Monday, 27 June 2011

'Introduction to Airborne Troops'

The airborne segments of any army anywhere in the world consider themselves different from other soldiers. With their striking maroon coloured berets, the ‘wings’ of a paratrooper shining from the chest (in the early 70s these were worn on the right sleeve) and ubiquitous cocky attitude, the paratroopers are a class by themselves. Since every paratrooper is a volunteer and since everyone has to successfully complete rigorous physical  and endurance tests, it is not surprising that they consider themselves to be elite of the Army. It is not without reason that Field Marshall Viscount Montgonery  called them ‘Men apart. Every man an Emperor’.

There is another unique characteristics of these men. That is everyone from the general to the jawan exposes himself to the same risk when jumping out of the aircraft . All the parachutes are the same and all the dangers are also the same. This, necessarily, creates a strong bonding between all the paratroopers. Unlike in other branches of the Army there is an exceptional camaraderie between all ranks in the airborne forces. The strict hierarchical rank-bound pecking order of the Army is seldom seen amongst the paratroopers.

It was my life’s ambition to join this elite fraternity. So at the earliest opportunity I volunteered. This was in January 1972. Soon I was unofficially informed that my application was being considered favorably by the higher echelons of the Army bureaucracy. To my surprise, orders soon came posting me as the Regimental Medical Officer of 9 Parachute Commando Battalion. There were only two such battalions in the Indian Army at that time. These days these battalions are called ‘Special Forces’. The battalion to which I was posted, and where I subsequently served for more than three years was the first one to be so designated. It may be of interest to note that the present National Security Guard (NSG) was constituted  in 1984 with the core elements from this battalion. In fact, this battalion is perhaps the most decorated and highly acclaimed in the whole of the Indian Army.

As the orders for my move to a parachute battalion had already been issued the clock started ticking, counting away the days for me to take up the new assignment. I was extremely excited and equally apprehensive about completing successfully the physical tests. I was also very anxious to get a feel of these ‘Red Devils’, as the paratrropers are called the world over. By chance there was an airborne brigade located a few hours away from where I was stationed. I decided to pay a visit to this formation on a weekend. Accordingly I fixed up with the medical element of that formation for an overnight stay and reached that place on a Saturday evening. After getting into my room I was told by the Officers’ Mess Staff  to call the adjutant of the unit. When I called this gentleman he told me to be ready at 7:30 PM in the appropriate dress to go to the Brigade Officers’ Mess. He told me that this will be a good opportunity for me to meet as many officers as possible because there was a cocktail party scheduled to be held there.

At 7:15 PM the adjutant turned up. We walked across to the Officers’ Mess and entered the anteroom. We had just about settled down with a drink each when the brigadier commanding the brigade came in along with his Brigade Major and few other officers. For the uninitiated, Brigade Major is the principal staff officer of the commander of the brigade. I was introduced to the brigadier who immediately cautioned me that the unit I was scheduled to join, 9 Parachute Commando,  was composed of ‘madmen’. He wished me all the best and walked across to the bar along with his officers and they started drinking. The conversation  was basically about an impending airborne exercise. All of a sudden the voices started getting louder and louder. Natural curiosity made my host and I focus our attention to the group at the bar. It was the Brigade Major who was arguing loudly with the brigadier who was his immediate superior. “I am not in agreement with your position Sir!” he said. “To my mind what you are saying is stupid.” The brigadier replied that the Brigade Major did not have experience or knowledge to pass such comments. The Brigade Major retorted that it did not require experience to express opinions on such silly matters. All this while the decibel level was increasing.

Then, to my utter amazement, the Brigade Major chucked the drink that he was holding straight at the brigadier’s face. The whisky and the ice cubes were all over the brigadier’s  face and dress. There was stunned silence. In a twinkle of an eye the brigadier took one step forward and landed a solid punch on the Brigade Major’s face. The young major was literally knocked out and fell like a sack on the floor. The next action by the brigadier was even more surprising. He extended his hand to the fallen major pulled him up and helped him to get on his feet. The commander then asked him, “Now major are you convinced about my position?” “Yes sir!”, Was the answer. “OK that’s fine! Let us drink to that.”

The matter ended there and it was immediately forgotten except that when I met the Brigade Major the next day he had very ugly looking bruise just under his left eye. Years later when I was the commanding officer of the medical element of the same airborne brigade this very same Brigade Major was the Commanding General in that area. Whenever we met we used to talk about this incident and laugh about it.

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