Military & Aerospace

A Glimpse of Life in the Army
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Issue Book Excerpt: Indian Armed Forces | Date : 17 Jan , 2021

Many of us wonder what the Army does in peacetime when there is no war on. Some people believe that they live a life of luxury, drink a lot and generally waste their time in playing golf or card games or hunting. This is far from the truth. As you know our army is deployed all along the Himalayan borders with China, and along the LoC in J&K. Most of these borders are inhospitable, uncongenial in climate, lacking in normal facilities. Even drinking water is not available in some areas.

The army formations not deployed on the borders have been busy combating insurgencies in J&K and the Northeast. It is evident that only a small portion of the army gets a chance to stay in a peacetime cantonment, that too for short periods.

This chapter deals with army activities in fields and peace areas, to enable the reader to fully visualize the lifestyle of our solider and officers and their daily activities in peace and field stations.

Life in a Peacetime Location

A military station is called a Cantonment. Here a number of units are billeted in peacetime.

You will notice that every activity of a jawan is regulated according to rules and parade timings.

A cantonment is a separate township under a cantonment board which is like a town committee or municipal board. It has some elected civilian members and others nominated by the station HQ. The cantonment board runs all the civic services like a municipal board. Most cantonments have normal bazaars and civil population like any small town or locality. The rules and regulations in a cantonment are however strictly enforced. Therefore, you generally find good roads and greater cleanliness in a cantonment as compared to other civil localities.

A number of units are located in a cantonment depending upon the availability of accommodation. These units are generally grouped under a brigade or a sub-area (Static HQ). The station HQ is responsible for general administration, allotment of houses and barracks along with allied facilities.

A unit, i.e. a battalion or a regiment, stays together in what is known as unit lines. These lines generally have a group of living barracks for troops, playground, armoury for weapons and unit office buildings. The JCOs’ and NCOs’ clubs and Jawans’ langars (community dining rooms) are also located here along with the unit canteen, recreation room, unit clothing stores, transport park and light vehicle repair sections etc. Barbers, washermen and safaiwalas (sweepers), carpenters, blacksmiths etc. posted to a unit also stay here. The family lines of a unit are located nearby where jawans can stay with their families for limited periods.The officers’ messes and living quarters are located slightly away from the unit lines. Married officers live in small bungalows allotted to them in the cantonment area. Bachelors are allotted single rooms near the officers’ messes.

There is no restriction in going in and out of a cantonment area for civilians but they cannot enter a unit line without prior permission from the authorities.

A Normal Working Day

In a peacetime cantonment the normal day of a jawan starts before sunrise. Once the Reveille bugle is sounded, jawans ‘fall in’ (assemble in rank and file) in sports kit. By now every jawan has shaved and washed and is ready for physical training (PT). His platoon commander –a JCO, normally inspects him to make sure that he is properly shaved and well turned out. He inspects his dress to ensure that it is clean and well ironed. Now the jawans are moved ‘on the double’ (running) or marched off briskly to the unit parade or PT ground. In this assembly the whole unit is together. Here the JCOs and then the officers join the parade. The PT, which is the first parade, involves vigorous exercise and running. After the PT, every one disperses for breakfast and assembles for various other training, parades or tasks after an hour’s break. Weapons training, firing, driving training and education classes, as applicable, are carried out till about 12’o clock. At this hour jawans are marched off to clean their weapons and return the weapons and equipment. After this, jawans proceed to the langars for lunch. Officers and JCOs now go to attend the office or administrative work as required.

A bugle call is a simple but effective signal to commence or terminate activities in a unit line.

The unit generally has a rest period till the afternoon games, when every one assembles on the sports ground once again and has to play some game or the other, like hockey, football, basketball, practice boxing or swimming. Teams for various competitions also practise at this time. Before the sunset the Retreat bugle is sounded. The flag in the unit’s quarter guard is lowered with great reverence in the presence of the duty officer. Night guards also fall in front of the quarter guard where they are inspected and briefed.

By sunset jawans are relatively free and may now wear mufti – a specified pattern of civil clothes. They fall in by their sub-units for the ‘roll call’. At this parade various orders are passed to them along with the next day’s programme. A physical count of all individuals also takes place here. After the roll call Jawans can go to recreation rooms for watching the television or reading the newspaper. Jawans have their dinner early so that they get full rest. After dinner a bugle is sounded ordering ‘lighting out’ (generally about 10 p.m.). Now every jawan, except those on ‘night guard’, must go to bed. The JCO and officers’ messes are however open till 11 p.m or so. You will notice that every activity of a jawan is regulated according to rules and parade timings.

Unit Institutes

The Unit Quarter Guard

An armed guard is always on the alert in every unit line. This is housed in a special building called the Quarter Guard. The name implies it is a guard for the unit lines or quarters. It usually faces the unit line and has unit arms (rifles, LMG, etc.) deposited in ‘Kotes’ (armoury). The unit duty officers and JCOs check the alertness of the Quarter Guard at odd hours during day and night. A bugler which is included in this guard blows various calls at given times announcing various parades or assemblies. Some important bugle calls of a unit are :

  • Reveille: At dawn for ‘time to leave your beds’.
  • Parade Calls: Call for parades during day or night.
  • Assembly Calls: Call for unit personnel or certain appointments to assemble together. For ‘Sainik Sammelans’ there is a special call.
  • Orderly Room Call: For those who would be marched up to a senior for various infringements of rules or for interviews before proceeding on temporary duties or leave.
  • Mess or Meal Calls: At given times for meals, these are separate for jawans and officers’ mess.
  • Fire Alarms: To indicate outbreak of fire or to practise fire fighting.
  • Retreat: Sounded at dusk for closing down, back to barracks.
  • Last Post/Lights Out: Everyone in bed and lights out. 

Every minute of a soldier’s life is strictly regulated and these bugle calls summon or prepare jawans for various activities, even rest. A bugle call is a simple but effective signal to commence or terminate activities in a unit line.

Officers’ Mess

The officers’ mess is like a club with restricted entry for members only. Unmarried officers, who dine here, have to dress up in uniform or mess dress twice a week to have their meals on Dinner Nights. Dinner nights are considered a parade and start at a fixed time when every unit officer dining in the mess has to be present. It is actually a formal dinner with strict rules. For the rest of the week Supper Nights are observed. During these officers can dine in civilian clothes (civies). Formal civilian clothes have to be worn during supper nights.

Usually a suit or tie is worn in the mess, depending on the weather. Informal dress is allowed during breakfast and lunch only on holidays and Sundays.

Recreation Room

A special room or barrack is reserved for recreational facilities for jawans within the unit lines. Here, a number of Hindi, English and regional language newspapers and magazines are available, besides indoor games like carrom, table tennis or chess. A TV room may be provided separately. The NCOs from the AEC posted to a unit maintain this facility. Here, they also display important information about the army along with some information on current affairs and health and hygiene. A jawan is allowed to visit the information room at specified times though it is a common room open to all.

Unit School

You may be surprised to know that every unit has a small school where classes are held regularly for jawans and NCOs to educate and prepare them for various examinations. Army education examinations are equivalent to matric or middle class in standard. Various education standards must be attained for promotion from a jawan to an NCO and from an NCO to a JCO. These coaching classes prepare jawans to attain laid down standards.

Unit Canteen

A unit generally has two canteens. One is called a Wet Canteen which is run by a civilian contractor who supplies tea, sweets, snacks etc. at approved rates to the jawans. The other Canteen Services Department or CSD canteen is a general store where goods are sold at lower rates compared to the market. Here, attractive items like electronic goods, motorcycles and cars etc. are also available at lower rates fixed by the CSD. Both these canteen are mobile and move with the units in war and peace. Liquor is also available in the CSD canteen at lower rates but its distribution is strictly controlled and one cannot draw beyond his fixed monthly quota.

Army jawans are taught to respect all religions and there is nothing unusual to find a Muslim or Christian visiting the unit temple or gurudwara.

Unit Medical Inspection Room (MI Room)

A medical officer from the AMC and a small team with him maintains and runs a small medical clinic in the unit lines. This clinic gives first aid to the sick and injured and is also responsible for inspecting every jawan once a month to ensure that he is fighting fit. When jawans return from leave or any long outing a special medical inspection is carried out to ensure that they have not contracted any disease while on leave in their hometowns. The health and hygiene of the unit is thus looked after regularly. All serious cases are transferred immediately to larger treatment centres or military hospitals. No seriously sick or injured jawan is kept in the unit lines.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Bharat Verma

A former Cavalry Officer and former Editor, Indian Defence Review (IDR), and author of the books, India Under Fire: Essays on National Security, Fault Lines and Indian Armed Forces.

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7 thoughts on “A Glimpse of Life in the Army

  1. Dear Bharat Verma,you have potrayed the ideal routine of a unit in peacetime.
    The reality is nowadays, there’s hardly 1/3rd strength available for PT and lesser for games. Mostly Officers are non-existent in these important parades or maybe one or two are present. There is no second parade fall in as it used to be after breakfast and people generally go about thier duties straight after breakfast.
    Theres no training in peacetime per-se being done except maybe a sprinkling of recruits being taught something under the tree.Training if at all is possible only if unit moves out on exercise ,which is also highly curtailed nowadays.
    Officers are babus ,pushing files,arranging parties or ladies meet . Dress regulations inPT and games are loosly enforced and even if Jawas and Jcos are in PT or Games rig the Officers are not. In fact nowadays you can spot an officer as one in the most clownish multicolour dress and rig during PT or games if present at all.
    The reasons for this degradation are many and diverse and is a subject by itself.

  2. My father is in defense service since 1984. He will be retired soon. I was visited most of the places with him like Jaliawala Bagh, Wagah Border. He is my motivation. My grandmother tells me about his journey and he also talks about his work style and some moments of Kargil war too.

  3. Missed out the peacetime activities such as senior officers visits, inspections, war games, sports and service-related competitions, practice camps, ITCs, etc. Sometimes “peace” locations become more harrowing than field stations.

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