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A young captain from the armoured corps stands out in army chief General Dalbir Singh’s retinue of Gorkha officers sporting wide-brimmed hats at a rakish angle. The captain on his staff is a link to the century-old military tradition in the Singh family.
It’s a small token of gratitude to the soldier who shaped Singh’s journey from a village school with just two rooms to the exalted office of army chief — Singh’s octogenarian father.
Commissioned into the 4/5 Gorkha Rifles (GR) in 1974, the infantry general has handpicked one of his aides-de-camp (ADCs) from 18 Cavalry, an armoured regiment his father had once served.
An army chief has three ADCs: one from his own unit, another from any regiment he chooses and a third from the Special Forces to oversee his security detail.
“It’s a lovely gesture that shows Dalbir is still rooted to his humble beginnings. On the lighter side, it will blunt infantry-armoured corps rivalry,” said a former army chief.
The rise to the top hasn’t dulled Singh’s memories of early life in Haryana’s Bishan village. “The two rooms in the school were the exclusive preserve of the senior classes. We had an earthier and shaded space beneath the trees,” said Singh, a third-generation soldier.
His father packed him off to a Sainik School in 1965. When Singh was being groomed to be an officer at the National Defence Academy, the 4/5 GR was selected to carry out the army’s maiden heliborne operation to capture Sylhet. Barely 450 Gorkhas forced the surrender of the 7,000-strong Sylhet garrison in the eastern theatre during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
“It was a conscious choice I made as I wanted to join only the infantry,” Singh said of his decision to join 4/5 GR.