At 26, he won the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peacetime gallantry medal, for capturing Mizo National Front guerrillas after a two-day stand-off.
Two Sena Medals followed in the 1990s for outstanding acts of bravery in counter-insurgency operations. At 50, Kamal Kumar Sharma is no longer a soldier—dissatisfied with career prospects, he quit last year. He now works in the hotel industry.
Colonel Sharma, who commanded the 2/5 Gorkha Rifles, is the kind of gutsy soldier who would be the pride of any fighting force. Today though, he does not even relish the sight of his medals. "They remind me of a past which is best forgotten. Meaningless bits of metal which I once proudly wore on my chest ribbon," he says.
Combat was Sharma's element, the battlefield his playground and inspiration during the 29 years he served the Army. A career in the hotel industry was inconceivable for him; now, he is manager, loss prevention, at a five-star Delhi hotel. He wants to de-link himself completely from the Army, and will start by giving his medals to his unit. "Maybe young officers will get inspired," says Sharma, who was also awarded the Army Chief's Commendation Card.
Sharma strongly advocates a review of career prospects in the armed forces, which are battling an exodus of sorts—Defence Minister AK Antony told Rajya Sabha last week that 3,792 officers had sought discharge during 2001-05.
"Career progression in the Army can depend on the whims of one man. My heart goes out to the Kargil heroes who have been given a raw deal by the Army," Colonel Sharma said, referring to an exclusive report carried in Saturday's HT.
Quitting the Army was a tough and emotional decision. And he did make a last attempt to hang in there. He requested the Military Secretary branch for an instructional appointment at the National Defence Academy or Indian Military Academy to impart training and share his experiences with future officers, but was turned down. "They said I had not attended the Defence Service Staff College," he said.
"But I had served in the counter-insurgency grid for over a decade and taken part in over 100 encounters."
Asked about career progression in the Army, with specific reference to decorated officers, an Army spokesman said the force was heavily engaged in combat duties and there were many officers who had won gallantry awards.
"Some of them do not make it," he said, adding that selection boards take note of confidential reports, battle performance, performance in courses and employability in higher rank.
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