The Indian army is one of the most professional and well trained armies of the world. If you take the statistics of combat experience in hard field conditions and varied weather, no other army in the world has ever served in such diverse conditions. The heat of the deserts, the freezing cold of the mountains and the monsoons of the North East. Life often is isolated for long periods on icy slopes and forward posts where all that you had for company was an old weather beaten magazine or old news papers. The loneliness was avoided only by either shooting stars at night or enemy action and firing. While the world slept and enjoyed functions and ceremonies, we held fort.
Hospitals had more casualties due to weather and isolated psychological damage than physical casualties due to the enemy. Officers and men died or were injured in the line of duty, avalanches, flash floods, frost bites, high altitude sickness, malaria and typhoid, hyper tension and above all stresses created due to unavailability of ways and means to communicate with friends, family and loved ones. The only form of contact for most of us was when you went on leave, or to the battalion rear, where a STD call used to cost you a fortune and never lasted for more than 02 minutes. Also you had to wait for hours to be connected.
Let’s take a soldiers life and the environment around him to understand what it takes to mentally and physically harden yourself. In NDA you were young boys who had a dream of wearing the uniform one day. You joined after the 11th class, most of us didn’t even know what a wet dream was. High testosterone and adrenalin made you resilient and hard. But the first few terms broke you from your civilian bearing and almost reconstituted your DNA tuning you to the required mode of a soldier. The hardships faced unofficially are too harsh even to mention here. Over that the training involved PT, Drill and Games. Competitions went overboard and while the winners enjoyed tipsy and hot cocoa, the losers were denied sleep and privileges. For that 16 & 17 year old kid, the Ustaad and the platoon commander were synonymous with fear and anxiety. Due to being young most of the hardships were overcome. Let the guy sitting in CDA(O) try doing 10 flat foots, 10 side rolls, 10 vertical rope, 10 horizontal rope, 10 nipple touches and 10 miles every second day while remaining awake through the night.
IMA is almost the same. The metamorphosis from a young lad to a soldier is almost a life style change. The programme so severe and restrictive, that you didn’t even know what time of day it was, most of the time. Right from that young age, there were no family functions, meeting with cousins, travel and tour, or even a phone call. So much to talk about stresses.
When you got commissioned you lived with your troops. Gone were the dreams in the final term of training, that you would have a jonga when you got commissioned waiting at your beck and call, and beautiful damsels would steal glances at you. You sat in igloos and tents in pitch black conditions, wet floors, leaking roofs, ate lunch with your men in trenches of a steel plate and an enamelled mug. Crapped in holes dug with a belcha which you carried along with your enamelled mug. The same used for drinking tea, morning shave and drinking water. You checked guard at weird hours, patrolled in snow, in jungles and lived for days in bivouacs. You drank water of steams and got bit by scorpions, snakes, all kinds of insects and lived through mosquito bites. You shivered in the cold and didn’t even know whether you would make it through the night.
Mess parties that look like so much fun were even worse. Where you had to stand for everyone, make incoherent conversation with the ladies. Bare the terrible glances of the senior subaltern and be rewarded with a neck piece of a chicken. You remained awake till the last guest left, attended PT even if you slept at 4 am at 5.30 am. Social stresses were too many. Dress codes, right things to say, calling on, etc. if not done well these were followed by guard checks through the night for multiple days.
Counter insurgency operations were even worse. Fighting the unseen and the unknown enemy. No one knew where and when the next bullet would come from. Reading day after day the news paper about how the Indian army was doing things wrong and the locals adulating the enemy in the neighbourhood. Over that performance anxieties, kills and intelligence for operations denoted your success. Seeing destroyed houses and displaced populations. Witnessing harsh living conditions and lack of emotion of a population that had almost given up on peace. Cordon and searches at weird hours, terrible weather conditions and over that the curses of the people. One wrong move and your own hierarchy condemning you. Zero tolerance to human rights violations restricted your action plan. Yet results were expected. Operations and skirmishes sometimes ended up in casualties. Seeing your comrade die, or injured. For what? Knowing very well that this isn’t a permanent solution. Also that a terrorist can always be killed without risking own life on another day. Huge stresses that impinge upon your mental stability. The nightmares even after your tenure do not end. Seeking medical help is a show of weakness. Young married men in glaciated terrain on completion couldn’t even find the pleasures of the bed.
Being a tank man, the noise, the dust, the night blindness takes a heavy toll. Living in the deserts in tents continuously for months on end. Eating sand, sand in your water, in your shoes and even in your bed. The tanks and the noise of the machines deafening you. Long exercises where you couldn’t open your head set for fear of being admonished and called a sissy. Those radio noises in your ears and in your head, going on and on even when the exercise is over. Try listening into a head set for 20 hours a day continuously for 07 days. The mush and the pitch of the volume is deafening. Then the field firing. As young officers standing on the tank as a coach. Since you had done your YOs and knew the technicalities. Teaching the young soldier correct procedures as he fired. You stood on the hull of the tank. He fired and you couldn’t wear ear muffs, cotton, or even put your fingers in your ear to block that loud sound. If the MCT caught you doing that, you were insulted and called a pansy. The effects of that only is felt in later years where you develop hearing losses and are affected by a tinning sound. High pitched frequencies including some mobile phone rings and referee whistles can’t be heard. The reality of your situation only is highlighted when the doctor does an audiometric test and tells you at 60 or 65 you will be deaf.
The Indian army officer has to constantly be at his best. Every few months either the initiating officer or the reviewing officer of his annual confidential report changes. The officer has to work through multiple environments and leadership. One man’s liking is another man’s disliking. Keeping up with this is like riding a roller coaster. You have to constantly keep starting afresh with every new boss. The past good work all forgotten or taken for granted as already existing. No other organisation churns bosses faster than the military. A Commanding officer has a tenure for two years, a brigade commander 18 months, a GOC of a Div 15 months, a corps commander 12 months. The army commander is the only one who has two years and more.
As you grow in age, the constant postings also take its toll. The frequent separations from family. Aged parents and not being there to attend to them. Not seeing your children grow, or helping them through their formative years, cause you are sitting in Leh, or Liemakhong, remotest places. Schooling and selection of schools, wife’s health and administration, synchronising your leave with the kids school holidays. Seeing them only twice a year. Every time you see them, they look different, talk different and dress different. Packing and unpacking, places unheard and you have to live there, make new friends and adapt to the prevailing weather. You realise you have missed out on life.
Constant pressure of the next rank. Courses to be done, studying and updating your knowledge. Good gradings and staff postings that need acute concentration and decision making capabilities. The feeling of failure when your board results tell you that you aren’t fit, but you know that it’s not you that are being gauged for your professionalism, but what the reporting officers have conveyed. Demanding bosses and bearing with their idiosyncrasies.
Awards are basically opportunities provided and you showcasing your skills in them. When they don’t come to you for the same act that you did ten times better, it demoralises you even further. The projections differ from boss to boss. Some of them so highly insecure that your acts are underplayed or your dynamism restricted through trying to curb you under preposterous rules and policies.
The accommodation state is even worse. The MES almost a horror story. Less said the better. Every second financial claim of yours being questioned. Over that archival rules and regulations. In a connected world, we are regressive. Even that is causing stresses to the new generation who are digital geniuses.
For someone to cast aspersions on our way of life and why we end up being medically vulnerable, we just need them to be exposed to the rigmarole of military personnel. Compulsory service to all people dealing with the military in field areas for three years minimum. With refresher cadres every 07 years is a must. Let them also face the weather of brutality when you go unbathed for months, drink melted snow, or don’t reach in time for your mothers funeral.
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)
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