Our battalion was located at Amritsar- a peace station. The peace tenures are for recouping after a difficult tenure in high mountains, insurgency or line of control, reshaping and honing skills to meet any future eventuality and giving time to troops to spend time with their families. Senior commanders visit Units to see for themselves the fitness for war and administrative preparedness.
One day, a message arrived warning us of impending visit by the Commanding General. General officers normally get to visit a Unit once or maybe twice during their tenure. Hence, this becomes a huge opportunity to demonstrate operational preparedness, administrative prowess, welfare measures and the like.
The visit normally starts from Quarter Guard. Quarter Guard houses Units’ armoury and the treasure chest. The Regimental Colours, which are presented by the President of India, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to a few selected Units for their outstanding performance in battles, are prominently displayed there. Roll of Honour of those who laid down their lives in service to the nation and boards displaying gallantry awards won by the Unit personnel are showcased. It is said, ‘that the standard of a Unit can be judged by the standard of the Quarter Guard.’
As young Adjutant, it was my responsibility to fashion a ‘splendid first impression and make it a lasting one!’ Along with Subedar Prem Singh, JCO Adjutant and a small team of men we got down to accomplishing the mission. We worked tirelessly for a couple of days and at the end of it one thought had done ‘a jolly good work!’
On the afternoon before the visit, The Commanding Officer came for his inspection. He moved around and didn’t seem too impressed. He gave out a long list of points to be attended to. It virtually meant re-doing in next few hours what was accomplished over days! I thought, “How unappreciative of him? How can we finish all that has been listed in such a short time?” These thoughts must have reflected in my demeanour, the Commanding Officer noticed but ignored and gave his directions, “I want everything done well in time.” One remained quiet. Subedar Prem Singh replied in Punjabi, “Sir, we have understood what is expected and it will be done. We will break off only after the task is completed.”
After the Commanding Officer left, gave piece of my mind to Subedar Prem Singh and asked him how could it all this be re-done now? He sensed my state said, “Sir, you been here all day, why don’t you take a break. Perhaps go to town and get back later.” I stomped out making obvious my displeasure. In my room in the Officers’ Mess many thoughts kept bothering me – job is still not done, men are at work and I am not with them, its unit’s prestige at stake and many more’. My ego pitted against ‘Code Olive Green’ lost this round and I returned to the site in less than hour or so.
There was a new vigour and urgency in activity. More boys had joined in and everyone was executing something according to precise direction issued by the JCO Adjutant. Enthused, I too joined the fun. Finally, by the wee hours of the morning we had achieved something plus of what was expected of us!
On the morning of the visit the Quarter Guard looked gorgeous! The guard looked absolutely stunning and ready to showcase their precise movements! The Commanding Officer came in just couple of minutes before the General and had a cursory look. It was awesome to hear the General compliment the Commanding Officer of very high standard of everything he saw!
This left a lasting impact on me and taught me some useful lessons.
First, I had given in to my fears– what if we cannot deliver in time; what will my team think of me? Let my ego come in way of achieving excellence and achievement of task.
Second, The Commanding Officer having delegated the responsibility did not lose control. He stepped in with resources and time still at hand to apply correction and yet deliver absolutely first class standards! He understood capacity of the team even better than they did and had faith in their ability to deliver expected standards in time.
Third, the team rose to the occasion led by a very competent JCO, inspired by the task and prestige of the Unit (Izzat). They worked in small teams to execute precise tasks, fully aware of the big picture.
From that day on wards, never again did one allow ‘me’ come in way of achieving excellence! It became a way of life!