Aung Zaya

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

Cite as: 
The Memoir of Aung Zaya. (2022). Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1.

I left the military quite soon after the coup, in March 2021. I was a clerk doing office work at the air force archives in Yangon, ranked sergeant. I was in the military nearly eight years, all told. But to be honest, I really hated it. From the very beginning, I couldn’t stand being around the green color of all the army uniforms.

I had a job before I signed up. I finished tenth grade and went to work at a factory, which was well known for its industrial action. I got involved. In fact, I was a leader in organizing strikes and fighting for better labor conditions. We struggled to make a difference and even did hunger strikes. It wasn’t easy. My mother was very worried about me. She was trying to find a way to get me out of that situation, where I put myself at risk.

My mom made acquaintances with the wife of a commanding officer in the air force while she was visiting a branch of the military academy on an uposatha day. The wife explained to my mom that her husband, who was a colonel at that time, needed to secure a certain number of fresh recruits for the military in order to receive his next promotion.

The civilian parliament had recently made a decision that benefited us workers, but the factory owner and the Ministry of Labor were not complying with it. My mother convinced me that my industrial action was not going to end well. I listened to my mother and joined up with the air force, leaving the factory and its problems behind. I was twenty years old. You could say that I was too naïve to see things through to the end.

I did basic training at the Phaung Gyi Training Camp for four and a half months. Then I went to Meiktila and continued training, this time as a Radar Operator. After six months of that, I went to Hmawbi, Yangon Region, and the colonel general who first recruited me gave me my first real assignment. My mother had gotten involved again, you see. She told the colonel that I wanted to take the matriculation exam. I had actually failed that exam just before I went to work at the factory. Although I like reading, at that time I was just reading what I liked, not the books I needed to pass the exam.

Because of my mother and this colonel, I was assigned to the Mingaladon Air Defense Control Center for my first assignment. It was very comfortable and I was lucky to be assigned there. It had a huge library. As soon as I arrived, I even received the stipend for soldiers with dependent families. I studied hard and took the matriculation exam, passing with a distinction in history. The chief commander of the air force presented me with an award in Taungoo, and I received a separate award from the Yangon Region commander. They gave me real gold as a prize at yet another award ceremony in Nay Pyi Taw. I really enjoyed working at that base. But others saw it as a dead-end job.

My superiors started suggesting that I should move on from the control center. They said that other positions in the air force allow you to earn money on the side, for example, by taking jet fuel and oil procured for the air force and illegally selling it on the market. Some commanders do this and then split the profits with their subordinates. But I simply was not interested in that. I talked to my family about it and they also did not like it. The way I saw it, if I needed extra money, I could take on someone else’s honest work during my free time.

I decided to apply for a clerk position. I was accepted for training in 2016 and it took eighteen months. When I started, I was a deputy sergeant, and when I finished, I had become a sergeant. I was posted back to Mingaladon, but this time to the staff of the headquarters, where I was in charge of a committee that issued rice, oil, and so on. We would sell eggs and that kind of thing to the people. We had to take photos of our activities for propaganda purposes. I hated this particular job.

In the course of my work I learned that one of the clerks at the Yangon archives wanted to leave. He told me that his job involved working with army clerks, rather than those from the air force, and he just couldn’t handle it anymore. It’s not easy for people from the air force to work with those from the army. There’s a big cultural difference. In the air force, many people are skilled laborers, they have a trade, and there is less bullying and discrimination from seniors to juniors. There are more people dissatisfied with the 2021 military coup in the air force than in the army.

Things are changing though. The army now has more influence over the air force and navy. New air force recruits train alongside army recruits, whereas they used to have separate training. Long before the coup, when Senior General Min Aung Hlaing first became commander-in-chief, he tried to put the air force further under army control, but General Myat Hein blocked him, even though the commander-in-chief of the armed forces technically has power over the air force and navy chiefs. Previous generals Than Shwe and Ne Win arranged this by consolidating army control over the air force—they knew that elsewhere in the world, sometimes the air force does not follow the army. I heard that in Venezuela once, when the national army tried to perform a coup, the air force disagreed and dropped bombs on them.

Our air force had its own assault squadron until General Ne Win demobilized it. Since then, the air force, has always been comparably poorly armed. There was another attempted coup in Myanmar before Ne Win’s caretaker government, which was thwarted because an air force sergeant who learned of the plot shared it with his sister, who passed the information on to then-Minister Kyaw Nyein. The civilian government deployed a police squadron to the government buildings. The army was actually already marching over to the buildings to enact the coup. When they heard the police had been deployed however, they retreated. You could say the army later took over the air force for what they had done.

After the coup, even I, an air force clerk, was ordered to put on police clothes and go out onto the street to face protesters. The army was increasingly killing people in those early months. I felt sick to my stomach. Whenever I phoned home, my family would be crying. I started preparing to leave on 17 March and finally joined the side of the people and escaped on 3 April. I managed to escape with the help of a younger friend who left the air force before me. At this time, the National Unity Government had not even been formed. There was no assistance for people like us.

My girlfriend, who has become my wife, faced more difficulties leaving than me. Families of servicemen are forced to live on military bases, and this is by design, so they can be controlled. In my department, the superiors don’t really notice much if a man goes missing for a little while; but if their wife or girlfriend is gone, they search immediately. It took two weeks for my love to escape. We ate our last breakfast at 8 Mile and fled Yangon. It wasn’t too hard from that point on, back then the military and police were focused on searching people returning to the city rather than leaving.

I just want things to return to normal after the revolution succeeds. I hope time will make everything alright. I am doing everything I can to help the revolution. I gather information from insiders within the military and report it to people here. I don’t want to kill anyone, but if it comes to that, I will. This military dictatorship has spread like a cancer for years and it must be rooted out, or we will end up like North Korea. The military treats its soldiers and the public like slaves.

I can say this because of my experiences. In my work in Yangon Region, I helped host many top commanders, giving me the chance to listen to their conversations and hear their thoughts. The army does not know its place. It tries to be involved in everything. This attitude is what has led the country into ruin.

I did not like how Daw Aung San Suu Kyi approached civil-military relations softly. These guys cannot be dealt with that way. Only by using their own methods can the people be free. This revolution must succeed. Only if we succeed can we achieve equality and freedom.