A Day in the life of a Soldier

Combat times ..

Chinar Tree

Capt Vikramjit motioned frantically “Lt Atre ko bulao”. He was lying flat on his belly. He crawled into the small clearing in the thicket of trees, and peered through the binoculars.
Two bearded men constantly looked out of the second floor window of a wood-and-stone bungalow, as if waiting for something. They were armed with modern assault rifles and hand grenades. One of them turned and beckoned somebody from the back. Together, the three men heaved the sack out the window. It hit the ground with a sickening thud.
“Shit” Vik muttered through the clenched teeth. Lt Atre tapped him on the shoulder. Immediately, he began adjusting the younger man’s bullet-proof vest.

“We have spotted six civilians inside till now, three men and three teenagers. Till now, I’ve counted four terrorists, but there could be more …” Vik trailed, as he fished out a spare pistol and attached it to the holder fastened to Atre’s belt.
Finally, Vik stood before Atre – both men looked into each other’s eye.

“One we bomb the house and achieve 100% fatality. Two we go in and indulge them in combat; we get a chance to rescue the civilians. What do you think?”. He asked his junior officer and buddy since Academy days.
Atre turned to the six men watching the exchange between the two officers. “Bhai log, kya bolte ho? Saab, aap batao?” He asked his Subedar (JCO), a burly gentleman with half an ear blown away.

“Jayenge saab”, the Subedar replied without missing a beat. Vik stared at each man in the dark-green huddle they made, under the massive Chinar tree. Calmly, he briefed his men about the plan of action and positioning, and checked each man’s bullet proof, helmet and ammunition.

The men closed their eyes and remembered their Gods. The men took their initial positions as Vik had ordered. He jerked his arm at them, and the men disappeared into the forest to circle the bungalow. Vik remained standing at the spot where the eight me had been a minute ago. He had decided to lead, attacking the north wing of the building where he had spotted the maximum activity. He looked up at the sky, for it had begun to snow.

They say when a person is faced with a life-and-death situation, all dormant senses of the body are set in motion, strengthening periphery vision, body reflexes and slowing time. Vik felt the sweat collecting between his shoulder blades. His heart rate had slowed. He could feel every single frozen breath entering his nostrils, leading to his nostrils, leading to his lungs and the ensuing blood that rushed through his heart. He swung his weapon to the front, and it dangled over his chest. He clutched a pistol in his hand. He frowned at the clear garden patch ahead of him. and prepared to run across the longest six point five meters patch that he had ever run.

He runs along with his buddy, in a zig zag pattern and the flash of a muzzle firing at him catches him as he bounds against the wall of the building. Distracting the terrorists enough for the party under Atre to enter from the rear.  Vik peers from the window to see Atre flagging him in. He jumps inside and together they start clearing one room at a time.
Heavy gun fight ensues. It lasts for nearly an hour .. and then a lull and quiet. The four terrorists lay sprawled on the floor, a minor injury to one of the civilians and a gun shot wound to Vik.

Army Soldiers86

Another day in the posts in J&K …

Was Vik doing ‘just a job’ .. the anxiety of walking into a room full of Board of Directors is the same as walking into a clear patch of grass exposing yourself to a spray of bullets. If you were asked to be Vik even once in your lifetime, how much would you like to be paid? Our apathy and lack of emotion/ understanding is shameful. The culture of comparing valour, compassion and sacrifice to a few thousand bucks is ridiculous. So involved in our lives, that nothing affects us. Imagine if every young man starts thinking like that .. and then you have the Mr. Bhagats questioning their valour? Ridiculous right?

This is a true story of Capt Vikramjit Singh and Lt Atre.


The Untold Story of Humane-ness


A group of soldiers led by a young Major were on tier way to the post in a High Altitude mountainous terrain where they were to be deployed for the next three months.

The batch who would be relieved waited anxiously. It was a cold winter morning and intermittent snowfall made the treacherous climb more difficult. If someone could only offer a cup of piping hot tea, the Major thought, knowing it was a futile wish. They continued for another hour before they came across a dilapidated structure, which looked like a tea shop but locked. It was getting late.

“No tea boys, bad luck” said the Major to his team. But he suggested all take some rest there as they had been walking for three hours.

“Sir, this is a tea shop and we can make tea. We will have to break the lock”, suggested one of the soldiers. The officer was in a dilemma to the unethical suggestion but the thought of a steaming cup of tea for the tired soldiers made him to give them permission.

They were in luck, the place had everything needed to make tea and also a packet of biscuits. The soldiers had tea and biscuits and were ready for the remaining journey. The Major thought, they had broken open lock and had tea and biscuits without the permission of the owner. They’re not a band of thieves but disciplined soldiers. Instinctively, he took out a Rs 1,000/ note from his wallet, placed it on the counter, pressed under the sugar container, so that the owner can see. The officer felt relieved of his guilt. He ordered to shut the door and proceed.

Three months passed, and they continued to do gallantly in their work and were lucky not to lose anyone from the group in the intense terrorist infested area. It was time to be replaced by the next team.

Soon, they were on their way back and stopped at the same tea shop which was open and the owner was present in the shop. The owner, an old man with meager resources was very happy to greet fifteen customers. All of them had tea and biscuits. They talked to the old man about his life and experience specially selling tea at such a remote place. The old man had stories galore, replete with faith in God.

“Oh, Baba, if God is there, why should He keep you in such poverty?” commented one of the soldiers.

“Do not say like that, Sahib! God is actually there. I got proof. Three months ago, I was going through very tough times. My only son was beaten up by terrorists who wanted some information from him which he did not have. I had closed my shop to take my son to the hospital. Some medicines were to be bought and I had no money. No one would give me any money for fear of the terrorists. There was no hope, Sahib!”.

“And that day I prayed to God for help. And Sahib, God walked into my shop that day. For when I returned to my shop, I found the lock broken, I felt I was finished. I lost whatever little I had. But then I saw that God had left Rs 1,000/ under the sugar pot. I can’t tell you Sahib what that money was worth that day.”

“God exists, Sahib. He does”. The faith in the old man’s eyes were unflinching. Fifteen pairs of eyes met the eyes of the Major and read the order in his eyes, very clear and unambiguous, “Keep Quiet”. The Major got up and paid the bill. He hugged the old man and said, “Yes Baba, I know God does exist”. The fifteen pair of eyes did not miss to notice the moist eyes of their Officer, a rare sight.

(This is a true story of Kupwara Sector, J&K)



A True Incident: Valour

ops CI

Let me recount this incident. We were posted at P****, a district in J&K; as part of our field tenure. I was a Captain then and we were to relieve a battalion of brave hearts. I was to interact with a young dashing Captain who was to give me the ropes of the new location. Well, this is the story of Captain D (henceforth called CD) – true facts as the judicial fraternity would like to call it and not a figment of any fertile imagination!

The area is mountainous and broken country with large number of rivers and rivulets flowing down from the mountain ranges. These ranges are part of the lower Himalayas and are treacherous. It suffers from extremes of weather conditions and experiences snowfall during the months of winter. The International Border is not demarcated and the armies are deployed across the LC (Line of Control).

Op Kaziranga 016 (2)

So at this post CD was in charge of a Company (approximately 120 men). CD had put in around 5 years of service and had a good understanding of his men  and earned the respect in their eyes. He had led by example and set very high standards for himself and his men. He had always been impeccable in his personal conduct and been an inspiration; no mean task considering that his men represented the martial race.

The post was separated by two mountain ridges. The Southern ridge was occupied by one of our companies. The Battalion headquarters were located around 4 kilometers behind the Southern ridge line. The two ridges were separated by one major nullah, which could be crossed only at certain points and it flooded during the monsoons. The Northern ridge was occupied by the adversaries and on the lower slopes of this Northern Ridge, across the nullah was CDs Company. The Company complex included five locations deployed on the down slopes. Each of these five locations was deployed along a ridge jutting out from the Northern Ridgeline tapering towards the nullah. Thus boxed between the nullah to the South and the adversary on the North, all the posts of this company was dominated by observation and fire by the adversaries. At some places the enemy was at a distance of barely 75 meters. The gap between these positions had been heavily mined since ’71 operations and has been regularly mined since. The kind of domination precluded any day movement by troops and all the movements happened at night. Reinforcement, leave arrivals & departures, letters if any, stocking of the post; each and every tactical or administrative move had to be carried out by night. Full moon nights were a nightmare since the enemy too had night vision binoculars to detect movements at night!

This would give you a fair idea of the position. To overcome this physical domination, CD and his men resorted to every other kind of domination to negate the physical advantage accrued to the enemy. Exchange of fire was a daily affair and each one took it upon oneself to destroy the bunker (defensive positions) of the other. Firing into the loophole of a weapon emplacement was a special incentive as it assured the killing/ injury to the personnel manning the weapon inside; a sure sign of moral domination over the psyche of the enemy. This psychological warfare was an ongoing process.

One of the was a post with ten men located between two adjacent posts. Its location was more of a deterrent to prevent the enemy from resorting to moving behind two posts to resort to inflicting casualties in depth. All these posts were connected by eight feet high communication trenches, developed over the years – under the eyes of the enemy, and all at night. The trenches gave you protection from splinter bursts from air and helped movement at night. It also channelized you lest you stray onto a minefield. Every individual spends some nights at this Post to give him the real deal – of live fire and living under the nose of the adversary. So, you get a fair idea right? Well, you live by the barrel of your gun. And your powder better be dry for you never know when the adversary decides to launch his operations.

One afternoon, during the exchange of fire at one of the posts, a ricochet bullet hit one of the men in the thigh and had to be evacuated. CD was obviously infuriated and wanted to settle scores. He engaged one of the enemy posts for the next ten days and reliable intelligence reports mentioned that our retaliatory fire had killed three enemy soldiers, the third one probably a junior officer who was highly popular with their soldiers.

The enemy decided to settle scores and on the 11th day. It started, as if on cue, 0800 hours all the guns and rifles from each of these posts opened fire on this Post. Such heavy fire completely disrupting their daily routine and negating any kind of movement; these kinds of fire are also a precursor to any offensive actions that enemy undertakes. The idea being to keep the enemy’s head down and under the cover of fire, infiltrate your teams.

CD moved from post to post to motivate his men to maintain vigil, raise their morale and continue their surveillance of enemy actions. Soon morning turned to noon and noon to night. The men continued their posture and got their first back up of ammunition sent up at night. The firing went on non-stop for three consecutive days. CD was at his nerves end to find a solution to stop this continuous barrage. They continued to hold on. And hold they did.

Here I introduce Lance Naik Goonda Singh (GS)!  He had put in some years in the company and in peace time represented the battalion in firing team and was an ace marksman. In a peace location he was an enigma to the Company Commander as he would invariably be a point of discussion for his delinquent behaviour. GS would have been a couple of ranks higher but for his transgressions during his peace locations. He was a soldier better left alone.

But then all those who have donned the uniform know that it is these very soldiers who transform into something larger than life in war like situations. They don a different role and perform acts of outrageous courage and valour. It’s a military quote, “No Combat ready Unit has ever passed an Inspection!”. You could say that of GS. He would never meet your normal laid down standards of a soldier. But then … these were different times, this was a different situation and it required different mindset.

GS was at The Post and the third night CD gets a call from the Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) in charge of The Post that GS would like to speak to CD. Now, that is an unusual request for a L/Nk to directly speak to the Company Commander. GS tells him “saab, ghar pe sirf kehna usse chhaati pe goli lagi thi” (Sir, when you speak to my folks at home, just tell them that the bullets hit me on my chest). CD screamed at GS, what are you planning to do GS, just wait, I am coming and you better not do anything rash.

CD rushed to the location, a twenty five minute walk at night, and not to mention the fire that continued unabated. Now, CD reaches the post and he encounters the JCO there. The JCO respectfully welcomes CD and leads him to another bunker and there is GS standing and speaks to CD, “Good, sir you came, we just made aloo paratha and we wanted you to taste it”.


“Sir, you think we don’t know that you’ve not eaten for the last three days? Please eat” he said, thrusting a plate with steaming hot parathas. This was the last thing that CD could think of after the phone call.

CD (controlling the tears flooding his vision) sat down to munch the cuisine, matching any five star hotel could dish out. While he was munching, the JCO was eliciting a plan to get the adversaries to stop the menace. GS felt the tensions rising in the bunker and told CD, look sir, you are just a youngster among us, joined recently (five years, hello!!!); but we all go a long way back. All of us are also some way or the other related and the villages we all come from will speak of our courage or lack of it. Our village has a number of decorated soldiers who had participated in the ’71 operations and we don’t want to be seen as a bunch of cowards sitting in our foxhole and doing nothing for our comrades. It is a matter of pride and honour that we would die willingly for the good name of the battalion, the pride of our company and our own selves. So, we are just informing you. With alacrity GS moved out of the bunker and in a trice locked the bunker. CD found himself sitting with the JCO. Yes, something unheard of, but there he was stranded with steaming hot parathas and JCO for company.

GS in the meantime, walks out and moves to another bunker, picks up a light machine gun and under the cover of darkness moves out of the communication trench in the open and exposing himself to enemy fire – effective and accurate under moonlight conditions and at 75 metres!! He stealthily crawls some thirty yards to a side in front of the enemy bunker and takes position besides a small tree, aims and squeezes the trigger. In copybook style taught in the firing ranges during training. He lets go a precise small burst into the enemy loophole that was firing. A painful scream confirms his hit.

He dismantles his gun and crawls another twenty yards and deploys behind a boulder this time. Same routine and similar result confirms his second hit. The other posts of the enemy by now start retaliating and his old position, the tree, draws a huge amount of enemy fire and wrath. GS by now has started crawling to the third location. Moves down along a nullah and places him behind another boulder. He takes a ten minutes break to get his breath back and for the enemy fire to recede. He takes another pot shot at another enemy bunker with same results. Three small bursts and three bunkers silenced. A bunker with an injured soldier among them is a very demoralizing factor. The injured soldier bleeds and cries out all inanity and generally draws the attention of the troops around. Your efforts are hence directed towards attending to the injured soldier and not as much towards the firing enemy.

That night, CD recollects, GS took out four enemy bunkers single handedly and with a composure of a connoisseur. GS had decided for himself that what could happen at the most, he would lose his life, right? Well, he was ready to be a martyr. He would give his life not sitting tight in his foxhole but fighting; fighting as a true soldier was taught, fighting and making each round count, no heroics, and no flashy show of dare devilry but just plain calculated risks. He knew his enemy, he knew his terrain well, he knew his capabilities and he had faith in his comrades. He was confident of his success. GS returned that night at around 1 p.m. and entered the foxhole where CD and the JCO, by now, were sipping tea. With a smile he pronounces, “at least got those B******* to keep shut” and with a single motion touches the feet of the JCO first and CD seeking their blessings.

CD was stunned to silence. Here he was locked up for nearly three hours, not knowing what was happening, a soldier under his command taking things in his own hands, doing things unheard of and now seeking his blessings. All CD could do was get up and hug GS. The enemy stopped firing that night and it did not resort to any firing during their entire duration of their stay at the location.

I was fortunate to shake hands with GS when we relieved them at that company location and I assure you my readers, they don’t make this kind any more. As for CD, he rose to Command this excellent battalion and earn laurels from his men and is a cult figure in their eyes.

CEOs with Battle Experience make Good Leaders


The Armed Forces has given business organization most of the management theories and a recent study co-relates the significance for management styles and firms performances. The CEOs experience in the battle front identifies the leader with certain traits which help organizations grow.

Foremost. These leaders outperform their peers in stressful times. They handle stress and sail through tough times far better than other CEOs. Veterans have learnt to take decisions under extreme conditions, with fog of war under VUCA conditions. These make the veteran take sensible decisions even while the business conditions are in a down swing. 15 of past Presidents of US have served in either the Civil War or WW II. Speaks volumes.

Secondly. They are less likely to be involved in corporate fraud. Integrity is the bulwark under which the armed forces work. This makes a huge difference when it comes to corporate life. These veterans value integrity more than the quarterly results to prove a point or earn stockholders’ benevolence. They would call a spade a spade and stick with their principles rather than commit fraud.

Thirdly. They are more conservative with financial risks. Despite having led a aggressive, risk ridden life in the uniform; when it comes to financial prudence they are conservative with their investments. It is less likely that they’ll commit the organizational funds in risky investments/ ventures. Till the future timelines are clear, they would never invest in haste and repent in leisure.

Fourthly. You get what you see. It is unlikely that they’ll resort to double speak. They are upfront with the + or -/ what you get is what you see. They don’t hesitate to be upfront. Some people see it as lack of tact. They would rather be clear in their dealings and build relationships for lifetime. This is what they have learnt in the uniform. You don’t undercut your buddy. Buddy is your lifeline. You don’t kill the goose that is laying golden eggs, right?

Lastly. They have handled situations. They are blessed with quick decision making. They understand criticalities. They lead by example. They make good role models. And if these are not enough reasons for making them CEOs, then the fact that they were ready to put their life at stake would give you a hint about their attitude towards the organization. Totally dependent, committed and focused these men in uniform achieve their targets/ goals/ mission accomplishment. High time the Indian Organizations look into this untapped talent for their success.


**This is a True Story**


I knew him when he must have been 09 years of age. I myself was 11-12 years and soon the halcyon days of the school were over and each of us parted our ways. I joined the Army and after 25 years of glorious service sought retirement.

I had an opportunity to visit Nagpur to deliver a lecture. A schoolmate says, “Prabir, one of our school friends would join us for lunch?” I said, “Great! Who?” “Wait and watch”. During lunch time a car glides in the porch and in walks a burly, 6 feet tall Khalsa.

His first words were, “Remember me?” Now, really, after 40 years? Hey Lo!! … I am **** (utters the sobriquet he had earned in school; unmentionable here; S Singh). OMG! After hugs and some more we sat down for chat in the lawn under the sun umbrella strategically placed under a banyan tree. The cool breeze and the pint definitely helped. And my next question was, so, tell me what have you been doing all these years? I was ill-prepared for the answer.

Well, after passing out from the school, I finished my graduation and passed my UPSC exam and the Services Selection Board cleared me to join the Army. I completed my training and was pretty high in the Order of Merit too! I was commissioned into ** MADRAS Regiment and we were posted in Vizag. Things were moving as planned and life was good.

‘Op Pawan’ (Indian Army operations in Sri Lanka, 1987) was launched and ours being a tambi (troops from South India) battalion we were handpicked to be among the first to be inducted in Sri Lanka. Our affinity to the civil populace, language and similarity of men would give us an edge while conducting any operation. This was the premise and here we were in the jungles of Sri Lanka chasing the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam LTTE. Well, for the uninitiated, this was nothing we had prepared ourselves for. The LTTE were a formidable foe and gave us a torrid time settling down.

I was deployed with my platoon (being a very junior officer) at KKS (Kankeshantorai) near Palali Airport in North Sri Lanka. Soon we built our intelligence network and information started trickling in. We gave them a bloody nose and at regular intervals dented their leadership structure. By and by our actions started paying results and we established our domination in the area. It is a different matter that the locals gave me the nickname of ‘Butcher’; the higher headquarters too, sent across the ‘hard-nuts’ for interrogation. The LTTE cadre was very highly motivated and would chew on the cyanide pill hanging around their neck, rather than divulge any information. But we countered these actions and could extract some ‘real-time’ information. Our swift follow up actions resulted in the extermination of more than 150 hardcore LTTE terrorists.

Soon, I was the target of the LTTE and a prize was placed on my head aka the Wild Wild West. Time went by and the influence of the LTTE was diminishing in our Area of Responsibility.

Evening of Dec 19, 1988, our convoy left our base for operation and after having traveled for 15 kms we were ambushed. A burst of automatics from our left targeted our vehicle. Sitting besides the driver, I got an entire fusillade. The vehicle overturned and we were thrown over; I was floating between consciousness and semi-consciousness. Our driver was killed on the spot. My buddy came and sat beside me (we were hunched behind the overturned vehicle). I told him Kunjumon tambi, whenever you hear the noise of the LTTE (they come to check on casualties and post clean up operations), just nudge me, I have my loaded carbine with me, I shall let loose. I must have lost consciousness and awoke only due to the frantic nudging of my buddy. I swung my carbine and emptied my entire magazine (28 bullets!) and heard some screams and the noise of running feet. (Later, the body count confirmed my shooting had killed four LTTE soldiers). They were nine LTTE men who had ambushed the convoy; the five ran into our Quick Reaction Team (QRT) that was summoned by us on being fired. We neutralized the entire ambush party. Well, I don’t remember much after that as I went into coma. The rest of the story I pieced together after I regained my senses after a period of 08 days of being in Coma (Dec 26, 1988).

When the QRT came and lifted me, the fingers lifting my head slid into my head – the grey matter was splashed out; it was stuffed in and was handily bandaged. Eleven bullets had entered my body; 04 in my head, 02 in my midriff and 05 in my legs. One of the bullets miraculously stopped 0.1 millimeter short of my heart without puncturing it. The doctors were surprised that I had survived; they had no hope that I’d live.

I was airlifted and within the next two hours we touched down at Meenabakkam airport, Chennai. The doctors, who had been summoned to the airport, took a look and said they just could not do anything with their present facilities. I needed immediate evacuation to Southern Command Hospital, Pune.

While I was still in coma, they performed 02 operations in my head and in total removed 06 bullets out of my body. Some sight I was covered from head to toe in bandages; the prognosis was I would be a vegetable for life with practically no chances of recovery. Of course the doctors had not encountered me or my will OR the power of my mind.

The first thing I was doing on regaining consciousness was patting the side of my bed for my carbine. The nurse seeing that told me to relax as I was in the hospital and not the jungles of Sri Lanka. Since they could not inject anything on my left side, my right side had swollen up having to endure thousands of injections during the stay of 23 days in the hospital. The saline bottles and IV fluid injectors are not counted which seemed like a permanent fixture with my body.

Well, the days and nights passed with regular visits of various specialists who were tasked to work on various organs of mine. Since Doordarshan was the only TV channel, The Media wanted to interview me. After due clearances, the interviewer’s first question was. “Sir aapko jab goli lagi to kaisa laga?” (Sir, when you were hit by bullets how did you feel?). I wanted to squeeze the life out of him and I replied “bahut achha laga, aap ko bhi khani hai?” (I felt great; do you want to have one as well?) That was the only question they could shoot; good for them or else I would have shot them.

And soon the hospital staff started calling me the miracle man. My recovery was not short of a miracle. I would resolve to myself, that I could not let the battalion down and need to be with my men as fast as I can. Operations is something one has been trained for and that is where I wanted to be. I recovered and was asked where I would like to go. I retorted back I wanted to go back to my unit of course. They could not believe their ears. But soon I was back in the flight for my unit, which was still in Sri Lanka. I could be there for just a couple of days as the unit had completed its tenure there and we came back to a peace location.

I sought voluntary retirement with 60 percent disability. I moved to Nagpur and started my business. I married and have 02 wonderful angels as my children. Since the day I have been discharged from the hospital I have not had salt, chilies, drink or anything which can upset my body constitution. I am still on medication and take 04 pills each day. They say I still have 5 to 7 splinters embedded in my brain, well that must account for the ‘freak-streak’ that I have! But seriously, I have no rancor or regrets. Given a chance, I would do what I did again; surely will join the Armed Forces again. It has given my life a new meaning. It has nourished and cherished my dream of being in uniform.



Leadership Lessons: Basics






I slow marched to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Sang’ and stepped over the ‘Antim Pag’ and transformed from a ‘Gentleman Cadet’ to an ‘Officer’ of the Indian Army. The training was hard and the lessons drilled into me in the Drill Square (the hallowed grounds around the Chetwode Hall), in the firing ranges on the bed of River Tons, the classrooms across the Academy had imbibed in me some lessons of leadership. With that, I embarked on a career that has been truly lucky and blessed.

The Academy, taught me many valuable, unforgettable leadership lessons. Here are ten I’d like to share with you.

  1. Be Cautious of Labels. Labels you place on people may define your relationship to them and bound their potential. Sadly, we label people, who may be so much more. Therefore, be cautious of a leader who callously says, “Hey, he’s just an Jawan.” Likewise, don’t tolerate the junior who says, “I can’t do that, I’m just a lieutenant.”
  2. Everyone Deserves Respect. Because we label, we often wrongly treat people with less respect than others around us. Everyone deserves much more. Remember, everyone is invaluable in a TEAM – from a rifleman to a commander!
  3. Courtesy Makes a Difference. Be courteous to all around you, regardless of rank or position. Military customs, as well as common courtesies, help bond a team. When our daily words to the liftman or security guard turn from perfunctory “hellos” to heartfelt greetings, their demeanor and personality outwardly change. It makes a difference for all of us.
  4. Take Time to Know Your People. Life in the military is hectic, but that’s no excuse for not knowing the people you work for and with. Understand and recognize the fact that they will stand by you in your time of need.
  5. Anyone Can Be a Hero. Don’t sell your people short, for any one of them may be the hero who rises to the occasion when duty calls. On the other hand, it’s easy to turn to your proven performers when the chips are down, but don’t ignore the rest of the team. Today’s rookie could and should be tomorrow’s superstar.
  6. Leaders Should Be Humble. End zone celebrations and self-aggrandizement are what we’ve come to expect from sports greats. Not real life heroes. Leaders would be well-served to do the same. Humility in every walk of your life.
  7. Life Won’t Always Hand You What You Think You Deserve. We in the military work hard and, we deserve recognition, right? However, sometimes you just have to persevere, even when accolades don’t come your way. That is the way of life; bash on regardless – nevertheless!
  8. Don’t Pursue Glory; Pursue Excellence. No job is beneath a Leader. Think about it. Let your work speak of the person you are – and you’ll never have to ‘sell’ yourself (or your principles).
  9. Pursue Excellence. No matter what task life hands you, do it well. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “If life makes you a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be.” Bob Woolmer, the South African Cricket Coach, told Jonty Rhodes, “I want you to be the Best Jonty Rhodes in the World”. What ever you do – do your best. No regrets later … I could have … tch, tch!
  10. Life is a Leadership Laboratory. All too often we look to some class to teach us about leadership when, in fact, life is a leadership laboratory. Those you meet everyday will teach you enduring lessons if you just take time to stop, look and listen. Don’t miss your opportunity to learn. Learning is a continuous process.


The only Winning Factor in Counter Insurgency


Troops operating in ‘Counter Terrorism’ operations

The Indian Army is one of the richest in experience when it comes to CI operations. This can be essentially achieved by the very clichéd management term called ‘Back to Basics’. In 1987, the Indian Army met its match in the LTTE as far as jungle fighting techniques were concerned. The LTTE innovated the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) to curtail the mobility of the Army. It read our basic skills and realized that we had established movement drills which had been adopted by habit not by recommendation; we liked moving five meters off the road or track. Therefore the LTTE placed IEDs exactly there. A Para Commando battalion and its outstanding Commanding Officer, would never permit his men to move between two bushes because that is where the LTTE placed mines and IEDs; so they only trampled over bushes and that is why it never suffered a mine casualty. He was a man never in a hurry; always taking time and moving deliberately even if it took a couple of hours more than scheduled; always unpredictable and always correct in basics.

There are some simple aspects of countering IEDs and reducing the possibility of militants targeting a unit during de-induction. After serving three years in an area a unit is usually confident about its knowledge and capability of terrain and militant tactics. Its guard is low while exactly the opposite should happen because it can expect militant retribution for the losses it has inflicted. An anti-vehicle IED is not so easy to emplace although in the mountains it is simpler. Potential IED sites can be identified by soldiers with a keen eye for ground. Security is never in numbers; it is in alertness.


The road has to be opened (ROP) through a deliberate drill involving deploying at least half the night before, so that militant ambushes cannot find their way to designated spots. The ROP is one of the most tedious in the CI list of operations. Theoretically it involves securing an area adjacent to the road by physical placement of troops in small detachments, after they have searched the road for possible IEDs, and more importantly deploying some troops in depth to dominate potential routes of ingress to ambush sites. This is done on both sides of the road and achieves the necessary domination.J&K indian-army-convoy-in-kashmir


However, troops on ground may treat this casually especially if there has been no history of IED attacks or ambushes and they have been doing the duty repeatedly. More often than not this becomes an everyday activity and the repetitiveness and sheer boredom brings an air of casualness. Militants are great observers. A unit with tight drills will never get targeted. Yet, in such an environment the unpredictable can always happen and if on that day alertness is low the effect will be disastrous.


Let me also state for information of those who have never donned the uniform or operated in such circumstances. CI operations are most demanding, they sap your energy and it is never possible to retain a hundred percent alert at all times. Soldiers are human and while they have immense stamina and patience they can and will make mistakes. There are some basics ingrained in them which must never be lost sight of. Reminders in such an environment are an essence of command because not everything can be remembered even by the most thorough professionals; that is a leadership mantra. In the din of activities in such areas pieces of crucial information sometimes escape notice and in passage from higher to lower levels the degree of importance and actual contents may well get relegated or lost. You cannot always do it but there are times when in CI areas it is preferable to get your teams to walk with vehicles following, for some distances. It will upset all movement calculations but such a measure is adopted when you know that the terrain is completely against you.

The important thing is that in the passion and energy to do so it must target the militants and their leadership and remember that one basic from their Back to Basics lessons; the population must not be affected.

It happens – Men in Uniform


Once an Indian Navy Sea Hawk took of from INS Vikrant! It’s mission – Marriage!!

Sometime in May 1965 the war clouds with our Western neighbour were building up and Vikrant steamed out into the Arabian Sea to provide some gunboat diplomacy. Such sudden deployments cause disruption in the lives of the crew but that is what the men in Uniform are about. To operate under VUCA conditions they are adept. One such disrupted young Lieutenant who was a pilot of the Sea Hawk was scheduled to proceed on leave to get married the day the ship sailed.

Possibly after a lot of discussions with his superior, his Captain ordered him to take off at dawn on the big day in his Sea Hawk and set course for Bangalore and get back to deck by 0600 hours the next morning! Off went our young bridegroom. The Navy is strict, but it likes to take care of its seamen. Fleet Commander BA Samson blessed the adventure. But how did he carry his clothes and toothpaste?

A bright technician suggested they empty out the cannon ammunition bay and that made just enough space for his clothes to be stuffed. Onto the steam catapult and off to old HAL airport at Bangalore. The bride of this arranged marriage lived close to the airport and between the nervous MIL and pensive FIL and clueless bridegroom’s parents they didn’t know what to do. Here was the auspicious day and the hero nowhere in sight. Because the ship was on a full alert patrol there was no radio communication (and age without mobiles, remember?)

Even the HAL airport control tower did not know that our man was zeroing in till he asked permission to land! Then suddenly the piercing roar of the Rolls Royce turbo jet filled their ears and thumped their hearts. Our man deftly landed, parked his flying machine and was whisked for the muhurattam with minutes to spare.

Next morining 0400 hours he took off again and in little over 90 minutes got back to the carrier deck in the middle of the sea. This young pilot was SK Gupta, who later commanded INAS 300 White Tigers in the 1971 war and was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.

On his return to the ship there were no flowers on the ship to celebrate, his fellow pilots garlanded his with a mala made of vegetables. And his collegueas wrote ‘Just Married’ on his Sea Hawk with a pair of boots tied to the nose of the aircraft.



I love the Men in Uniform and their ways … Long Live India!



The Sniper

This incident took place in North Kashmir in a small village. The army had been notified about suspicious activity in that village, where a group of 8 cowardly terrorists had holed up in a hut after taking the family hostage.

Our Army troops insulated the hut from all sides and struck with their usual precision. The crossfire continued for several hours. The very fact that the insurgents had to be gunned down without harming the hostages made the operation all the more difficult. After about almost 12 hours of combat, all the insurgents had fallen, but one. This last punk using a little kid as a human shield was not willing to give up. Several attempts to gun that worm down failed since killing the b****** may have hurt the innocent kid. That’s when the Army played its contingency card.

Three elite snipers were brought in. They strategically concealed themselves around the house and marked that bugger but could not blow him away due to the child. So started the game of cat and mouse. Test of patience, tenacity and utter stillness. That’s sniper art, uncomfortable positions, no food, no water, nothing but total focus. He tested. They got tested. To their limits, unwilling to give up. The deadlock continued for 22 incredible hours.

Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, the hostile broke and stretched out his leg. That momentary loss of concentration gave him his one way ticket. Zipping through dawn’s cold light just a single sniper round blew his brains away. The last one had fallen.

As soon as the job was done, the snipers melted away as silently as they came. The little kid probably never got to know who saved his life. They never made it known. They do not seek any publicity or attention. They lay still for 22 grueling hours with nary a complaint nor a sigh. That is pure art at its best. Strangely, the one does not hear such stories of valour or heroism.

How Sonam Post got its name

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.

siachen of-the-Indian-Army-710x422

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.