Rinzin Wangchuk

The former Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the Royal Bhutan Army, Goongloen Gongma (Lt. General) Lam Dorji passed away yesterday morning at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), Thimphu. He was 87.

Recipient of two Druk Thugsey medals, Druk Yugyel, and the Drakpoi Wangyal Medal from three Monarchs, Goongloen Lam Dorji served two monarchs in a career that spans more than four decades during which he had helped strengthen and mature the armed forces in Bhutan. 

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji was born in Haa on October 23, 1933. He became a soldier when the Royal Bhutan Army was in its infancy. His career matured with the army, and he retired when the RBA had grown into a professional force of 10,000 strong personnel on October 30, 2005. He served 41 years as Chief Operations Officer and became the world’s longest serving army chief.

He passed out from the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, India, at the end of 1954 and completed a post-training attachment with a range of Indian Army units and schools of instruction.

In March 1959, he received his first assignment to establish the RBA training centre in Wangduephodrang and transformed 80 rough but dedicated farmers into soldiers who served their nation with a salary of five Ngultrum a month and some basic rations. 

Having worn out many pairs of boots on the rough Bhutanese terrain, and having covered the length and breadth of a stark but beautiful countryside, with limited food and facilities, he left a force of trained and dependable soldiers who enjoy good housing, pay, and facilities and a high morale with very clear responsibility: to serve their King in the interest of their country.

In 1962, during the Indo-China war, he was posted to Lingmithang to oversee the training of a militia force drawn from Kurtoe, Bumthang, Mongar, and Pemagatshel. He was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel on August 7, 1962, and served as the Commandant of training centre from 1963 to 1964.

On November 25, 1964, he was appointed as the Chief Operations Officer at the army headquarters in Thimphu by the late King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who promoted him as Colonel in 1970. His Majesty The Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck promoted him to the rank of Goongloen Wogma (Maj. General) in June 1981, and then as Goongloen Gongma on August 2, 1991.

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji, like other members of his generation, helped pioneer the infrastructure development of Bhutan as His Majesty The Fourth King took over the helm in the early 1970s. 

As General Secretary of the National Sports Association of Bhutan, from 1974 to 1978, he worked directly under His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo to develop the Changlingmithang stadium and the Royal Thimphu Golf Club.

In 1979, under the command of His Majesty, the RBA built the 21-kilometre Laptsakha irrigation channel in Punakha, at a fraction of the estimated cost, enabling the resettlement of over 200 landless pensioners and bringing into cultivation over 1,200 acres of land. 

In 1981 he was appointed Chairman of the Government Welfare Project, now known as the Army Welfare Project (AWP), a project conceived and launched by His Majesty to generate funds for the welfare of servicemen and to provide employment for retired personnel. Aimed at being a sustainable commercial venture that proved to be an example to other government ventures and corporations, AWP now earns more than Nu 200 million a year.

In 1983 he was assigned command and control of the Royal Bhutan Police by His Majesty to reorganise and streamline the service conditions and improve the morale of the RBP.

During the uprising of 1990 the RBA safeguarded the security of the nation at a time when the southern dzongkhags saw unprecedented violence. Under the personal leadership of His Majesty The Fourth King, the RBA rose to the challenge of flushing out the Indian militants who were illegally camped on Bhutanese soil in 2003.

As the Chief Operations Officer, Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji developed a close rapport with 15 Chief of Army Staff of the Indian army. Generals and senior officers of the Indian army expressed their deep appreciation, over the years, for the outstanding contributions made by General Lam Dorji in enhancing the close friendship and cooperation between the Indian army and the Royal Bhutan Army, thereby contributing to the strengthening of Indo-Bhutan relations.

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji was awarded the Druk Zhung Thugsay medal in July 1969, by His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. During the National Day celebrations in 1991 His Majesty The King awarded him the highest medal of the Royal Bhutan Army, the Druk Yugyel (DYG). In recognition of his long and dedicated service to the Tsawa-Sum he was awarded the Drakpoi Wangyal by His Majesty in 2001.

In 2010, His Majesty The King awarded him the Druk Thuksey Medal and said that Lam Dorji had already received the highest awards of the nation but was being recognised today as a symbolic gesture to present him to the youth as an example and to show that, ‘service to the nation shall never go forgotten.’

“An alumnus of the Indian Military Academy, Googloen Lam Dorji was part of the history of Bhutan,” Colonel Shankar, a retired Indian Army officer who had served in Bhutan said. He remembers Goongloen was a great ambassador of Indo-Bhutan friendship.