Once, during my time as Commander of an Infantry Brigade operating close the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir we experienced particularly hostile weather for days. After a particularly stormy night and freezing temperatures, I ventured out to spend time with troops. At one company base, the Commanding Officer of the Unit introduced me to a dashing Lieutenant. He was much of twenty something and full of exuberance and his demeanor exhibited a certain air of confidence about himself! I shook his hand and said, “Welcome to the party! How was last night?” He looked straight in my eye and replied, “Sir, my buddy and I held onto the bivouac pole and were successful in not letting it fly off despite getting drenched and numb due to cold.” “Compliments on winning your first battle! And what’s the plan for tonight”, I asked. “Sir am getting ready to lay an ambush with my team tonight. Had my two nights of rest and am ready to move out.” “Why don’t you take another night off to dry up and recoup before venturing out”, I probed. “Sir, others from my Platoon got drenched to their bones as they lay in ambush while we were at the Base resting. They need to dry up and rest more than I do.” Could do nothing but smile and give him a pat before moving on.
As one walked along, Company Commander who was leading us on a very slippery slope, sensing that the encounter with the young officer had touched a chord with me turned back and said, “Sir, must share something that happened with me a couple of days ago”. One welcomed the interlude to catch my breath, the guy walked fast without any consideration to the ground conditions and my age! ‘Go on”, one said. “Was leading a small team and as we moved, the team sensed danger; it appeared fire-fight was a distinct possibility. The team started advancing stealthily, taking care to scan areas around continuously for any impending danger. All of sudden a young soldier with less than a year of service overtook me. He had one glace back, fixed my position and continued to move ahead scanning bushes, tree tops and looking for suspected insurgents. The young soldier had realised I was exposed to danger from front and without any orders from anyone he chose to put himself in harm’s way to cover me! No words were spoken but everyone understood!”
During 1965 Indo-Pak War in the Poonch Sector an operation to link Poonch with Uri was underway. There was this formidable Pakistani piquet called ‘Raja’ by us and “Chand’ by the other side. Its capture was crucial for the success of operations progressing from Poonch. An Infantry Battalion was tasked to capture but unfortunately the attack failed. Yes, attacks do fail in operations! A couple of days later, it was decided to make another attempt to capture ‘Raja.’ Commanding Officer 2 SIKH, Lt Col NN Khanna offered to undertake the task. Col Khanna assured the Commander that he was confident to deliver the objective with his Unit. The attack commenced as planned. Initial progress was slow and soon the enemy fire became more intense and the unit suffered casualties. The attack appeared to be stalling. The time was running out and soon it would be dawn and then it would become more difficult to accomplish the mission. The Commanding Officer decided to lead the attack himself. He got up, tied his jersey around his neck and exhorted the men to advance. The men seeing their Commanding Officer in lead were now fully charged up and the assault stared with renewed vigour. Pakistanis faced the ferocity of Sikh soldiers. In the mean while Col Khanna was hit and started bleeding profusely. He started losing consciousness but would keep asking for the progress. After day broke success signal came indicating 2 SIKH had captured Raja. Col Khanna was given the news. A faint smile crossed his face and he was no more.
The SIKH Regiment lore describes the battle as, ‘Raja litta, Raja ditta’ implying Raja was captured but Emperor was lost to the cause! Lt Col NN Khanna was awarded Maha Vir Chakra Posthumously!
These three instances of two young men one officer and other a Sepoy, both barely into twenties, not blooded just out of training institutions and a Commanding Officer with over 14 years of service all eager to confront danger, protect comrades ensure accomplishment of mission even at the cost of their lives are samples of what the Army experiences every day!
This group cohesion and pride in Units and the Army is the bedrock on which the entire edifice is built on! Units and sub-units are living entities. They take care of people and their concerns! The bonding is not restricted to soldiers it extends to their families, children, veterans like me, our children and grandchildren…. It personifies selfless commitment that signifies ethos of ‘winning together’, sharing sorrows and happiness! The environment stimulates competence. For competent and skilled individuals contribute to teams’ ability to accomplish missions!