A ‘COLONEL’ REMEMBERS

I was  commissioned  during  the early years of mechanisation of our Infantry. The APC was still looked upon as some sort of a steed that you would pick up from the stables and at the end of the ride leave it with the Transport Company Commander to tend. However, the rank and file soon learnt the nuances of mechanisation and  the art of mobile warfare. It was evident that mechanization of Infantry was  the  major  component  of  the modernization of our Army;  merely converting  a  battalion  from  each regiment would not serve the purpose in the scheme of things.  A distinctive identity and a home for the mechanised infantry was an imperative.

Driven by the foresight and vision of Gen K.V Krishna Rao and Gen K Sundarji, the Mechanised Infantry Regiment became a reality in 1979. Since its raising, the Regiment has had a chequered history. Our founding fathers envisaged a truly modern, syncretic, All Class Infantry Regiment, in sync with the ethos of our country. However, a few Senior Officers and Veterans of the Old Battalions were sentimentally attached and were reluctant to let them go. If the parting was inevitable, they insisted that those Battalions should let go of their ‘Silver’ at least! While still in its infancy, some questioned the very need for this ‘elitist’ Regiment and sought to reverse the whole process. It is to the credit and sagacity of our Senior Officers and former ‘Colonels’ that the Regiment withstood the vicissitudes and continues to be “The Regiment of Tomorrow in today’s Army”, as envisaged by our founding fathers.

I was fortunate to be involved with the affairs of the Regiment firstly as the Additional Director General Mechanised Forces in 2008-2009 at the Army Headquarters and thereafter as the Colonel of the Regiment from 2011 to 2013. I realised that the function of the Colonel of the Regiment is more of a continuum, and a work in progress. It would, therefore, not be proper for me to take credit for any major milestones achieved during my tenure as the ‘Colonel’. As an example, I was the Chairperson of the Committee for the first Make-in-India project, i.e., Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV). The Feasibility Study Report was approved and Acceptance of Necessity accorded by the Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC) in September, 2009. Thereafter, the Project was sustained by Gen PM Hariz as the then Additional DGMF and later by Gen Philip Campose who revived the Project as the Vice Chief of the Army Staff. That the Project has still not materialised even though the first lot of FICVs were to roll out by 2017 is another matter! Similarly, the MIORA (Mechanised Infantry Regimental Officers Association) was conceived by Gen HS Panag. It had its own twists and turns with the then Raksha Mantri at one stage questioning the very purpose of such an association, before we finally received the Government sanction in 2009 when Gen Deepak Raj was our Colonel.

Garud Sarath Mess is another milestone that was in progress for a long time. The need for an Officers’ Mess for the Mechanised Regiments was accepted in 2006 by the then Vice Chief of Army Staff. Gen HS Panag was keen that the Mess be established during his Colonelcy.That was not to be. A few Senior Officers of our sister Regiment, the Brigade of Guards, questioned the need for a separate Mess and so did the then Chief. However, we were able to convince them. And then we ran into the usual Army bureaucracy with our well known penchant for not letting anything go! It took us a great deal of persuasive skills to get around HQ Western Command and Delhi Area to give us an Interim Officers’ Mess. Finally, Aviation Officers’ Mess (AOC), Brar Square, Delhi Cantonment was allotted to us, with a promise that 25, Mall Road, Delhi Cantonment would be given to us as and when the Infantry Battalion vacated that Mess. We celebrated the Regiment’s Raising Day on 02 April 2009 at the Interim Mess, with Brig Ajit Nair,the then Commandant,MIRC doing much of the spade work. It took us another three years, before we could formally move into the present Garud Sarath Mess in January 2012, while I was the Colonel of the Regiment. Needless to mention, this would not have been possible without the active support of Lt Gen S.R Ghosh, GOC-in-C, Western Command and Colonel of the Brigade of Guards, Lt Gen Manvender Singh, GOC Delhi Area, another Guardsman; and the untiring efforts of Maj Gen RS Chand, the then Additional DGMF. With the continued efforts of my successors, the Mess has grown by leaps and bounds, rivalling the more fancied messes for both its ambience and quality of service.

Our Regimental Centre, when it was established, was truly a model Centre. However, the training modes especially for infantry training stuck to the traditional methods. A study by ARTRAC revealed that there were a large number of physical casualties among the recruits and this was not specific to our own regiment but to all recruit training centres in the country as well. Specialists in Sports Medicine were consulted. They suggested a number of innovative methods for the training of the recruits of the regiment taking into account their physical characteristics at entry and using more scientific physical training methods through swimming, weight training, diet management, etc. In a very short time, we were able to reduce the number of physical casualties amongst recruits such as stress fractures, pelvic injuries etc., to less than 1%. An added spin off was that every recruit became an excellent swimmer! This system was given wide publicity through ARTRAC and more and more regiments adopted these methods.

A sore issue has always been that of U.N. Missions. We were not able to send all soldiers of the nominated Battalion when their turn came up for U.N duties as the rotations were restricted to four company groups per battalion. In concert with our sister Regiment, we were able to get the policy changed so that we are now able to have six rotations of Company Groups per battalion. This has ensured that virtually every Jawan of the Regiment is able to don a “Blue Beret” and thus benefit both from the experience as well as in pecuniary terms.

Marching on the Rajpath on Republic Day is the dream of every soldier and Regiment. Since our Raising, we had several mounted columns, but never a marching column. When I requested the then COAS, Gen VK Singh, that our Regiment should provide a marching column as part of the Infantry Contingents, he readily agreed. Though the AG’s Branch had some inhibitions,we were able to prevail. It was a historic day for the Regiment, when our Veer Sarathis were at the vanguard of the marching columns on the Rajpath on Republic Day 2013, and again in 2017.

One area of serious concern was that often, our young officers and sometimes Commanding Officers would question or have doubts about our very identity. Who are we? This was possibly because of our long association with Armoured Corps as a part of the mechanised forces. There is no doubt that Mechanised Infantry Regiment is unique in many respects with some of the oldest and most decorated battalions of our Army forming its nucleus, and,vibrant new raisings with all India character bringing in modernity and freshness. Inspiring leadership, a deep-rooted will to excel, dedication to service, courage in adversity and successful blend of modernity with tradition are the hallmarks of our Regiment. Our regimental ethos stems from the fact that we are a more robust, potent and versatile form of Infantry. Directive style of command and the ability to operate in small teams in an environment of uncertainty is ingrained in the Organisational Culture. Our all round capabilities encompass adeptness in infantry and technical skills, physical and mental mobility, alertness and dominant fire power. Our ability to work in concert with other Arms as Combined Arms Team or in a Stand Alone Mode,when necessary, sets us apart and distinguishes our unique identity.

OUR REGIMENTAL CENTRE, WHEN IT WAS ESTABLISHED, WAS TRULY A MODEL CENTRE. HOWEVER, THE TRAINING MODES ESPECIALLY FOR INFANTRY TRAINING STUCK TO THE TRADITIONAL METHODS. A STUDY BY ARTRAC REVEALED THAT THERE WERE A LARGE NUMBER OF PHYSICAL CASUALTIES AMONG THE RECRUITS AND THIS WAS NOT SPECIFIC TO OUR OWN REGIMENT BUT TO ALL RECRUIT TRAINING CENTRES IN THE COUNTRY AS WELL.

With the above framework in mind, we evolved a Vision Document 2020 for the Regiment which was conceived after a great deal of interaction with the Senior Officers of the Regiment as well as our Veterans. The Vision-2020 outlines the regimental ethos, core values and our quest for excellence in all fields including training, leadership development and operational readiness, as also our desire to excel in adventure activities. It is heartening to note that many of the aspects that have been outlined in the Vision Document have been ingrained in every Officer and Soldier of the Regiment. Unity of Purpose runs across the length and breadth of the Regiment. The Veterans are our guiding spirit. We have a healthy and competitive relationship with our sister Regiment, the Brigade of Guards. We revel and bask in each other’s success and glory…..

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