By Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd)
"How can man die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods?"
"There is a common understanding amongst the Veterans that you can leave the Army, but the Army never leaves you". We have a volunteer Army which has many feeder channels. Some start young by joining the Rashtriya Indian Military College (Rimcollians); others join the numerous Sainik Schools of their respective states (Georgians). The students from these schools appear for the entrance exam for the National Defence Academy; amongst other students from schools across India. Some get their calling a bit later in College; they appear for the Combined Defence Services entrance exam. The entrance exams for NDA and other Service academies are conducted twice a year.
The bonding between the aspirants begins from their school days/appearing at a common centre. Those who make it are called to the Services Selection Board. Chest numbers are assigned and over a period of four / five days, a potential cadet is put through various tests to choose the best for joining the Services. It would be pertinent to point out that those who do not make the mark; are not failures but unsuitable for the Service Life.
The bonding is cemented once the candidates join the Academy. The cadet appointments, PT/Drill /Weapon Training Ustads and officer instructors put the cadets through formal/informal training. To build up stamina and strength everything happens on the double in the first term till the Drill Square Test is passed. For any fault/default from being late, improperly turned out results in rolling, haunching, push-ups or sit-ups. Life is fast-paced, and the cadets come up to speed in no time. Camaraderie and trust are honed. The team building takes place through Professional Competitions as well as Games; which bring about bonhomie lasting a lifetime.
On completion of training, the cadets are allocated their Arms / Services as per their choice/vacancies. Then comes the great day of joining the unit. Initial days are spent learning the Regimental History, the details of the Silver in the Officers Mess, learning the equipment and getting to know the men of your unit/subunit. The day begins with the men and ends with the men.
The junior-most officer is known as the "baby of the regiment"; is appointed as the Food Member to bring about a change in the Menu. In addition; during the setting in of winters is responsible to ensure that the Mess Garden has a variety of flowers to win the station Garden Competition. The Senior Subaltern is responsible for ensuring that the unit Standard Operating Procedures are read and understood in letter and spirit. Any default invites "extra belts" which for the Civilian friend is checking of the unit guard deployed in the station, at night.
The Indian Army follows the Adage "More you sweat in Peace, lesser you bleed in War". The technical, as well as tactical training classes, are conducted as per the training programme. Small Arms classification firing happens every quarter. The range has the etched on the Butt Wall "Shoot to Kill, Without Pity, Without Remorse, Without Fear".
The Young Officer's (YOs) course is the first break away from the Regiment and after six months of service a chance to meet the course mates. Life remains busy by doing career courses, promotion exams, field firing, inspections, mobilisation practices and Raising Day celebrations. As a young officer, one would look with Awe towards the Seniors including veterans having heard of their abilities. They would be the Role Models-who had been the very best in their service years.
Military stations by and large are away from towns. Social life is active as there is calling on the Ladies of the unit, by the single officer's chaperoned by the Senior Subaltern. Units celebrate Raising Days, Battle Honour days as formal occasions. Picnics and outings are planned to have informal social interactions.
There are multiple associations from squadrons, companies, Corps, unit, courses at different training institutions, various HQs on staff, having served in same stations-the list is endless. It's always wonderful to meet Service Buddies and one can start a conversation at a drop of a hat even after decades.
The Service community is perhaps unique as each man's DNA is known. It takes a phone call to know the Service Officer / Veteran. Veterans can utilise their time and expertise in training the NextGen as is being done by the Punjab Government under the charge of two Veteran Generals. This should be encouraged across all states.
The Veterans play an important role to support the Organisation but from an arms-length away. The tendency of backseat driving and doubting the ability of those in Chair needs to be curbed. These days with the Social Media giving a tool to all and sundry including those who did no useful contribution during active service now have become Better than the Best on matters Military. The Services, need to do away with the negative environment on matters concerning the Veterans with regard to their perks and privileges; The Serving are Veterans of tomorrow.
Having recently attended a Regimental Reunion now as a Veteran, brought back many memories. Met old buddies with whom one had toiled both during war and peace. Met the new warriors and was very happy to see that the second generation of the troops have joined the regiment too, many fluent in English. Some have moved on to Valhalla, where we all shall gather once again. It will remain a wish to serve the nation once again.
(The author is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.)