Military Matters

Lessons to last lifetime

Lessons to last lifetime

Photo for representation only. File photo

Brig Sandeep Thapar (Retd)

The Army has some remarkable customs and traditions, based on certain golden tenets of leadership and man management, which can also be transposed onto industry of any kind. There could not be a better example than the Chetwodian credo of ‘your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and everytime’. Whether it’s officers having food and retiring after all others, to leading from the front, especially under fire, the Army’s traditions emanate from the inspiring initial grooming received on joining one’s unit.

Immediately on joining the battalion, the first thing most likely to happen may be a prank. There are many standard formats — from someone seeking to show your identity card to the Adjutant (and then disappearing with it, labelling you an imposter and throwing you in quarter guard jail), to all your possessions going missing resulting in you spending your next two days in whatever you came dressed in, to officers switching identities resulting in confusion later on.

In most units, the newly commissioned officer on arrival is not quartered in the officers’ mess but put up along with his command. He is deemed to be a jawan and treated like one. He shares a barrack and very much all the rest with his platoon, at least for a fortnight, during which he performs all duties which his other colleagues do. He dines with them, sleeps in the lines, follows their hours, performs duty, attends all parades, maintains his equipment like them and trains with them (my CO mercifully ordered one toilet in the lines be kept exclusively for my use). In this period, the youngster is tested and notionally promoted to Lance Naik, Naik and then Havildar (after cadre and tests). Duties and responsibilities corresponding to the ‘rank’ held are also given. At the end of the designated period, the youngster is deemed to have earned his spurs as an officer and only then moves to the officers’ mess, to be formally dined in.

The bonding and learning of the fortnight is lifelong. The officer firstly comes to intimately know each member of his platoon. He then, having lived with them and performed most tasks, albeit briefly, is familiar with their routine and problems. The platoon, on the other hand, having observed the officer so closely, knows his capability and temperament. A wonderful team spirit is formed thereafter. Translate this onto any industry: a future CEO knowing the job content (and problem areas) of everyone from the doorman to the last mechanic, and addressing each employee by name!

The common canteen for the worker, supervisor and the boss was brought into India (as a management principle) by the Japanese, along with their cars! Only the Indian Army had this concept much earlier.

On joining my unit in Manipur in the early 1980s, I was sent on my first patrol under the command of a JCO, Subedar Ujagar Singh. I watched him and learnt some of the finest tips of leading men in combat situations, things that do not reflect in any military précis. I remember each moment of that four-day patrol, from things to be kept in mind while laying an ambush, to safety precautions while on the move, to taking stock of all things after specific time intervals to quickly reverse any mistake. I also remember one of the meals made in which the jawan cooking unknowingly put (just) two bhut jolokia chillies (Naga mirchi) in the dal. That night, no one in the patrol slept: our tongues were on fire!

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