The Story of Sonam Post
Sonam Post, the site where 10 valiant soldiers lost their lives in an avalanche has been thrust in the national limelight. Let me share how the post got its name from a simple unassuming non-commissioned officer (NCO) who first occupied it in a break-neck race with the Pakistani soldiers way back in 1984.
The High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) tasked a team to occupy Siachen Glacier (Saltoro Ridge) in 1984. They were given no time to prepare as the Pakistani Special Forces were already heading to occupy it. It was a race against time and weather.
Volunteer young officers were selected under high risk mission.They were tasked to lead detachments of troops from Ladakh Scouts, Kumaon Regiment and Special Forces to occupy the crucial positions. They had limited equipment. Troops started moving and beat the Pakistani Army by a mere three days and in spite of a long arduous route the gritty young officers led the troops to the highest battle ground on earth.
Havildar Sonam was part of a patrol that had an officer as the patrol leader. While approaching the given location the patrol leader fell into a crevasse and injured himself badly. The patrol were ordered to split and one party should evacuate the officer and second under Havildar Sonam to continue mission completion. Sonam, a Ladakhi soldier led from the front and reached the location. He and his small band had just a few snow tents which were useless against the blistering winds that swooped around. He ordered his men to dig tunnels beneath the ice to protect from the wind chill factor. They were detected and came under heavy artillery firing by the enemy. The tunnels saved them.
Though he could not see from where the enemy fire was coming, Sonam realized that he had to retaliate. He along with another colleague climbed to a vantage point from where he could see the oncoming enemy fire. That evening in his radio report he requested to engage the enemy artillery fire. The NCO had not controlled artillery fire earlier and through his ingenuity was able to successfully engage the enemy position.
Sonam and his men remained at the post for over six months without relief, since whenever they would attempt to move the enemy would fire at them. But the intrepid soldiers remained there uncomplainingly, undergoing hardships. When his superior asked him about the grid reference location during his reports, Sonam confided hat he had no clue. The superior joked with him on the radio set and told him, “Sonam I’m not worried if you’re taken prisoner, you can reveal nothing, as you know nothing! He also told him – whenever you give report you will say Sonam Post all OK”. And that is how Sonam post got its name.
A few years later Sonam was posted at HAWS as administrative NCO in charge of the student officers’ mess. Every month there would be losses since Sonam knew nothing about managing a mess, accounting or budgeting. Fed up with the losses he was reported to the Commandant. When Sonam entered, the Brigadier got up from his chair and hugged him like a long lost friend. (He was the same superior of the 1984 episode). The NCO didn’t utter a word but for his moist eyes.
That evening the Commandant shared these stories with the student officers and introduced the unknown hero. Every student officer rose after the introduction and came forward to shake hands with a true soldier. Often the young officers would surround Sonam and hear his experience of Siachen. He would often say, “Sahib, Lama Guru ke Land main Gama nahin banna”. Later a portrait (dressed in full mountain gear) was put up in the officers’ mess.When the ceremony was organized the entire staff and officers were present. And there was this small stocky man, receiving perhaps the only recognition for his achievements.
There are so many Sonams, who have done their duty selflessly at these forbidding heights. Simple men soldiering on selflessly in unimaginable hardships. Perhaps the avalanche that swamped Sonam Post helped rouse the national consciousness of the conditions our soldiers undergo to preserve the national integrity. This is a small tribute to them.