What is the process that has to be gone into to present a good military parade performed with pomp, pageantry and precision?

Display of good drill, unless performed by an enemy army of occupation or by the army of a country under suppressive army rule, usually builds a healthy respect for soldiers in uniform and reminds the population of their valour and sacrifices for the nation.

Good drill reflects the standard of an army. Drill is the bedrock of discipline. It trains soldiers to receive and issue orders and builds a habit of instant obedience vital for military ethos. To instill discipline amongst the soldiers as also to develop their soldierly bearing, immaculate dressing sense, smartness and alertness, it is necessary to have high standards of drill.

While close-order drill was the basic modus of armies on the battlefield even till the advent of muskets and muzzle- loading rifles, drill in modern armies, while being a mainly ceremonial requirement, also helps soldiers on the battlefield to react instantly to situations under fire, to freeze or remain still during an ambush or raid, or to march long distances and in general, to be alert. It also instills in soldiers an ability to control emotions and function under the stress of not only deadly fire all around but also the sorrow and anger felt on seeing comrades getting killed or injured.

Drill in the Indian Armed Forces is as instituted by the British and followed by armed forces of all Commonwealth countries. Some countries like Russia and Germany and countries whose armies were trained by them followed, till at least World War II and some still follow, the Prussian goose- step, in which the legs with knees stiff are thrown out knee- high, or even thigh high. Countries whose armies were trained by Russia, Germany and even China, still do goose step drill, but the marching style which is followed quite widely today is on the lines of that of Commonwealth nations. The basic principles of British/Commonwealth nations armies’ drill are those of coordinated cadence, or synchronized movement with timing. The British drill step is a much modified version of the goose step, in that the legs with knees stiff are shot forward only ankle-high and with the heel digging hard, while the arms are swung high till shoulder level and fully back as possible- about 45 degrees.

Close order drill for ceremonial parades is usually with the squad of soldiers carrying their armies’ basic assault rifles, while the contingent leader an officer and maybe three warrant officers behind him carrying swords. For regular/weekly drill parades in army units the officers and warrant officers carry canes or batons. Cadets or soldiers performing duties of stick orderlies carry a thick long stick with a metal knob and base and adorned with a thin chain wound around it.

Drill with lances is conducted only in cavalry and armoured corps as well as horse holding units. Drill instructors carry a drill stick which is an instrument made of two leg-length sticks hinged together and can be opened to measure the marching steps.

All the forms of drill in the Indian Armed Forces, with/without rifles, with canes, swords and also while holding/marching with regimental colours/standards/ guidons, are taught at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), National Defence Academy (NDA, a tri-service academy) and Officers Training Academy (OTA) and other services academies. The standard of military drill followed at IMA, NDA and OTA is considered the toughest. The drill period of usually 40 minutes begins with ten minutes of running flat footed on the spot, running forward flat footed and generally working up the body so that it is primed for instant movement to drill commands from the instructors. Week long practices for formal parades means longer periods than 40 minutes and normally done on extra time.
Boots for drill deserve a mention. The standard British origin footwear for soldiers were Ammunition Boots, also known as Boots Ankle General Service, since the late 1880s until the 1970s were standard issue in Indian Army. Ammunition boots were unlined ankle-boots of thick leather, with laces, iron heel-plate and toe-plate, and leather sole studded with 13 hobnails. They were designed to be hard-wearing and long-lasting rather than comfortable. These were replaced by boots DMS (direct moulded soul) of the same shape and pattern as ammunition boots except for their thick rubber soles. These got modified a couple of decades ago by Boots DMS High Ankle, which are worn without web anklets. The mention of boots is important because whether hobnailed or rubber soled, the essential action in close order ceremonial drill remains stamping the foot flat on the ground with timing so that it creates a resounding short roaring sound. As one impassioned Indian Army drill instructor used to motivate cadets on the parade ground: “Jab aapke paon ikkathe ‘flat’ partay hain, tau Dharti geet gaati hai.” (when your feet collectively stamp together, the earth sings). Yet another drill instructor considered it sacrilege for feet not to stamp together and often cried out: “Dheeli drill waalay desh ka bera garak karenge.” (Those doing bad/’loose’ drill will be the bane of the nation).

Enviable standards in drill can only be maintained by having a vibrant training facility which can train instructors for imparting drill training in units, regimental training centres and academies. IMA is the premier institution which conducts the Army Drill Course (ADC) since January 1992. Four courses of seven weeks duration each are conducted in a year for approximately 180-200 Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) for the purpose of grooming them as potential drill Instructors to further carry out drill training in units, centres and academies. Students of the Army Drill Course include JCOs/ Warrant Officers and NCOs of Indian Army, Air Force, Para Military Forces, Central Armed Police Forces and personnel from the forces of a number of friendly foreign countries. Till date a total of 102 Army Drill Courses have been conducted by this Academy in which 13017 JCOs/OR including 207 foreign students have been trained.

Drill instructors remain in the memories of their officer- cadet students. While under training cadets dread their drill instructors, who are usually known for their loud and harsh criticism or condemnation of their students, laced with lots of sarcasm and in general, more often than not, conveying to the cadets that they are absolutely useless. However, the fact remains that a unique bond forms between the instructors and cadets, Being an alumnus of NDA and IMA, this writer can vouch that often in tense and dangerous/high risk situations as well as in good times, most of these JCOs/NCOs drill instructors and also their counterparts in weapon training, PT and equitation, are remembered with fondness and a sense of gratitude by their students for making them physically and mentally tough.

Lt Col Anil Bhat

Col Anil Bhat (retd) is an independent defence and security analyst he is also an Editor at Word Sword Features

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