Major General Sharabh Pachory: “We were deployed at forward posts at a height of about 20,000 ft"
Major General Sharabh Pachory, VSM, is an Infantry officer who retired from service in 2018 after 36 years of distinguished service in the Army.During his service, he served in some of the most difficult areas, including Siachin Glacier, line of control, counter terrorist operations in J&K and Assam, high altitude areas in Ladakh & Sikkim, as well as the deserts of Rajasthan.
What motivated you to join the Indian Armed Forces?
Back then, there wasn’t as much awareness about the Armed Forces. Like any other young adult, I pursued my graduation and did my BSc in Maths and was pursuing MSc in Physics. One fine day, I saw this poster advertisement that read, “Do you have it in you?” with a finger pointing right at the viewer. Well, I thought maybe I had it in me and bought the application form for Rs.2 back then. I sat for the qualifying rounds and managed to qualify for all the three services- Army, Navy and Air Force. Apart from this, I grew up in Jabalpur city which was always a ground for big cantonments of uniformed officers. These factors coupled with the wave of patriotism floating in the country in the aftermath of the 1971 war were the primary reasons that pushed me forward. But again, the poster pointing the finger at me still remains the biggest one so far. Turns out I did have it in me!
Could you tell us a little about your selection and your initial training days?
The carefree image that we all carry about college life and young adulthood is certainly busted the moment you set foot at the gates of the Indian Military Academy or any other military training institute. I did reasonably well in my training period and though there were a few days that were tougher than the others, the thought of quitting never occurred to me. During the course of my training, I interacted with some outstanding officers and instructors who have left a deep impression on me; one that continues till this date. As I was also academically inclined, I found a wonderful channel to pursue my academic interest as well. I would like to say that academic excellence can pursued via several avenues in the Army. A distinct memory of this time period was the hard-earned liberties- authorized absence for short periods- that were hard to come by but fulfilling to realise.
Do you recollect your experience of being a freshly inducted soldier?
Distinctly. I was commissioned into the infantry- or foot soldiers- and was sent for a 14-day attachment to my regimental centre in Saugor, Madhya Pradesh where we were put through a hard grind once again. Thereafter, I moved to my unit where the regimen again was supremely rigid and tough. In retrospect, the things I learned here moulded me into a soldier. Here, we initially lived life exactly like the Jawans- we slept in the barracks, we are in the langars, we fired like them, we did our physical training like them. I learnt that, in order to gain the respect of these men, you must be as good as them. That was a major driving factor that made all of us newly commissioned officers give only our best at these training units and regimental centres.
How did you choose Infantry as your branch? Was there any specific reason for doing so?
Well, in the final term of our training, we go through a process for opting for an Arm of Service, where we choose the Fighting Arms (Armoured Corps or Infantry) or the Supporting Arms (Artillery, Engineers, Signals, Air Defence Corps and so on) or the Services (Ordnance, ASE so on). Accordingly, I had to opt for a choice of Arms and I chose to join the Infantry, under which I chose the MAHAR REGIMENT. This decision, at least in part, was motivated by General K. V. Krishna Rao who was from the MAHAR REGIMENT and was the Chief of Army Staff at that time. The other outstanding General from the MAHAR REGIMENT, General K Sundarji, who later became the Chief of Army Staff, was also a motivating factor.
Could you tell us a little about the operations you’ve been a part of?
Personally, my real operational challenge remains the time when I was posted at the Siachen Glacier as a Captain. We were deployed at forward posts which were at heights of approximately 20,000 ft, where even basic survival was difficult. In addition to this, there was constant enemy action to contend with. The terrain and the weather conditions were so unfriendly that, at times, we were unable to even light a fire in order to melt ice into water. I was also posted in the North East- areas in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. However, I was majorly posted in Kashmir where we undertook several counter-terrorism operations in the Valley. I also had the privilege of commanding my battalion on the Line of Control (LoC).
What was your experience in the commando course and as an instructor in the Indian Military Academy (IMA)?
I underwent a tough commando course as a Second Lieutenant. It was approximately a 30-day long, hugely intensive training course where you do things that you may not have thought yourself as capable of in your wildest dreams. For instance- walking with a 40 kg load on your back for approximately 50 km! As an instructor in IMA, I’ve come across several motivated young men - some of whom continue to serve and hold prominent senior positions in the Army right now. There have been some humorous, eye-opening and even inspiring instances that I’ve shared with my cadets but the most rewarding experience of it all is the satisfaction of seeing your cadets turn into men and more specifically, turn into a soldier!
What was it like commanding the Rashtriya Rifles Sector- an important counter terrorism unit?
It was indeed one of the most challenging as well as learning experiences of my career. Our Sector was deployed in a very remote area in Kashmir which was a hotbed of terrorism and militancy. The weather and terrain in that part of Kashmir made it trickier for us to access some of our forward posts on foot, and helicopters had to be often used. I had 3 battalions with me the officers of which were skillfully trained in counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations. Now, counter-terrorism isn’t just about eliminating terrorists. It involves operating in a very hostile environment and achieving WHAM- Winning the Hearts and Minds of People. I was fortunate enough to have some excellent officers with me who accomplished both these tasks to the best of their abilities. Our aim in the Valley was to kill terrorism, rather than the terrorists. Though it was a difficult tenure, it was a satisfying one for which I was awarded a Vishisht Seva Medal. I owe this honour to the hard work of my men more than to my own abilities.
Sir, you have been decorated 5 times in your illustrious career. Tell us a little about what it felt like.
To be honest, I don’t like to talk about my own awards. But I’d like to use this chance to mention that a lot of people do a lot of things that go unrecognised. I would like to pay a tribute to all these people and say that, while I’m happy for my awards, let this not take away anything from those who worked equally hard but, for some reason or the other, went unrecognised.
You have held several Command, Staff and Instructional appointments in your career. What was it about your men that makes you remember them even today?
For me, the proudest moment has been when, on dangerous missions, my men volunteered to be a part of the team- they literally fell over each other to be a part of a mission even when they knew that they may not make it back alive. For example, if I needed 5 men to move across an enemy dominated area, I always had 25 men volunteering! That is the kind of spirit you don’t see anywhere else. I appreciate several attributes of my unit and my men but most importantly it is their unflinching loyalty, selflessness, courage in the face of adversity and their camaraderie.
What do you miss the most about being a soldier in the Indian Army?
I definitely miss the discipline, the ethos and the values that have been a part and parcel of my life for so long. But I carry these values of the Defence Services in whichever domain or sphere I’m working in.
Do you have a message for the youth of this country?
I have three messages in fact- Firstly, the awareness about the Defence Services, even amongst very highly educated people, is rather low. I would urge all of you to read, learn and know at least the general aspects of India’s Defence establishments. Secondly, let’s have a little more awareness for our Param Vir Chakras (PVCs) and other awardees as well as some of the great battles our forces have fought. These are the people because of whom we can go about our lives in a safe and secure manner. Thirdly, there are certain values that form the base of our Defence ethos- like discipline, commitment to work, loyalty- which when imparted to India’s young guns can contribute heavily in nation building. On a concluding note, every single one of us, in or out of uniform, is serving the nation in one way or the other. If each one of us does our job well, there is no reason why India cannot be a powerful world leader in the days to come.
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