Gainfully employed persons join the Territorial Army (TA) for a variety of reasons — a sense of patriotism or adventure, duty to the nation or the mystique of the uniform. Once in the TA, many part-time officers are motivated to become full-timers. Mandeep Sandhu from Ruriwala in Tarn Taran district studied at St John’s School, Chandigarh, another nursery of soldiers.
After doing his engineering from BITS, Pilani, he set up a successful asset reconstruction company listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange. Motivated by the fact that he’d been selected for the NDA in 1976, he joined the TA being commissioned in 124 Infantry Battalion (affiliated to the Sikh Regiment) in 1992.
Sandhu has done tenures of over five-and-a-half years in operational areas in J&K with his unit. These include stints in counter-insurgency operations in Baramula and Doda district (where his battalion ensured the protection of a BRO unit engaged in the construction of a vital road while under threat from terrorists).
While his battalion was deployed in the same role in the Rajauri area on September 30, 2004, Mandeep led an ambush, killing two terrorists of the Jaish-e-Mohammed. He was awarded the Chief of the Army Staff ’s Commendation Card for his leadership and professional skills. TA units have over the years become highly adept at acquiring the professionalism, proficiency, discipline and experience needed for such rigorous operations. The 124 Infantry Battalion excelled in this role in Rajauri in 2011-2013 operating over an area of responsibility of 120 km.
Sandhu, currently posted as Deputy Commander of the TA Group at Chandigarh, has ensured that he does both demanding jobs successfully. His son, Varun, also an engineer, has followed him into the TA with both father and son serving in the same battalion at one time. Mandeep says people have a different perception of army officers as opposed to other sections of the population. The uniform gets respect.
Pioneering the way
The Indian Army’s pioneer regiments were basically infantry trained to do simple engineer tasks like construction of fieldworks, camps, bridges and roads. The demands of campaigning in difficult terrain with little infrastructure necessitated their employment. The frequency with which they saw active service made postings to pioneer regiments popular with British officers.
Their battle honours are testimony to their wide-range deployment and combat skills. Before World War 1 each Jawan in a pioneer regiment carried a pickaxe or a spade in special leather equipment as well as a rifle. NCOs carried axes, saws and billhooks. Heavier equipment such as explosives was carried by pack animals. The unit was well-equipped for simple field engineering tasks as well as employment as infantry.