COVID 19 and Indian Army: How to cope with movement restrictions

April 20, 2020 4:10 PM

In an environment of United we Stand Divided we fall; the new norm of social distancing is a major challenge for leadership at all levels.

COVID 19, indian army, movement restrictions, nationwide lockdwon, indian defence services, defence news, coronavirus outbreakThe Indian Army is a volunteer army has sixty per cent of the troops who are staying in the unit lines as their families are in their respective villages/cities. (Representational image: AP photo)

By Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd)

Troops are happy when they are kept busy. Under the current Nationwide lockdown, the Indian Defence Services too have suspended all activities related to peacetime soldiering. These are mainly training, up-gradation cadres and professional qualifications, physical fitness, maintenance of equipment which includes warlike stores and unit assets. The Indian Army is a volunteer army has sixty per cent of the troops who are staying in the unit lines as their families are in their respective villages/cities.

In an environment of United we Stand Divided we fall; the new norm of social distancing is a major challenge for leadership at all levels. Fortunately, the summers have set in and the heat itself ensures that individual soldiers keep the requisite distance between themselves. While this may be easy in peacetime stations; the challenges are more acute at the Line of Control as the virus adds another challenge to the ones already existing. The enemy is not going to let any laxity go by and would exploit any window of opportunity to push across terrorists (who may be affected by Corona Virus) thus killing two birds with one stone. So how does one keep the boys busy?

Fortunately, the units are based on a modular system and it is assumed, that under that rationale troops are divided and kept engaged in routine duties of area maintenance, maintenance of vehicles, weapon cleaning, stock taking, segregation of beyond economic repair items and seeking their disposal. Making demands for deficient equipment and stores, personal documentation of All Ranks.

In fact the Pandemic is a great time to break the biorhythm of the troops as the 24-hour cycle can be broken down into four quarters and the troops at the sub-unit level be tasked accordingly. This would ensure that the social distance norms of the Ministry of Health and Family welfare are met in letter and spirit. To sum up, the South Western Army Commander has penned his thoughts which are very valid for the Indian Army, are appended below.

“ Commanding the COVID, “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost anyhow.”

The stakes are high; we are dealing today with an unforeseen, unfathomable and I daresay unbeatable enemy which is omnipresent. The COAS has rightly directed that force preservation is the order of the day and I am sure that everyone is paying heed to that diktat. Yes, we all need to be counted; yes we all need to do everything in our capacity to ensure that we and our command are prepared to undertake any task that comes our way. Deep down we all know that Fauj will always deliver, no matter what, we always do!

However, let me attempt to put a finger to keyboard and list out some unsolicited advice.

Firstly, for the Commanding Officer, the man in the eye of the storm. As has been emphasized time and again, it’s vital for you to be visible; make sure your visits to the langar, the lines, the family quarters, the BFNA up-gradation cadres etc are more than usual – remember you are in Ops and it’s vital that your men see you leading from the front.

Another important thing in our context is that you must at least seem to have an answer to all their questions – remember, for them their CO Saab is supreme and is expected to be the saviour, always; make sure you live up to that expectation. There is bound to be a lot of ambiguity, maybe even dichotomy (not by design though) with the orders that will come your way, especially now as you prepare for what lies ahead (which incidentally nobody can predict), however don’t hesitate to put across your point of view, especially when it concerns the well-being of your command.

There may be numerous restrictions in place, but please be empathetic towards the genuine needs of the men you command, especially those away from their families, and don’t hesitate to raise the level when reqd. Your better half has a huge role to play in order to assuage the anxieties of every soul in the extended family that you call your battalion/regiment/unit; make sure you find ways to make this exercise inclusive and craft a narrative to suit every stakeholder.

Nobody could have predicted the kind of situation that you are commanding in, so innovate as you go along (and by that I certainly don’t mean the many avishkars doing the rounds) and deal with the situations as they present themselves.

Most importantly, keep yourself fit, physically & mentally, and find ways for your command to follow suit – it’s vital we all do.

Secondly, for the Staff Officer at higher headquarters. Please recall your own time from when you were in a unit and felt slighted by a Staff Officer who only cared to please his Boss or his higher headquarters, rather than logically apply himself. Please remember, your loyalty ought to lie with the organisation first and NOT repeat NOT with the person you are the Staff Officer to. Your job is to always take an all-round a considered view of the situation on ground and advice/debate decisions which will have far-reaching consequences.

In your exuberance to always seem like you have all the answers, don’t be a creator of work; rather be creative enough to lessen the burden below you.

Lastly, to the Higher Cdrs in the chain of command – please have trust, both laterally & vertically, and especially on your subordinates. Right now, nobody has the answers to what lies ahead, nor is anyone likely to anytime soon. But, you are expected to draw on your years of experience & wisdom, as also that of your staff, colleagues and subordinates and pass clear-cut directions; however please do so after you have war-gamed them thoroughly with the people who are going to be affected by those directions, because for them, coming from you, those are orders.

Let’s hope, pray and prepare, so that we may emerge from this challenge stronger, wiser and unscathed. God speed. Lt Gen Alok Kler ”

(The author is Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)

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