It’s never too late to learn new things and broaden your horizons in life, says retired First Admiral Azhari Abdul Aziz of the Royal Malaysian Navy, who has had a brilliant career with decades of service in both the military and humanitarian fields Has.
After serving in the armed forces for 37 years and spending another five years in humanitarian work, retired First Admiral Azhari Abdul Aziz can look back on a lot and look forward to a lot.
Unsurprisingly, Azhari was already thinking energetically and in a good mood about his next day before retiring at the International Red Cross (ICRC) Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on his last day of work before retirement – if not before taking a well-deserved break makes.
“When my two-month vacation is over, I’ll probably look at the offers I’ve received,” says Azhari, who is currently also an associate professor at the National Defense University of Malaysia (NDUM). Meanwhile, Azhari has spent his brief “vacation” helping out in a friend’s orchard.
Azhari left the Navy as Deputy Chief of Staff (Administration) with the rank of First Admiral in 2016. Shortly thereafter, he joined the ICRC as its Armed Forces and Security Forces Coordinator, where Azhari worked with armed forces on military training exercises and developing the doctrine of international humanitarian Law. Joining the armed forces
Born in Rawang, Selangor, raised in Bagan Serai, Perak, Azhari, 60, studied with SM Anderson in Ipoh before enrolling in Form 4 at the Royal Military College (RMC).
Although he received a scholarship to study medicine at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Azhari joined the military instead, as the RMC’s policy at the time was that the government and the military had the first word and first choice of students to join the armed forces to connect.
“We had the choice of joining either the Army, the Air Force, or the Navy. I chose the Navy because it was said at the time that the Navy traveled the world and saw places. And when I got into the Navy, I traveled the world and saw a lot of places, ”he says with a smile.
To date, Azhari has visited 35 countries with the Navy and many more with the ICRC.
Azhari, who specializes in international humanitarian and maritime law, has served in various capacities at bases around the world. In the legal service of the Malaysian Navy, Azhari was part of the team that brought the case of Malaysia’s sovereignty claim to the Sipadan and Ligitan Islands before the International Court of Justice. He was also part of the negotiating team that dealt with the hijacking of the Malaysian International Shipping Corporation ship by Somali pirates and the Lahad Datu invasion of Sabah in 2013.
A major motivation for Azhari was his desire to see societies in other places and learn new cultures and languages.
“I wouldn’t be able to understand some of the languages, but to be there and see the culture and the people, to see how people sometimes think differently than you … When you are out there, you work with them or interact with them will be able to see the beauty of people from everywhere. I was pretty lucky, ”says Azhari.
After Azhari first joined the Navy for a year in Singapore and trained there, he was sent to Germany in 1980 for further training and to bring back a multipurpose command support vessel, the KD Sri Indera Sakti, which Malaysia had bought from Germany. A great tragedy occurred on the way home and it was the first time Azhari had helped in a humanitarian crisis.
“We went back through the Suez Canal with Indera Sakti. On the way we stopped in Naples, Italy, where I had my first experience with an earthquake. We were one of the few ships that were not washed ashore. As a military ship with hospital beds and doctors on board, we helped the people there, ”he explained.
Although a soldier’s life can be physically demanding, Azhari soon learned that the job required softer skills.
“In the 1980s there was very little interaction between Malaysia and China. When (former prime minister) Tun Abdul Razak began to develop a relationship between Malaysia and China, the government initially decided to send in a naval ship as part of military diplomacy, ”he said.
Azhari and his military colleagues made the groundbreaking sea voyage to Shanghai and helped strengthen ties between the two countries.
“On the way home, we took the opportunity to stop at two ports, Yokohama in Japan and Incheon in South Korea. And these were the first military visits we ever made to these countries, ”Azhari recalls.
The most memorable experience for Azhari while in the Navy was stopping over in Japan. As a soldier, Azhari was prepared for most of the things that were asked of him, but he didn’t expect dancing to be one of them. “Most of the time, when the Navy goes overseas, the cadets have to put on cultural shows. We decided to do a full Malaysian wedding with silat and dance. So we male cadets in the armed forces had to be trained to dance, ”says Azhari.
“As soldiers, we do all kinds of training to strengthen ourselves, and then all of a sudden we had to have these smooth movements … it was really difficult!”
They must have been successful because the cultural shows were a hit and the ship stayed for another week as more shows were requested.
“When we were about to leave, all the friends we made during the visit were crying on the pier. So we had to go downstairs, comfort her and [the press] took pictures of them – they wrote in the newspapers that Malaysia sealed relations with Japan, ”recalls Azhari. A life in humanitarian work
While some aspects of life in the Navy are exciting and adventurous, many other parts of the job are mentally and physically challenging.
Ultimately, it is inevitable for soldiers to witness the effects of war and conflict, and that experience can take a toll on anyone.
One of the things that most influenced Azhari’s decision to get involved in humanitarian work was what he experienced as a military peacekeeping force during the Bosnian War.
“The things I saw in Bosnia really impressed me. When I came back with some friends, we wanted the armed forces to be more aware of their responsibility and their actions to promote international humanitarian law, ”says Azhari.
The original idea of Azhari and Colonel Kirby Abbott of the Canadian Air Force worked, and colleagues in Malaysia and around the world worked together to create, in collaboration with the ICRC, the first regional center for military and international humanitarian law in the Asia-Pacific region To erect NDUM.
Today the center offers special training on international humanitarian law for civilians and military personnel of all ranks in the region.
“As soldiers, we feel the effects of the war. They are soldiers who are shot at and soldiers who fire the shots. We see destruction and we see injury. And we also suffer and are affected by it, ”says Azhari.
“We also see the impact war and conflict can have on someone who is not part of the war itself – women, children, the civilian population. Although Malaysia is a fairly safe country and we have no conflict here, I’ve seen it elsewhere in my service. “
As a soldier, Azhari says he understands that war must have limits and that any action taken has consequences. Because of this, joining the ICRC and supporting its long-term humanitarian mission was not a big change for him.
“When you see people’s suffering, try as much as you can to help to alleviate some of the suffering.
“I went to Cambodia because of a land mine [identification and removal] Training. To date, they are removing unexploded landmines from previous conflicts in Cambodia. Imagine that this conflict is long gone, but the suffering continues to this day, ”says Azhari.
Education has always played an important role in Azhari’s life, as evidenced by his multiple degrees: he holds a law degree from Universiti Tekno-logi Mara, a master’s in business engineering management from Warwick University in the UK and a master’s in law from the Cardiff University in UK Wales with a Chevening Scholarship.
He believes that education complements the work we do and supports those who wish to continue their studies later in life.
“When you look at MBAs, it’s basically the study of strategy. The business strategy is exactly the same as that of the military.
“The terminology may be different, but the thinking is the same. When we talk about enemies in the military, we talk about competitors in business. The strategy you plan for your product is the same that you plan for your military operation. For companies, it is about when and which market they have to enter. It is time for the military to know when to have an operation and when to have the least amount of collateral damage, ”he says.
What’s next for Azhari?
Well, at least in the short term, this means he will have to spend some time at home with his family and 44 cats in Sri Kemban-gan, Selangor.