperienced officer did not know what to do. However, he was astounded when he saw two lieutenants hiding from the bullets behind a rock, and quietly having a meal.
“How can you eat now?” he asked.
The experienced soldiers explained to him matter-of-factly that they would finish their food while he got in touch with headquarters, and reinforcements would arrive. Later, the troops would have to move forward quickly, and there would be no time for eating.
“That day they taught me an important lesson. Their message was: stop panicking and get in touch with headquarters. I realised that not only army schools can teach you. Even soldiers can be your teachers.”
The general now lives by this principle every day. He continues to learn new things from people he meets, regardless of whether they are generals from Nato countries or privates.
THE HUMAN IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE MISSION
During the first years after the restoration of independence, former Soviet soldiers or newly recruited civilians formed the core of the army.
For Tutkus and other promising officers who had the chance to study abroad, it was difficult to put their knowledge into practice.
“We all agreed that our goal was to create a Western-type army. But no one knew how to do it. Both the Soviet army and Western armies are based on the same principles of warfare. However, the methods of working and their attitudes towards people are quite different.
“In the Soviet army the most important thing was to get the mission accomplished. For Western armies, the human being is the top priority. Our officers are now fully aware that, first and foremost, they must take care of the people under their command.”
Tutkus, who was born and raised in Vilnius, thought about following in the footsteps of his elder brother, who was a medical student. In his dreams, the general’s star almost gave way to a doctor’s white coat.
However, he did not become a medic. Maybe this was due to his inborn character. His brother, the well-known micro-surgeon Vy-tautas Tutkus, was an exemplary student, as well as an obedient and dutiful child. Valdas was quite the opposite, a troublemaker and a real handful.
They both attended the same school, and their teachers could not understand how the two brothers could be so different.
Despite this, the brothers shared one feature. They both knew from an early age what they were trying to achieve, and tried to be the best at what they did.
Most of Tutkus’ hobbies are related to warfare. He has a collection of swords and knives, which he started ten years ago. As a child, he attended riding lessons, gymnastics and motocross groups. Later, he started seriously practising judo, and even became a trainer.
“I think that if you want to give orders to other people, you have to try to do what you expect them to do. I’m not a pilot, but I know what a pilot feels when he is performing a complicated manoeuvre. I have done a lot of parachute jumps. It is something many soldiers do on a regular basis.
To know and experience what the people under your command are feeling is not a luxury; it is a necessity.”
When he was the military envoy to Nato and the European Union, he took his wife and son to Egypt on holiday, and spent some time diving in the Red Sea.
“Once you enter the water, quite a different world starts unfolding before your eyes. You float as if you are in an aquarium, and you are surrounded by beautiful and colourful fish.” At present, he works so hard that he can only dream about taking a long diving holiday.
Since his return from Brussels two years ago, Tutkus has put all his efforts into various projects at home. During this period, many changes have taken place in the armed forces.
“First of all, the status of the state has changed. Lithuania has been invited to join Nato. This means that the geopolitical and strategic situation of the country, and the army’s objectives, have changed.
“Up to now, our priority has been territorial defence. Our activities, such as the training of soldiers and the creation of a defence infrastructure, were planned in such a way as to make it possible to attain these goals.
“Today the main priority still remains the same, to defend the country. However, we should be prepared for collective defence. We are not alone any more; we are together with other member states and candidate countries. Therefore, our forces have to meet Nato standards.”
WELL TRAINED TROOPS
Nato standards require not only modern warfare but also a new army control structure, military units capable of moving quickly from one place to another, and educated and trained military personnel.
“Every soldier has to be keen, proactive and patriotic. We must train such people. As of now, not all military personnel have the training background required by Nato standards. For example, not all speak English.
“Modern armaments are something you can acquire. In a critical situation, the state can buy new weapons. The most important thing is to have soldiers trained in how to use these modern weapons.”
The operational troops under Tutkus’ command have had to bear most of the workload related to international operations. Troops have participated in all missions, and their performance was in no way inferior to that of their colleagues from other countries. The general is very proud of that.
“Not long ago I was visiting Afghanistan, where our troops are deployed as part of an international mission. I talked to American officers, and they admitted that on the arrival of our troops they regarded them with some scepticism. When the Americans saw how well the troops were trained and prepared, they called them a model for other countries to follow.”
THE PROFESSION GAINS PRESTIGE
According to the latest public opinion polls, the army has the confidence of the people. This, and also the fact that the number of applicants to the General Jonas Žemaitis Lithuanian Military Academy far exceeds the number of places available, proves that the profession has become popular and desirable.
“When Lithuania regained its independence, young men tried to avoid military service. They did not want to get a university education either. They thought that they could become millionaires without even a proper education.
“Now we call up for service a limited number of conscripts. Some young men, however, still try to avoid military service. I often visit units and talk to the soldiers. Many of them have told me that as a result of their service in the army they have become more disciplined and patriotic.
One conscript told me that only after joining the army did he learn how to work in a group.”
AT WORK AND AT HOME
Tutkus, who has devoted all his life to the profession of a soldier, would not object if his only son, 16-year-old Vytautas, chose a military career. Now he is more interested in law and economics.
When at work, Tutkus is a strict and demanding leader. At home he is a democratic and loving husband and father.
“I once heard a definition of happiness: Happiness is when you go to work with joy, and come back home after work and still feel happy. I’m a truly happy person,” he says with a smile. “I find my work interesting and feel good at work. I feel equally good at home where my wife, son and Aras, a German shepherd, are waiting for me.”
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