A welcome, Army style

A welcome, Army style

Lt Gen Ranjit Singh (Retd)

In the Army, there is a tradition that when a young officer joins his unit for the first time after commissioning, he is ragged by senior officers. One had heard about the helper (actually an officer) stealing the identity card and being put behind bars as he had no identity proof! At times, the luggage would disappear and when you reported in mufti, you were punished for being improperly turned out!

After the course, two of us were posted to a new unit. As we wanted to make a good impression on the Commanding Officer (CO), we spent considerable time on drafting and redrafting the letter to him. We finally had a draft which we were proud of. The next was writing it in a neat handwriting without mistakes and ensuring that the “i’s” were dotted and the “t’s” crossed! Despite our best efforts, we couldn't find the CO’s name, so with grave misgivings we sent off the letter, hoping he would overlook it.

While other officers were receiving letters from the CO welcoming them to the unit, imagine our disappointment when none came. The agonising thought was whether we had committed some faux pas in our letter. In any case, there was nothing we could do as the horse had bolted the stables.

After the course we reached our destination on a Sunday, alighted from the train and started looking for the welcoming party. Gradually the platform emptied out, leaving just the two of us. We thought that this delay was on purpose, but after having waited for about an hour we knew that something was amiss.

We went to the Army Detachment there and rang up the HQ for directions. Those were the days when you picked up the phone, an operator would answer and connect you to the person you wanted to speak to. We started ringing up practically everybody, but nobody had heard of the unit. Being a Sunday didn’t help matters. After having spent an hour on the phone, the operator suggested that we speak to the General. He connected us to the General's residence, and his wife asked us to ring up after 15 minutes as he was busy. We thanked her and put the phone down. Though it was winter, we had started sweating, wondering if we had done the right thing in ringing up the General. We were still debating on what to do next, when the phone rang. We explained our dilemma to the General. The old man told us to relax and directed us to go to the Officers’ Mess and settle down there.

We learnt that we were the first two members of the unit. In due course, the letter which we had so painstakingly written arrived, and we had the privilege of opening it ourselves! We, of course, knew the contents and without reading it threw it in the waste paper basket. This unique welcome to the unit was unintended!

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