Wg Cdr JS Bhalla (Retd)
IT was a foggy winter morning at Halwara. As visibility improved, squadrons launched their aircraft for local flying. It was around 1000 hours when I heard “Halwara 10” calling. “Come in 10” was my spontaneous reply without realising that call sign “10” is designated for the Chief of the Air Staff. It took a few seconds for the information to sink in. The aircraft asked for descend, giving ETA 15 minutes. There was no intimation about this movement and it appeared to be a surprise visit of the Chief after the 1965 operation. Gnats and Hunters were carrying out local flying with gusto to complete their task. I handed over the controls to my number two and at a dizzy speed, Stn Cdr Group Captain Dilbagh Singh (later Chief of the Air Staff) was informed about the unscheduled arrival of the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Arjan Singh (later MIAF).
His sudden arrival had shaken up everyone in the unit. To clear all doubts, I was asked to reconfirm if the Chief was on board. I held my nerves and asked, “Confirm if Chief onboard.” “Affirmative, Sir,” came the prompt reply. Adding “Sir” to the conversation elevated our spirits and we all swung into action. All aircraft on local flying were asked to fly for endurance, keeping the airspace clear for the Chief’s arrival. All air activity came to a standstill to keep the noise level to the bare minimum for the VVIP to land and unboard the aircraft. The Canberra aircraft made a smooth landing and was directed to VIP dispersal. The Stn Cdr and Command Air Defence Officer were the only two officers present to receive the Chief. Other PSOs were incommunicado carrying out their respective tasks, unaware of the Chief’s visit. Those were mobile-less days, landline was the only mode of communication.
We received a message to assemble in the officers’ mess by 1300 hours. It may be for a pep talk, I thought. The Chief arrived in the mess to address us. “Well, gentlemen, Halwara has played a very crucial role in the 1965 war and the station has earned many gallantry awards which has made me feel proud. I thought of conveying my gratitude to you all in person for your hard work and good show.” The talk carried on for sometime, turning into a friendly discussion. His persona impressed everyone.
Many of us who expected a fault-finding mission were relieved with his narration. His talk boosted our morale, we were happy to hear that our unit had done well and the appreciation came from none other than the Chief.
There was no ceremonial parade, no guard of honour, no lineup of officers, yet the visit had gone well. That was his way of visiting a unit. Not to disturb the normal routine of the unit may be one of the reasons for keeping his visit a surprise.
The memories of the past came alive when the country gave a fitting farewell with full military honours to the MIAF, a hero of World War II and the 1965 war.
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