Glorious journey of Siachen Pioneers : The Tribune India

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Glorious journey of Siachen Pioneers

Glorious journey of Siachen Pioneers


Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd)

IT’S apt to call the IAF’s 114 Helicopter Unit ‘legendary’. Being the only operational unit to be flying continuously in a combat zone for the past four decades, 114 has a history steeped in tradition and tales that would be the envy of any aviator in the world. As the Siachen Pioneers — its given name — celebrates its diamond jubilee, it is time to reminisce some highlights that have earned it the gratitude of the brave Indian Army jawans manning the Siachen frontier.

It started with the turbine-engine Chetak helicopter taking over from the Mi-4 on April 1, 1964. As one who cut his teeth on the Chetak in the hills of Ladakh as a 23-year-old, I can only marvel at those veterans who operated the underpowered piston-engined Mi-4 at those dizzy heights. It was a baptism of fire for 114 as the 1965 war broke out. The unit flew ceaselessly in J&K, evacuating casualties, flying commanders to forward areas — and on cessation of hostilities, flying then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to the frontlines. There is an iconic photograph of Sqn Ldr Arvind Dalaya, the first Commanding Officer, standing proudly with Army officers at the strategic Haji Pir Pass after its capture from the Pakistanis. But more challenges were in the offing from our western neighbour.

Pakistan started sponsoring mountaineering expeditions from its side on the Siachen Glacier. And as international maps began showing it as part of Pakistan, the Indian Army launched an expedition in 1978 under Col Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar to counter the cartographic aggression. Fortuitously, I found myself part of the IAF logistic helicopter missions in support of that expedition. And were they romantic, and stuff for the movies!

We would hover our Chetak and kick out the ‘fresh’ vegetables and mutton for the expedition members, who were living on tinned stuff. One day, the idea of picking up their letters struck us. We would lower a bag from the window and the jawans would put their letters in it, with the bag being pulled up, à la drawing water from a well! And then came a casualty evacuation from the Advanced Base Camp. On October 6, 1978, two sick members were picked up. This first landing on the glacier, six years before Op Meghdoot was launched, got 114 the name Siachen Pioneers — a name that the unit proudly lives up to with its motto, ‘We do the difficult as a routine, the impossible (may) take a bit longer’.

For four decades (and counting), 114 has been performing on the icy Siachen, winning the President’s Standard and becoming the most decorated unit of the IAF. Today, the unit’s Cheetal helicopters are keeping the proud legacy alive — flying equipment, food and life support items to the jawans and bringing back the sick and injured. Keep at it, Siachen Pioneers. Happy landings — always!

#Indian Air Force #Siachen


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