After Action Report -Thai Cave Rescue

In their first public appearance since emerging from their ten-day ordeal in the cave, the boys recounted their side of an extraordinary story that captured the imagination of the world.

(Photo courtesy (Vincent Thian/The Associated Press)

A packed crowd greeted the youngsters after they were discharged from hospital in Chiang Rai, and watched as they played with footballs on a small makeshift pitch before taking their seats.

Sitting beside the boys were the Thai Navy SEALs who stayed inside the cave with them after they were found, as well as members of the medical team who looked after them after the rescue.

Thai authorities organised a  press conference, for which questions were pre-screened,  More than 100 questions were sent in by the media, though only a handful were selected.   The media was urged to give the boys uninterrupted time with their families so as not to harm their recovery

Dressed in matching team shirts, the boys and their coach Ake appeared happy and relaxed as they faced the world’s media.  The boys introduced themselves  with their nicknames and the position they played on the team.

The largely joyous mood of the press conference was tempered, however, when the boys and Ake discussed the loss of Saman Kunan, the former Thai Navy SEAL who had died during the rescue effort. Ake said the team were shocked to learn of Saman Kunan’s death, called him a hero.   In memory of the navy diver, Ake and the boys decided to spend time as novice Buddhist monks — a practice considered a high honour in Thailand.

The boys thanked their rescuers and medical staff, and paid tribute to Kunan. They also bowed before a portrait of the Thai king.

The boys explained as to when they realised that they were trapped, how they adapted to their surroundings and their eventual joy at being found, ten days later.  They described their rescue as a miracle, thanked the experts who saved them and discussed how the experience would affect the rest of their lives.

Contrary to the belief that the team entered the cave complex to celebrate the birthday of Night on the day the team went missing, Ake said that the boys were merely curious to look inside as some of them had never been there before.  He said it was not unusual for the group to participate in group activities after soccer practice on Saturday afternoons.

They explored the caves for about an hour, before deciding to return.   By this time the cave had become partially flooded and their exit was blocked.   All the boys can swim, country to earlier reports, and they to swam to safety when the water started rising.

At his point, they realised that they were trapped. With no obvious way out, the group retreated about 200 meter further into the cave to find somewhere to rest for the night.

There they found a bit of slope with a small water source,  Ake instructed the team to drink water dripping from the roof of the cave as it would be purer than the dirty floodwater on the floor.   Having eaten after soccer practice, the boys had no food during their ordeal.  Instead, they drank water from the cave.

Before they slept, Ake told them to say a prayer and they prayed that night. The team were not scared and Ake hoped the water level would drop the next day, and that help would arrive.

The waters did not subside, however.  Instead the levels rose fast.  Ake ordered the group to find higher ground. Concerned that they might soon be submerged, he instructed the boys to start digging and look for a potential exit.  They managed to burrow a hole into the cave in shifts after the water rose by three meter.

Adun, the only member who spoke English, responded with a “Hello”  in disbelief  to the first British diver who reached the group.  Adun, like other members of the group, was busy digging — looking for a possible way out — when some of the boys thought they heard the sound of people talking.  Ake instructed the group to stay quiet. He asked one of the boys to move closer to the ledge and shine a flashlight on the water, but the boy was too scared, and Adun volunteered instead.

The boys described how they formed a bond with the Thai Navy SEALs who remained with them in the cave while rescuers worked out a plan to free them. They played checkers — and one of the Navy SEALs sitting alongside them at the press conference always won.   This SEAL was titled ‘King of the Cave.  One SEAL had spent most of the time in just his underwear and a small piece of foil, having stripped off his clothes to give to the boys to keep warm.

None of the boys wanted to leave the cave first when rescuers asked for volunteers when the decision was made to extract the boys through the floodwaters.  Ake joked he and the boys made the decision on who should go first based on who lived the furthest away. Ake thought the rescued kids would go straight home and those who got out first could spread the word.

When asked about the lessons they’ve learned from the incident, Ake said he was going to live life more carefully.   Ardun said though people can’t predict the future, the experience had taught him about the consequences of acting carelessly.   Other boys said though they still dreamed of becoming soccer players, some said they now wanted to become Navy SEALs.

The boys and Ake apologised to their parents for not telling them they went to the cave.

Thai authorities are concerned about their long-term psychological health.  They urged the media to respect the boys’ privacy in the future, out of concern for their mental health.  They are also in the process of granting four team members who are stateless Thai citizenship.

The day after the press conference the boys were allowed to go home.   Doctors have advised their families that they should avoid contact with journalists for at least a month.


Wild Boar Boys Football Team Rescue Operations

Rescue operations of Thai Wild Boar Boys Football Team and coach, a group of ‘Unlucky Thirteen’ captured the world’s attention, as divers successfully brought them out of the flooded Tham Luang cave complex.  “The number 13 may be lucky or unlucky, but one cannot blame the number for it and will always follow number 12 and precede number 14” – from my blogpost ‘Arithmetic of Licence Plates.’

‘God Himself never did any miracle, but it was always through humans’, I had written in my earlier blogpost ‘Randomness of Life.’  We must thank the God Almighty for the efforts of the rescue team, but should never forget to thank all those members of the rescue team, who untiringly executed the dangerous rescue operation.

First, let us bow our heads and say a few prayers for Kunont, also known as Gunan or Kunan, who laid down his life, without caring for his personal safety.  He was part of the North Face Adventure Team, one of Thailand’s top trail runners and a former Navy Seal diver.

Kunont made his way through a submerged cave to bring oxygen.  He  then ran out of oxygen on his way back to the entrance, highlighting how hard it would be to rescue the boys untrained in diving.  On his way back he lost consciousness and  his friend tried to help bring him out.  Kunont, in a soldierly way, did the supreme sacrifice in trying to save others.

(Image Courtesy Australian Associated Press)

Dr Richard Harris, 53, an anesthesiologist from Adelaide, works for the South Australian Ambulance Services.  He is an expert in cave-diving.  He joined the rescue team on the request of British officials.

Risking his own life, Harris made the treacherous trip into the subterranean chamber to check on the boys after they had been trapped for more than two weeks.  After examining them, Harris recommended that the weakest of the boys be rescued before their stronger teammates — against the earlier opinion of saving the strongest first.

Ekapol Chantawong, affectionately known as “Ake,” is the assistant coach of the football team.  Ekapol had already cheated death; when he was just 10 years old.  His parents and brother were killed by a disease that ravaged his village, only sparing him.  He lived with extended family members for a short time after his family’s deaths, but felt sad and lonely.  This lead him to be a Buddhist Monk.

Ake would be there at the field waiting for kids to show up after school. According to him, it is a great way to keep the children healthy, away from modern gizmos and other diversions and also to interact with friends.  The members of the Wild Boars are a team on and off the soccer field, traveling to competitions, cycling mountain roads and swimming in waterfalls together.

The team entered the cave complex to celebrate the birthday of Peerapat Sompiangjai, nicknamed Night, turned 17 on 23 June, the day the team went missing.  Before they were found, the group had to survive for nine days in the darkness unaware of the desperate search efforts.

How did this team survive through the ordeal?

Air.    Most caves naturally ‘breathe’ through various pores and cracks.  However, as the days went on, oxygen levels dipped to about 15% where the team were huddled. The usual level is about 21%.  Ake, being a Buddhist Monk, had trained the team in breathing techniques to make sure they used as little air as possible,

Food.    The team had bought snacks to celebrate Night’s birthday, and it was these snacks that helped sustain them after getting trapped in the caves. Ake reportedly refused to eat any food so the boys would have more for themselves, leaving him the weakest when divers eventually found the team on 2 July.  What a great leader!

Water.    Humans  can survive for many months without food, but water is an absolute necessity.  As it was monsoon season, the cave had adequate water  and they chose clean water to drink,  Water dripping from the cave ceiling would have really helped.

Hypothermia.    It is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce.  It can often be a risk underground, especially in flooded caves.  The team used rocks to dig five metres deeper into the cave to create a tunnel so that they could keep warm.

Disorientation.   The team had to handle the total darkness of the cave, without any awareness of time or of the massive search efforts to find them.  Meditation training by Ake helped the team withstand disorientation.

Stress.   The efforts of Ake must have been instrumental in keeping them calm.  Meditation would have helped them handle the stress.

When the rescuers managed to get through to the team, they delivered letters from their families and took notes back to allow them communication with the outside world.  In his letter, Ake apologised to the parents for taking the boys into the cave network, but several replied to say they did not blame him.

“I promise I will take care of the kids as best as I can,” he wrote.

Lesson to be learnt from the rescue operations are:-

Planning and Coordination of Rescue Efforts.    Coordination between various Thai agencies and also international agencies ensured speedy rescue. A mission which was expected to take a few weeks was executed in few days.

Leadership of the Coach Ake.    Exemplary leadership demonstrated by the coach of Wild Boars football team in ensuring survival of the entire team.   Surely, he must be well trained in First-Aid, CPR, survival skills, child psychology, etc. Our son works as a Swimming Instructor and Life Guard in Canada and he is well trained in these aspects.

Team-Work.     The entire team of teens must have listened to their coach – else they would not have survived through this ordeal.

Trust in the Leader.    The coach must be enjoying a lot of trust and confidence of the team of teens for sure.

Dedication of the Rescue Team.     Despite losing a rescue diver, Saman Kunan, the rescue team endured to complete the dangerous mission.

Composition of Rescue Team.    A doctor with cave-diving experience first went into the chamber and approved the boys for the operation.

No VIPs.    The VIPs kept away from the scene, thus all resources like helicopters, road-space, etc were available to the rescue team.

No Media Presence.    Media and their camera crew were kept away from the scene and there were no reporters milling around to give the ‘latest situation reports.’

Crowd Management.    Local population appear to have cooperated with the authorities and there was no crowding – especially those with their cellphones – all ready to post images on the social media.

Quarantining of the Team
..    Thai health officials said that some of the first boys freed had elevated white-blood cell levels, indicating infections, and two showed signs of pneumonia but were responding well to treatment. They are expected to be quarantined in hospital for at least seven days.

Post Trauma Support.    A psychiatrist is evaluating the rescued team and would provide needed counseling and psychological support.

Kudos to all those involved in this rescue mission and Rest In Peace Saman Kunan,  – you have achieved Great Glory – true to the spirit of a soldier.

Rose Garden 2018

For centuries, roses have inspired love and brought beauty to those who have received them. In fact, the rose’s rich heritage dates back thousands of years.  People have been passionate about roses since the beginning of time.  We have over fifty bushes in our garden.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India,  was fond of Red rose. He always wore a Red rose on his jacket until his last breath.

It is said that the floors of Cleopatra’s palace were carpeted with delicate rose petals.  Shakespeare refers to roses more than 50 times throughout his writings. It is also New York’s state flower.

1,000 years old. That’s the age the world’s oldest living rose is thought to be. Today it continues to flourish on the wall of the Hildesheim Cathedral of Germany.

It was in seventeenth century that French explorer Samuel deChamplain brought the first cultivated roses to North America.  Roses are truly ageless. Recently, archaeologists discovered the fossilized remains of wild roses over 40 million years old.

The people of ancient Greece used roses on festive occasions to adorn themselves with garlands of roses, and splash themselves with rose-scented oil.  Napoleon’s wife Josephine so adored roses, she grew more than 250 varieties

The largest rose bloom ever bred was a pink rose measuring approximately 33 inches in diameter, bred by Nikita K. Rulhoksoffski from San Onofre, California.

Red roses are the traditional symbol for love, romance.  It reflects beauty and perfection.  Myth has it that Venus’ son Cupid accidentally shot arrows into the rose garden when a bee stung him, and it was the ‘sting’ of the arrows that caused the roses to grow thorns.  When Venus walked through the garden and pricked her foot on a thorn, it was the droplets of her blood which turned the roses red.

Pink Rose depict gentleness, grace, gladness, joy and sweetness.  It  can also convey happiness, gracefulness and admiration.

Bright, cheerful and joyful are what come to mind when thinking of a yellow rose. Giving yellow roses can tell someone the joy they bring you and the friendship you share.

White roses, the purist of colors, represent innocence, purity and charm. White roses are traditionally used in weddings and can represent new beginnings. We believe that white roses can also express remembrance and innocence.   Why white roses are so special is no mystery – it’s a myth. Perhaps it started with the Romans who believed white roses grew where the tears of Venus fell as she mourned the loss of her beloved Adonis.

Orange roses evoke energy, and enthusiasm, desire and excitement. Giving orange roses can symbolise your passionate romance and share your excitement of the relationship with your loved one.

Love at first sight or just an enchanting way to say, “I love you!” Lavender roses can offer a daily reminder of your love and eagerness to grow your relationship.

Peach-colored rose is gifted when are you grateful for someone or just want to show your appreciation.  It shows appreciation and gratitude or a different way to say “Thank You!”   They symbolise innocence and purity.

Cream roses are indicative of charm and thoughtfulness and goes well with pink ‘thank you’ roses.  Gifting a bunch of cream roses is an ideal way to show someone that you care – but without any romantic intentions.

” How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said.”   Victor Hugo

” What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  William Shakespeare

Peonies – A Symbol of Honour, Fortune, and a Happy Relationship

Peonies are outrageously beautiful in bloom, with lush foliage. They bloom from late May through  June in Toronto.  The flowers last only two weeks.

Their stems are not strong enough to support the heavy blossoms, hence they need support.  Peony cages are placed in spring around the plant as they grow.

Peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing.  They are also the 12th anniversary flower – because the peony symbolises honour, fortune, and a happy relationship.. It is the state flower of Indiana.

Peonies are native to China. They are highly valued there, and are often referred to as the “king of flowers”. They were the national flower prior to 1929, when they were replaced by the plum tree. Chinese name for the peony is ‘Sho Yu’ meaning “most beautiful”.

Peonies of three types grow in our garden- Tree Peonies, Herbaceous Peonies and Itoh peonies.

Herbaceous peonies (also known as bush peonies) die to the ground in Winter.  They re-emerge in March, or when the snow melts. Many find that they are deer resistant, but not always. Peonies are long lived, minimal care plants.

Tree peonies are called tree peonies for the woody stems that they have. Tree peonies have woody stems that defoliate in the fall, but the woody stems stay intact, above the ground. They tend to bloom earlier and with larger flowers than the bush peony.

Itoh or Intersectional peonies are a cross between the herbaceous (or bush) peony and the tree peony.  These crosses have produced new, exciting colors.  The plants have the lovely leaf form of the tree peonies, but die to the ground in the Winter.  Since they are recent introductions and are still in short supply they command a high price.

Itoh Peonies derive its name from Japanese horticulturist, Dr. Toichi Itoh, who successfully created seven peony hybrids from a tree peony bred with an herbaceous peony.  Dr. Itoh passed away before ever seeing his creations bloom. Years later, American horticulturist, Louis Smirnow bought some of these original Itoh peonies from Dr. Itoh’s widow and continued Itoh’s work.

Peonies like full sun, and though they can manage with half a day, they bloom best in a sunny spot.  They come in every color except for blue. Pink, and white, are the most popular colours.  Peonies can live upto a hundred years.  In ancient times peonies were believed to relieve headaches and help with asthma.


Early Spring Tulips 2018

‘April rains bring in May flowers’ is a common saying in Canada. This year, tulips sprouted as the days warmed up in April, but we had two snowfalls thereafter. Many plants either died or did not grow properly, but we still boast of the best Tulip Garden in Town.

Tulips Originated in Persia and Turkey and were brought to Europe in the 16th century.

Cultivated varieties, referred to as ‘Dutch tulips,’ originated in the Netherlands.

They got their common name from the Turkish word for gauze (with which turbans were wrapped) – reflecting the turban-like appearance of a tulip in full bloom.

Yellow tulips symbolises cheerful thoughts.

The brightly colored, upright flowers may be single or double, and vary in shape from simple cups, bowls, and goblets to more complex forms.

Tulips typically bear cup-shaped flowers in almost every shade but true blue. They can be double or single, fringed or twisted, perfumed or non-scented.

Purple symbolises royalty.

The eleventh wedding anniversary flower is also tulip. It conveys forgiveness.
These are different shades of Red Tulips in our garden. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love.

Tulips are spring flowers and it arrival signals the coming of a new season. Most tulips have six petals, but some can have many more.

Some of the Tulips are still blooming – may be due to the late setting in of spring.

Red tulips are the hue of choice to express that you are deeply in love. The color red evokes passion and romance.

They are gone in two weeks – and that’s the saddest part.


Gardening for Fun & Happiness

‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him,  God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’  (Genesis 1:27, 28)

God gave man the right to rule over everything on earth.  It must not translate into exploitation of nature, but being fruitful.  It is all about the power of creativity that God blessed us humans with.  It exhorts all humans to be part of creation and one of the best way to execute God’s command would be to tend to your garden.  It may be a few indoor pots, a small home-garden or your farm.

May 03 is Garden Meditation Day. This is a day to take some time out for yourself to relax and meditate or the least, visit a garden if you do not own one.  It is the time to get on to hands-on work, like digging in the garden, planting seeds, pruning plants and so on.  It can actually be a form of meditating.

Research has proved that that when we become involved in physical activities that involve creativity, planning, problem-solving, physical labour, it reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.  It can also be a good exercise for weight-loss.  The act of tending to your garden, planting saplings, de-weeding, will always make you feel better and also give you the power to be part of creation and being close to mother nature.

A mere look at your garden or plants can generate a lot of emotional changes which will surely have a positive effect on your blood pressure, heart activity, muscle tension, and neural activity.  It will surely calm your nerves, soothe your emotions and provide lot of happiness.

Today, we have literally taken the God’s word of ‘ruling over the earth.’  Gardening is the best way to ‘go green’ and support mother nature.  A well kept garden, why even a few indoor plants will surely impact the quality of air at your home.  It helps keep the house warm in winters and cool in summers, thus reducing carbon imprint and also save a few bucks.

A vegetable garden in your backyard will provide you with fresh and good quality vegetables.  In case you resort to organic farming – without use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides – you will have a regular bountiful harvest of organic vegetables.

One summer morning, as I was tending to the roses in the garden, an octogenarian stopped his car and came out to compliment me on the excellent garden.  He said “your work has improved the property value of your home by a hundred thousand dollars and your neighbour’s by at least fifty thousand.  I retired from being a real-estate agent for over forty years and this I can vouch for from my experience.”  A garden or a landscaping is an investment for the future.  A well manicured lawn, well kept flowerbeds, well pruned trees – all add ‘curb-appeal’ of your home.  It is a sure shot recipe to sell your home faster.

Gardening and landscaping is truly becoming an art form. Planning, planting and watching your own garden grow can fill you  with satisfaction and pride. Gardening is truly a life-time hobby. The more you learn the more proficient you get and the possibilities become endless.  It is all about taking the first step, getting your hands dirty and your shoes soiled.  As time pass by, you will surely enjoy it – especially post-retirement.

So what’s stopping you from starting your own garden and landscape design or even get some indoor plants?


Lieutenant General Rajendra Ramrao Nimbhorkar, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM**, VSM—- A Soldier Par Excellence

As I received a letter from General Nimbhorkar about his impending adieu to the profession of arms on 30 April 2018, after nearly four decades in uniform, I was struck by the thought that I was indeed fortunate to have been associated with one of the finest soldiers and an excellent human being. Our first meeting was in 2002, when I took over command of the Regiment in Rajasthan.  Our Regiment had mobilised as part of the general mobilisation ordered in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament (Op PARAKRAM). We were deployed as part of the newly raised 41 Arty Division, and I met then Col Nimbhorkar as the Colonel Administration of the formation during its raising.   There he was, an Infantry Officer, heading the administrative and operational logistics organisation of an Artillery Division.  He introduced himself in his soft and calm voice with a pleasant smile.  I was pretty sure that behind the smile was a smart, intelligent, tough and a chivalrous officer, who knew his beans pretty well, else he would not have been handpicked for the prestigious and difficult appointment.

General Nimbhorkar is a product of Sainik School, Satara (Maharashtra), National Defence Academy (NDA), Indian Military Academy (IMA).  Like most Sainik School graduates, he too came from a humble family background.  He was commissioned to 15 Punjab Regiment in 1979, which he commanded in Kashmir.  He graduated in courses at Defence Service Staff College,  and Higher command courses in India and the National Defence College, Dhaka.

As I look back over my two decades with the Indian Army, I observe that few military leaders are equally well admired by their superiors, subordinates, and peers and the admiration continues far beyond the years of association. The spoken reputation simply cuts across the hierarchical rank and file. I can say without hesitation that Gen RR Nimbhorkar belonged to this select few. There are a number of remarkable military facets about Gen Nimbhorkar. Some of them are worth mentioning.  During his long years with the Army, he was destined to be part of almost every major operation that was launched by the Indian Army. In his younger years up to command of his unit, he has walked on foot almost every inch of the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir. His command assignments at the Unit, Brigade, Division and Corps levels were all in operational areas. To say the least, he was someone who rose to the top through sheer hard core soldiering.

So we knew him as a hard core Infantry soldier. But during his tenure with the Artillery Division, he became a Gunner in letter and spirit and the Gunners accepted him as one of their own. When he spoke about artillery ammunition planning (a nightmare for most Gunners), one wondered whether he was wearing the wrong lanyard and beret! As he rose through the military hierarchy, many of the Gunners continued their association with him and to them he always remained a sort of a benevolent Colonel Commandant.

The most prominent part of his uniform were the rows of ribbons of the medals he had been awarded and they were plenty and they speak a lot about his military career.

Today, he stands tall as the most decorated officer of the Indian Army.  The above ribbons adorn his uniform, over his left chest and he surely holds them close to heart as he deserves much more for all his actions during his military service.  For the benefit of non-military readers, let me explain these ribbons.
1.     United Nations Angola Verification Mission Medal for his service as a Military Observer.
2.     Nine Years Long Service Medal
3.    20 Years Long Service Medal
4.    30 Years Long Service Medal
5.    50th Anniversary of Indian Independence Medal
6.    Videsh Seva Medal for service in a foreign land.
7.    High Altitude Service Medal for serving in areas above 9000 feet altitude.
8.    Samanya Seva Medal awarded for active service
9.    Operation Vijay Medal awarded to all participants of Operation Vijay – better known as Kargil War
10.  Special Services Medal.
11.   Samanya Seva Medal awarded for active service in Eastern Theatre.
12.   Wound Medal or Parakram Padak is awarded to those who sustain wounds as a result of direct enemy action in any type of operations or counter-insurgency actions.  The General was critically wounded while commanding his Battalion during Operation Vijay.
13.   Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM) awarded for distinguished service of an exceptional order.
14.  Sena Medal (SM).  The General was awarded Sena Medal twice(SM**) – once for gallantry as Captain commanding an Infantry  Company in Dras sector and for distinguished service as a Brigadier commanding an Infantry Brigade.
15.    Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) awarded in recognition for distinguished service of an exceptional order.
16.    Uttam Yudh Seva Medal (UYSM) awarded for a high degree of distinguished services in an operational context of war, conflict, or hostilities.
17.    Param Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) awarded in recognition for peace-time service of the most exceptional order.

General Nimbhorkar is a great leader, a true and gallant soldier, an outstanding administrator, a voracious reader, and above all a great human being.

My salutes to him from Canada – thousands of miles away -on the eve of his retirement.  I am sure he will remember David Frost’s lines: –
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Written in collaboration with Veteran Brigadier Azad Sameer)