During most military training and courses, the philosophy of training was to train every soldier and officer two levels up with every soldier and officer capable of functioning at a level higher and aware of the functioning two levels up. A Section Commander was expected to function as a Platoon Commander and was to be aware of the functioning of a Company Commander.
As a Lieutenant, I was the Gun Position Officer (GPO) responsible for deployment of the six guns of the Battery, calculating the technical parameters for engaging targets at about 25 km, ammunition management, administration of the soldiers, maintenance of weapons, vehicles, radio equipment etc. During our annual training exercise with live firing, our Brigade Commander declared me a ‘casualty.’ Our Technical Subedar took over the duties of GPO and did a commendable job which surely impressed our Brigade Commander. Four years later, as the Forward Observation Officer (Captain) during a similar training exercise, our Brigade Commander declared our Battery Commander a casualty and I carried out the fire planning and engagement of target in support of an Infantry Battalion attack. We were trained and tested to function a level up.
For the annual inspection when I joined our Regiment as a Second Lieutenant in 1983, our Brigade Commander wanted the officers to form a gun detachment of the medium gun and bring the gun into action and carry out various target engagement drills. The senior most Battery Commander was the detachment commander with rest eight of us – Captains and Lieutenants – formed the detachment. We trained for a week with our Gunner Subedar Amarjit, a Punjabi Brahmin who spoke chaste Punjabi interspersed with taunting comments as our instructor. It was a great learning for all of us and it was fun, especially Subedar Amarjit’s commentary and exalting Punjabi punch lines.
Curious to see our Battery Commander training on the gun, I asked him as what could be the intention of our Brigade Commander in making us go through this drill. He said that it was to build camaraderie among officers and make them well versed with the handling and functioning of the gun. I wasn’t fully convinced.
Come June 2002 and I took over command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment. The unit was under the process of being equipped with modern radars, surveillance and survey equipment. Military technology develops by leaps and bounds in the modern day and what knowledge I had of the equipment were outdated. I began earnestly training on the equipment with our soldiers with our Subedars as instructors.
It was learning of a different kind. the soldiers were enthused by their Commanding Officer training as the detachment member and commander of the radar; carrying the theodlite, setting it up and taking observations; operating the long range optical surveillance system; handling the Global Positioning System (GPS) etc. I enjoyed the training the same way I did as a Second Lieutenant and learned a lot, especially the short-cuts the soldiers adopted.
It helped me know more about our soldiers and my confidence in them increased manifold. They too must have had a similar experience. I learned a lot and enjoyed the three morning hours I spent on training and it appeared that our soldiers too enjoyed training with their Commanding Officer. My computer knowledge – both in hardware and software – helped me assimilate the training fast. Our soldiers were amazed with my speed of learning and were impressed by my finesse in handling the equipment.
That was when the answer to the question I had as a Second Lieutenant propped up in my mind. Why can’t Commanders at all levels train for a day or two to function two levels down?
I suggest that all commanders – Brigade Commanders and below – must train two levels down. It will be a great learning, especially in view of the ever changing military technology. When I joined our Regiment in 1983, the soldier’s personal weapon was 7.64mm Self loading Rifle. Over the years we were equipped with the 5.56 Rifles and the AK 47. Our Regiment was equipped with Bofors Gun in 1989 – a quantum jump in using the computing power in the field of gunnery. We were till then used to the cumbersome manual procedures involving logarithmic tables, range tables, various graphical instruments and the calculator to calculate various gunnery parameters. Similar was the case with the Infantry and Armoured Regiments.
Training two levels down – if done with a positive intent to learn – will go a long way in camaraderie and the soldiers knowing their Commanders better.