“Drill is the bedrock of discipline” and the Drill square is often compared to a potter’s yard, wherein clay of various hues and textures are shaped into commendable works of art; each piece unique in itself and yet part of a whole. Passing the Drill Square Test (DST) entitles every cadet to the two ‘Ls’ he craves for; the Lanyard and Liberty. Here the ‘Liberty’ is a pass to go out of the Academy on a Sunday.
Every Defence Service Officer would always remember their Drill Instructors – the Havildar Majors (Sergeant Majors) and Subedars (Warrant Officers) – who taught them the basics of drill. These Drill Instructors have to constantly maintain a high standard of military bearing and a super intense level of performance while they are training Officer Cadets. They are always under the microscopic eye of the Cadets. They are in a competitive environment against other Drill Instructors of other Squadrons/ Companies to ensure that their Squadron/ Company emerge as champions at drill in the Academy competitions.
Above all, they take on a huge challenge to accomplish, making soldiers out of raw teenagers, coming from different parts of the country, speaking different languages (I could hardly understand Hindi when I joined the Academy), from different family/educational backgrounds.
There is a lot of prestige associated with being a Drill Instructor at the Academy. The training to become a Drill Instructor is tough and the job has long hours and can be extremely demanding. These Instructors, mostly from the Infantry Battalions, are real go-getters and are always looking for opportunities to push themselves. It is one of the highest honours a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO)of the Indian Army can get. Only the most qualified NCOs are chosen to attend Drill Instructor Course and from them the cream is selected to be appointed at the Academies.
The Drill Instructors train the Cadets under the watchful eyes of the Drill Subedar Major (Master Warrant Officer) and the Adjutant of the Academy has the overall responsibility for the Drill Training.
Our course-mates stationed at Mumbai organised a get together on 26 February 2016, to honour our Drill Subedar Major(SM), now Honorary Captain Ghuman Sinh. He was the first Drill SM when we joined the Academy and he was the best Drill SM I have come across in life. As a cadet both at the National Defence Academy (NDA) and at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), I had seen a few more, but he was easily the best. He had a roaring thunderous voice at the Drill-Square, but had the softest tone elsewhere. He had mesmerisingly penetrating blood-shot eyes at the Drill-Square, which metamorphosed into large pools of kindness when outside the square. He was surely a soldier to the hilt, perfect with his drill and above all a great Guru.
SM Ghuman Sinh never believed in punishments. At times we got late for the Drill class by virtue of previous class getting delayed and our drill instructors got into the act of punishing us for being late. SM Ghuman Sinh would reprimand these drill instructors saying “These Cadets do not deserve punishments as they are not responsible for the delay. Treat them like your sons and teach them Drill.”
One Sunday morning, cycling my way to the Church, (the route was through the Drill Instructors’ Quarters), I met a soft-spoken, humane person, dressed in his civvies, waiting with the NDA cycle near the church. He inquired as to where I was off all alone in a hurry. I said I was off to the church and the mass was to commence in about ten minutes. This person I knew from his bearing and being with the NDA cycle was a Drill Instructor and he spoke to me with a lot of compassion, care and love ( for NDA Cadets, it’s a rare experience). At the end of the conversation, I bid goodbye to him and assuming that he might be a recently posted Drill Instructor, my last question was – “By the way who are you?” The man said “I am your Drill SM Ghuman Sinh”. I just could not believe my ears and eyes, as the man in the civvies was really humane and I had seen him only in his military uniform until then.
At the NDA, in Echo Squadron, we had Subedar Kalyan Chand from the Dogra Regiment as the chief Drill Instructor with Regimental Havildar Major Karnail Singh Chauhan from the Para Commandos as his deputy. They were really good at their job, thoroughly professional and real hard-task masters.
Two years after my Academy Training, as a Lieutenant, I was leading the Artillery Brigade Athletic team for a competition at Dehradun. On reaching the ground for the march-past, I realised that a button was about to come off my blazer and I needed a needle and thread to fasten it. I looked around and saw SM Kalyan Chand there. He, a roaring salute. me, a bear hug! I then requested him for the much needed needle and thread. The service came in no time, but SM Kalyan Chand insisted on fixing the button himself. He said that it would be a matter of honour for him to do the favours for his cadet. I was pleasantly taken aback by his kind gesture.
In 1990, our Regiment moved to Udhampur and was co-located with a Para Commando Battalion. An officer from the battalion was my neighbour and while conversing with him he said that their SM was Karnail Singh Chauhan. Next day I walked into the SM’s office and he could immediately recognise me. He introduced me to all the Havildar Majors of his battalion who had assembled there as “My Cadet at the NDA, now a Major in the neighbouring Artillery Regiment.” After that the two units developed such a great rapport that they would help each other with troops, vehicles and other resources whenever needed.
Our classmates’ from the 1979 batch of Sainik School Amaravathinagar had a reunion at the NDA on 22 December 2015. It commenced with the wreath laying ceremony at the Hut of Remembrance, to pay homage to the martyred officers, who had passed out of NDA. The solemn ceremony was an acknowledgement of the courage, valour and sacrifice of those who served the country. The ceremony had a patriotic impact on everyone present, especially the children.
The Drill Instructors (Havildar Majors) provided an excellent ceremonial guard for the occasion. At the end of the ceremony, I thanked them and spoke to them to say that the Drill Instructors at the Academies are the most blessed lot of Gurus as they are the only ones to see their wards placed above them on completion of training under them. Hence, they are doing the most divine job and must always strive to impart the best Drill education to the cadets.