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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

(Written in collaboration with Veteran Brigadier Azad Sameer)

Golden Jubilee – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River)


Veteran Colonel Joginder Singh, Mrs Kiranjit, Marina and I – we all travelled from Toronto, Canada to Faridkot, Punjab, India – to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the raising of our regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basntar River).  A reunion, is a gathering of people who have shared a past, and the joy of reuniting is to see the individuals with whom the past was shared. Here we were reuniting to  share our past, the good old regimental days, with those brave officers and soldiers, who now carry the mantle, history and traditions.

Our Regiment was raised in 1966 at Delhi and was equipped with 130 mm Russian Guns.  It had three batteries – one battery was of Brahmins (other than those from the Southern and Eastern States of India), the second had Jats and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States.  By the turn of the century, the Regiment was reorganised with soldiers from all over India, from all castes and religions.

The Regiment was awarded Honour Title “BASANTAR RIVER” in recognition of  outstanding contribution by all Officers and soldiers during the 1971 Indo-Par War.  The Regiment provided fire support for the most  famous battle of Zafarwal  in that the two Param Vir Chkra (Highest Gallantry Ward) winners – Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal of 17 Poona Horse and Major Hoshiar Singh pf 3 Grenadiers – both were supported by the Regiment’s Observation Post (OP) Officers – Captain SC Sehgal and Captain Mohan Krishnan.  Captain Sehgal was awarded Vir Chakra posthumously for his gallant actions and Capt Mohan Krishnan was awarded Mention-in-Despatches.


As we landed at New Delhi Railway Station – there was an impromptu get-together.  We were met by Veteran Major General PK Ramachandran, Brigadier Madan Sheel Sharma,  Veteran Colonel Ashok Arora  and Veteran Colonel Ranjan Deb.  We were received at Faridkot Railway Station with all the fanfare and were escorted to the Officers’ Mess


With the present team of officers of the Great Regiment – ably commanded by Colonel DR Jadhav – They made the event come alive and memorable.  They surely left no stone unturned to make the event a grand success.


During lunch at the Officers’ Mess, we met Mrs Sneh Thadan, wife of Late Brigadier KN Thadani.  Lieutenant Colonel Thadani commanded our Regiment during the 1971 Indo-Pak war and was awarded Vishisht Seva Medal for his exemplary leadership and planning.  There was Veteran Brigadier MS Brar VSM, SM. He was the Battery Commander with Hudson Horse during Battle of Basantar River of the Indo-Pak conflict of 1971.


Veteran Brigadier AN Suryanarayanan – our Commanding Officer when I joined the Regiment in December 1982 – was there in his smart and erect posture with his signature mustache..


Veteran Colonel Mahaveer Singh – the Commanding Officer under whom I served the longest – 1983 to 1988 was at his cheerful best as expected.


The Stalwarts here – From Left – Veteran Brigadier JPS Ahluvalia (Commanding Officer 1990 -93), – Veteran Brigadier AK Sikka (first Battery Commander under whom I served), – Veteran Brigadier AN Suryanarayanan – Veteran Colonel Mahaveer Sing and – Veteran Brigadier Rajesh Kumar – Adjutant of our Regiment during Indo-Pak War of 1971


There was a Wreath Laying a wreath at the War Memorial of the Regiment, where all veterans and serving soldiers paid their respect to all those who laid down their lives, serving the motherland.  The bust of Captain SC Sehgal, Vir Chakra  and Captain Pratap Singh, Maha Vir Chakra aptly adorned the memorial.

Captain Pratap Singh and I served with the Regiment from 1984 to 1988.   During his deployment in Siachin Glacier in 1988, Capt  Pratap Singh was performing the duties of OP officer at Bana Post, the highest post in the glacier.  On 26 May 1988 he volunteered to cut the ropes tied by the enemy to launch assault on Bana Post and hence prevented its capture.  While he went on to accomplish this task, a booby trap laid by enemy exploded causing severe injuries, yet this brave officer, with cold courage and determination, completed his task before succumbing to injuries. For his outstanding, exemplary and gallant act in the best traditions of Indian Army he was awarded Maha Vir Chakra posthumously.


We presented a Silver Trophy to the Regiment on the occasion – replica of a Bofors Gun the Regiment is currently equipped with.


There were many occasions for us to interact with Veteran Soldiers who served under our command and it I had many a goose bumps as they recounted and reminisced various events, sports competitions, operations, etc.


I was lucky to  meet and interact with Colonel PR Ravikumar and Colonel UV Rao – the smart Young Officers who served with me.  Colonel Ravi commanded our Regiment  and Colonel Rao is commanding a newly raised Medium Regiment.


During the Golden Jubilee party at the Officers’ Mess, Mrs Sneh Thadani cut the cake.


It was indeed a moment of pride for me as I sat down to sign the Visitors’ Book at the Officers Mess as the  table on which I was signing had the phototograph  of Major General BK Guha, Colonel of Regiment.  He was the Senior Subaltern when I joined the Regiment in December 1982.


As I bid goodbye to the Regiment, I spoke to Colonel Jadhav “The Regiment was good –  that is why so many Veterans turned up; the Regiment is good – that is why you could put up such a great show; and the Regiment will surely remain good for the times to come.”  , We all enjoyed every bit of the moments we shared and will ever be etched in our memory.

Morning Shave

Delivering the Commencement Address at University of Texas at Austin in 2014, Admiral William H McRaven, a retired United States Navy Admiral who last served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command from August 8, 2011, to August 28, 2014 said “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.”

‘Making the bed’ ritual was all important first task of the day one accomplished as a Cadet at Sainik (Military) School, from the age of nine to sixteen.  On joining the National Defence Academy (NDA), the morning shave became the first important task of the day.  During early school days, one did not have any facial hair and later, shaving was a ritual only during weekly haircut, executed by the barber.  On joining NDA, morning shaving became  mandatory  for all cadets and it continued through my two decades of service with the Indian Army.


One winter morning in the eighties, I, a young Lieutenant and Senior Subaltern of the Regiment, received a message that an important political leader had passed away and the day was declared a holiday.  I had by then shaved and was changing.  I came out of my room, dressed in whites for physical training (PT) and I found all other Lieutenants also ready for PT.  “We have shaved and put on our PT dress.  Let us all go for a run.  Once you have shaved early morning, holiday or not, it makes no difference ” I said.

In the Army, being a uniformed service,  discipline is judged partly by the manner in which a soldier wears a prescribed uniform or a dress, as well as by the individual’s personal appearance.  Thus a well-groomed appearance by all soldiers is fundamental to the Army and contributes to building pride and esprit-de-corps.  There is a need for every soldier to be self-disciplined and also be proud of being part of a noble profession.   It is the prime responsibility of all commanders to ensure that soldiers under their command present a smart and soldierly appearance. All  commanders have to ensure that soldiers take pride in their appearance at all times, in or out of uniform, on and off duty.  A properly shaved soldier, sporting a mustache if preferred, will surely give a soldierly appearance.

Soldiers sporting a clean shaven face can be attributed to  Alexander the Great.  It is believed  that he ordered his soldiers to be clean shaven so that the enemy might not grab them by their beard and throw them to ground.


In Indian Army, soldiers are expected to be clean shaven other than the Sikhs, who are allowed to grow their beard.  Mustache if worn must remain above the upper lip.  British Army, from where most traditions and regulations came for the Indian Army, orders regarding shaving can be traced back to the Eighteenth Century.  Until then, British soldiers were all clean shaven and did not wear a mustache.  Soldiers of Hussar Cavalry Regiments wore moustaches to intimidate their enemies. This mustache trend spread across British Army.   At this time, a mustache differentiated between a soldier and a civilian.  Influence of Indian Royalty and Indian belief that mustache indicated manliness could have also played a role.  By late Eighteenth century, mustache became popular among British civilians, so also sideburns.


Sir Douglas Haig with his army commanders and their chiefs of staff – World War I – (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).

During World War I, Commonwealth soldiers found it cumbersome to maintain their mustache, while fighting trench warfare.  Many soldiers and officers preferred to shave off their mustaches and it even led to some sort of a revolt.  A few soldiers were even court-martialled for not complying with the order of a mustache.  In 1913, General Nevil Macready investigated the matter and submitted a report that orders regarding mustaches be withdrawn.  No action was taken on this report and in 1915 King George reinforced the necessity of a mustache for a soldier. General Macready resubmitted his ‘mustache’ recommendations in 1916 and on the 8 October, order was passed, doing away with a mandatory mustache for a soldier.


Iconic poster of World War I with Lord Kitchener, sporting a handlebar mustache, persuading everyone to join the army still stands out (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).

It is a myth that hair tend to grow thicker and darker than before due to shaving.  Mildred Trotter, a forensic anthropologist debunked this myth back in 1928, when she asked three college students to shave their legs, ankle to knee, twice weekly for eight months. Using a microscope, she compared each student’s hair growth rate, color and thickness. She concluded that shaving had no impact on hair’s texture or growth.

Wrestlers are mostly clean shaven as Olympic rules require them to have either a full beard or none at all, as stubble can irritate an opponent’s skin.  Swimmers are mostly clean shaven – they remove all possible body hair – as body hair can slow them down a bit.

Married Amish men sport a beard with a trimmed mustache in place of wearing a wedding ring.

For reasons still unclear, Parliament fired the personal barber of Charles I of England. Famously slow to trust others, King Charles never shaved again, for fear that a new barber would try to kill him.

Retreat Ceremony at Hussainiwala


During our visit to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of raising of our regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) – we watched the Retreat Ceremony at Hussainiwala Border Post.  Unlike most international borders, where no such daily ceremonies are held, retreat ceremonies are held on Indo-Pak border at dusk.

Canada and USA share the longest International Boundary in the world, which is mostly unmanned, except at crossing points.  The border came into existence at the end of bitterly fought American Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the United States with the Treaty of Paris of 1783.  In 1925, the International Boundary Commission came into being with the task of surveying and mapping the boundary, maintaining boundary pillars and buoys and keeping the boundary clear of bush and vegetation for six meters.

Ontario province has 14 road border crossings, one truck ferry, and four passenger ferries with the United States.  The most popular crossing is the Rainbow Bridge near Niagara Falls.  This is a popular border crossing for pedestrians, however, trucks are not permitted to use this bridge.  The boundary runs through the centre of this bridge.  Surely, the two countries hardly ever hold any border ceremonies.

There are only three trading posts, Wagah (Punjab), Chakan da Bagh (Rajouri, Kashmir) and Kaman (Uri, Kashmir) on the Indo-Pak border through which people and goods move.  Chakan da Bagh Post and Kaman Post is manned by Indian Army soldiers and they do not hold any ‘retreat’ ceremonies.  However, they exchange sweets on important national and religious days.

A ‘retreat ceremony’ in military parlance signals the end of duty day and when the national flag is brought down.  The band if present or the bugler will sound ‘retreat’.  The lowering of the flag is coordinated with the playing of the music so the two are completed at the same time.  It is a ritual in every military unit and often coincides with the change of guard for the night.

Retreat ceremonies are held on the Indo-Pak border in Punjab at Wagah (Amritsar), Hussainiwala (Firozepur and Sadiqi (Fazilka) by the Border Security Force (BSF) of India and Rangers of Pakistan.  Neither the Indian Army nor the Pakistan Army is involved in this heavily choreographed flag-lowering ceremony.  The drill movements are over exaggerated and at times is near ridiculous and mostly absurd.  One would even wonder as to whether such ceremonies hold any value in modern civilised world.  Whatever it may be, the ritual has endured through half a century despite many diplomatic upheavals, border skirmishes, economic warfare and mutual misunderstandings.

Hussainiwala Border served as the major road crossing between Indian and Pakistan till 1970. At that time, it acted as a trade route for truckers, mainly to import Kandahari Angoor (dehydrated grapes) as well as other fruits and food products from Pakistan and Afghanistan.   The post was closed for trade in 1970 as tensions rose between India and Pakistan.  The retreat ceremony commenced in 1972 after the Indo-Pak War.

We were all seated in the Amphitheatre to witness the ceremony.  On the Indian side there was no segregation of. men and women.  The only concern was the glare of the setting sun as we face Westwards.

On the Pakistan side, there were separate enclosures for men and women.   The only commonality was most women and men including the Rangers – all wore Salwar Kameez.

As the seats were getting filled up, the audio systems from both sides begun belching out ‘patriotic’ songs with as much volume they could muster.  At the auspicious time of 5 PM, the soldiers from both sides ‘enacted’ their choreographed drills.

They marched ‘Goose Stepping’, throwing their legs as high as they could.  This was a form of extreme marching held by German, Prussian, and Russian military to be an ultimate display of the unbreakable will and discipline of its soldiers.  Most modern armies have done away with this ‘facist’ approach to marching as being extreme.  Only a few countries use it as a powerful display of military discipline.

Foot drill is a fundamental activity of the military and is practised regularly during initial military training.   Foot drill involves marching with an exaggerated heel strike, and regimented manoeuvres performed while marching and standing characterised by an exaggerated stamping of one foot into the ground.

The soldiers were wearing leather soled boots with heavy metal attached to them.  It made ‘metallic’ sound when they came in contact with the concrete floor every time the a soldier stamped his foot, that too much higher than needed.

The soldiers from both the sides pose showing their aggression and fearlessness.  They widen their chests, twirl their mustaches, thrust open their  eyeballs, and what not – all to invite applause and cheers from the audience on either side.

After enacting all these choreographed caricature of a drill, soldiers  cross the white line to come to the other country and form a beautiful cross X with the flag threads. Both the flags are held together at the junction and then are brought down at speed and folded neatly.  Throughout the ceremony sloganeering and clapping many a times reached frenzied levels.  The only saving grace during the entire routine was the exchanges of sly smiles between the soldiers of both nations.

The question here is as whether we need such exaggerated drills to incite national passion and fervour among the citizens?  How long can a country sustain such a fervour?  What about the soldiers who are enacting this routine?  Have you considered the unwanted  physical and mental stress they undergo?

High levels of bone strain caused by such exaggerated drills will surely result in stress fracture.  It may also cause micro-damage to bones.  Digging down of heels, especially with the foot raised over the heads may cause severe strain to the neck and spine and also brain damage.  These soldiers may also end up with joint pains, migraine and headaches

Ultimately who cares?  The show must go on.

 

Hussainiwala – A Village on Indo-Pak Border


During our visit to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of raising of our regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) – we watched the Retreat Ceremony at Hussainiwala Border Post.


Railway line connecting Peshawar to Mumbai was built in 1885, passing through Hussianiwala.  During the Pre-Partition days, Punjab Mail connected the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Ferozepur, Lahore and Peshawar. In those days, most British troops and businessmen would arrive at Mumbai and make their way to their destinations in the North-West Frontier Province by train. The train track from Ferozepur to Hussainiwala was an engineering fete, with Qaiser-e-Hind bridge, which stood over several round pillars (all of them intact even today, as depicted in the image above).


When Pakistan was carved out of British India, the border was drawn along the Sutlej River in Punjab and it passed through Hussainiwala Village.  Now, Sutlej River has changed its course over the years, running further East in Indian territory.  This made Hussainiwala an enclave into Pakistan, with the Sutlej River behind it.


Hussainiwala is named after a Muslim Peer (Saint), Hussaini Baba, whose shrine is located at the entrance to the Border Post.  This small hamlet came into prominence on the evening of 23 March 1931 when British soldiers tried to cremate the bodies of three young Indian freedom fighters – Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Raj Guru – who were hanged at the Lahore Central Jail.  The hanging, scheduled for 24 March was rescheduled a day earlier as the British feared a revolt in Lahore as the situation had become very tense.  They  secretly transported their bodies to Hussainiwala and while cremating them on the banks of the Sutlej, the locals got wind of it.  They assembled near the cremation site.  Fearing repercussions, British soldiers fled the scene, leaving behind the dead bodies which was cremated by the villagers.  This site today is a memorial – aptly called ‘Prerana Sthal‘ (Motivation Site).


Later Bhagat Singh’s mother, Vidyawati, and freedom fighter BK Dutt were cremated at this site as per their wishes. The cremation site is called ‘Shaheedi Sthal’ (Martyyrs’ Place).   This is where Indians from all over the country make an annual pilgrimage to honour the martyrs on March 23 as they observe ‘Shaheedi Diwas’ (Martyrs’ Day).


(Defences on the Indian side on Bund (wall) with a bunker as inset)

This enclave has witnessed three bloody battles between India and Pakistan,  with the very first one fought on 18 March 1956.  At that time, heavy floods had damaged Bela Bund and Sulaimanki Headworks at Hussainiwala and as the Indian engineers were repairing the damage, Pakistan Army launched an unprovoked attack at 9 PM.  4 JAK RIF was guarding the bund, and they fought  gallantly causing heavy causalities on the enemy.  This resulted in a hasty withdrawal by the attackers.


During partition of British India in 1947,  Hussainiwala, an enclave of 12 villages went to Pakistan. The railway line no more had trains running through Hussainiwala.  The railway station at Hussainiwala as it exists today is depicted in the image above.  Now Punjab Mail connects Mumbai to Ferozepur via Delhi.  Pakistan destroyed  Qaisere- Hind Bridge leaving behind the round pillars across the river. The Shaheedi Sthal was in a dilapidated state without any maintenance. In 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister, brokered an exchange deal and Hussainiwala came to India while Sulaimanki Headworks –  from where three major canals which supply irrigation water to a large area in Pakistan  Punjab originate –  went to Pakistan. India immediately restored Shaheedi Sthal to its due dignity and reverence.

During Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, 2 Maratha Light Infantry (Kali Panchwin) was deployed to defend Hussainiwala. The battalion fought valiantly to thwart a  frontal attack resulting in two enemy tanks destroyed and two captured, with several enemy killed. The Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Nolan was killed in enemy artillery shelling. The unit ensured that the Samadhi of Bhagat Singh was not desecrated by Pakistan Army. The battalion was visited by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Defence Minister YB Chavan, Congress Party President  K Kamraj, the Chief of Army Staff and other senior officers. Kali Panchwin was awarded the battle honour ‘Hussainiwala’ for its role in the 1965 War. The citizens of Firozpur, in honour of the Battalion’s contribution in defending the Bridge and Firozpur town, presented a silver replica of the Hussaniwala Bridge.

During the 1971 War, it was 15 PUNJAB defending Hussainiwala enclave and the Memorial.  On 03 December, Pakistan Army launched a heavy attack.  The valiant Punjabis withstood the attack gallantly despite suffering heavy casualties until withdrawing on 04 December night.


Did the three freedom fighters, who laid down their lives for Indian independence in their wildest dreams ever visualise that post independence, there would be a partition on religious lines and it would all end up in three bloody wars at the very same site their ‘Samadhi’ stood?

Wind Can Blow Either Way


(With Santosh the evening I  hung my boots in July 2004)

Great experiences make military life marvelous – even for the family members of soldiers. It lasts a long time, much after we hang our boots and even after we migrate to another continent.

Marina migrated to Canada in March 2002 and I took over command of the Regiment in June 2002. For someone who served his entire regimental life in a Medium Regiment operating Bofors guns to suddenly land in a Surveillance Regiment equipped with radars, drones and survey gadgets – it was an altogether different experience. I had to learn everything from scratch and had to familiarise with the officers and soldiers.

The regiment was an excellent outfit.  I set off with training on various surveillance equipment, starting with radars.  I had to convert from a Medium Gunner to a Surveillance Gunner. The officers and soldiers helped me a lot to imbibe both the art and the science of surveillance, many a times explaining the procedures and drills repeatedly.  I read all the operator and training manuals of all  equipment and in two weeks time, I was proficient enough to handle them.

In the meantime, I spent extra hours with the soldiers to familiarise with them, their backgrounds, their families, their training needs, administration and documentation.  On realising that there were gaps in soldiers’ documentation, I set out to automate the same with the assistance from a few soldiers.  We captured basic data on computers and developed an easy to handle software.  This resulted in all  officers having all data of soldiers on their computers and also we could effectively plan their training, promotion, pay & allowances, leave, etc.

My Radio Operator Santosh Kodag (a Maratha) took charge of the household, but was surprised that my family had not come along.  Commanding Officer living alone in a fabulous peace station like Devlali – Santosh realised something was wrong.

Devlali is one of the most relaxed military stations near Nasik city – about 150 km from Mumbai.  It has a colonial charm and is clean with fresh air and lots of greenery and open spaces.  The climate is fabulous all through the year.  The schools in the area are well known for their educational standard.  The Cantonment offers all recreational facilities like horse riding, swimming, squash, tennis, golf, club, etc – all that goes with a good military station.  The School of Artillery is located here where all Gunner officers are trained.  Hence, it is always abuzz with Young Officers and also newly married young couples.

A week after landing in Devlali and when Santosh felt that I was well settled, one evening, handing over a glass of whisky to me said “I know your wife is away in Canada and your children are in Kerala. Why don’t you get the children here?”

“Our daughter is in Grade 4 and our son in LKG. I will not get adequate time to take care of them. My mother is taking care of them well in Kerala” I replied.

To this Santhosh said “Why don’t you get your mother and your kids here. I will take care of everything. I know your mother is pretty old. You do not have to worry.”

I thought for a while and then called up my mother about my plans to shift her and children to Devlali. She said “I was also thinking about it. My duty is to take care of the children and it would always be better that you are around.”

I booked the tickets for my mother and children to travel to Devlali and Santosh went to Kottayam, Kerala to accompany them.

Santosh now took over everything – handing over the medication pills to my mother and also taking her for her regular medical  appointments with the Military Hospital – getting our son Nikhil ready for school (Nidhi was independent by then)- serving breakfast for all, packing up lunch boxes, etc.

After two years, I relinquished command and also hung up my boots and migrated to Canada.

Now Santosh is married with two kids, serving in the regiment as a Havildar (Sergeant). Every year when we visit India, we send a parcel of gifts for him, his wife and children.

This February we are traveling to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of my parent unit – the Medium Regiment. The Surveillance Regiment has already deputed Havildar Santosh to receive us and accompany us to the Medium Regiment.

Obviously, Marina has been busy shopping for gifts for Santosh and his family. Marina has met Santosh only twice – when we traveled to India – and she has been ever thankful to him for taking care of the children in her absence.

I recently asked Nikhil as to whether he remembered anything of Devlali days and he said “The only person I remember is Santosh Bhaiyya – the poor guy, I gave him a difficult time – especially when he tried to feed me and get me ready for school.”

Wind can blow either way in the Indian Army. A soldier can soothe the pains of his Commanding Officer too.

 

 

Training Young Officers to be Leaders

Field Marshal  Helmuth von Moltke the Elder of Prussia, who considered himself a disciple of Clausewitz, was posted to command a cadet school in Frankfurt  called Kadettenschule.  He is credited as the father of the modern concept of war games, which he adapted from regular chess.

Moltke was known for his dependence on decentralised style of command in the army termed ‘Auftragstaktik’.   In this concept, the junior officers were required to take crucial decisions and that necessitated a drastic change in officer training.   He was of the opinion that in the war front, rapidly changing scenarios will surely make a senior commander’s decision obsolete in no time.  Here, the subordinates have to take independent decisions  as the situation evolved.  It may sometimes result in defiance of orders, without impeding discipline.

Moltke ensured that ragging was stamped out in Kadettenschule  and he stressed on the cadets achieving self-confidence and independent thinking.  He had a promotion policy in place where he rewarded  junior cadets excelling with promotions where they could overtake their seniors.  The instructors were specially selected and trained to motivate and train the cadets and with their exemplary conduct could wipe out ragging.  This resulted in cadets turning into officers who were decisive.

The need for ‘ragging’ in cadets’ training is to break the cadet’s ‘individuality’ and make him ‘fall in line’.   This has in fact resulted in inability of junior commanders at various levels to act as the situation demanded, based on their judgements.  What we need to do at our Academies is to encourage youngsters to speak up against cheating, stealing, etc; but the toughening aspects, including group ragadas (punishments) strengthen one mentally and physically.  What we need to do is to adapt and reinvent to empower the cadets with better all round knowledge.

While commanding the Regiment, our young adjutant came to me to say that there is a paper to be written about the training aspects of our radar operators (Operator Fire Control [OFC]) in view of induction of modern surveillance and gun locating radars. He added that it would be better that I wrote it as I had the best written expression in the regiment.

We then had a brief discussion wherein I brought out that every officer of the Indian Army is in fact capable of writing a good paper and if he was incapable, he would not be sitting in front of me. All officers have been through Services Selection Board (SSB) interview and there they wrote nine stories based on pictures projected (Thematic Appreciation Test [TAT]) and the tenth slide shown was a blank and still wrote a story. Then there were 100 words shown at an interval of 30 seconds (Word Association Test [WAT]) and a sentence was written. In case the candidate’s literary capability and imagination was not pretty good, he would have never qualified the SSB. Now, after the training at the academies, at the regiments and at various courses of instruction, here they are, scared of producing a simple paper, based on their routine tasks.

Army courses conducted at various schools only teach a standard baseline aspect.  In most cases, there is hardly any real soldier involved, which means only the science of warfare and military leadership is taught, but never the art.  The courses are structured around ‘What to think’ than ‘How to think’.  All training must be to create critically thinking junior commanders  with ability to think and execute plans well ‘outside the box’.  Promoting adventure activities to be taken up by young officers in their fields of interest, unsupervised and un-assessed, duly supported by the army, will surely develop self-confidence and independence of judgment among junior leaders.

Here is a story- purely a figment of imagination – I told our officers to analyse various levels of training-  regarding planning  a raid by a section to capture two hidden militants – each officer to work out their individual solutions.  The first group is of 10 young officers, fresh out of the academy, then 10 Junior Command (JC) Course qualified officers – Captains with about six to nine years of service, followed by 10 Staff College qualified officers  – Majors with 10 to 12 years of service. The 10 young officers will come out with about eight solutions, but the staff would not be complete, out of which seven will work and one may fail. Ten JC officers will come out with five solutions, the staff work may not be all that good, of which three will work, one may work and one likely to fail. The 10 Staff college officers will all come out with one or two solutions, complete with all staff work,  and the likelihood of success, you can guess. That is what the structured training (with pinks) has resulted into.

A friend asked me to suggest methodology to make the training at Staff College creative. I suggested that for one exercise, provide just a map with minimum guidelines on force levels and resources. Let the students mark the International Boundary, deploy troops including the enemy, assume additional resources, etc and come out with a complete package. Run one exercise found suitable for a group. Idea was well received and was presented to the faculty and for the most unthinkable reason, it was thrown out. One senior officer asked only one question – “How will we assess the students?” It appears that the essence of all Army courses is to assess and not to teach or learn.

Coming to the physical training, the current one is archaic.  All  cadets  want to put in their best in physical training and want to pass all the tests as early as possible.  No two cadets are alike and some will lag behind.  The aim of the instructors must be to motivate them and not belittle or humiliate them, especially in front of their peers and they will surely achieve the desired results in most cases.

Modern sports medicine has developed much beyond and the nation has adequate trained doctors in this field. In the Academies, it tends to be an overdose of unscientific physical training.  The Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) has to get more Sports Medicine trained Doctors. The Physical Training Officer at the Academies got to be Sports Medicine trained.

Cadets’ training at the Academies and Officers’ training in the Army, both in the Regiments and during various courses need to be scientifically analysed, mainly to impart application oriented education, develop decisiveness and remove ‘over standardisation’.