Military matters

Away from home, with a bigger family

One doesn’t get many opportunities to celebrate due to exigencies of service. That’s compensated by the love, affection and camaraderie of those around you, a hallmark of the armed forces

Away from home, with a bigger family

Photo for representation only. - File photo

Brig SPS Dhaliwal (Retd)

I WAS posted as an instructor in Ahmednagar and was detailed on temporary duty to teach the Technical Staff Course at the Institute of Armament Technology, Pune, for a month. Our 10th wedding anniversary on January 16, 1987, fell in the middle of the week. I knew there was no chance of getting back home to celebrate it with my wife and kids. We had reconciled to the fact, like on several previous occasions due to some service commitment or the other. On January 15, as I asked all the other Instructors to join me for a small get-together the following evening, I was told by a colleague to push off home; he volunteered to take my class.

Come morning, I was off on a bus to Ahmednagar, a three-hour journey, hoping to surprise my family. As I reached home around midday, I found my kids playing outside. They looked at me with shock and surprise. When I told them I had come to celebrate our anniversary, they laughed, “But mom left in the morning for Pune.” Apparently, when she went to Army School, where she was teaching, carrying a cake to celebrate with the other teachers, the principal asked her to take the day off and go to Pune. Those were days when there were no cellphones and it was near impossible to get through on landlines too. So we were both stuck in opposite cities.

Fortunately, I managed to convey a message to the staff at IAT to ensure she stayed put, as I headed back to Pune in the first bus I could hop on to. We then landed up at my former regimental officer’s house late in the evening. The couple were equally shocked and surprised to see us both, but made sure we were served and toasted in style. Our 10th was a memorable one, the military way.

Fifteen years later, in 2002, was our silver jubilee. I was posted as a Brigade Commander along the Line of Control in J&K. Leave was planned, but things started hotting up along the LoC and any chance of getting home was dashed. The staff did make plans for celebrations and thought about calling the COs for lunch, but I vetoed the idea and instead asked for all the young officers manning the forward-most posts to be invited, with the proviso that they stay for the next couple of days.

But then, it started snowing at night and continued till the morning, with two feet of snow all around. Accordingly, a message was sent to the units that the youngsters be held back and we went ahead with a small get-together. Around 1 pm, we heard a knock at the door of the Officers’ Mess. In walked a young Lieutenant, drenched in snow, all wet and shivering away. We quickly got him next to the fireplace and gave him brandy to warm him up. This boy’s post was the furthest from the Brigade HQ and he had to leave early along with his patrol so as to make it in time. He was already on the move before his post could be informed about the cancellation.

Before he left to change his clothes, he came up to me, saluted smartly, shook my hand, and wished me a very happy anniversary. Then, to the complete surprise and bewilderment of all of us, he dug into his vest, pulled out a dry card from under his otherwise drenched clothes which read, ‘Happy anniversary from CO and all ranks, 6 Mahar (Borders).’ There were moist eyes all around as I hugged the boy — the most precious card ever received, which lay next to the warmth of his heart for six hours of his journey.

During service, one doesn’t get many such occasions to celebrate due to exigencies, but when you do, they are memorable ones. And in places where there is more love, affection, warmth and camaraderie, a hallmark of our armed forces.

A word about our youngsters — they not only deliver cards on such occasions, they deliver in each and every operation that they are called upon to, putting their lives in the line of fire. They make us proud.

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