Flt Lt Pankaj Choudhary and Flying Officers Ragi Ramachandran and Vikas Yadav will be in the vanguard of the contingent led by Sharma, the IAF said.
When Flt Lt Srikant Sharma will lead the 144-strong India Air Force contingent on Rajpath on January 26, he will not only fulfil his own dream to march down the ceremonial boulevard during the Republic Day parade, but also redeem wishes of his father, who wanted to join the armed forces. The 26-year-old IAF officer, brimming with pride, says the “eyes of the country will be on us too when the contingent walks past the president, but the honour also fills me with humility”.
Sharma, who hails from Jaipur and has been an NCC cadet, shared that this achievement is also a nod to his father’s dream of serving in the armed forces. “I have seen the R-Day parade on TV and my brother had led a contingent of an Army regiment last year. And now I will be at the helm for the IAF contingent. So, my dad will have seen both his sons as leaders,” he told PTI.
The IAF officer said he was ecstatic about leading the contingent, but “my father will be more delighted”. “He (father) wanted to join the armed forces and had also given the entrance examination. But, as fate would have it, this was around 1984 and due to some contingencies back then the interview could not take place. So, this honour feels special, as it will also be a fulfilment of his dream in a way,” Sharma said.
“Getting into the armed forces was a dream come true and this opportunity to lead the contingent is an “icing on the cake,” he said.
Flt Lt Pankaj Choudhary and Flying Officers Ragi Ramachandran and Vikas Yadav will be in the vanguard of the contingent led by Sharma, the IAF said. Ramachandran, the only woman fronting the contingent, said it was a “moment of great pride” that also “inspires great humility in me” given the prestige the Republic Day celebrations hold for one and all. But preparing for the parade has not been easy, though armed forces regimen prepare them well, the officers concurred.
“We would have to wake up at 3 AM for rehearsals at Rajpath. We would initially do some warm-ups to shrug off the morning cold and then do the marching. On January 26, we will have to walk all the way to the Red Fort, so we have to built stamina, but the enthusiasm and spirit is running high,” he said.
An IAF marching band will be ahead of the contingent when they walk down the Rajpath. “On the first day, it was quite difficult to match the steps with the beats as we have to march in a synchronised way. We used to see on TV and it looked so easy, but it takes a lot of hard work to perfect the steps,” Sharma said.
Asked if they faced any issue due to morning haze and darkness in early hours, the IAF officer said, “At times, halogen lights were used as visibility would be poor due to fog. But it is all worth it, the pride of being part of the Republic Day parade that feeling is exceptional,” he said. Asked which all planes he has flown, Sharma said, “Super Dimona, PC-7, Kiran MK III, Hawk and Sukhoi Su-30”.
The IAF will also showcase a host of air defence capabilities of the country during the Republic Day celebrations here, including a ‘vic’ formation of An-32 aircraft, whose lead plane will be flying using a mix of traditional and biofuel for the first time during the parade. The end of the parade will be marked by a single Sukhoi aircraft Su-30 MKI of the IAF performing the signature ‘vertical charlie’ in the air.