“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today. — The Kohima Epitaph
It is past midnight, the company commander is out in an ambush expecting an infiltrating column of terrorists from across the line of control, hands and feet are frozen but not the spirit. He occasionally checks with surveillance team if TI sight is picking up any image or movement of terrorists. In between he checks with his base if all OK at the base. The standby reserve column in the post is ready to move at zero warning; sentries in the camp are looking for some unusual sound and barking of dogs.
It is no secret that commanders do not sleep for more than three to four hours in a cycle of 24 hours. The physical and mental stress level is very high and in such an environment they have to perform and deliver.
In the meantime the commanding officer calls up the post and informs that intercept has been received that terrorists (suicidal) are likely to strike some post. The brigade operations room is active, commander and his staff is monitoring the encounter going on in another battalion area. Reinforcements are required to be moved and a casualty has occurred that need urgent evacuation.
In military hospital lifesaving surgery is going on and the time is 0300 h in the morning. Divisional Commander is woken up by his staff informing him a major encounter taking place in one of the sector and movement has been detected in another area. Movement of Pakistan regulars noticed close to LOC and may be attempting border action against a forward post along the LOC. Special forces team in base is asked to mobilise to be heli-lifted before the first light to deal with the terrorists holed up in a built up area with hostage still stuck inside.
Commanding officer of one of the Rashtriya Rifles unit who was rushing home to look after his ailing family is informed by his Adjutant that few men have suffered critical injuries and encounter is raging with the terrorists, he decides to return back because safety of his men and success of operation is utmost and he decides to move back to his tactical headquarters to reach back before the first light. He considers well being of his men is more important than the sickness of his family.
The convoy commander a young lady officer, is tasked to lead the convoy from forward areas to Srinagar with specific orders to ensure safety and security of men under stone pelting and threat of ambush enroute by terrorists.
This is a regular routine and men and officers can’t even get mandatory six hours of uninterrupted sleep. This routine is 24×7, 365 days in a year.
One can’t even imagine the cost these men pay to protect the nation. One has to go through to feel the pain and agony.
It is no secret that commanders do not sleep for more than three to four hours in a cycle of 24 hours. The physical and mental stress level is very high and in such an environment they have to perform and deliver. Even if one man fails, the team fails.
Next mission at hand does not give even time to the team members to mourn the loss of a comrade. Before the soldiers get over the physical and mental fatigue the domestic worries and unresponsive administration back home takes the toll on the morale of the soldiers, because his land is being encroached, his wife is being harassed and child is suffering from acute sickness.
One can’t even imagine the cost these men pay to protect the nation. One has to go through to feel the pain and agony. Someone has said that “to those who died securing peace and freedom; To those who served in conflict to protect our land, and sacrificed their dreams of the day to preserve the hope of our nation keeping motherland free, we owe our thanks and our honour. It is important to not only recognize their service but to respect their devotion to duty and to ensure that the purpose for which they fought will never be forgotten”.
What this man wants from the countrymen is a big thank you that too he is deprived off. There are no bouquets, no cards of thank you, no one to receive him at railways station except old parents and his wife who waits to see their only bread earner returning home from the national duty.
A commanding officer can bear the mental and physical fatigue as long as his command is intact. But what he can’t bear is the loss of his comrades. His voice never wavers while ordering men to do impossible, but his voice wavers while giving the call to the family that his or her son/ husband has become a martyr for the cause of the nation. Throat chokes, voice wavers and hand shivers while holding the phone. He can’t even cry because men are watching, he maintains a look of an iron man; his grief is private as he bids adieu to the martyr those who are more than a comrades.
CO’s voice never wavers while ordering men to do impossible, but his voice wavers while giving the call to the family that his or her son/ husband has become a martyr for the cause of the nation.
The frustration of commanders on ground increases with not due to the inability of his men or lack of grit or steely resolve, but the restrain he has to exercise on his men to the extent that they will not fire till they are fired upon. He is angry because he has to fight this hybrid threat with whatever he has and not what he should have.
His base does not have boundary wall to protect his men, his camps do not have night surveillance equipment to keep the area around his camps under vigilance. His men are almost night blind and his shelters are not bullet proof. He realises that it is criminal to lose men while sleeping and eating yet he accepts it as a hazard of military profession.
He is convinced that bureaucrats in Delhi do not understand the constraints under which he drives his men to limit of breakdown to ensure safety and security of the country.
He wants body armour; he wants his camps to be secured by structural and electronic security so that he does not look back while fighting enemy of the nation. He wants light weapons that are effective and does not betray men during engagements. He wants good warm and comfortable clothes that keep his men comfortable in all weather.
He knows his men are the best and need no further proof of their capabilities yet they are categorised unskilled labourers.
He wonders who his real enemy is, beyond LOC or within who keep his men below the threshold of operational readiness?
He wonders who his real enemy is, beyond LOC or within who keep his men below the threshold of operational readiness? A young company commander once told the author, sir I can handle the enemy with the weapons, but I can’t handle the enemy with the pen and rubber stamps.
He feels hurt when administration displays insensitiveness towards his men and their families. He feels let down when his plea to look into the grievances of his men fall on deaf ears. He feels insulted when the body of his fallen comrade is moved like an ordinary cargo into the hold from the rear gate. He feels sad when the captain of the aircraft flying his comrade on his last journey home, even refuses to acknowledge that a soldier has given his today for our tomorrow and he is privileged to fly him on his last journey home.
He tolerates it in silence because new day has brought new challenge. He motivates himself with these words of George S. Patton Jr, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men ever lived.”