Monthly Archives: March 2016

Why you stand alone, o’ the bravest of all

When the impending mission foretells ‘of course, you will come home to keep date with loved ones, though maybe wrapped in the national flag’, there is no panic or regret, only calm acceptance of reality, the preordained destiny. After all, didn’t you yearn for it – “Dil maange more.” At these defining moments, count yourself to be blessed, the chosen one.
While the intellectuals engage in fiery debates to define the contours of nationalism and patriotism, and peers in the academia are raring to start the second freedom movement, you, barely in the early twenties, remain level-headed. Given the steely resolve, unflinching conviction and spirit of sacrifice, you are ever-ready to face the unforeseen eventualities to safeguard the country’s sovereignty. You make a rare case study for the motivational gurus.
It is in mid teens that you made up your mind to join the National Defence Academy (NDA). What drove you to make this choice out of the many you had? Passion, of course. You made the cut after a tough selection process; one of the 300-odd among a few lakh aspirants. Selected on pure merit without having to use quota, you held your head high. You got a level playing field, where your only identity was ‘a proud Indian’.
Once in the academy, you train to be a leader; to lead the men with courage and élan. The ethos “nation, mission, team, self” in the given order get engrained in your DNA. To deliver under the heaviest odds at any cost becomes the norm. After a gruelling three-year training, you graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), followed by a year at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), where you earn the spurs of a battle-ready sub-unit commander.
Many have the honour to open the account straight on the battlefield; although some may not be fortunate to draw the first paycheque. A case in point – our 39 NDA/48 IMA course, baptised on Day One itself, in the 1971 war. Leading upfront, inspiring the men, you vindicate what general George Patton had said famously: “Wars are fought with weapons but won by men; the spirit of those who follow and the one who leads is what decides victory.”
Your operational bandwidth is almost seamless; varying from conventional to “low-intensity” conflicts; entails combating insurgency, militancy. and terrorism, besides taking aid and relief to the stranded during natural or manmade calamities. You are always there to take the call, without qualms, true for the last hope in catastrophic situations.
Despite being short changed by the system routinely, you take it silently, not making any hue and cry. Your grace and decorum in the fight is an example. Soldiering is not transactional, as life is beyond compensation. You tread on the thin edge, live to fight another day, get up again after every fall, accept the challenges, and make do with whatever available. You have earned universal respect as a hardcore professional.
Unmindful of what the nation or society owes to its soldiers, you carry on regardless. Fired up by the missionary zeal, you not only preserve the legacy of the likes of Vikram Batra and Manoj Pandey but enrich it further. Pawan and Tushar, latest in the line-up of martyrs, bear the testimony. It’s a pride to be the nation’s flag-bearer and to keep the flame of freedom glowing.
Often you defy death and sometimes cheat it. You are the real winner, selfless in letter and spirit. The kith and kin honour your perspective of family, which transcends the bonds of blood and lineage. This is why among the billion odd, you are miniscule minority that demands no special status, because you choose to stand alone.

Maj Gen GG Dwivedi (retd), Hindustan Times, Chandigarh

Those frozen moments at Siachen

In Siachen, it was not unusual to lose track of time. Amidst spells of snow storms and blizzards which could stretch up to 10 days, it didn’t matter at what pace the clock ticked. The days were defined either by weather or hostile activity.

The assigned mission was rather crisp: ‘To ensure sanctity of the Actual Ground Position Line.’ However, with deployment on forward defence line varying from 18,000 to 21,000 feet and the mercury hovering around minus 45 degrees Celsius, the challenges were enormous. Two most critical ones were: maintain moral ascendency over the adversary and keep own casualties to the minimal. Weather-related casualties being almost four times the ones attributable to enemy fire; avoiding high-altitude illness and cold injuries were the key imperatives. The crux was: ‘to stick it out and be fit to fight another day’.

When we began induction into the Northern Glacier, I, as commanding officer, sensed some degree of scepticism in certain quarters on the ability of a Jat unit to deliver in such environment, being from the plains. Soon the doubts were put to rest as the senior commanders and dignitaries found the men operating like the mountain goats, amidst fierce fire assaults, taking heavy toll of the enemy. Six months down the line, with just two casualties, the battalion went on to demolish the myth of holding Siachen being cost-prohibitive in terms of human life. As a sequel to the defence minister’s visit, the Siachen allowance was increased from ` 400 to ` 900.

Coincidentally, Sundays proved to be at odds. Starting with my own ice shelter going up in flames on the very first Sunday, twin helicopter accidents, frequent enemy’s grab actions and numerous hostile activities had a date with Sunday. September began on a dull note with weather turning extremely fowl. After a week, it was on Sunday that the sky opened up and air maintenance resumed.

In the evening, as we were planning future operations, I was informed that my father was serious. An hour later, there was call from the Base Camp breaking the news of his demise. Overpowered by deep sense of loss and intense mental agony, I decided to take a short walk. As I stepped out of my ice shelter, I saw one of my men waiting to see me. He had received intimation through a letter that his father had expired a week back and the family was awaiting his arrival for performing the last rites, he being an only son. With both my brothers abroad, my situation was no different. Together, amidst icy solitude, we shared our moment of grief.

In the battle zone, camaraderie is the hallmark. Next day, my course mate, who was commanding a helicopter unit in the sector personally flew in to pick me up, so that I could catch the courier flight to Chandigarh. I insisted that the aggrieved jawan also be taken on board, which he obliged, despite load restrictions. Soon, we were back on the line of duty to continue with our mission.

Siachen has the unique distinction of being the toughest battlefield in the world, as no other army has ever fought in such environment. Those who have slugged it out and stood their ground, unmindful of personal losses, have one common trait: indomitable spirit, far surpassing the bounds of human limits. A tragedy in Siachen brings alive the frozen moments, even quarter of century later: a mark of tribute to all those who go down in the finest traditions, leaving a legacy for posterity to emulate. The nation’s indebtedness to the bravehearts needs to transcend beyond platitudes and rhetoric.

Published in Hindustan Times, Chandigarh on  March 06, 2016

 Maj Gen GG Dwiwedi (retd),  The writer is former Assistant Chief Integrated Defence Staff