Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh was no chocolate soldier. I first learnt of his military career from my father’s batman, Shinghara Singh, in 1972. Shinghara was part of Amarinder’s platoon, accompanying him on long-range patrols, while serving in the inhospitable terrain along the Himachal-Tibet border after the 1962 war.
Earlier, Amarinder had undergone a gruelling course at the National Defence Academy (NDA). His instructor at the academy, General KMKS Baraich, noticed him travelling by bus along with his fellow cadets rather than using the large American car placed at his disposal by his father. Commissioned in June 1963 into the 2 Sikh, he underwent the battalion’s baptism by serving as an ordinary soldier. Along with other subalterns, he removed his pips and lived with jawans in their bunkers eating with them in the company langar. Progressing from being an assistant machine gunner, machine gunner, section second-in-command to section commander, he proved his worth to command a platoon and enter the officers’ mess.
In November 1964, he was selected by General Harbaksh to be his aide-de-camp (ADC) in the Western Command. Contrary to the general perception, an ADC’s job is to relieve a commander of all administrative tedium, freeing him to do his job. He also coordinates his commander’s mobile tactical headquarters keeping him in communication with his troops and the main HQ. By mid-1965, he had left the Army to look after his family’s affairs in the absence of his father who had become India’s ambassador to Italy. After the balloon went up in Kashmir later that year, Amarinder sought to accompany his battalion into battle. General Harbaksh told me that he wanted him attached with himself, arguing that he would learn more about the higher direction of war. This experience stood the young Amarinder in good stead, making him blossom out in later life as a military historian who spawned his own school of writing.
Amarinder has all the qualities desirable in a commander – clarity and strategic vision, decisiveness, clear thinking, overarching concern for subordinates, humility and flexibility. One saw evidence of his determination to protect the interests of Punjab in the night vigil he undertook in the winter of 1986 on the periphery of Kandu Khera in Muktsar. One can expect no less from a born soldier.
Subedar Major Sangwan
Ilam Singh Sangwan from Meerut is the Subedar Major of the Western Command Hospital, Chandimandir. A nursing technician with a three-year diploma, as the all-important chief wards master he provides logistic support for inpatients’ treatment. Also, he controls the enlisted nursing staff. And like subedar majors of all units, he acts as the commandant’s eyes and ears. Earlier, Sangwan served with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights while attached with the Poona Horse.
Sangwan made good use of the Army’s excellent in-house higher education system to turn his sons into professionals. Aditya did his MBBS from the Army College of Medical Sciences, Delhi Cantonment, and works with Ivy Hospital, Panchkula. Abhishek, a computer engineer from the Army Institute of Technology, Pune, works with MavenHive Technologies, Bengaluru. The Chief of Army Staff awarded Subedar Major Sangwan his commendation card this year as did the Eastern Army Commander in 2007. It’s men like him who keep the wheels of busy military hospitals moving.
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