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Monday, December 24, 2018

Cityblog Feature : Nayakgiri: Fiction: Brothers in Arms: Tale of Two Soldiers

Brothers in Arms

It was my first month in this new continent. Thankfully it was summertime helping me cope up with the climate which is very much different from India.  Having moved to this city suburb, it was time to search and fix everything starting with a house, vehicle, furniture, electronics and whatever it takes to satisfy the comforts of modern life I was used to in India. One can manage everything except warmth and familiarity of home and of course domestic support. The summer days are really long when sun gods bid you an adieu only after 9 pm primetime slot that too after the display of variety of the shades of illumination reflecting your own shades of emotions as the day progresses.  The day was hectic starting with working on three time zones  ahead at work , followed by synchronizing with existing time-zone followed by ticking off other household list after the working hours. Life without Car in an American suburb is same as life without a two wheeler in Pune both of which are worse than being without a camel in a desert or without a boat in an Ocean. I had gone to a car dealership owned by a contact in distant suburb in the opposite direction of my house to explore some options. Thanks to some work in the office and missed bus timings, I was delayed for more than an hour. I ended my work at the dealership and rushed towards the bus stop which was at 15 minutes’ walk from the dealership to catch the bus which was the last bus of the day at 9 pm having missed 8 pm bus planned.   The walk was a pleasant one as sun was still shining on Uncle Sam’s Empire. The best part about New England suburb towns is the nature and elegant houses which can be very pleasant to the eyes. The locality was deserted especial one of the roads which was wooded with no houses lining it. As I was walking, a SUV going in same direction of my walk, zoomed past and braked to engage me in a conversation.  This does not happen here. I was alarmed. There was a couple who shocked me by asking if I wanted to buy a camera. I found it strange and obviously ignored. They followed me mentioning that they were pickpocketed and needed some money for food. They were not beggars so wanted trade their camera for cash they needed. I told I did not need Camera. Suddenly the male half of the couple got out of the SUV and threatened me with a knife asking me to give me whatever money I had. I was scared and thought about reaching my cell for emergency call. But the lady in car pointed a gun asking me not to do anything silly. I requested them not to do anything as I value my life more than dollars I had. But somehow out of nowhere a car zoomed in from the other direction. The driver of that car assessed the situation immediately and put his car between both of us (guy and me) on pavement and the lady in the SUV and in such a way that the SUV could not move without reversing. I realized that the lady’s gun was out of equation and I could run. I ran a distance to realize the good guy in the car and had neutralized the bad guy in SUV by hitting him on the knife holding hand in such a way that the knife was dropped. The bad guy ran to his SUV, Backed and zoom passed the other car. The good guy noted down SUV number.  He approached me asking me if I were ok. I thanked him for his timely intervention. The guy was 6 ft 3 inch tall, wearing glasses, extremely fit and dressed in black T-shirt and Jeans, handsome just like any hero out of a Hollywood Movie in his late thirties. After taking necessary actions to report to the authorities,  we came out of the Police Headquarters of that suburban Town. He volunteered to drop me off to my house as there was no public transport available by then. While driving he introduces himself as Aaron Albert Ambrose a   Veteran ex-Army Man and an Industrial Contractor. As we started our one   hour journey, he said “Gun Control is the biggest Challenge in this country”.  Was it a Déjà vu?                     ‘’ Corruption Control is the biggest challenge in this country” said Cap SS Sharma to me in the higher reaches of Himalayas five years back. 

A flash back to 2011, after a gap of almost a decade, I decided to finally strike down one item from the bucket list to experience another high altitude trek in the Himalayas. Himalayas are magical. The entire transformation from plains to the British built hill stations through winding romantic mild mountains then the mystery of Fold Mountains as you climb to the higher reaches and finally you have misty glaciers and snow cladded peaks.  Flaura and Fauna is simply stupendous. There is no better way to observe this is to trek through them. After a wonderful trek at Har Ki dun with new young friends, we reached base camp village Sankri to find that the road from Sankri till nearest town was closed due to land slide and floods. We were cocooned there for 24 hours with rationed food, torrid rains and chill. Then we saw two Army trucks   driving on those semblances of roads.  They stopped and a very smart looking officer disembarked and asked us about our situation.  They had a post uphill and they could drive with these strong vehicles till a point closest to the post. They were returning from that base and driving towards the army camp in nearby town named Chakrata. Our Trek Manager who was a local told that they had no chance to get out till Border Roads cleared the road. It would take 3 days minimum for that. The kids (all more than age of 14) in our trekking were worried about missing train and endure pain of unreserved travel in harsh summer in the mainland India. Few elders like me had to report to work and as well had air bookings. Col S S Sharma as he introduced himself said he would assess the situation by going to the spot. While we were killing the time and the anxiousness with games like Dumb Charades, Antakshari, we saw Col Sharma and team returning.  Col Sharma gave our Manager an idea; He suggested that Manager should arrange for bus (which was stuck on other side) till the point of landslide from other side. While his vehicles would drop us till the point. He had found that Border roads had created walking gap there. As a senior citizen among the group I had an honor to sit in the trucks driving unit while other younger members occupied the cargo. 

A sudden brake got me back to New England roads, I noted the similarity between the situations these Soldiers had come to my rescue and initiated a journey of discussions. One was AAA and other was SSS.

“They just give guns to everybody. That girl would be just of school with her buddy.  Forget it we don’t learn” Said AAA referring to the thugs in SUV.

AAA asked about my origins and said he was fascinated about India. He loved Indian food and knew about Indian geography and had few friends of Indian origin.

“I am from Bristol’ a reputed town nearby said AAA.  “I was a football player at school and joined U Conn thanks to my game. After managing to get past my college I saw army as a great career option. I was no way motivated by Patriotism or Nationalization.  I thought army as great career option with benefits and I like outdoors and wanted to see the world.  My family did not care. My father was a shopkeeper in Bristol a single parent.”  He did not wish to speak more about his parents and family

AAA added “Through the training which is one of the best in the world at WestPoint, the officers develop great professionalism and sufficient patriotism over those years. They made good officers out of us. “

“I am from Delhi. I am the third generation army man” said SSS.  “Once you are a service man, you and your family hate civilian life. You condescend and as a parent you cannot imagine your son to be a civilian. So as a son of a General, I had no option but to join NDA. I was not selected at SSB and I remember those nightmarish years as a college student in Indore. I was being scorned off at home; insulted in family functions, and looked down in army social circuit. Thankfully I manage into IMA due to CDSS. Lack of NDA on my cv will be a speed breaker for my career I am sure. But training at IMA is top notch and they made great officers there”

As we took 84 West, AAA said: “This entry ramp was nonexistent before I went to Iraq”

I asked: “How long you were there?”

AAA said: “I was there for four years from 2007 till 2011. After that he was part of UN mission in South Sudan.  After that I could take it no more. It leaves lots of scars. The senseless killings, human evil, hunger, deprivation make me sick man. But then I love my unit and Country. I was in 2nd Platoon Gator Company of 2nd Platoon. We were trained for special operations. We all knew local language We were in a town near Baghdad where Sunni insurgents fought local Shias and US forces.

Objective of our unit was to increase the density of troops in certain key neighborhoods, to the point where they could police them effectively. This didn’t just mean taking the insurgents on, it also involved gaining the trust of locals by living among them, saving their wounded, and securing schools, shops, or places of worship.

We had put ourselves into the firing line in al-Dora in March 2008, creating a small, fortified base for a few dozen troops on a street corner. It became a magnet for all manner of attacks.

The main enemy there was anxiety, weather and sand. For three years we fought more than 30 odd attacks. Some of the attacks were very deadly.  We shunted them off with help of grit shown by my boys, local intelligence, satellite surveillance support and excellent leadership at every level barring few incidences. My unit suffered collateral damage as well. I lost 70 odd friends, colleagues, brothers dead or injured.  On the enemy side there is no value of life even for their own. Once they realize they had lost it they had no plan B. They just abandon the injured colleagues to die. The valor, principles they hold just evaporate, they beg for mercy just like those they had killed in past. It’s ridiculous.  After all there is a limit to human suffering which is same for us and our enemies. They just don’t realize it.”

AAA was silent for more than five minutes maybe remembering his days in Iraq as we left I84 to I91 S

“They just didn’t realize that they had fought for nothing. Their bodies were left unclaimed. They did not die as martyrs” Said SSS about the Pak Army men killed at Kargil disguised as local insurgents.  He led a unit which is unknown to outside out of Army highest levels. They were deadliest commandos and were called Helicopter Mounted Unit.  They were trained with hardest routines involving intense hand and weapon combat training, harsh survival techniques, mobility and navigation across hardest and cruel terrains. His men were the best selected out of various regiments.

“In army we are assigned battalion say Maratha, Rajput, Sikh and so on. Each soldier has loyalty toward mother land and then his battalion.  I am loyal to Maratha regiment but at HMU we represent our battalion and want to do best. My commandos are mainly from tribal regions. They can survive fight and win anywhere on this planet” said proud SSS.

“During Kargil, my unit and few others made difference between winning and a probable loss of land and face for India. We scaled very difficult mountains in dark surviving incoming bullets. Enemy had higher and stronger positions. But thanks to our unit and few others all over the region, we climbed and overcame the enemy they got into hand combat with enemy. Once we got there, enemy had no option but to die. I think it must be bad leadership during first phase of Kargil, which resulted in them getting into our land and holding those positions. Some people just cannot decide” said SSS with cold shrug.

“There were few incidences when some bad decision making cost us many lives as well as those of the locals. They just could not decide to attack when it was necessary. There are good soldiers and bad soldiers in every army“  said AAA

“Our boys on front do very well but there are few officers and lower end parts in the system that rots system through corruption. They really cause many tactical and operational bottlenecks for soldiers on the front. That’s the biggest challenge. Corruption is the biggest challenge for our Country” said SSS as we drove toward the land slide point. “And there are politicians who drive the highest level of decision making” he kept that point open ended

As exited I91, AAA summarized “Politicians have made lives hell for our boys world over said AAA. I was fed up with human misery and I wanted to help my people as I could. I decided to quit and have been doing work as an Industrial contractor for construction. I have good team and I have enough work to keep them busy for next few years. I have a wonderful girlfriend who has couple of cute kids from earlier marriage. We plan to have family of our own with all these kids. It will be fun. Life outside the unit was tough initially. People think differently work differently. The motivations and aspirations are different. Now I have adjusted well. I cannot see my country so divided over issues. But I assume it’s the same worldwide. I am positive about future as we had a great past. We as a country have strong values”

SS said proudly” We don’t have politics inside Army. They are unable to divide us internally. But we see the democratic system failed for last sixty years for our country. The policy paralysis definitely affects us indirectly while corruption rots us directly. Anyways I want to be army man for life. I just cannot imagine being a civilian. Once you are an army man you always remain an army man. I don’t know whats stored for us in future but we are doing great and will keep on doing so as a country”

I asked SSS about his family.  “I have wife and daughter in Delhi. I love them. They stay with my parents”

As our journey ended at the landslide point, SSS and his team bid us a farewell. We thanked them for their help. “We are here to serve and help people of our country and we did our job” said SSS.

As we entered the foyer of our apartment, I thanked AAA for all his help.  AAA said “Goodbye and stay safe in the country. It’s our duty as a veteran to make our country safe always”

As I ponder sometimes, both SSS and AAA were extremely confident individuals having served their countries well. Though both had different motivations to be part of defense forces, both had great training, tough experience in the most difficult situations, both had sense of duty and urge to go an extra mile, both had same outlook and thought process to help me wonder how humanity binds us together amidst deep sense of Nationalism that is tearing the globe apart. I experienced this feeling of brotherhood from two individuals in two similar situations though continents apart. Ironically this global brotherhood was showcased by those who have been motivated, trained and had exhibited extreme sense of Nationalism as a soldier. Both of them were Brothers in Arms in united sense though not in pacifist sense immortalized by one of my favorite bands: Dire Straits during the Falkland War in 80s

These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Someday you'll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you'll no longer burn to be
Brothers in arms

Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I've witnessed your suffering
As the battle raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we…

Disclaimer: All contents and charachters in this story are fictitious though  few facts are based on  individual experiences

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