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Why the Indian Army handles stress better than all other armies

admin's படம்
Submitted by admin on வெள், 23/10/2015 - 06:41
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM & BAR (Retd)
A commentary on Indian society and the Indian Army's Regimentation; why this support system for soldiers is still the best.The trigger for this piece is a question from a Facebook friend, to whom I am most thankful. The question alluded to reasons why Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is so rampant in the US and indeed other Armies operating in areas such as Afghanistan and Iraq and in the same light what is the experience of the Indian Army with PTSD in our operational areas. This is as good a question as any and why it never struck me to write on this earlier beats me. Perhaps I am just presumptuous and I take our Army for granted just as so many others among my countrymen do. A saving grace is that in 2011 while in command of 15 Corps in Kashmir I instituted a study to examine stress levels in my Corps which undoubtedly has the highest level of operational engagements anywhere in the Army. 7000 officers and men were given an instrument by my outstanding medical staff, whose contributions remain a little unsung in the world of machismo and a bit of 'ramboism'. The reason for this was the run of suicides we were hit with. The study did help the Army’s outstanding doctors to arrive at various reasons for suicides but that is not the subject of this essay although I do not wish to underplay the findings. The study helped me as an individual to arrive at my own reasons for the levels of stress or lack of it in operational areas all over the Army's vast deployment.
Let me describe three scenarios from my own operational experience. The first is from Op Pawan, the IPKF's long drawn deployment in India’s first out of area operation (OOAP). The second is from the LoC where I take the case of a unit deployed in a mode to ensure the sanctity of the LoC (which essentially means, no change to its current status, which in turn means that not an inch of the territory in our control should change ownership) and prevent any infiltration of terrorists from POK. And, the third is of an RR unit deployed in depth but close to a forested area with population centres nearby in Kashmir. These are classic examples of the way Infantry and some other Arms function in operational areas.
After the blood and gore of the intense phase of operations in the Jaffna Peninsula in Oct-Jan 1987 the IPKF settled to more routine counter insurgency (CI) operations. There was really nothing routine about them because the LTTE's well-trained cadres fought almost like regulars and less like militants. Units were deployed in company groups at operating bases (COBs) with an area of responsibility. The LTTE could muster as many as 100-200 men at a given point and if ambushed could actually conduct counter ambush drills to break the ambush, quite unlike militants. Their own ambushes were well sited, in large numbers and almost always accompanied by IEDs. Patrols which went out could not let down their guard even within hundred meters from the gate of their posts. Units which remained inside posts without dominating their periphery suffered because the approaches were mined by daring young tigers that crept up as close as ten meters from posts. Trees were booby trapped as were bushes. On the coastline near the town of Mullaitivu an attempt to occupy posts with 20 men or so met with response from 50 or more militants, leading to the Army suffering heavy casualties. Leave parties left and arrived once in three weeks when the road was opened and there was no certainty about reaching destinations without an engagement. As a company commander, if I went on an operation with two platoons I always remained worried about the state of security at my COB where only 20 men were left. Equally when I was at the COB I was always ready to rush for reinforcement of any other company or my own men out on operations. So what can be expected in such an environment except a severe state of tension especially since failure meant loss of quite a few lives. The Indian Army takes casualties with much concern and a high loss of lives without commensurate infliction of higher losses on the adversary is hugely frowned upon, leading to even accusations of inaction and cowardice on part of officers. An entry such as this in your CR means the end of career.
The LoC deployment is in posts and picquets and in some places can be as low as eight men. In the Uri sector is a high altitude area of height 14000 feet and more where snow levels top 35 feet and the area of approximately a company plus (functionally 120 men) is cut off for six months. Extremely difficult evacuation of sick soldiers or casualties by helicopter is possible only with severe risk. The evacuation of small posts to reach the mother post before heavy snow sets in is always fraught with danger and is a unit commander’s nightmare. That leaves routes open which terrorists could sneak through with risk only terrorists can take. Every year a few frozen bodies of dead terrorists are found. In summer, isolated posts can be attacked by Pakistan regulars mixed with terrorists (BAT teams). So can our logistics parties which carry out advance winter stocking for almost six months and move on predictable routes every day, be ambushed en route by shallow raiding Pakistan elements. By day it is essential to carry out snow clearance in winter. In summer there is the challenge of carrying water from sources which keep receding to a far distance (there is no system of bottled water in the Army). Then comes night and four to six man ambushes have to be deployed along the LoC fence from last light to well after first light. To ensure the right density a major part of the sub unit remains deployed along the LoC Fence and the remaining personnel ensure the security of the post.
A brief description of the functioning of RR units on the CT grid is outlined. Every RR unit has its peculiar area of operations. The threat is of standoff fire by terrorists or sneak attacks on posts and not large scale attacks of the LTTE kind. In today’s environment the RR unit’s source of tension is more from bandhs and stone throwing mobs which target their vehicles or patrols. Quick thinking independent decisions are required from junior leaders keeping propriety in mind and degree of response. Small vehicle convoys have been targeted by mobs leaving soldiers in quandary over the need to fire or not to save themselves and Government property. The pressure for results in urban areas and nearby forests is ever present and unit commanders drive their troops to ensure domination and control, gain intelligence and execute innovative operations while seeking contact. I would classify tension here as high but lower than the LoC where threat to life and possibility of adverse contact is far higher.
The tour of duty for Indian soldiers is usually two to three years; that of troops of western armies is six months. Despite terrain constraints the western armies depend far more on helicopter support for logistics and even for bail outs in adverse tactical situations; not so in the Indian Army except for casualty evacuation. The Indian soldier as much as the western one does not fear for his life, but prevailing uncertainty and lack of rest are two major factors for stress. Climatic conditions in high altitude areas can be a major source of tension and if soldiers fear anything it is the effects of climate. Avalanches top the list. In Sri Lanka where operational conditions were far more life threatening I used to look into the eyes of my soldiers and draw solace from that; hardly ever did I find fear writ on their faces. If there was it was due to the possibility of being isolated or detached from the subunit. The necessity of buddy contact was essential. One does not fear for life but of being detached from the subunit or being taken prisoner. What is remarkable is the complete lack of emotions to losses of even close buddies in operations. Our soldiers take the disorder of battle extremely well as well as deprivation of comforts. I always emphasized on the need for ‘sleep/rest management’ of the soldiers because that is an area which is usually neglected by the leadership. Soldiers cannot be expected to function 24x7 but the demands of their responsibility expect exactly that. On the LoC night and day is the same in terms of alert.
There are cases of suicides but hardly ever is this work related. The availability of the mobile phone acts as the biggest threat. In the tense environment of the LoC or RR related operations bad news from home can act as a trigger. In many such instances it is young soldiers unable to bear the additional tension of problems at home; problems as seemingly irrelevant as a newlywed wife unable to get along with the mother in law. Sitting far away on a remote post the immediate world around the soldier may be perceived by him to be within his control but not the world around his home where the problems affect him much more. In his post or on patrol he can still share his immediate concern about safety with his buddy or his superior but sharing home based problems is a greater challenge. Marital problems are one dimension, property problems in rural areas and absence at crucial moments when something legal is involved can be extremely stressful. While leave policy of units is always liberal and the government has sanctioned two free trips home with other trips at concessional rates it is a question of timing. Everyone cannot be away from duty at harvest time or during festivals and that is a problem which the units minimize through whatever they can do to compensate.
The experience of western armies has been the inability of returning soldiers to merge in society; that is a form of PTSD or an effect. Loss of partners while they were away, inability to concentrate on jobs, fits of anger and regret due to unpalatable actions in dealing with aliens and innocents in way off lands, etc; all add to the terrible isolation that individual citizens feel in developed societies. That is the saving grace of Indian society where despite prickly problems of farmer suicides or rural poverty there is family and societal support for those who are away serving the nation. It may all disappear in due course and the mishandling of OROP may very well contribute to the soldier’s dwindling confidence in the support system which Indian society and family system continues to provide.
More than anything else the psychological well-being of soldiers is contingent upon the efficient functioning of the Regimental system of the Indian Army. To a visiting DG of a CAPF I strongly recommended a day be spent with an RR unit. This was in response to his query as to what makes an RR unit tick and achieve so much. He was kind to take my advice, spent a day at Baramula and then rang me up to say that he had got the answer. Bonding of the cap badge and the lanyard has been taken by the Indian Army to such a high level that camaraderie is natural; a soldier’s problems, from womb to tomb (notwithstanding stray cases of neglect of widows reported once in a while) are the unit’s problems. There has been much talk of diluting the Regimental system; the British could not help it and had to compromise with theirs due to downsizing. They taught us what Regimentation means; today the Indian Army can teach them a few lessons in psychological strengthening of soldiers through the Regimental system.
It is not all rosy. Society is changing very rapidly in India. The haloed identity of the soldier is being hugely compromised by the needless rancor over OROP which the government should consider a sensible investment in the social stability of the armed forces. The unfortunate thing in India is that decision makers have very little idea about the profession of arms, perceiving it to be a contractual profession; the soldier's functioning is as yet not contractual but with the complete lack of understanding in a fast changing society all that differentiates the Indian Army from western armies may well collapse. That will be a sad day indeed and a rebirth for Indian military sociology
About the Author
A Sherwoodian and a Stephanian, Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM & BAR (Retd) is proud of his educational background as he is of his parentage and his Regiment. A second generation soldier whose father was also a General Officer of the Indian Army, the Hasnain family is fiercely loyal to its Regiment - The Garhwal Rifles. One of Indian Army's highest decorated General Officers, he was awarded honours for command of troops in every command assignment. The Hasnain family has 10 decorations to its credit, the maximum in any military family with the PVSM being awarded both to father and son, one of the rare achievements. The General has exposure to diverse military situations through service in Operation PAWAN (IPKF in Sri Lanka), Operation MEGHDOOT (Siachen Glacier), Eastern Ladakh, Punjab insurgency, Line of Control (J&K) and the North East. Even abroad he was a witness to the horrific situation in the near genocide in Rwanda(Central Africa) as part of United Nations Forces. The crowning glory was his command of 21 Corps (Strike) and 15 Corps (J&K), ending his career as the Military Secretary of the Indian Army where he introduced his famous HR mantra - 'Play Friend Not God'. Now associated with two major Delhi based think tanks Vivekanand International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group, the General brings his musings to the public synthesizing his military experience and strategic outlook to express ideas on a range of issues. He speaks frequently at corporate conferences, international institutions such as the Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the training establishments of the three Services, besides the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration, Mussorie, National Academy of Customs Excise & Narcotics, Faridabad..http://www.ibnlive.com/blogs/india/lt-gen-syed-ata-hasnain/why-the-indian-army-handles-stress-better-than-all-other-armies-14405-1153882.html