Upon completion of the Artillery Young Officers Course we, the Second Lieutenants, were appointed as the Gun Position Officers (GPO) in our Regiments. The GPO is the commander of the gun group and is responsible for the reconnaissance and deployment of the six guns of the battery in a gun position. With the help of his Technical Assistants at the Command Post, he is responsible for calculating and passing the technical parameters of bearing and elevation for the guns to engage targets miles away.
Deployment of a battery of six guns to engage targets in depth commences by reconnaissance (recce) of the allotted Gun Area. The map coordinates of the Gun Area is passed to the GPO with any restrictions on movement or administration, which may require the reconnaissance and deployment of the guns to be carried out at night.
On reaching the allotted Gun Area, the GPO recces the area on his vehicle to find a place suitable to deploy his six guns. When the GPO finds a suitable area, he alights from his vehicle to carry out detailed recce on foot to mark the placement of each of the six guns and the Command Post.
The moment the GPO alights from his vehicle, the driver drives the vehicle to an area which offers maximum cover, mainly to avoid detection from air. The LMG detachment – a Gunner and his assistant – appear in front of the GPO and the GPO deploys the LMG for protection of the Recce Party – both from air and ground attack.
The LMG detachment travels in the Battery Havildar (Sergeant) Major’s (BHM) vehicle. BHM is an appointment given to one of the senior Havildars of the Battery. He is responsible for all aspects of duty and discipline of the NCOs and soldiers in that Battery. During the deployment of the Battery, he assists the GPO.
The LMG Gunner is generally the ‘Detail Master’ of the Battery. He is the understudy of the BHM and is the soldier with good handwriting and skill at mental maths. He provides all secretarial help to the BHM and his most important task is to prepare the Parade State of the Battery the evening before, to be handed over to the Regimental Havildar Major, who compiles the Regimental Parade State after receiving the same from all Batteries.
The assistant LMG Gunner is a tradesman – the Tailor or the Janitor – who generally does not have any combat duties.
After the deployment of the LMG detachment, the GPO carries out his recce, decides on the platforms for his six guns and the Command Post and gives out orders to his party. The Gunners now prepare the their gun platforms and the Technical Assistants prepare the technical parameters. During all these actions, everyone is expected to run and walking or slouching is a taboo, until the guns arrive and deploy.
After the guns are deployed and when the GPO confirms that the guns are correctly positioned and all technical parameters are correctly set on the guns, he gives a ‘Ready Report’ indicating that his guns are ready to engage targets.
Immediately on giving the Ready Report, there appeared Gunner Mathukutty, our LMG Gunner, with a steaming cup of tea. That tea was the one I earned by my sweat. By the end of the deployment, with all the running around – especially in the Rajasthan deserts – I was drenched in sweat. The tea tasted too good to describe and it always enthused me and removed any tiredness.
During our training exercises, we had many such deployments, at times about eight in a day. Every time the Ready Report was given, Gunner Mathukutty served me the very same tasty cup of tea. I wanted to know as to how Gunner Mathukutty prepared the tea, when he was the LMG Gunner.
During one of the deployments, I kept a close watch on Gunner Mathukutty. He jumped out of the BHM’s vehicle with the LMG, followed by his assistant who had the stove and kettle. After I showed him the position of the LMG, they deployed the LMG there. While I recced the gun platforms, they both recced for a covered position to prepare the magical tea.
After a fortnight of training, we had our final exercise which in artillery parlance is called the ‘Practise Camp.’ This exercise involves many tactical deployments of the battery culminating into a final deployment in the firing ranges. After the final deployment is live firing to engage target as per the tactical settings.
On the final day of our exercise, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of our Division visited us in our Gun Area. I briefed him in detail about the deployment and the tactical scenario. He appeared satisfied by my briefing, but wasn’t all too happy about my LMG. True Infantry General that he was, he said “Your LMG is not deployed correctly. It needs to move 20 meter to the left.”
Captain Raj Mehta, our Tactics Instructor at the National Defence Academy (now a Veteran Major General) had taught us all the nuances of section tactics, especially the deployment of LMG. He had drilled it in us to such details that all of us will deploy the LMG at its apt position even in our sleep.
‘I deployed it in less than ten seconds,’ I thought. It could well be that the General did not realise that the LMG was deployed for both air and ground attack. I still do not know as to how Gunner Mathukutty could have identified the flying aircraft to be hostile. In case he sighted any aircraft in our vicinity, friend or foe, he might have ended up emptying the entire magazine of his LMG by firing at the aircraft.
The above is a statue of homecoming of a sailor to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Navy, and was unveiled on 04 May 2010 at Victoria, capital of British Columbia.
We all love seeing the images and videos of a surprise homecoming on YouTube, especially of US/ Canadian soldiers. Our eyes fill with tears when we watch those videos featuring service members being welcomed home by their loved ones. A picture of a dad in uniform holding his baby for the very first time, how can you not be emotional? Yet only those of us who have actually been on the other side of the camera know that while homecomings are fabulous in their own right, they can also present some unique, and often many surprising challenges.
For all those watching those soldiers’ homecoming videos, it will raise your feeling of patriotism and respect for those in uniform, who sacrifice a lot and how these soldiers and their families miss each other.
Have you ever tried to fathom the stress of these soldiers and their families?
It was more like a deep-sea divers’ decompression chamber when I suddenly appeared in front of our home’s porch, a journey which had commenced 72 hours earlier from a bunker at 12,000 feet above sea level in Kashmir or Sikkim, ending at Kottayam, merely 10 feet above sea level. It took me time to accept that I was safely home, to be with my loved ones, breathing that air I breathed in my childhood.
It took some time to accept the new reality, that I was not in an intense and life-threatening combat zone, but in the protective nest of my mother. It did cause its own share of stress, anxiety, and fear – both to my family members and to me.
The extent of my stress was related to the dangers I faced while deployed, the length of time I was away from home, and was worsened if I had lost any soldiers or any of them were injured – both due to enemy action or due to vagaries of weather. The other fear was of being unaware of the changes in family dynamics, the neighbours, close relatives and so on. Being unaware of the increase or decrease of animals and fowls at home too added to the stress.
It was always a sigh of relief for the entire family, especially my mother as she always heaved a long sigh of relief and rushed to thank God for bringing her son home safely. Her first sentence often was “Why did you write home that you will be home next week? I always knew you will come before.” All these while our father kept a stoic silence to break it to say, “Welcome home.”
It all commenced when I joined Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar in Tamil Nadu. Travel home on vacation was a one day ordeal owing to poor rail/ road connectivity of India in 1970’s. I wrote a letter home a fortnight before about my impending travel plans and reached home safely as we friends travelled in a group. While in grade 8, my eldest brother said, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later as Amma gets very stressed, thinking that you are on a train, you may miss a connection, you may not get good food and so on.”
I followed his advice sincerely till my last homecoming from Canada. I never gave the exact date of my arrival and in many cases never informed anyone about my travel plans.
In 2015, I flew into Kochi Airport and took a taxi home. While in the taxi, I called my eldest brother and he said, “How far away from home are you?” “Will be home in 45 minutes,” I replied.
My brother announced “Reji will be home in 45 minutes. Get lunch ready for him.”
My mother totally surprised and thrilled exclaimed “Which Reji? Our Reji, I spoke to him in Canada yesterday. How can he be home in 45 minutes?”
After lunch, I asked my brother as to how he made out that I have landed at Kochi and was on my way home, even before I could say anything. “It was because of the blaring traffic horns. I know that in Canada you can never hear it. So I guessed you were in a taxi home.”
Our nephew is a Captain serving with the Corps of Engineers, had returned home after a gruelling six month long Young Officers’ Course at Pune. On culmination of the course, he with his friends vacationed in Goa for a week. On reaching home, he rang me up to say “Now I realised why you never disclosed your travel plans. There were many calls from my mother and she wanted me to come home immediately.“
My eldest brother, now the head of the family, advised his nephew, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later.”
India’s Supreme Court on August 18, 2021, allowed women candidates to appear for NDA entrance exam scheduled on September 5, saying debarring them amounted to gender discrimination.
There has been a raging debate over the judgement among the Veterans community, with many voicing against the court ruling. Some passed some scathing attacks on women while some came out with interesting memes and jokes.
Some questioned the physical abilities of Lady Cadets. One theorised that the larger number of cases of stress fractures among Lady Cadets in comparison to their male counterparts was attributed to the difference in bone structure of women that the female hips are not meant to take the same stress as males because they have widened pelvis to enable child bearing.
With all these inputs, I decided to study the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), the military college of the Canadian Armed Forces and, since 1959, a degree-granting university training military officers. Like the NDA, the RMC mission is to educate, train and develop Officer Cadets for leadership careers of effective service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army.
RMC opened its doors for the Lady Cadets in 1980. The program introducing female cadets has worked well, mainly because the move was carefully planned, integrating both men and women. Lady Cadets are required to maintain the same exacting standards as Gentleman Cadets. They run the same obstacle course – a mandatory ordeal for which first-year recruits earn the right to wear the RMC uniform. They also compete in mixed inter-squadron sports.
2.4km Run – The Aerobic Component. This portion consists of running 3 laps of an 800m course in the fastest time possible.
Push-ups – The Upper Body Muscle Endurance Component. During the test the candidates are required to perform their maximum push-up repetitions. There is no time limit and the push-up execution must comply with the Canadian Armed Forces push-up protocol
Agility Run – The Speed Component. This test consists of sprinting 6 x 9 m by weaving around four obstacles (chairs) without touching any of them. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled.
Sit-ups – The Mid-core Muscle Endurance Component. This test consists of a two minute evaluation during which the candidates must perform their maximum repetitions of sit-ups according to Canadian Forces protocol.
Standing Long Jump – The Leg Power Component. The candidates are required to jump from both feet without hopping. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled.
RMC Physical Performance Test (RMC PPT.) As part of the program, the students are being physically assessed two times a year. The completed evaluation is being scored out of 500 points where each item is worth a maximum of 100 points. A minimum of 250 points is required to successfully complete the RMC PPT. Five physical fitness components are evaluated through different testing items: the 2.4km Run, push-ups, agility run, sit-ups and a standing long jump.
Standing Long Jump
Fitness for Operational Requirements of CAF Employment (FORCE) Evaluation
The FORCE Evaluation is a reflection of the CAF minimal physical employment standard related to common defence and security duties known as the Universality of Service principle, which stipulates that “CAF members are liable to perform general military duties and common defence and security duties, not just the duties of their military occupation or occupational specification.
FORCE was developed by experts who looked at more than 400 tasks performed by CAF personnel in all environments over the past 20 years. Using the data collected from CAF personnel, subject matter experts, laboratory and field measurements, the research team developed a revised fitness component of the minimum operational standard required based on the following six common tasks:
Escape to cover.
Pickets and wire carry.
Picking and digging.
Some trades within the CAF require higher levels of fitness or operational readiness, but the minimum standards for the FORCE Evaluation are meant to reflect the baseline CAF physical employment standard that everyone must meet.
The FORCE Evaluation is designed to capture the movement patterns, energy systems, and muscle groups recruited in the performance of the Common Military Task Fitness Evaluation (CMTFE).
The FORCE evaluation comprises of three sections, which are as follows:
A health appraisal questionnaire where the candidates complete a health appraisal evaluation and the evaluator records vitals (heart rate and blood pressure).
An operational fitness evaluation. Four job related simulations are evaluated during the FORCE evaluation.
An exercise prescription where the evaluator provides the candidates with a program detailing the activity frequency, duration, intensity and rate of progression.
The FORCE Evaluation consists of four test components, each designed to measure different physical capabilities:
Sandbag Lift: 30 consecutive lifts of a 20 kg sandbag above a height of 91.5 cm, alternating between left and right sandbags separated by 1.25 m. Standard: 3 min 30 sec Intermittent
Loaded Shuttles: Using the 20 m lines, complete ten shuttles (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back), alternating between a loaded shuttle with a 20 kg sandbag and an unloaded shuttle, for a total of 400 m. Standard: 5 min 21 sec 20-metre
Rushes: Starting from prone, complete two shuttle sprints (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back) dropping to a prone position every 10m, for a total of 80 m. Standard: 51 sec
Sandbag Drag: Carry one 20 kg sandbag and pull four on the floor over 20 m without stopping. Standard: Complete without stopping
If a member has not met the minimum fitness standards, a re-test can be attempted three months later.
Isn’t it high time the Indian Armed Forces take a re-look at the Physical Standards requirements for its cadets and recruits, considering women making their entry at all levels?
It may be pertinent for those in power and the Veterans to read “The Stone Frigate: The Royal Military College’s First Female Cadet Speaks Out” by Kate Armstrong, one of 32 women to first enter RMC in 1980 and graduate four years later. Her memoir captures the dominating, misogynistic world of one of Ontario’s most patriarchal institutions and her experience challenging it.
On the eve of retirement of my dear friend, Ravi Prasad, hanging up his boots after nearly four decades of military service and five decades of being in uniform, I sat down to reminisce about our association. We met for the first time in 1979 at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – E Squadron/ 61 Course – and have had a similar journey until I called it quits in 2004. We did many courses and were posted together at many stations with the last one at the Military Intelligence Directorate, Army Headquarters in 2000.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, retirement is defined as a recoil, pullback, pullout, retreat, withdrawal, disengagement – more of Artillery terms. Related words include flinch, recession, revulsion, disentanglement, shrinking, etc. Retirement has also been defined as seclusion from the world; privacy; the act of going away or retreating. If that’s retirement, Ravi you are not going anywhere. Retirement is the time when everybody calls you for crap you don’t want to do because they think you have more time.
Now you are a Veteran and a Veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The Bharat Mata, for an amount of up to and including your life. A soldier like you cannot be separated from or surgically removed from the uniform, which you got into at the age of nine in 1971 at Sainik School, Korukonda, Andhra Pradesh. Your blood runs Olive Green. The uniform has been more akin to Karna’s Kavach – his body armour – which made him near-immortal.
Dear Friend! After all these years of hard work and loyalty to the nation, you have earned this much awaited retirement. You have been a phenomenal friend to me who was always out there to help and hold my hands in difficult situations. During my service days, I wanted to be like you – honest, cool, calm, unruffled, smart, handsome, intelligent and more importantly, a great human being. As parents Marina and I were so proud of the way you and Lalitha parented Tejaswi that we took a few leaves out of your book when it came to parenting our children – Nidhi and Nikhil.
At the end of the day what counts most are reputation and the ability to look in the mirror and know you made decisions based on mission and taking care of your soldiers and their families. You served the nation with loyalty, to the best of your ability, and made the Regiment of Artillery proud, capable, resilient, battle-hardened, well led for which we all are proud of. Your discipline, hard work and love for humanity have earned you all the respect. Now is the time to take the time off and enjoy life.
This is the time for you to revel in all your achievements and take stock of all those humans who helped you to swim through at different stages of life – Parents, Siblings, Teachers, Friends, Colleagues and so on. Reflect on them and you will have volumes to write about. Please do it so that your children, grandchildren and others of the coming generations will have something to feel proud of and also motivate them to achieve higher glory.
As a soldier you never had a holiday in life; but retirement makes every day a holiday. Plan to make your holiday fun loving and entertaining. One suggested way is a visit to Canada. We extent a standing invitation to you to visit Canada. This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.
Retirement is not a work status, it’s an attitude. You don’t need to follow orders, discipline, restrictions, etc of the military life. The retirement life is meant for careless living with only fun. Retiring is not a sad ending. It’s a chance to let loose and totally unwind.
You may presume that you are your own boss, but wait! You now left your old boss and start a life with your new boss, your wife. You are now a ‘Go Getter’ – Lalitha will now order you to go get something and like an obedient husband, you will go and get it for her – which was your last priority in your military life.
At the railway stations, there are Retiring Rooms and at night we Retire to bed. In life there is neither any Retiring Rooms nor you Retire. It is never retiring but it’s all about retrying. Retry all those hobbies/ interests you tried before, but gave up due to exigencies of military service. It’s also time to reinvent yourself and pursue new hobbies/ interests, which you never dreamt of.
Veteran Lieutenant General Pankaj Srivastava, who was Ravi’s predecessor as Director General of Artillery says:- ‘Ravi signifies purity, sincerity and dedication. He is a gem in the crown of the Regiment of Artillery. I wish him good luck and success.’
Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul has this to say about his Army buddy at E Squadron at the NDA – ‘Ravi as a Cadet, was a gentleman among gentlemen. He did make a vain effort to strike terror among his juniors, but later gave it up as a bad joke. The juniors were fascinated by his accent, which distracted them from the threat of retribution he wished to convey. In particular, was his inability to pronounce the ‘ch’ as in chew, which exited his mouth as ‘soo’. Caused a lot of hilarity among the juniors, till someone more qualified in linguistics came along and made them measure the corridors in units of front rolls!!‘
Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall recalls: ‘Having known Ravi since Academy days and commissioning into Regiment of Artillery; and subsequent fortune of being together on numerous occasions while on postings and training courses; where we shared great bonding and I take pride in being associated with him. Ravi is a very sincere, hardworking with perceptive mind and focused individual. He has been a gifted and result oriented leader, highly competent and well accomplished person; rising to the highest position to head the Regiment of Artillery. Our heartiest congratulations to Ravi on having achieved huge laurels during his distinguished career; and best wishes for the second innings.‘
Lieutenant General VS Sreenivas, PVSM, VSM** writes:- ‘Ravi, my dear friend and I joined Sainik School Korukonda in 1971 – with our roll numbers 1062 and 1063. We joined the same NDA course- 61 NDA and then 71 IMA. Thereafter we grew together in the Service through promotions, courses, school get-togethers, mutual visits and tenures together in Army Headquarters.
I have admired Ravi for his sincerity, simplicity, competence and being a good human being. He contributed immensely for the organisation, quietly, without any self projection. It is a matter of great pride that an alumnus of our School became the Director General of Artillery.
Lalita, a gracious lady, complements Ravi in every way. They are experts in the typical Andhra meals- complete with banana leaves, varieties of rice, sambars, pickles, papads etc – beating the famed 26 item Onam spread any day! We wish Ravi and Lalita the very best in their retired life. I will also be retiring next yr in Jun and we shall be neighbours in Patel’s Signet.’
Veteran Colonel Punna Rao Vesangi, Ravi’s batch-mate from Sainik School Korukonda reminisces:-‘Ravi exhibited leadership qualities from school days and his appointment as House Captain is a testimony to that. One aspect which helped him remain cool and composed was his disciplined life and love for literature and the poems he penned during those blossoming days at School.’
Veteran Vice Admiral MS Pawar proudly remembers:- “Ravi, my friend of 50 years, what an innings you have played! With passion, fairness, humility and leadership par excellence; all along displaying a fine confluence of head and heart. A spirited Saikorian Classmate you made us all proud by your reputation as a top notch professional reaching the highest echelons as the DG Artillery. You headed the Arm with aplomb during a very crucial period.
Lalita, the ever cheerful and gracious lady in your life has been a role model herself; the wind beneath your wings enabling you to fly high. Thank you both for the friendship and your company which we were privileged to enjoy.
Meena and the children join me to wish you and the family continued fair winds and following seas as you now prepare to embark on yet another voyage together. Remember, we are a safe Anchorage should you need one along the passage.’
Veteran Colonel Durga Prasad pens:– ‘Ravi, We are honoured to convey our greetings on the eve of your retirement from service on 31 July. We are associated for the past five decades as Classmates since July 1971. You have held the coveted position of Director General Artillery since 06 March 2019 and inspired all ranks by your professional commitment and exemplary conduct. We will always remember your support to Brig Sravan Kumar in organising our Class get together at Nasik in August 2013. We adore you and Lalitha for the positive and helpful nature. Our best wishes to Tejaswi and Pushyami. Wish you good health, active long life and a pleasant stay at Secunderabad.‘
Veteran Commander TLP Babu says:– ‘Ravi and I go back a long way, to our School. But we became fast friends only during the latter years. We bonded over our love for music, movies and literature. He is a thoughtful, compassionate and diligent soul. Although we were in adjacent squadrons at the Academy, the busy itinerary ensured minimal interaction. We bonded again through long letters after we left NDA for quite some time, but the Army postings and the Navy sailings meant we drifted apart slowly. Pre social media days spelt minimal interaction and it was after nearly twenty five years that we met again, at our School social. I found that he’s remained the same down to earth self who wore his rank lightly. He organised our most memorable getaway to the northeast when stationed at Tejpur. We’ve been generally in touch since and it was heartwarming to see him scale the pinnacle of his career. Good guys do finish last! Look forward to seeing more of him at the city of Nizams and looking back on the years gone by!!’
Veteran Major General ML Mohan Babu writes:- ‘Ravi, the name I always loved, happened to be one of my best friends, I made for ever. First met Ravi in Feb 1971 at Eluru when we were appearing for the entrance examination to join Sainik School Korukonda. My parents fondly know him as the boy from Kamavarapukota. Spent the next eight years in the same House. He was extraordinarily talented and was the most wanted when we had to face our Telugu examination. He was our savior because, with just a day’s guidance we could clear the Telugu exam easily. I caught up with Ravi again, while preparing for the Staff College entrance examination at Devlali in 1994. Yet again, we were together in Delhi in 1998 & 99, before he joined to fight the Kargil War. Undeterred of the war conditions he exemplified the role of Battery commander and Second in Command of the Regiment, which he never served before. Once again joined Ravi for the Higher Command Course and interestingly, together for the Foreign Countries Tour and North East Area Tour also.
He served in nearly six Regiments and yet rose to the highest rank an Artillery Officer could. No small feat. It’s the outcome of his four decades of dedicated efforts. It’s indeed rare to find an Officer and Gentleman of his nature and clean character. Proud to be associated with Ravi during the last fifty years and I consider it as a God’s grace to give me a friend as Ravi. His support all through the School days and till recently at Delhi when Sunita went through a major surgery (Hip Joint Replacement) is immense and invaluable. I’m indeed indebted to him and can’t be paid back in this lifetime… Thankful to God Almighty for giving me such a friend… Many thanks to the beautiful Lady, Lalita Garu who stood with him in every measure and made our friendship only stronger and better. Her hospitality was unmatched and hence made us regular visitor to their home.‘
Veteran Major General BV Rao touching base with Ravi:- ‘On the occasion of your retirement on 31 Jul, we congratulate you for the noteworthy and dedicated service to our great Army and the Nation. You have been a notable influence on all those who knew you with your simplicity, calmness, dedication, logical decision making and above all likeablity. Coming up from a humble background,being a quiet achiever, holding the highest possible post of DG Arty in a challenging environment speaks volumes of your sterling qualities. Of course we will always cherish your boisterous laughter, being a fantastic host, and delicious authentic Andhra meals so fondly served by Lalitha Garu. Our congratulations to Lalitha Garu for being a pillar of support and being through the thick and thin of your challenges. Here is wishing you an equally joyful second innings to do what you like. Once again Sujatha and I wish you and your family a Happy, Healthy retired life.’
Veteran Brigadier YS Kumar fondly recollects:– ‘Ravi, my fellow traveller of 50 years (of course, he was leading the way!!!) says Goodbye to the Olive Greens, but in all probability continue to be one at heart for a lifetime. Looking back; the apt summary of his journey of life could be what Quintus Curtius Rufus , a Roman historian said; “ The deepest rivers flow with least sound”. A quiet Doer, with no frills and of course NO bombast.
We had journeyed quite often together in service together in the same formation. A Leader’s mettle is tested in adverse situations; and he was the calming effect when things had not gone as planned with guidance/ suggestions on what to do in minute details and leading right in the front. Empathy, dedication, and service before self was what he practiced. One who truly practiced Nischkama Seva (Selfless Service.) Lalita Garu, his Lady Love was a true Companion whose hospitality, taste and eye for detail we all appreciated and looked forward to. A fantastic host; savoured traditional south Indian food lovingly served personally by the couple on Banana leaves.
Most of our kids had one serious complaint with uncle and aunt – as all parents took Tejasvi to be the reference point for excellence in behaviour, obedience, academics as also extra curricular activities to be followed to no avail!!! Of course, in due time forging the best of relations with the next generation too. We wish Ravi-Lalita a great second innings and I have no doubt they will have a larger canvas to touch more people while pursuing things dear to them : Happiness – Joy, enjoying simple things, friendship and being a good Samaritan.’
Veteran Commodore SVR Murthy, Ravi’s classmate recalls:– ‘Ravi is very sincere from the heart ,down to earth and very caring in nature. He always led a disciplined life and did very well in school and passed out as a House Captain. He was admired by his juniors and peers too for his admirable qualities. The very fact he rose to be a three star officer and retire as the DG Artillery of a 1. 3 million strong Indian Army bears testimony to his service record and professionalism. Knowing Ravi, he rose because of his sterling qualities and nothing else. Lalita remains a pillar of strength for Ravi as also both his mother and mother in law who usually stay with him out of affection for Ravi. Lalita complements Ravi in being as “cool as a cucumber” with her calm and affectionate nature and broad smile. Archana joins me in wishing both Ravi and Lalita the very best as Ravi hangs up his uniform and swallows the anchor.’
‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’ : — Winston Churchill.
When we – thirty Mallus (a person from the Indian state of Kerala, especially one who speaks Malayalam) – joined Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (SSA) in 1971 in grade 5, it was our classmate – Cadet G Ashok Kumar – who acted as an interpreter. Our life was made easier as our House Captain was Veteran General PM Hariz, then in his 9th grade – who too was a Mallu. We knew only Malayalam with no knowledge of either Tamil or English. Ashok, a Mallu, his father served in Tamil Nadu Police, he studied in Tamil Nadu, but spoke Malayalam fluently. He was very empathetic towards us and did his interpretation with lot of passion and commitment. I fondly remember him teaching me how to slip a pillowcase over a pillow.
These qualities of Ashok stood with him throughout his life, especially as a Indian Navy Officer, rising to be a Vice Admiral and the Vice Chief of Naval Staff.
Admiral Ashok was commissioned into the Executive Branch of the Navy on 1 July 1982. He is a navigation specialist and served as a Navigation Officer of the Frigates INS Beas and INS Nilgiri, the Destroyer INS Ranvir and the Aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. He attended the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC,) Wellington, the Higher Command Course at the Army War College, Mhow and the Expeditionary Operations course at Quantico, Virginia, USA.
He commanded Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kulish and INS Ranvir. He has also served as the Executive Officer of INS Brahmaputra. He served as the Defence Advisor (DA) at the High Commission of India in Singapore and the Chief Staff Officer (Operations) of the Western Naval Command.
Admiral Ashok has made each one of his classmates proud by his achievements. He displayed his love for us when he hosted us at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – while he was the Commandant – for a get-together on 22 and 23 December 2015. It was the most memorable part of the life of all our classmates and their families. To read more about it, Please click here.
Today, Admiral Ashok hangs his Naval Uniform after nearly four decades of dedicated service to the Indian Navy. How cool is that!! So began the journey we celebrate today, a career in which that nine-year-old cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar grew up to be a top Admiral of the prestigious Indian Navy.
For your next visit to Swati in the US, ensure that you and Geeta obtain a Canadian Visa and spend some time with us. Remember that the Niagara Falls is better viewed from the Canadian side. This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.
Ashok, now is the time for you to sit back and not relax, but to demonstrate your deep love for Geeta. You can now afford to spent more time with her – without the excuse of office or duty. This is a God sent opportunity to express your gratitude to Geeta for all her love and dedication in bringing up your two daughters Sruti and Swati to be great ladies and valuable citizens.
On 24 July, Vice Admiral Ashok dedicated a Sea Harrier aircraft to his Alma Mater – a great act showcasing his love for his Alma Mater. Many of our classmates proudly accompanied Ashok on the solemn occasion.
Mr MV Somasundaram, Ashok’s House Master at Chera House about his protege:- ‘You are a seaman with gratitude to our School, the soil and source of a crusading career; Inhale the sweet fragrance of Sainik Flower, your formative alma mater; Keep navigating viewing the Pole star with a vision, rowing with a compass of rationalism; A splendid torch that would make your life bright and beautiful, With wishes to grow near the sky.‘ To read more about Mr MV Somasundaram, Please Click Here.
Mr M Selvaraj, Ashok’s Tamil teacher recalls:- சாதாரணக் குடும்பத்தில் பிறந்தவரும் சரித்திர நாயகனாகத் திகழலாம் என்பதற்கு நீயே நல்லதோர் எடுத்துக் காட்டு. உன் மார்பை அலங்கரிக்கும் பதக்கங்களே உனது கடற்படைச் சாதனைகளைப் பறைசாற்றும் படைத்துறை இசைமுரசு. உன்னத சேவைப் பதக்கம், உயரிய சேவைப் பதக்கம், சிறந்த சேவைப் பதக்கம் முதலான விருதுகளே உன் கடற்படைச் சேவைக்கு அங்கீகாரம் அளிக்கும் நற்சான்றிதழ்கள். அன்று (1978 ) அமராவதிநகர் சைனிக் பள்ளியின் சேரர் இல்லத் துணைத் தலைவனாய்ப் பணியாற்றினாய் இன்று (2021) இந்தியக் கப்பற்படையின் துணைத்தலைவராய் விளங்குகிறாய். குடியரசுத் தலைவர் பெருமகனார் அப்துல்கலாம் அவர்கள் சொன்னவாறு அப்போதே கனவு கண்டாயோ? உச்சம் தொட்ட உன்னைக்கண்டு உன்னை ஈன்றெடுத்த பெற்றோர்கள் மட்டும் அல்லாமல் சைனிக் பள்ளியாம் நற்றாயும், சைனிக் குடும்பத்தைச் சேர்ந்த அத்தனைப்பேரும் அகமகிழ்ந்து ஆனந்தக் கண்ணீர் அல்லாவா விடுகிறோம், அன்புச் செல்வனே துணை அட்மிரல் அசோக் குமாரே. தாயக மண்ணில் மட்டும் அல்லாமல், அயலக மண்ணிலும் நம் நாட்டின் பெருமையை நிலைநாட்டிய உனக்கு எங்கள் வீர வணக்கம். கனிவையும், கண்டிப்பையும் காட்ட வேண்டிய இடத்தில் காட்டி, கடற்படை வீரர்களுக்கு நல்லதோர் வழிகாட்டியாய், முன்கள வீரனாய் விளங்குகின்றவன் அல்லவோ நீ. இன்முகமும், இன்சொல்லும் உனக்கு இறைவன் அளித்த அருட்கொடை..கடற்படை ஆயுதங்களோடு இந்த இரண்டு பிரம்மாஸ்திரங்களையும் கொண்டு அல்லவா அனைவர் நெஞ்சங் களையும் வென்று மகிழ்கிறாய். ஓய்வுக்கு ஒய்வு கொடுத்த ஓய்வறியாக் கடற்படை வீரன் நீ. ஒய்வு பெற்ற பின்னும் நீ ஓய்வெடுக்கவா போகின்றாய். இல்லை, இல்லை.தேனீயாய்ச் சுறுசுறுப்பாக என்றும் இருப்பாய் என்று எங்களுக்குத் தெரியும். இதுவரை நாடுகாக்கும் நற்பணியாற்றினாய். இனி, வீடு நலம்பெற அன்பு மனைவி இல்லற நாயகி திருமதி கீதா, அருமைச் செல்வங்களாம் ஸ்ருதி, ஸ்வேதி இவர்களுடன் பல்லாண்டு பல்லாண்டு மகிழ்வுடனும், நலமுடனும் வாழ்க என எல்லாம் வல்ல இறைவன் அருள் வேண்டுகிறோம்.
You are an exemplary example to prove that ordinary common man’s offspring also can shine like a historical legend. The medals that adore your chest are the proclaiming Military band. Param Vishist Seva Medal, Ati Visit Seva Medal, Seva Medal are the right recognition for your outstanding service in Indian Navy. In 1978 you were Vice Captain of Chera House in Sainik School and now in 2021 you are the Vice Chief of the Indian Navy. As our great soul Dr A.P.J.Abdul Kalam said, did you dream to reach this height at that time itself? You have reached the zenith in your career. Seeing you, not only your biological parents but also benign mother – SSA and all members of SSA family shed blissful tears out of extreme happiness. Do you know,our dear Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar? You have impressed the people to know the greatness of our country not only in our mother soil, but in other alien soil also. A Royal Salute to you, our dear. Where you have to show your senility you did show and where you have to show gentility you did show and you stood as a forefront warrior, you are an ideal guide to all your fellow warriors. Aren’t you? Smiling face and soft-spoken words are God’s precious gift to you. Along with the Navy weapons, with these two ‘Brammasthrams’ you have conquered the hearts of all people and make them feel happy. You are an outstanding soldier in Indian Navy who gave rest to rest and you are a work alcoholic. Are you going to take rest after retirement? Never, never. We know that you will be as active as a honeybee as you had been hither to. So far you have put in your very best without any reservation for the Homeland. Now it is time for you to look after your family. We pray to the God Almighty to bless you to have a happy retired life with Mrs Geetha madam, the woman behind you for your success, your affectionate daughters Mrs Sruti and Ms Swati. To read more about Mr M Selvaraj, Please Click Here.
Veteran General PM Hariz writes:-‘It’s been a pleasure knowing Ashok all these years. Apart from our association at Amaravathi Nagar, we served together as instructors at DSSC, Wellington, just prior to his posting as DA to Singapore; and since then have been always in touch with each other. As the Commandant NDA, I had a standing Invitation to visit him; unfortunately could not make it due to exigencies of service. We were indeed very proud when he was appointed as the Vice Chief of Naval Staff; when Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, another Amaravian was the Vice Chief of Army Staff. I took the liberty of telling both of them that they needed to get a photograph of them together …. And they obliged! I had then posted this in the Amaravian Alumni Association FaceBook Group. It was indeed a very unique and proud moment for all Amaravians. After my retirement, he was kind enough to visit us at Kovai on his way to DSSC to deliver a lecture.
Ashok has been actively involved in chasing issues on behalf of the School too, both at the Service HQs and at the State Govt level. Recently, when the present Principal was steering the release of funds from the State Govt, Ashok got the Defence Secretary to speak to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary to assist in resolution of the issue. My wife and I had the pleasure of attending his daughter’s wedding at Delhi in Nov 19. Admiral Ashok, an officer and a gentleman has been a shining example of an officer in the armed forces, worthy of emulation. We wish him and his family the very best in the second innings.’
Veteran General Devraj Anbu recalls:- ‘Two Amaravians in the corridor of South Block housing the Ministry of Defence was an envy for everyone. Ashok and self did capitalise to a great extent. Ashok’s tri- service experience gave a great head start in his tenure as Vice Chief. His vast experience, ability to articulate and persuasiveness resulted many a time in deciding very delicate and important issues in favour of the Navy. Many a time he navigated his way through complex and thorny issues to Navy’s great advantage. He was at his best during deliberations in Vice Chiefs’ meetings. Having known Ashok from Chera House days in school, I took the liberty of enjoying his hospitality when he was in Singapore. I cannot forget the way he looked after me from the time I landed there to my departure. Every moment I spent with Ashok’s family is etched in my mind. He has done this for everyone who has come across him .. a great quality that endeared him to everyone.’
Chef Vijaya Baskaran, Vice President, Indian Federation of Culinary Associations (IFCA,) looking back at the VII International Chefs conference organised by IFCA in 2017 at Delhi writes:- ‘I recall with pride my classmate Admiral Ashok Kumar, addressing over 800 of the finest Chefs, he commenced by saying “What will a Naval officer talk to reputed Chefs about? Both the Chefs and Navy personnel wear whites and work in challenging conditions. Armed forces march on their stomach or ships sail on their stomachs and the most important reason – I was invited by my classmate and I could not refuse. Such is our brotherly bonding.“ The 45 minutes of his talk was repeatedly interrupted by applause from the delegate chefs; such was the power of his words. I am sure many chefs will try to influence their children to enroll in the Indian Navy after such a motivating talk. The aftermath of his powerful speech was that there was a long queue of chefs waiting to click a picture with Admiral Ashok.’
Veteran Commander Daniel Reginald, Indian Navy, our classmate remembers fondly:– ‘Having landed up in the Navy three years junior to Ashok and in a service where even one day seniority matters, I enjoyed the privilege of getting treated at par as a classmate by Ashok, despite our seniority differences. We missed being in the same station most of the time (except for a short period at Naval Headquarters) and I finally caught up with him after taking premature retirement and when he was posted as Flag Officer Sea Training and Chief of Staff Southern Naval Command, Kochi. The bond and friendship we share growing up together in Amaravathi Nagar breaks all the seniority differences, and Ashok is such an approachable person. I had the full liberty to call him up any time and seek his help and guidance in the high positions he held, and I regret not visiting him enough whilst I was in the service. Friends and forever and will catch up with him, post his retirement. Wishing Ashok, Geeta and their two lovely daughters- Sruti and Swati – Godspeed, following winds in their anchorage.’
Veteran Commander MP Joseph, Indian Navy, two years our senior at School reminisces:-‘Ashok was always seen smiling, even when things were not looking very good, a classic example of being bestowed with the stellar quality of sense of humour, he could laugh at himself, rather than complain – a very important quality in a military leader.‘
As we look back on Admiral Ashok’s career of service to our country, I think everyone will agree with me in saying, it was much cooler even than what we all – his nine-year-old classmates at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar – could’ve imagined.
Veteran Commander N Balasubramanian, our classmate recalls:- ‘It has been a 50 year association with Ashok since joining Sainik School in July 71. We were in the same section in School, thereafter we were coursemates in NDA too and there also we were in the same class following it up with the Indian Navy being in the Executive Branch. We also did 51st staff course together. I was also fortunate to know his wonderful family well and have spent some memorable time with them in our younger days.
Ashok and Geetha have always been warm and large hearted. Though I left Navy in 2007, have enjoyed like many other coursemates, colleague and even strangers their hospitality all along even when he was DA in Singapore.
I had a contribution to him in choosing the Navy, as I suggested to him to give Navy as first choice when we were choosing Service while appearing for NDA, as I was in the Naval wing and he in the Airforce wing in NCC. It proved good for the Navy. Also Geetha rose up to be President Naval Wives Welfare Association (NWWA).
Over the years, I have found Ashok to be down to earth, cheerful, affectionate, humble and helpful to all. He is a thorough family man and a very devoted son. I am confident that more challenging assignments will come his way considering his wide exposure and experience. On behalf of my family and many classmates and coursemates I take this opportunity to wish Ashok, Geetha, Shruti and Swati all the very best, good luck and god speed.‘
Alex Manappurathu, Ashok’s Chera House mate writes:– ‘I remember Ashok being a strong Sivaji Ganesan fan. A movie buff to the core. During school vacations he claimed to go to movie halls every day (and saw multiple movies per day!), and at end of the vacation, returned to school with repertoire of stories to be narrated to his eager classmates.
Cut to the present, having heard him at our Alma mater recently at the Sea harrier dedication ceremony, he was coaxing the students and teachers, connecting the dots of his school days and his naval career to drive home certain points. Makes me wonder if it was this story telling sessions of his school days that honed his oratory skills!
In the past few years whenever I have met folks known to him, it was very clear that all of them spoke of him in very high esteem. Some statements from them … “Made me realise persuasion is the way to get things done, and not Danda (stick.)” “He had done so much for me, this is is least I could do.” “Well accepted personality, gets along with every one.” “Learned so much from him.”
With his strong interpersonal skills, wishing him a very happy and productive second innings too after he hangs his naval uniform.’
Here we are…43 years from this day, I met TD Joseph (Joe) at the National Defence Academy (NDA)- he as an Air Force Cadet and I as an Army Cadet. Until then, we both did not know each other and that we hailed from the same village – Ayarkunnam, Kottayam, Kerala. He graduated from the Mayo College, Ajmer, Rajasthan and I from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu. Today, I cannot believe the day has finally come for Joe to hang up this uniform and retire.
Often our vacations home coincided and we met either at the fish vendor’s stall in the village market or at the coconut oil mill. You were the ‘son of the soil’ and I have an anecdote to narrate. My eldest brother, while on a trip to the village market, was hailed by a young man pulling a പിടി വണ്ടി (Pidi Vandi – hand cart). laden with bags of fertilizers, with his father pushing from behind. It took my brother a minute to recognise the person. Behold! it was you – a young Flight Lieutenant.
Joe, by your compassionate and fearless leadership, you have put smiles on all the officers and airmen who served under your command. I witnessed it in while I visited you at Shillong in 2017. You were real passionate about everyone’s well-being.
You are a born leader and have been blessed to be able to lead others. You have the power to influence others and you did it very well You always worked towards the betterment of others and never for self-gratification. You surely did enjoy your time with the Indian Air Force and you will undoubtedly miss the camaraderie and the privilege of leading such wonderful human beings.
Sophie was always by your side, and you touched the skies with glory in her company. You both raised two thoroughbred gentlemen sons – Abhishek and Ivan, with Ann Maria now joining your team. Sophie has been your supporting pillar over all those years and you credit her for that. It was very evident during the days you both spent with us in Canada in June 2016.
Sophie has been a perfect Air Force wife, inspiring others and representing the ladies fraternity. With her love and caring, you have flown safely all these years.
Joe was commissioned into the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot in December 1982. He was the winner of the Nawanagar Sword of Honour and President’s Plaque for standing first in Order of Merit in his batch of pilots. He has flown over 3800 hours on various fighter and trainer aircraft.
He is a Category A Qualified Flying Instructor and was an Air Force Examiner. He commanded a Fighter Squadron in the Eastern Sector, the Flying Instructors’ School at Chennai and a major Air Base in the Western Sector. He was a senior faculty with the National Defence College, New Delhi the Air Defence Commander in the South Western Sector and Eastern Sector.
Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul recounts:- ‘… and a most inspiring Malayalam address to the audience, on the occasion of Onam, all of which went over my head. Loved his golf, and had a mean handicap. When a Sikh C-in-C was retiring, we made him ‘renew his vows’, at a party. Joe was the ‘priest’ who conducted the ceremony, and as in everything else he did, was technically flawless, including his sense of comic timing. Had the audience in splits!!!
As in sailing any sea, one has to take the rough with the smooth. Sometimes, in a Headquarters, when somebody senior got on your nerves, one deftly manoeuvred the boat into Joe’s office, where a cuppa tea, a beatific smile, and a few words of wisdom, were instrumental in inspiring you to take the boat out again.’
Veteran Air Vice Marshal Anil Golani pens :- ‘Joe known since the last four decades, a handsome, smart and erudite officer with impeccable language and diction has been a simpleton at heart. Rarely does one find the combination of an intellectual, hard working, meticulous and sincere professional who is a simpleton at heart, bears no malice towards anyone and makes an effort to keep in touch with friends. I followed him for the RCDS course in London, UK and his briefing to me was immaculate and precise.
Sophie aka Nirmala has been a pillar of support to Joe, in all his endeavours while carrying out her responsibilities on the social front for the welfare of the extended Air Force family. Fun loving and charming, she has been sought after by seniors and subordinates while being a caring and loving friend to her peers. We wish both Joe and Sophie Good luck, Godspeed and Happy Landings as they begin their Second Innings, which I am sure will be better than the first. Wishing you both many birdies and pars with an odd eagle thrown in to keep you going. Lots of love from Golu & Rekha’
Veteran Air Vice Marshal Michael Fernandez says:- ‘Joe is a super guy, and I mean it truly. Known him ever since NDA, got to know him better when we spent the next decade together. Always ready to help and extend a hand whenever he saw someone in need. Ably complemented by Sophie who I am sure has been his crutch though he is the youngest looking coursemate we have. Hope Sophie remembers the reason she stopped speaking to me for around three months. Looking back, I’m sure she will remember that episode “happily.” Professionally second to none, Joe, possibly, must be one of the few coursemates who has published a professional book. Vaneeta and I wish them all the very best in their life ahead.‘
Veteran Captain Ramesh Babu (Indian Navy) recalls:- ‘Joe was an ideal Cadet at the Academy, excelling in everything that the curriculum prescribed. He followed rules, studied hard, played well, marched smartly and made lifelong bonds with friends, which make up the essence of Academy life. As Malayalees, we shared a special bond and the poor guy often had to put up with my pranks. Together, the two of us smashed over the nets when volleyball got introduced at NDA. The special bond we made at the Academy continues, now encompassing our families.‘
Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall writes:- ‘Our dear Joe, as I saw him during three years of stay in Bravo Squadron during NDA days, has been a perfect gentleman – always cool, silent, and soft spoken and ever smiling. He has been a passionate basketball player. Joe, the fighter pilot, by dint of his caliber, professional acumen and perseverance rose to don the most coveted rank of Air Marshal and achieved numerous accolades and decorations in his illustrious career spanning over four decades. It’s been a matter of great pride for ‘Braves’ to have been associated with him and remember the old bonding. I recall a very brief conversation with you at Braves get-together at Gangtok few years ago wherein I was touched by simplicity and contentment with life when you talked about your humble beginnings and that what God blessed you with Sophie and adorable and successful sons. At this memorable moment, we wish you all the very best in life ahead..’
Veteran Lieutenant Colonel Tejinder Padda recollects : ‘Hi TD! Heartiest Congratulations on completion of an absolutely awesome tenure with the IAF. Started getting to know you from the time you joined NDA as Cadet TD Joseph and got to know you more when you rose to the pinnacle and became the Air Marshal TD Joseph. There has been hardly any change in you ever since: cool, always smiling, suave, having a good word for everyone and everything, essentially a towering personality. Though happy to note one major change- you’ve grown up to become rather naughty in preparation for your retired life, I presume!
In NDA I remember your full of josh cross country running, awesome Basket Ball game and not to forget the Green Horn Camp josh run… when you were literally caught with your ‘dungarees down. A fantastic person that you are, may you have a super retirement and get to spend more time with Sophie and the family and get to fulfil all your bucket list. Good luck to you.’
Veteran Colonel Nilesh Lal reminisces:- ‘Joe was good in cross country and he came in fifth in our first term. TD ( Tulsi Das ) for want of a better name (as TD was unpronounceable) was a genial, unassuming & affable person who steered clear of any controversy & was always on the right side of law ; managing that in NDA required some dexterity & manoeuvring skills & guess that is what ensured that Joe mastered his flying skills subsequently. Post NDA we briefly interacted while he was flying in the western sector and I have a vivid memory of Joe proudly introducing his Flying Bird .Proud to know that Joe is the last of the lot from Bravo 61 still in uniform and wishing him the very Best going forward.‘
During this tough Covid time, I was in for a shock this evening – news of the demise of Colonel PV Ramakrishna, known amongst us – his friends – as Ramki. He was from the technical graduate entry and was commissioned to the Corps of Engineers with us on 24 December 1982. He is survived by his daughters – Ms Neharika and Major Vimala. May the God Almighty give them the strength to bear the loss.
He was widowed soon after he hung his boots. He then took to travelling across the globe and he landed at Toronto in August 2015 and stayed with us for ten days. We explored the Niagara escarpment, the flower-pot islands, Toronto city, Montreal, Blue Mountains, African Lion Safari and so on.
As I write this eulogy, I’m still reeling from the tragic death of Ramki, we are shocked, scared and angered at the unfairness and senselessness of the Virus that took him from us. Well meaning people will tell us that it is all part of God’s plan, or that this was just Ramki’s time to go, that he is in a better place. While God certainly knows his plan, we do not. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, and as difficult and painful as it is, we must accept that Ramki is with his Creator.
Ramki was a traveler and an adventurer. He was a person who loved to learn about and experience new places and other cultures. He carefully researched each of his journeys, , taking new and unexpected.
Ramki was an outstanding father who was very proud of his daughters and their achievements. Whenever we spoke, he always had something to mention about both Neharika and Vimala. He said in his last conversation with me last year to me “My greatest assets and treasures are my daughters and I have allowed them freedom to grow up to be worthwhile ladies and they have come out in flying colours always. You have given much more freedom to your children and they will surely achieve greater heights.”
Rest in Peace Ramki – You can continue with your travel in the other world.
When I opened my Whatsapp this morning, I was in for a shock; a most unexpected one. It was the untimely demise of Colonel Sandeep Dhawan due to Covid. May God give the family courage and fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.
Colonel Sandeep Dhawan was commissioned into 17 GRENADIERS on 24 Dec 1982, and commanded battalion in the same regiment from 2002 to 2005. He also served a brief stint with 9n. He had served as a Staff Officer with the Military Operations Directorate, Army Headquarters. He was also an Instructor at Infantry School, Mhow and a United Nations Military Observer in Rwanda (UNAMIR) from 1995-96. He was Team leader of Indian Army Training Teams, Lesotho (Africa). He married Anshu in May 1990 and has two daughters, Akarshita and Nikita.
“13651, Koduvath Reji, this is Sandeep, H/61,” was the salutary call I received three months back. I wasn’t surprised by Sandeep’s ability to recall all our National Defence Academy (NDA) identity numbers, even after 33 years. He was a proud father calling me about his daughter Nikita’s application to University of Toronto for a PhD in machine learning.
I assured Sandeep all support from our end and answered many a query about Nikita’s stay in Toronto, including the financial aspects. We discussed all options threadbare. Sandeep had done his homework well and was a man who went into every little aspect. I promised him a ‘firm base’ at our home for Nikita, where she can walk in freely, and also my availability 24/7 as I am often at home. This was the usual and expected support I always ensure to extend to all our coursemates, military friends and their children.
We had three more tele-conversations, all about Nikita and her stay here in Canada. I researched her professor and told Sandeep he was a tough nut to crack, though I was unimpressed by his student evaluations.
In one such conversation, Sandeep recommended the book ‘Angela’s Ashes.’ I promptly ordered it and was delivered to me last evening by Amazon. I never realised what was in store for me!!!!!
We had planned to meet up at Toronto this fall when he came to drop off Nikita. All this time, I had no idea he would be saying goodbye to us so soon. Rest In Peace Buddy.
Regarding employment of women in the Indian Defence Forces, there have been many views expressed. I have tried to analyse it based on the reasons why Canadian women leave the Defence Forces.
Restrictions on the employment of women in Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have been lifted since 1989 to include combat related military occupations (Combat arms, Naval operations and Pilots.) Restrictions on employment of women in submarines were lifted in 2001.
By the end of 2017, there were 12 women at the general and flag officer ranks in the CAF, a record high with four in each service. The number of women in senior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) ranks also rose to 57 Chief Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers, as did the number of women in Special Forces roles.
A summary of women’s representation rates for officers and NCMs in the Regular Force and Primary Reserve is as follows:
Canadian women have fought alongside men in Afghanistan. Hundreds of women served as combat soldiers between 2000 and 2011, mostly in Afghanistan, with a total of more than 600 deployments of 60 days or more.
The Department of National Defence (DND) has not collected information specifically about Canadian women’s combat experience in Afghanistan, and has no definite plans to do so. DND stated that “Participation on operations is based on the physical and mental ability of soldiers. Those who can successfully complete the requisite work-up training can deploy on operations and this process does not include gender considerations.”
In the Canadian forces, every job is open to people who meet the standard of the job. The job standards that infantry soldiers meet are based on training followed by testing. Women earned the right to fight in Afghanistan alongside other Canadian soldiers by passing a series of tests, including some specific to the challenges they faced in that theatre.
Here is the case of US Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio, an athlete in college, and a high scorer in Marines training which she graduated in 2007. Five years later, she wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette, “I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyse and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.”
After over two years in Iraq and Afghanistan she felt that the injuries due to carrying a full combat load, left her with muscle atrophy in her thighs that was causing her to constantly trip and her legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. Her agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering her response time and overall capability.
She compared that while everyone experienced stress and muscular deterioration, her rate was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. She categorically states in the article that women can hold their own in combat, but she is concerned about longevity.
Top Five Reasons Why CF Women Leave the Force
Family Separation 27.4 %
Return to School 25.4 %
Stay at Home and Raise Family 19.9%
More Challenging Work 18.4%
Conflict with Spouse Career 18.4%
Three of the top five reasons above is linked to their family responsibilities. Almost 20% of women declared that they had left the CAF to stay home and raise a family, a reason that did not even make the top ten reasons offered by men who left CAF.
US military’s attrition data shows the following top three reasons for American women service members to leave the military:
lack of clear roles and careers paths
differential treatment they received
difficulty in combining career and family.
The same may apply to all women soldiers across the globe as family responsibilities will take precedence.
My post ‘Where’s the Creativity?’ was prompted by a remark from a Veteran Regimental officer that I am a good ‘pen pusher.’ During my regimental service, I often heard Staff College and/ or Long Gunnery (LGSC) qualified officers being referred to as pen pushers or at times as ‘paper tigers’ – mostly by the other senior officers who had neither qualification to their credit. A ‘grapes are sour’ syndrome. This in no way means that those ‘unqualified’ officers were not good officers, some were even better than many ‘qualified’ ones.
When I was a Battery Commander (BC), our young officers asked me “You keep saying that we must do LGSC and Staff College. You tell us to read five pages daily and write one. When we travel with you, you keep posing questions on gunnery and administration for which we hardly have an answer. In fact, we are a bit scared of travelling with you.”
To answer their question, I painted a scenario “Our Regiment is equipped with 155mm Bofors Gun and we need to conduct a lecture-demonstration on the gun. We have one Staff College qualified BC, one LGSC qualified BC and one BC without any.”
My question now was “Who will conduct the lecture? Who will conduct the demonstration? Who will do the tea and administrative arrangements?”
The answer was obvious! They said “The Staff College qualified BC will conduct the lecture, the LGSC qualified BC will conduct the demonstration and the third BC will be responsible for the tea.”
I concluded “You can select what you want to do. So, you better qualify the entrance exam for both. It could well be that the third BC is better than the other two. Remember all three BC s were afforded adequate opportunities to study and clear the entrance exams.”
When we were young officers, our mentor was Captain Desh Raj (now a Veteran Colonel.) He was an excellent sportsman and led all the Regimental sports teams. A true soldier that he was, with excellent sense of humour – obviously all Subalterns homed on to him.
Captain Desh Raj and I moved with the advance party of the Regiment in 1987 and that was when his transfer to Intelligence Corps came through. The evening before he left, he called me aside and said “Reji, you must qualify for both LGSC and Staff College. Look at me! I failed to make the grade in both – mainly because I was more interested in sports and did not care to read at all during my young days.”
His parting advice was “I applied for transfer to Intelligence Corps not because I did not want to serve with this great Regiment, but an officer without any qualification would not be heard or taken seriously. I made two attempts at both LGSC and Staff College, but failed. I want you to qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.”
For the next one year, I read all the books prescribed for the LGSC Entrance Examination – gunnery, survey, tactics, mathematics, physics and so on. Three months before the examination, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel Mahaveer Singh asked me “Reji, do you need any leave to prepare for the examination?”
“Sir, please grant me two months leave the day I finish the examination” I replied. With his usual smile our CO said ‘Granted.”
LGSC Entrance Examination consisted of two papers held on two successive days. Arrogance or stupidity – I booked my tickets for the Srinagar-Delhi flight scheduled for the afternoon of the day of the second test.
On the second day of the examination, I had to leave one hour before the scheduled finish time of the exam to make it to Srinagar Airport to catch my flight. I spoke to Major VN Singh, Second-in-Command who was also an invigilator for the exam. He said “Knowing you very well, you are not going to reschedule your flight. I am sure you will answer all the questions well before time and will qualify. Let me speak to the Presiding Officer.”
Whatever it was, I managed to sneak out of the examination hall as per my plans. Though the Presiding Officer objected, Major VN Singh managed to convince him to let me go.
As I was about to board the vehicle to Srinagar, Major GR Kaushik, our Adjutant, came running and said “Sir, CO would like to speak to you before you leave.”
I dashed to the CO’s office. Colonel Mahaveer Singh said “I need not ask you how the examination went – you will surely qualify. All the best. Do well in life.”
He got out of his chair, walked to me and hugged me and saw me off.
While travelling to the Airport, I thought “Why did he call me to his office at the nick of the time? Why did he wish me well in life? Above all, why did he hug me? Why did he have to see me off?”
Two months after my vacation, I returned to the Regiment and all my questions were answered. (No cellphones those days.) Colonel Mahaveer Singh was posted out after five years of commanding our Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel VN Singh had taken over command.
About my Technical Staff Course Entrance Examination – reserved for another post.
Water is one of the most important elements of a soldier’s life – it is vital for all human beings, animals and plants. Our body is made up of almost two-thirds water. Blood contains 92 percent water; the brain is 75 percent water; muscles are 75 percent water; and bones 22 percent.
Hydration, or consuming enough water is crucial for humans: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.
Soldiers used to carry water for personal consumption in a water-bottle, attached to the belt. Today’s soldier needs a hydration system that is effective, allows freedom of action, and is easier to carry and use than the current water-bottles. An ideal hydration system will encourage the soldier to drink more water, resulting in better performance in battle and facilitate in delivering personal combat power- surely not an obstruction.
My tryst with the water-bottle began on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979. We were issued with the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) with the all important water-bottle. In the Scale A version of FSMO with the bigger backpack, the smaller haversack was attached to the belt on the left and the water-bottle on the right. Most soldiers were right-handers and for easy access the water-bottle was placed on the right. In the Scale B version where the small haversack became the backpack, the water-bottle was attached to the back of the belt.
Scale B was used for most training as a cadet – for endurance runs, weapon and tactical training, etc – and the water-bottle hanging by the belt at the back kept pounding one’s butt as we cadets ran. It was more of an encouraging tap on the butt that kept many of us going and the wet felt outer casing did cool our butts in the warm Indian afternoons.
This water-bottle, officially known in the Indian Army as Bottle Water Mark 7, owed its origin to the British Army’s 1937 Web Equipment. Made of blue colored sheet metal welded at the shoulder and at the bottom with outer side convex and the inner side concave to fit with the contours of the human body. The spout was closed with a cork stopper and the stopper was attached to an eye on the top of the bottle with a string. The outer felt cover protected the metallic bottle and when kept soaked, evaporative cooling kept the water inside cool. These enamelled water-bottles were manufactured in India mostly by the Bengal Enamel Works of Kolkata and also by the Madras Enamel Works of Chennai.
The British Army originally called the water-bottle a Canteen. A canteen is a place outside a military camp where refreshments are provided for members of the armed forces. This very ‘place of refreshment’ became the water-bottle that the soldier carried on a march. This canteen’s design and use have remained the same since 1937. It appears that the technological revolution marched right past one of the Indian soldier’s most vital personal equipment – the water-bottle.
After we were commissioned in 1982, the Indian Army introduced the plastic cousin of the age old enamelled water-bottle, officially known as Bottle Water Complete M83. This water-bottle continued with us as late as 2002. While in command of the Regiment in operational area in Rajasthan when the Indian army was deployed along the Indo-Pak border in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, we ordered for the water-bottles, but the Ordnance Depot did not supply us with any.
The new plastic water-bottle consisted of a green, plastic, square shaped bottle with a screw-on cap. It had a plastic cover on top with handles made of aluminium, and could be used as a cup when detached. The whole set was inserted into a canvas carrier lined with a thin layer of foam. This helped to keep the contents of the bottle warm in winter and cold in summer . Though the water-bottle had straps to be attached to the belt, most soldiers carried it in their backpacks,
These plastic water-bottles were manufactured by some unheard-of private plastic manufacturers, located in and around Delhi. Though it was supposed to be made of food-grade High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE), the water stored inside these water-bottles had unpleasant odour and left an after-taste. Cracks developed as a result of any accidental drop or extra-pressure exerted by the soldier on the water-bottle, especially while resting after a tiring long march. That was why our soldiers carried their water-bottles in their backpacks. By 2003, the Indian Army withdrew this plastic water-bottle.
The soldier of the future will have a heads-up display on his helmet, a sophisticated weapon and a computer wired to his pack frame. The soldiers operating in such an environment will have little time for a nap or to get a drink of water. A quickly accessible hydration system close to the soldier’s mouth will help the soldier take small sips on a regular basis.
In 1989, a former paramedic preparing to participate in a bike race was concerned with getting enough water to sustain himself during the race. Reaching for the water-bottle mounted on his bike was dangerous, and water stops were two or three hours apart. So he designed a portable hydration system using a medical tubing attached to an intravenous (IV) drip bag. He stuffed the bag into a sock and sewed the sock onto the back of his T-shirt. Thus the idea for the commercially available CamelBak® water bladder hydration system was born.
The CamelBak hydration system is a plastic water bladder connected to a length of hose that fits into an insulated bag that can be strapped on the soldier’s back or attached to a backpack. The mouth of the hose is positioned close to the carrier’s mouth for easy access. The ‘bite’ valve at the end of the hose makes the water readily available to sip or drink.
The Indian Army could develop its own hydration system that would be less expensive than a CamelBak system. A change to the current water storage and delivery system is long overdue. A potable, palatable, easily available hydration system that allow soldiers to move easily and quickly on the battlefield and encourage water consumption would be an important force multiplier. Importantly, soldiers under fire on the battlefield should be able to get a sip of water without taking their hands off their weapons.
The author has succeeded in painting his childhood with a brush of childlike innocence which every reader can easily connect with. I developed an instant connection with the author as I too grew up at home with my three brothers with I too being the third and our pranks were as good.
The anecdotes of children’s innocence of marriage at the beginning of the holidays, tickling and kissing followed by baby crawling from beneath the bed, divorce at the end of the holidays with the baby disappearing beneath the bed; Franco-English battle; chocolate deprivation; census enumerator risking his life; holy-dip in the pond; the (un)parliamentary debate – all stand testimony to the author’s ability to recall the incidents in his growing up years with such finesse and humour. I felt it was as realistic as it could be
Incidents of a soldier’s diplomacy at its best is displayed with a peg of Sacramental Wine that made two warring sides – the Catholics and the Protestants – come to truce – especially if they are Mallus , that too preaching amongst Nagas. Postponing the cow slaughter in Sri Lankan Army camp to respect the sentiments of his soldiers establishes it further. Ensuring that the French Brigadier’s wife netted a good bargain with the Delhi jeweller is another.
The author has displayed his humaneness and love for fellow human beings through his description of the mental state of people of a conflict ridden zone, first Rakhi, dealing with the rudeness of the American Army officer; the parting advise by his helper at the Indian Military Academy to be like Netaji, empathy towards the Pakistani Prisoners of War; ensuring that the girls did not get hurt during a hockey match.
The most important lesson for a child (and also for an adult) what the book brings out are:
‘When you grow up, I don’t care if you don’t earn a lot of money, but you must be scrupulously honest.”
“The most important quality a boy must possess is character.”
In June 2002, I took over command of our Regiment in its operational location on the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan. The Regiment was mobilised from its peace location in Devlali (Maharashtra, near Mumbai) on that year’s New Year Eve. In November 2002, we returned to Devlali.
After the unit got re-established at Devlali, I said to our officers “I owe you a party from my side as you all have performed extremely well during our operational deployment. Above, all, you carried me along as your Commanding Officer. This Saturday, there will be cocktails at the Officers’ Mess to be followed by a dinner at the Dhaba.” (Dhaba is a roadside restaurant mostly frequented by the passing truck drivers.)
“Why at the Dhaba Sir” queried our Second-in-Command (2IC), Late Colonel Suresh Babu. “Our mess staff have toiled hard for the past eleven months and taken good care of us. I do not want to stress them anymore,” I justified.
That Saturday evening, officers with their wives and children, all assembled at our Officers’ Mess and the party commenced. After the cocktails, I got on to the driving seat of the Jeep with all children in tow and ordered others to follow.
I drove to the Taj Hotel, Nashik and after we got off the vehicle, Captain Subhash asked “Sir, so this is your Dhaba?”
As we sat down for dinner, the waiter enquired “Buffet or A-la-carte?” “ A-la-carte” I affirmed. Suresh was not at all amused with my choice and he said “It is going to cost you a fortune – at least one month’s take-home-pay!” “That’s fine. You guys deserve it,” I replied.
A few days after the dinner, Captain Mitra asked me “Sir, you need not have treated us to a dinner at the Taj. We could have had it at our Officers’ Mess. It would have saved a lot of expenditure for you.”
“What I paid at the Taj is much less than the efforts you all have put in till now. Above all, you guys cared for me for the past six months with a smiling face. I am really indebted to you all,” I said.
Mitra was not convinced. He asked “But why the Taj Sir?It is obviously the costliest place one can think of in a hundred kilometer radius of this place.” I declared “I do not want any of our officers to be sold for a dinner at a Five-Star Hotel like that Brigadier of the Tehelka incident of last year (Operation West End – 2001). Henceforth, all our celebrations will be at the Taj.”
Whatever it was, it resulted Mitra coining the term ‘Dinner at the Dhaba’.
In December 2002, Southern Army Commander visited our unit and it was an overwhelmingly successful event. It surely called for a celebration, especially as Christmas and New Year was approaching. So we decided on a dinner at the Dhaba.
It all commenced with cocktails at the Officers’ Mess and as we reached the Taj, Mitra went to the bar and returned to report “Sir, they have an excellent bar out here.” “Let us all have a drink then,” I said. Surely, it did not stop at one drink.
As we were all parading out of the bar for dinner, Suresh, like a good 2IC said “Sir, we have run up a bar bill that is at least five times that of the cost of the cocktails at the Officers’ Mess.” I replied “Do not worry. We will take care of it later. Let them all have fun and enjoy.”
The next day in office, I had a file waiting, showing the expenditure for the dinner with a noting sheet. Captain Subahsh, our Mess Secretary, had opined “Every Officer to pay Rs 1000. Rest to be paid from the entertainment fund of the Officers’ Mess.”
Below that was the noting of Suresh. He wasn’t that ‘magnanimous.’ Like any good 2IC he wrote “Each officer to payRs2000. Rest to be paid from the entertainment fund.”
I scored through the entire noting with a red ink pen and wrote “Each Officer to pay Rs 100.Rest to be charged off from the entertainment fund.”
As soon as the file reached Suresh, he came charging in to my office and said “Why are you putting your head under a Gillette? Haven’t you read my noting.” I calmly replied “Yes. I have overruled it and written my decision with my hand. Don’t worry about my head; it has been under a Gillette many a times before.”
(With Suresh, Ranjith, Santosh and Thapa during my farewell party at the Regiment)
While commanding our Regiment at Devlali, I was a single parent taking care of our daughter Nidhi, then aged 12 and our six year old son Nikhil as Marina had emmigrated to Canada. It would not have been possible for me to take of our children alone and the soldiers at home did a marvelous job. I remain ever thankful to them.
The staff at home was headed by Havildar Chef Thapa, two Radio Operators – Santhosh and Ranjith and Havildar Driver Suresh. They took care of the children and the home like theirs and like a fortress. It was as secure as it could be for the children and they did not want anyone else intruding into their fort.
Thapa hailed from Nepal and was the only married man among them. It was said in the Regiment that when he went on leave to his native Nepal, he returned only when he ran out of cash. He went on his two month annual leave and the staff at home took over the kitchen for they did not want any ‘intruder.’
After two months, on a Friday evening Santosh said “Thapa is back from leave.”
“He was to report on Sunday to commence his duties on Monday. Why is he here so early?” I asked and summoned Thapa to enquire about his unusual early arrival.
Looking into my eyes he said, “Who will take care of the children and you if I am away for long?”
I kept looking at him for half a minute as I had no words and said “Thank you Thapa.” Did my eyes well up?
Suresh drove his Commanding Officer’s Jeep with pride and devotion that he never allowed anyone to touch the Jeep. He was responsible for taking care of my itinerary for the day and instructed Santosh and Ranjith about various uniforms or dresses I had to wear that day and timing for leaving home for an event. He always carried three ties, a coat and some toiletries in the Jeep so that I could convert my informal attire into a formal one while he drove, especially when we were short of time. When Suresh went on his two month annual leave, I mostly walked to office as it was 400 meter away, else I drove.
Keeping four year old Nikhil engaged through the day was the most difficult task they had. They played cricket with him, ensuring that he always made a lot of runs. I had passed strict orders that Nidhi will not be helped in polishing her shoes, preparing her dress for the school next day, cleaning her cycle and similar chores as I wanted to prepare her for the life ahead in Canada – to live without help. Santosh and Ranjith flouted my orders on a daily basis when I was away on my evening walks.
Santosh and Ranjith took turns to proceed on leave. For that they had to approach their Radio-Operator Section Commander. I had laid down strict channel of reporting for all ranks of the Regiment and my personal staff were no exception. I came to know of their leave plan only when Subedar Major Thangaswamy said about it during our morning meeting. He always had a replacement ready for the staff proceeding on leave, but I always declined it as I knew that they disliked intruders in their fort.
We had a large area around the house and along with the staff we decided to turn it into a beautiful garden and we succeeded to a great extent. One Sunday afternoon I was at the Mumbai airport while returning from a week long training event when I received a call from Nidhi. “Dad, our garden was adjudged the best home garden in Devlali Station. This afternoon I received the prize from General Jambusarwalla, the Commandant.” I said, “Great job! You received the prize, so you now arrange a party in the evening and we will celebrate it on my return.”
Recently Nikhil asked, “When we were at Devlali, I never heard you saying anything to your staff. How did you manage it?”
“They knew their Commanding Officer, his needs, likes and dislikes well and did not need any orders or instructions.” I replied. In fact they enjoyed their freedom of action. When I invited guests home, I had to only give the number of guests and their food preferences. All the guests were astonished by the sumptuous menu our staff laid out. One vegetarian guest asked me twice to confirm, “Are you sure all these are vegetarian?” Thapa with his culinary skills had laid out a vegetarian feast with all dishes looking like non-vegetarian ones.
This is a comment on my recent blog-post on Regimental Fund from one of our soldiers:
‘Walking down the memory lane truly nostalgic sir. We have learned a lot in those golden days. Nice to see old photographs of NCOs and JCOs of SAWA Lakh. The order of roll call on T-shirt and Shorts was the most popular decision between us youngsters on those days. I was fortunate to work as your stick orderly and learnt basic of computers at the IT cell you had created for data collection. Now after retirement I am heading security automation department of one of the India’s biggest conglomerate.’
Look at the friends/ followers on your social media accounts. How many are your soldiers?
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.
‘When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.‘ (Gospel According to St John, Chapter 10, Verses 4 & 5)
This was my guiding light as I trained myself along with our soldiers on assuming command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment. Being new to the outfit, it was imperative that I ‘recognise their voices’ and for the soldiers to know the ‘voice’ of their Commanding Officer (CO).
My mornings were well spent on training with our officers and soldiers on the equipment, as my first priority was to achieve a good level of proficiency in handling and operational functioning of the radars, surveillance and survey equipment.
The deficiency in our posted strength of personnel was made up by the influx of about 20 recruits, whose training had been truncated in view of the mobilisation. They had to be trained further to become effective soldiers. Drill and Weapon Training Instructors were requested from the neighbouring Infantry Battalion. All young soldiers with less than five years of service were trained separately, commencing with 45 minutes of Physical Training, followed by a breakfast break of 45 minutes . This was followed by 45 minutes of Drill after which there was a 15 minute ‘hydration break’ with liberal amounts of lemonade and water being served. This was followed by a 45 minute Weapon Training class under the trees. The technical and tactical training sessions were conducted thereafter, on each day.
For the next four weeks, all Officers and Soldiers trained sincerely and hard. At the end of our training schedule, we had well turned out soldiers moving about with a smart military bearing. They all proved to be an asset to the Regiment as they were ready to execute any task. A strong feeling of ‘espirit de corps’ and Regimental Pride developed due to which, we had zero disciplinary violations. .
Training of JCOs and NCOs to become effective junior leaders was a bit difficult on account of systemic inertia caused due to decades of centralised functioning. Though their duties and responsibilities were explained in detail and all JCOs were granted the financial power to purchase anything up to Rs 100 without prior approval, they were rather hesitant to assert themselves.
On the third day of my training with the Radar teams, I tasked a JCO to drive in a vehicle along the road, for a distance of about 15 km from our location, with a radio-set and a GPS. He was required to stop after every km and report his location while those of us at the radar end tried and locate him and compare the map coordinates worked out by us with his GPS coordinates reported. After about five reports, the JCO stopped reporting his coordinates because the batteries powering his GPS had drained off. “Why couldn’t he use his initiative and purchase the standard AA batteries from any local shop?” I asked. Though the cost of the batteries was well within his financial powers, the thought of procuring them himself, did not occur to him. “March him up to me tomorrow!” I ordered. In the evening Major Suresh, our Second-in-Command, came to my office and said “At this rate you will end up marching up half the Regiment. Please give them time to get used to your style of functioning.”
There were many myths prevailing which had to be broken. This needed persistent efforts as it is rather difficult to introduce new ideas and practices without uprooting deeply entrenched beliefs and practices that drive the functioning of any military unit.
As the Regiment was all set to move into battle, all soldiers wore their Identity Discs with the oval disc on their left wrists and the round one around their necks. The myth prevalent was that this was to ensure that identification of the body parts would be easier if blown apart due to an explosion. The correct method of wearing the two discs was explained to all soldiers. The oval disc, through one hole of which, a cord 24 inches long is passed through, is worn around the neck like a chain. The round disc is required to be attached to the bottom hole of the oval disc using a smaller cord, about four inches in length. Both the discs, attached to each other, were required to be worn around the neck of each soldier! In case of death during war, the round disc is required to be removed by the soldier’s comrades or at the field hospital and deposited with his unit as proof of his death in action. The oval disc is left on the body for identifying it and conducting the last rites. The round disc, along with the soldier’s personal belongings are despatched to the Depot Regiment/ Company of the Regimental Centre of the soldier and the oval disc is removed at the time of cremation/ burial or despatch of the dead body to the soldier’s home and kept for records.
An aspect that hindered the effective functioning of JCOs was the non-availability of transport, especially when they had to travel outside the Regimental area. Three 100 cc light motorcycles with six helmets were handed over to our Subedar Major, for use by the JCOs. The Subedar Major was directed to issue military driving licences to all JCOs and to those Havildars who had qualified for promotion to be a JCO. One JCO was brought to me with the excuse that he could not drive a motorcycle and hence, did not want any driving license to be issued to him. I cleared his doubts by making him aware that, “All JCOs were required to clear Mechanical Transport Level 3 Test (MT3) prior to attending the promotion cadre. Anyone with MT3 is qualified to drive a motorcycle and other vehicles. In case any JCO is unwilling to drive, he would be marched up to the General Officer for dismissal from service on grounds of inefficiency.” There were no complaints after that.
The Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET) and Small Arms Annual Classification Firing results of the Regiment, did not follow a bell curve. That meant that either the standards set by the Army Physical Training Corps or the Infantry School were too easy (which, obviously was not the case) or the soldiers of our Regiment were exceptional in their marksmanship and physical fitness!! I impressed upon all the need to be truthful in reporting test results and it must follow the bell curve. The case of Havildar Shivnath Singh who represented India twice in the Asian games and twice at the Summer Olympics and who wilted due to unscientific over training was discussed. I summed it saying “Failing in any test is not a sin and the soldier has to be trained systematically to achieve the desired results.”
Another retrograde convention among all ranks concerned the use of the telephone or intercom to communicate with the CO. This was considered by most as sacrilege. Our officers felt that calling the CO over the intercom or telephone appeared discourteous and they were not comfortable with it. They felt that they must physically appear in front of the CO to pass on any information. I explained to them, “The exchequer has spent a considerable sum to provide the Regiment with a telephone network and an intercom system. Please use them. Calling the CO over the phone is not being discourteous.” It still took them over a month to shed this inhibition.
Did it continue like that for ever in the Regiment? I did what I could and I cannot ensure its continuity, but I succeeded to a great extent in dispelling many myths and retrograde conventions.
On taking over command of our Regiment in June 2002, we were deployed in our operational area in Rajasthan, ready to be launched into battle any time. The mercury tipped many days over 40°C and the Regiment had been there since the dawn of the New Year.
The entire Regiment was living in tents with the Commanding Officer (CO) provided with a much more spacious and larger tent. The other luxury the CO enjoyed was a desert cooler in the tent and the Second-in-Command (2IC) too had this luxury. A 5kW generator meant for the workshop powered the lights, fans and desert coolers from 9 AM to 2 PM and then from 7 PM to 10 PM.
That was when I realised that the dreams and plans I had in mind to be executed on taking over command had to be kept in abeyance as there weren’t adequate funds. The only money at my disposal was Rs 200000 from a fixed deposit that had matured. That wasn’t my money and if I used it, I had to make it up.
After working out the power requirement, it was decided to procure three 15kW generators and fifty desert coolers to equip every tent in the Regiment. Two Young Officers with a team of soldiers were deputed to purchase the same from Jodhpur, the nearest town. From that evening we had a well lit and well cooled township. My only worry was that I had spent most of the Regimental Fund.
That evening at the Officers’ Mess, I gave out my command policy. Anythingthat does not have a utility value to the Regiment in our operational area or for the families of our officers and soldiers at our permanent location must be disposed off. All funds, Regimental and others must be utilised towards the war efforts.
All Officers and soldiers were asked to propose anything they needed and I found they were too contented with what I gave them the very first day and wanted no more.
We procured two desktop computers to support my automation endeavours. Now I had to conserve all that was left with our Regimental Fund. The first step was to reduce stationary usage by automation and we succeeded to a great extent.
In November we were ordered to return to our permanent location at Devlali. I ordered that only one of the three generators to be carried along and the rest two and all fifty coolers to be sold off at 60% of their cost with the first priority for our soldiers. The coolers and generators were of no use to the Regiment at Devlali and would have turned into junk later. Our soldiers from Rajasthan picked up the entire lot and I recouped half the Regimental Fund I had spent.
The first project we executed was a washroom cleaning device based on the mobile cleaning unit employed by the Indian Railways to clean the toilets of the trains on the platform. Our soldiers designed and built it. Now every soldier could carry out janitorial duties and the Safaiwalas (Janitors) were available to accompany radar detachments, survey teams and also operate radio sets. They turned up smartly in their combat uniforms every morning walking with a swag with the radio set on their back and the operators pad in their hand.
Most of my time in the Regiment was spent at the Computer Cell. Whenever needed, I relieved at the soldiers’ washroom rather than using the washroom at my office. This ensured that all soldiers kept their washrooms spic and span.
Two weeks after landing at Devlali, Major General RS Jambusarwalla, our Divisional Commander visited us. I received him at the Regiment and he walked to the rear end of his car and ordered his driver to open the boot. There it was – a computer, a printer and a multimedia projector. That was the only time in my military career a visit by a senior officer began with a gift to the Regiment.
Two weeks later was the inspection by Lieutenant General GS Sihota, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VM, the Army Commander, Southern Command and his proposal for other units to procure the software we had developed for Rs 10000 was a great boon. Now I had all the money at my disposal to implement all my ‘wild ideas.’
We were a SATA Battery being converted to a SATA Regiment. We did not have a JCOs’ Club, an important Regimental institution. Fighting many a battle with the Station Headquarters, we managed to get a near dilapidated building allotted as our JCOs’ Club. I summoned our SM and tasked him to get the building done up, procure furniture, crockery, cutlery, etc. I gave him a month’s time for executing the task with my final advice “It’s got to be better than our Officers’ Mess.” After a month our SM invited all officers for a cocktail at the JCOs’ Club for inauguration. The above image is the testimony to that day.
Our soldiers came up with a request for a multi-gym. SM Thangaswamy was tasked to execute the project with the assistance of other JCOs. They suggested procuring the equipment from Ambala as it would a cheaper option. I advised them to procure it locally from Nashik to ensure installation and warranty services.
Two weeks later SM Thnagswamy asked me about my availability to inaugurate the gym. I asked him to inaugurate immediately and make it available to our soldiers.
We automated our kitchen with flour kneader, freezers and coolers for storage of milk, meat and vegetables. We were allotted a ‘Steam Jacketed Cooking System’ for the soldiers’ kitchen procured from special funds under the Army Commander’s Special Financial Power. I did not want it to turn into an elephant’s teeth for show alone. How we extracted its full value, please read https://rejinces.net/2019/03/31/elephantteeth/.
I was lucky that I had a great lot of officers and soldiers who accepted me, supported my ideas and worked wholeheartedly to ensure fulfilment of all my dreams. I must sincerely thank all Officers, JCOs, NCOs and soldiers and a special high-five for our Subedar Major (SM) Thangaswamy who kept me in high spirits with his sense of humour.
Did I realise all the dreams I came with to command? It’s an emphaticYesand much more; all because of a great Regiment that I was lucky to command.
Listening to an interview of Brigadier General Ross Coffman of the US Army on military leadership, I was fascinated by his revelation that it was his father who too served the US Army was the one who instilled in him a duty to serve the nation, and to love the men and women who fought alongside. General Coffman narrated an incident with his father.
A close relative was skimming through the pages of his father’s album and came across some photographs of his father as the Platoon Commander with Sergeant Elvis Presley. He said “If you sell these photographs, you will earn huge money.”
When Elvis Presley turned 18 on January 8, 1953, he fulfilled his patriotic duty and legal obligation by registering for the US Army draft. At that time he was a rock and roll music sensation. Though the US Army offered Presley an option to enlist in Special Services to entertain the troops, he decided to serve as a regular soldier. This earned him the respect of his fellow soldiers and countrymen. Thus Presley became US Army Serial Number 53310761 and after his basic training was assigned to D Company of the Third Armored Division’s 1st Medium Tank Battalion. This took him to Germany on October 1, 1958 and he served with the Regiment until March 2, 1960. On January 20, 1960, Presley was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
What impressed young Ross the most was his dad’s reply. “I love all the soldiers who served with me. My love for them will never be on sale.“
On assuming command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment at our operational area in Rajasthan during June 2002, where we were deployed to go into battle at any moment, I walked into our office and asked for the ‘Last Will and Testament’ of all soldiers. I realised that most were incomplete or inaccurate with respect to the name of the next of kin, spouse and children. When I inspected the documents of the clerks who were responsible for their preparation, I found the same glaring errors and omissions. Realising the gravity of the situation at the juncture when war clouds were looming, I decided to automate the personal documentation of our personnel, starting with the generation of the Last Will.
Having served throughout with a Medium Artillery Regiment, and on staff assignments, I had a very basic, broad based knowledge and exposure to the equipment and operational functioning of my new unit which was all about radars, surveillance equipment and survey. Achieving thorough proficiency in these subjects became my foremost priority. Therefore, my mornings were well spent on training with our soldiers on the equipment. By noon it was too warm for any worthwhile learning and I used the rest of the day to familiarise with the soldiers by interviewing them at my office. Please read https://rejinces.net/2015/12/28/firstmlname/
When I moved in to command, I had four boxes – two for my personal belongings and two housing my desktop computer, printer, scanner and various other accessories. My personal computer was the only functional computer in our Regiment then.
I began my automation project by creating a basic database comprised of the soldiers’ personal number, rank, name, next of kin, spouse and children. With each interview, the database expanded to include other relevant aspects. By the time I completed the first round of interviews, I had to conduct another round as I had more data to collect.
With the assistance of three soldiers, we captured most of the required data and I programmed it to ease various documentation aspects – Part II Orders, pay & allowances, promotions, qualifications, training schedules, nominations for Insurance & Provident Fund, leave availed and printing of relevant forms and certificates concerning every aspect of documentation pertaining to soldiers.
The interviews went on to the third round and our soldiers appeared to enjoy the experience. During one of the breaks while on a reconnaissance mission, my radio operator, Naik Ranjith, a good mimic, enacted a soldier’s expression on being summoned to the Commanding Officer’s (CO) tent for an interview. It commenced with the discomfiture of the soldier seated on a chair in front of the CO. Until then, soldiers always stood at attention in the CO’s office unless ordered to stand ‘at ease’. On being seated, he was served a cup of tea and to complicate the matter further, he was offered a biscuit! The soldier’s dilemma was, how he could drink the tea and eat the biscuit while answering the volley of questions fired at him by his CO. The seat in front of the CO’s table came to be named as the ‘hot seat’.
The ‘hot seat’ helped me to learn a lot about our soldiers and also to break the ice with them. Rather, it melted the ice altogether. At the end of this process, we had a robust database which could execute most documentation tasks at the click of a mouse. Our biggest achievement was that we could print all documents that were required to process the grant of pension to soldiers who were due to retire, running into over sixty pages, accurately, without errors, with the click of a mouse. It made the clerks redundant.
By the end of November 2002, we returned to our permanent location at Devlali as a cooperating unit of the School of Artillery. The news about automated functioning and other welfare measures instituted in our Regiment reached the ears of Commandant, School of Artillery. Two weeks later, the Commandant directed me to be prepared to conduct Lieutenant General GS Sihota, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VM, the Army Commander, Southern Command, during the administrative inspection of the School of Artillery. I was tasked to conduct the General in our Regiment for thirty minutes after the briefing by the Commandant at his office.
General Sihota accompanied by the Commandant reached our Regiment and I straight away demonstrated the software and the automated office functioning. We also discussed various welfare measures that we had initiated in our Regiment. At the end of the discussion, the General asked me “If other Units of the Army would like to procure this software from you, how much would you expect?”
“Ten thousand rupees,” I replied.
“Why ten thousand?”
“This software has been designed for our Regiment. I need to work to customise it for others. I can provide it free of cost, but then, no CO would value it. Only those COs who sincerely value the importance of documentation of their personnel will spend money to procure the software.”
The Army Commander was convinced with my reply and he gave me the go ahead. We all left from our Regiment for lunch and the Commandant was happy that the administrative inspection of School of Artillery was concluded with the GOC-in-C’s visit to our Regiment. About a hundred units, mostly Artillery Regiments and a few Infantry Battalions procured the software from us.
The money from the software accumulated in our Regimental Fund Account. Our Second-in-Command, Maj Suresh approached me to say that it was my money as it was the fruit of my hard work. I refused to accept a penny though Suresh was adamant that I take at least 25%. I said:-
“I developed this software for our soldiers. I love our soldiers from the bottom of my heart. I cannot sell my love for our soldiers. All the money we earn from this software must go to them.”
Having joined our Regiment with four boxes, I left the Regiment after a very fulfilling command tenure with two boxes, leaving behind my desktop computer which had dutifully served me for seven years.
Congratulations to the author for a well written book with the aim of motivating our youth – an aspect that very few military leaders have attempted. The journey of life of a young lad from Charangpat (Lake of the Dragonflies)- a remote hamlet in Manipur – ‘the Switzerland of India’, to becoming a General in the Indian Army and on hanging his uniform. His choice to return to his roots to serve the society instead of enjoying a well-earned retirement at any place of his choosing, is well etched. He was, in his own words, was a child who was physically weak, shy, scared of heights and the darkness.
Manipur has the highest per-capita number of officers in India’s armed forces. Now, being the Chairman of the Manipur State Public Service Commission, I have a suggestion. While appearing for Canadian citizenship, we were required to clear an examination which had 20% questions from Canada’s military history, mostly covering Canada’s contribution during the two World Wars. India has a very eventful military history, especially post independence. Through my various blogposts I have been suggesting that the Union Public Service Commission and State Public Service Commissions must have least five percent questions from Independent India’s military history. This will enthuse the coming generation and will make them aware of the role and sacrifices of India’s Armed Forces. It is sure to make them feel proud.
All through the book, the author’s love for nature has been vividly painted, taking the reader through a visual fete. The description of the author’s grandfather ‘Even the horses kept silent when he coughed,’ kept me thinking for a while. The author’s initiative to recover plastic junk accumulated over the years of army deployment in the Siachen glacier is another example.
The impact of seeing a ten year old handle a weapon by; the need to have a dream in life – to dream big and how to pursue it; participating in family activities and chores; care for his mother by buying her salt with all his pocket money; overcoming stage fear; moral fibre, by choosing to throw away that ‘chit’ carried by him to the examination hall; listening to the English news to enlarge his vocabulary; the importance of reading (even if not comprehended at that age;) the need to remain focused; the power of pardon and courage to be truthful; his adventurous train journey; the importance of education in the development of any society; the need for hobby – great life lessons that any child will value and benefit from during his growing years.
It was a revelation to me that the game of polo originated in Manipur. His requesting for half a mark to make it to 60 – brought back memories of many of my class mates and also, officers during various courses, begging for a mark or two to make a better grade.
Team spirit and camaraderie instilled in cadets at the National Defence Academy, the lack of facilities and time to enhance individual skills; modification of curricula to incorporate leadership skill development; have been well brought out.
The initial grooming and training of a Young Officer in his Regiment; the need and role of a mentor; the impact of his carrying the additional load of a soldier during a gruelling professional competition; the importance of participating in adventure activities – provide an interesting peek into the development and growth of a military leader.
The need for re-orienting training and educating the soldiers in dealing with the local population – through the eyes of the author – recipient of the adverse effects of lack of empathy by soldiers; the adverse effect of Armed Forces Special Powers Act; effect of movies to turn the youth to violence – have been well explained.
The author has given a first-hand information about the plight of the Bangladeshi Chakma refugees; peace-loving Mizos; the clashes between Meiteis, Naga, Kuki tribes, Manipuri Muslims; religio-communal divide and its present day implications; present cultural and socio-economic situation – the voice of a true son of the soil.
Submitting Kanchejunga rolls out like a movie as one reads, especially the fall of the author into a crevasse, coming out of the jaws of death and the felicitation by the Prime Minister of India that followed.
The conviction of the author to stand up against an unsavoury remark against Manipuris by a General at the Defence Services Staff College and the methodology adopted to make the General retract his words shows the maturity of the author and his adeptness in dealing with ‘difficult ‘situations.
A tinge of well appreciated subtle humour – panic is fear at highest level of military; the golden epaulettes; gifting of a telephone by a Pakistani soldier.
The first hand details of the attack on Point 5770, mostly unsung, gives the reader goose bumps with each activity explained with brevity. It showcases the leadership traits of the author. My salute to you Sir for the respect you showed to the fallen enemy soldiers in keeping with the highest military values. Not being awarded the Battle Honour – I hope the Indian Army will make amends for the oversight even at this stage. It needed an American author, Marcus P Acosta to bestow the honour the author’s Battalion 27 RAJPUT deserved.
The Siachen Glacier experience, the after effects on both the body and mind of the author is well expressed. The dogs Pista and Pisti and the author pinning his commendation on Pisti, concern against euthanasia of aged mules shows the author’s love for all God’s creations. His wish to command a brigade in the glacier – that too for a rupee – proves his military leadership traits.
The causes that led to the Ind-Chinese recent stand-off as viewed through the author’s eyes is worth a read.
As suggested by the author, the need for a test to assess the psychological and emotional condition of the officers prior to assuming command of units is of utmost importance. If implemented, it will prove to be extremely beneficial to the Army. Also, the case of boots for soldiers – why every piece of the soldier’s uniform – were privately bought. There is no worthwhile water-bottle for a soldier since 2000. The author’s concern for the soldiers’ needs and his moral fibre to convey it to none other than the Defence Minister in the presence of the Chief of the Army Staff shows the author’s convictions.
The author has fulfilled his childhood dream – he did not stop there – but went on to become a Lieutenant General of the Indian Army. He has rightfully credited his achievements to his family, his teachers, his superior and subordinate officers of the Indian Army; above all to the soldiers who served under him.
After writing this review, I felt that I missed a great deal in never getting an opportunity to meet or serve under our first General from the North-East – a true soldier and a gentleman. I sign off with a quote from this book:-
Meeting and interacting with thousands of officers and men under my command gave me more faith in the inner strength and capability of our officers to win any situation. Only the Generals have to live up to it.
Statutory Warning : Do not blame the author for gelastic syncope.
Compliments to Captain Anil Gonsalves for an excellent biographical book. The book begins with a well composed poem, which I wasn’t expecting in such a book, that too about our alma-mater, the National Defence Academy (NDA.) Many pages have been written about NDA over and over and the ‘snake killed many times, still being beaten harder.‘ Is the tail still moving??
This was a welcome change; something different. The narration, all humorously radiant with an infectious enthusiasm. It is a collection of hilarious, stimulating, and thoughtful set of events as they unfold.
When I read the anecdotes about life at the NDA, I relived it with a smile at the corner of my mouth though the real life experience was far too terrible. The readers who have been through this type of training will enjoy reading it with a smile, both in their hearts and on their face. The author has captured all the important and landmark events in a Cadet’s life at the NDA.
The habits acquired at the NDA continue with us like the ‘never used, starched handkerchief.’ Measurements of distance and time during the reunion, I thought it was only my mind’s creation during our reunion. Now I realise that I have company. Returning to NDA, I too felt that I must not have grown up so quickly.
The author has effectively brought out nostalgic moments of his Naval life with a tinge of humour, beginning with the last sailing of the beautiful INS Mysore, the cadets’ training ship. Various life lessons the author has hilariously unwrapped are :-
Taking care of the sailors or soldiers or airmen, acceding to their request for leave even if it was fake, is sure to make any young officer feel like the Captain of the Titanic.
Life as a young officer was always about setting up a classic rattrap and ringing the bell, but every time the rattrap by itself and the tone of the bell had to be different.
The weatherman is always right on a wrong day and is the only one to keep his job or not get kicked even if he is wrong 75% of the time.
It’s the Commanding Officer who is responsible for every action of his ship and he is the ship.
‘Triskaidekaphobia‘ the fear of number 13 (from Greek tris (‘three’), kai (‘and’), and deka (‘ten’). Hence look intelligent, talk with technical terms, but always check one’ facts before blurting out.
English may not be you mother tongue – ‘working hardly’ on your language skills may not be beneficial always.
Beware of un-mastered Indian languages – they will land you in a soup.
Bathing nude at the NDA did has its advantages.
Bull-shit is Indian Army’s prerogative, never knew that it was Buffalo-shit in the Navy.
Gunners – the Naval and Army versions – are well known for their stiffness and pranks.
You can’t be thrice lucky – especially with a DRDO scientist – that too with a hammer.
You must salute the Armed Forces chopper pilots twice.
The hard service lesson to follow the Chetwode credo will remain etched in all Armed Forces officers’ minds even after retirement :-“The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”
Travel the world – you will realise how much you missed of the God’s beautiful creations and how much is left for you to see. The travelogues are excellent – I can vouch for the Canadian part of it – and provide excellent tips and a peek into places of interests.
The 16 hour flight from India to Toronto is as comfortable as the Taliban therapy.
Canadian side offers the best view of the Niagara Falls.
Canadians take courtesies to the extremes. They will say ‘sorry’ even if you stamp on their feet. The magical words like ‘hi,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you’ – you have to punctuate every phrase you utter with least one of it. Racism or any racial comment or gesture is not liked – especially with young school going children around. (I have had it many a times from our children.)
A Glossary of NDA and Naval terms at the beginning or explanation of the terms would have benefited the reader. If the reader finds difficulty in getting the meaning of those terms, always remember –It means the same as the first that came to your mind – else Google it up.
If you believe that ‘Laughter is the best Medicine,’ then this book is for you.
My book ‘Son of a Gunner’ is partly inspired by this hero –Late Lieutenant ET Joseph.
June 1992 in Nagaland, Lieutenant E Thomas Joseph had finished packing for his trip home for a two-month-long leave to his hometown – Kanjiramattom near Kottayam, Kerala. Commissioned in June 1991 in the Corps of Military Intelligence, this young officer had finished his year-long attachment with the First Battalion of the Fifth Gorkhas (1/5 GR.)
Suddenly reports of some movement from insurgents in the area began to come in. The Commanding Officer got his Quick Reaction Team together. No one suggested that Joseph go along because the young officer had already got his posting orders and had been dined out from the Unit the previous day. Since he knew the terrain well, he volunteered to go with the team for the operation at night. The other officers tried to dissuade him, but he insisted on going- never to return.
By the next day, his father, Subedar Major A T Joseph, received the news of his son’s death. He immediately left for Nagaland where he laid the mortal remains of his only son to rest.
Col Sajan Moideen, one of Joseph’s coursemates from IMA days, wrote about this tragedy in his blog years later: ‘Deep down, both Joseph and his wife Thressiamma tried their best to overcome their grief. But a sadness that had no closure couldn’t be overcome. The mother in Thressiamma longed to visit the burial place. But they were unable to afford the long journey. Where would they gather that kind of money? How would they travel thousands of miles? Who would know the place? Who would help them? With old age catching up, the hope just faded away. They hoped to meet their son at God’s abode one day.’
June 2016, Lieutenant Joseph’s IMA coursemates from the 88th Regular and 71st Technical Course celebrated their 25th year of service to the nation. They remembered their fallen comrades. Eight spouses, brothers and sisters of the Martyrs travelled from far and wide including Australia to participate in the three day celebrations where over 140 officers, 100 ladies and 100 children attended. To remember and honour the fallen amongst them and to make their families proud, they were presented an apt memento.
But Joseph’s parents were not there. AT Joseph and Thressiamma could not be contacted as they had settled down in Kottayam, Kerala.
With great difficulty, an officer posted in Kerala traced out Joseph’s parents and the mother, Thressiamma expressed her wish to visit her son’s grave as she was not present for the funeral. She also requested that her son’s grave be shifted from the remote region of the North East to his home town at Kanjiramattom.
Determined to fulfil a mother’s only wish, Joseph’s coursemates swung into action. There were many hurdles on the way to get Thressiamma Joseph to her son’s grave – the old age of the parents, the finances, the long travel, and most of all to locate the grave.
The search for the tomb of the fallen soldier led them to the grave in Chakabama, 30 km from Kohima. Though the grave was inside a military garrison, no one knew about it.
Thanks to the efforts of the coursemates of Joseph to find the finances and the magnanimity of Indigo Airlines, his parents and sisters were flown from Kochi to Bangalore to Kolkata to Dimapur.
08 October 2016, Indigo Airlines with Joseph’s parents took off from Kochi airport.
11 October 2016, the parents reached the grave of their son. Then commenced the religious rites for exhuming the body. The tombstone was removed and all the mortal remains gathered and placed in an ornate coffin. Full military honours were observed, the Tricolor draped and the casket was transported to Dimapur.
13 October 2016, Courtesy Indigo Airlines, an airline that always honoured the defence forces – the coffin in the company of the parents and many of his coursemates – landed at Kochi. A Guard of Honour was presented as the mortal remains touched Kerala. A decked up cortege led by police escorts transported the remains to Kanjarimattom. The Ex- CM of Kerala, Mr Oomen Chandy and Late Mr KM Mani paid a visit to the parents and conveyed their condolences. After all their boy had come home, after 8890 days of Martyrdom.
14 October 2016, Lieutenant ET Joseph was finally laid to rest close to his house at Holy Cross Church, Kanjiramattom with full Military and State honours.
Now the mother can visit her son whenever she wishes and place flowers on the day of his martyrdom. Some of the tears in her weary eyes have been wiped. Her dream, fulfilled by her son’s coursemates.
The first word of title of the biographical book ‘ Serendipity’ made me scratch the vocabulary storage of my brain and the obvious way out was to ‘google’ it. Serendip is the Old Persian name for Sri Lanka.Parts of Sri Lanka were under the rule of Chera kings of Kerala in the fourth and the fifth century. Dweep in Malayalam, Kerala’s native language means island and hence they called the island Cherandweep. The Arab traders engaged in spice trade with the Cheras called the island Serendip. The word ‘serendipity’ first appeared in a letter written by Horace Walpole (1717–1797) to his distant relative Sir Horace Mann dated 28 January 1754. Walpole formed the word from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.’
Serendipity could be defined as an act of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. There are many scientific inventions as a result of serendipity. Microwave oven, penicillin, x-ray, pacemaker and most importantly and recently Viagra are a few examples.
Kudos to the author, Colonel Badal Verma for essaying the journey of a soldier. He has given due credit to everyone who helped him traverse through this journey – his soldiers, instructors at various Academies and institutions, his subordinated officers and his seniors. Shri Bachu Singh, his civilian attendant at the academy too gets a deserving mention. He has brought out the role his parents, wife and children played in this tough and thrilling journey.
In Chapter 9, the author has summarised his relationships with the humans around him and also brought out the need to respect women, empower them and give them the needed space, both in the society and at home.
Importance of conditioning a soldier’s mind to accomplish the most difficult tasks and how the mind is conditioned for it is explained in detail. Life of soldiers on a lonely far flung post and his travails, his moments of pleasure and despair, his need to communicate with his family miles away – gives an insight to the reader into the mind of a soldier.
Soldiers’ bond with nature, especially in North-East India, has been captured very well by the author. The social life of the beautiful people who live in this part of India, their culture, beliefs have been painted well. I must salute the conviction of the author in pointing out the fault line of the people of mainland India towards these minorities of the North Eastern states and Kashmir, especially the women.
The author has explained what goes through a soldier’s mind when he faces death, that too sure death, having taken two bullets at close range. The psychology of a soldier and his will to survive and live another day is very well chronicled, especially as the author had a close shave with death not once, but six times. I haven’t read such a beautiful explanation of the sequence of events and the beautiful line that was ‘The most expensive liquid in the world is a tear. It’s made up of 1% water and 99 % feelings.’
The ultimate sense of soldiering is in forgiving one’s enemy – the man who would have potentially taken his life – by not identifying him in a court. It proves ‘To forgive is divine’ : from a poem An Essay on Criticism, Part II by poet Alexander Pope.
The author’s encounter with snakes is detailed, but it tends to encourage killing snakes which is unlawful. The chapter reinforces the prevalent myth that most snakes are poisonous and they got to be killed. A paragraph or two as to how to deal with snakes, their capture and release in the wild would have been useful.
The journey out of one’s uniform is very difficult for any soldier and even worse is the life in the world outside the army. The experiences of the author in this regard – his candid acceptance of his failures and short comings – and how he faced them must be lauded.
A well written book – it takes a lot of courage to come out with the truth – and the author has successfully done it. One could feel the conviction in the writing – not like the utterances of most veteran generals of today – as if the problems did not exist during their times. My heartfelt compliments to the author. I have neither served with the author nor interacted with him before and I consider it as my misfortune.
The language is simple and easy flowing. The book contains worthwhile anecdotes and quotes, mostly from American and German Army and a few anecdotes about Sam Manekshaw.
Our Generals were Colonels and Commanding Officers before becoming a General. The last place where one is in direct command of soldiers is as a Commanding Officer.
In the book, the word ‘General’ if replaced by ‘Colonel’ and if it is read by Lieutenant Colonels before being promoted to be a Commanding Officer, it is sure to help them. The contents are least likely to be of any value to the Generals as most may not accept what is written and their minds are already ‘hardwired.’ A Colonel’s mind can still be influenced.
The chapters 1 to 3 speaks about listening skills in details, but hardly about reading – ‘The Generals who command against me will never read it and the young men who read it will never command.’
The Conference syndrome begins at Battalion/ Regiment levels. If a Commanding Officer needs to hold a conference, I feel there is something wrong with him – he surely does not know his job and is not clear about the way the task is to be executed. It is more for finger pointing and to save his ass. Conferences must be avoided at all costs and must be held only if inescapable.
The author speaks of thirty percent of Infantry Brigadiers being incompetent – thanks to the pro-rata system – in fact only 30 percent are fit.
Lack of moral courage is surely the cause of downfall of many Generals of the Indian Army and it did not happen because they got promoted beyond a Colonel, it was inherent in them during the Academy days itself. Moral values and the lack of it begin to be expressed in command – from battery/ company/ squadron commander days.
It is high time the Indian Army goes in for an objective performance assessment of officers and it got to begin with the Commanding Officers. Peer evaluation by officers and Junior Commissioned Officers – selected at random, maintaining confidentiality – as suggested by the author will prove credible in the long run – though there may be a few aberrations, but would end more objective and accurate than the present appraisal system.
During a recent discussion with a Veteran Brigadier Azad Sameer of the Indian Army who was my mentor while I commanded our regiment, he was concerned about the spate of sudden deaths by heart attacks among number of middle level Indian Army officers (Majors / Lieutenant Colonels.) He attributed it to the increased stress level caused due to heavy operational commitments of the Indian Army.
Is it so?
I took my mind back to my Indian Army days – as a Second Lieutenant in 1982 to being a Commanding Officer (Lieutenant Colonel) in 2004. As the years rolled by, operational commitments did increase, but with it improved the availability of resources, life styles and more open interaction among officers at least at Battalion/ Regiment level.
The reasons for increased stress levels among Indian Army officers have been attributed by many to:-
Lack of freedom among junior officers to give free feedback about work concerns.
Incompetent senior officers.
Lack of avenues to express domestic and marital concerns.
Lack of support from senior level especially when situations went out of control.
Difficult and emotionally demanding work,
Uncomfortable management/leadership style of senior officers.
Non-recognition of efforts.
Complexity of performance review system – Annual Confidential Reports.
Lack of mutual trust and unsupportive culture, especially while one is in command of a Company/ Battery/ Squadron – where the Annual Confidential Reports become critical for promotion to the rank of Colonel.
It was so when I joined in 1982 as a Second Lieutenant, but it did improve leaps and bounds as years passed by. To cite an example, when I was a Major, our General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Division passed an order that the entire Mechanical Transport of the Battalion/ Regiment to be jacked-up for a week in case of any vehicle accident. Our neighbouring Regiment did have an accident and the Commanding Officer had to walk to the Divisional Headquarters for a dressing down by the GOC. I always wondered as to whether that GOC knew how a Battalion/ Regiment functioned, especially its transport section. Such Generals became a rarity as years went by and might even be extinct by now.
Another bugbear was the availability of married accommodation for officers and soldiers. It improved tremendously over the years and Separated Family (SF) accommodation for those deployed in field areas too more than doubled. More married officers’ accommodation was available at training institutions where officers underwent various military courses. During our young officer days, it was an anathema for any student officer to bring their spouse for a training course, but a lot had changed while I was in command at Devlali, co-located with School of Artillery.
Resources needed for executing operational tasks improved manifold with better weapon systems, equipment, vehicles, etc. Grants and funds available at the disposal of the Commanding Officers multiplied with each passing year, which tremendously improved operational efficiency. There were marked improvements in the living condition of soldiers and officers in field areas, especially along the border and Line of Control. The road communication network improved with time. Soldiers and officers mostly travel today by air while proceeding on vacations – an unheard of luxury during my service days.
Improved communication with the advent of cellular phones have revolutionised the communication aspects of officers and soldiers. Even the remotest posts have reliable communication systems and soldiers easily keep in touch with their family, spouse and children. Gone are the days of the snail paced ‘Forces Letter.’
The better financial status of officers and soldiers coupled with modern banking facilities like credit/ debit cards, online banking, easy credit and advances have made life much more comfortable. Gone are the days of ‘installments’ and being perpetually indebted to the Regimental Wet Canteen Contractor. I remember buying Marina a Fashion Maker Sewing Machine, my first wedding anniversary gift to her on six monthly installments.
The lifestyles of today’s Indian army Officers and soldiers have gone up many a rung. It was a rarity to find a Regimental officer other than the Commanding Officer owning a car during my young officer days. While I commanded our Regiment, many soldiers were driving to the Regiment in their cars.
During our young officer days the common saying was “No one ever died because of work, but by the lack of it.” It was also said that “It is better to be in a field area and carryout professional work than be in a peace station and carry out more administrative tasks.”
Taking into account the above two dictum to be true even today in the Indian Army, increased operational commitment should not result in over-stressed officers and soldiers.
Why there is increased stress among Officers and Soldiers?
Today’s military spouses – of both officers and soldiers – are better qualified with equal or greater aspirations than their spouses. Many spouses prior to their marriage were working in managerial or high-end jobs and some had to leave their jobs to be with their spouses for a better family life. Those spouses continuing with their jobs remained separated, maintaining a long-distance relationship.
These factors causes work-family conflict which results in exhaustion, both physical and emotional. Many a times this leads to depression, anxiety, frustration, anger and increased levels of psychological strain. This work-family conflict adversely affects the quality of the officer’s/ soldier’s relationship with the spouse as well as the quality of time spent with children, family and friends.
Here I would again cite my personal example. The evening the result of my promotion to the rank of Colonel was announced, Marina invited all our friends for a party at home. Everyone trooped in and complimented me. After everyone assembled, Marina said “This party is to celebrate my husband not making it to a Colonel. Now I can have my plans rolling and he can take a back seat.” Marina emigrated to Canada and after two years the children followed and then I landed in Canada. By then Marina was a licensed pharmacist and earning handsomely. Thus, I became a house-husband taking care of our children and the household. The turn of events may not be so for many Indian Army officers, especially those who do not make it in the deep selection to the rank of Colonel and then even deeper selection upwards.
Another major cause of concern for Indian Army is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A study in Canadian Armed Forces showed that among those invalidated out or those who sought voluntary retirement due to medical disabilities, about 40 percent were for mental health issues, about half of those were diagnosed as PTSD. The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBCS) noted that military service meant moving often and spending time on duty far from family and was a major source of mental health risks – a standard practise for most Indian Army officers and soldiers.
Most Indian Army officers and soldiers suffer from PTSD due to the intense combat situations they face – Canadian Armed Forces hardly face any such situations. Luckily the military echelons never accepted the existence of PTSD in the Indian Army! I had never even heard of PTSD while in service with the Indian Army until I read a paper by a US Military Doctor on the subject. Now think of the PTSD suffered by the driver of the vehicle that met with an accident wherein the GOC jacked-up the entire Regimental fleet. Did anyone address the PTSD suffered by that soldier driver?
Was I prepared to command the soldiers on being appointed the Commanding Officer?
I will emphatically say “NO.” It was merely by observation of one’s Commanding Officers and analysis. The Senior Command Course every officer underwent prior to taking over command was nothing but re-frying of what one learnt during Junior Command Course as a Major and also Staff College Course.
Our son when in Grade 12 worked at the city’s swimming pool as a swimming instructor and lifeguard. One day he said “I teach the kids for thirty minute class and to become an instructor and lifeguard I had to undergo ten levels of swimming, three courses on leadership and swimming instructorship, first aid, Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), child psychology and obtain a life saving certificate. What qualifications did you have to parent?”
I did not have any qualifications to be a parent. It was all by trial and error and also by the knowledge gained through reading and interactions. Now I asked myself – “What qualifications did I have to be a Commanding Officer? Was I trained for it? Did I have any formal qualifications like first aid, CPR or soldier psychology?”
There was a suggestion to employ more psychiatrists and psychologists to help soldiers tide over the pressure situations they face. Where will these psychiatrists and psychologists be located? Will they be available to the officers and soldiers in the field?
It would be prudent to train the officers during Junior/ Senior Command Courses in the psychological aspects of command and HR management to be effective Company/Squadron/ Battery Commanders and Commanding Officers.
Recently the social media was abuzz with the news of Indian soldiers’ pension being cut by 50% for those seeking voluntary retirement after 20 years of service. One suggested methodology is to follow the Canadian Armed Forces Pension scheme. Canadian Armed Forces Pay scales are second only to the Australian.
It is a well established fact that the Armed Forces have a steep pyramidcal structure – more at the officers level – and also at the soldiers level. The need is to have a young and large base – Lieutenants, Captains and Majors for officers and Privates for soldiers.
Canadian Armed Forces offers 50% pension on completion of 10 years of service. Officers who continue further are only put through command and staff courses and they rise up to command battalions/ regiments. This results in:-
Those wishing to retire after 10 years of service are generally about 35 years old and many even get married and raise their families on retirement.
The 50% pension assures them a constant income and facilitate them to embark on a new career.
The pyramidical structure of the Forces is considerably reduced.
Those wishing to serve beyond 10 years receive their pension on a sliding scale to be 100% with 20 years of service.
Among those invalidated out or those who sought voluntary retirement due to medical disabilities, about 40 per cent were for mental health, about half of those were diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Most Indian Army soldiers and officers do suffer from PTSD due to intense combat situations they face – Canadian Armed Forces hardly face any such situation. Luckily the military echelons never accepted the existence of PTSD in the Indian Army – hence no claimants for disability pension.
Canadian Veterans who qualify for disability benefits receive up to 75 per cent of the salary they were earning when they left the Forces. They are guaranteed benefits for 24 months initially, or until age 65 for those completely disabled, after which the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) kicks in.
The rise of mental health claims is often chalked up to Canada’s difficult 2002-11 combat mission in Afghanistan. The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBCS) noted that the Afghanistan mission was far from the only source of mental health risks. Even at home in Canada, military service means moving often and spending time on duty far from family – a standard practise for most Indian soldiers.
Common disability among Canadian soldiers for Fiscal Year 2018–19 were:-
HEARING LOSS 6,139
ARTHROSIS OF KNEE 842
OSTEOARTHRITIS KNEE 781
DEPRESSIVE DISORDERS 721
LUMBAR DISC DISEASE 629
OSTEOARTHRITIS HIP 617
CERVICAL DISC DISEASE 578
FACET JOINT SYNDROME 50
Tinnitus is defined as the perception of a sound in one or both ears or in the head when it does not arise from a stimulus in the environment. A single indication or complaint of tinnitus is not sufficient for diagnostic purposes. The condition must be present for at least 6 months. Individuals who experience tinnitus have provided many different descriptions of what the tinnitus sounds like to them. Descriptions include high-pitched sound, ringing sound, whistle, squealing sound, hum, pulse-like sound, etc
There are two general types of Hearing Loss – sensorineural (sometimes called perceptive) and conductive hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss is hearing loss due to a defect in the cochlea or the auditory nerve whereby nerve impulses from the cochlea to the brain are attenuated. Conductive hearing loss means the partial or complete loss of hearing due to defective sound conduction of the external auditory canal or of the middle ear. A mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive. A hearing loss disability exists when there is a Decibel Sum Hearing Loss (DSHL) of 100 dB or greater at frequencies of 500,1000, 2000 and 3000 Hz in either ear, or 50 dB or more in both ears at 4000 Hz.
Most Indian Soldiers and Veterans will vouch that a great chunk of them are suffering from Tinnitus or Hearing Loss and also that most soldiers under their command suffered from it – especially those from the Armoured Corps, Regiment of Artillery, Aviation and also Mechanised Infantry.
Will the Indian Military hierarchy ever be willing to accept the existence of Tinnitus, Hearing Loss or PTSD?