In and out of combat dress!

Lt Gen KJ Singh (retd)

COMBAT dress, the most visible and signature dress in the armed forces, was introduced in the Army in the 1980s. The uniform is not supplied to officers, who procure the cloth and get it stitched. The cloth is easily available despite orders restricting its sale, and is being misused for table cloths, shamiana, suitcase and seat covers! Seeing such combinations, our jawans prefer to call it ‘combined dress’. No wonder, terrorists find it easy to wear cloned versions.

The dress was adapted from foreign armies, and for many years, the shirt was worn like a tunic or bush-shirt, in line with foreign counterparts. Abroad, they use functional canvas belt but we decided to use our regulation web belt under the tunic. Trousers, till very recently, were left untucked, more like civvies. The idea was to remain comfortable, and only in operations, wear field packs and anklets. In trying to appear combat ready, we now see comic scenes of faujis in HQ and civilian events, all ready for combat, that too on Friday, when the corporate world switches to casuals.

I was posted at Zakhama, Nagaland, in 2002 with the Inspector-General Assam Rifles. We were lined up at a helipad for a VIP visit. All of us were wearing the combat dress with the tunic tucked in, as our IG, with the biological dividend of being slim, preferred it that way.

The first chopper, ferried our Corps Commander from Rangapahar (Dimapur). He was wearing his tunic out and with visible annoyance, he asked why we were violating Army order and not wearing dress as per regulations. We got the cue and while the IG headed to the only washroom, we found nearby bushes and re-attired appropriately.

Soon, we heard another chopper and the radio operator announced: ‘Highest minus 1 Tiger approaching’. Our Army Commander arrived next. He was fit as a fiddle and liked to tuck in the tunic. The Army Commander remarked that in field areas it is good to be combat ready. Weather in Naga hills plays its own games and imposed a welcome tea-break as clouds had descended low. Break and bushes were utilised to change order, once again with the tunic tucked in. Like a good 2IC, I found a very private bush for my boss as the Corps Commander had priority right on the toilet.

As we waited and the weather cleared, the operator announced, ‘Highest Tiger approaching’. We scrambled to line up. Our Chief arrived and the first thing, we noticed was his tunic. Given his well-known sweet tooth, it called for us to again find corners and pull out our tunics. It is good that the fog of dress has since lifted and now orders are clear-cut: tuck in the tunic and trousers, wear the belt and look combat ready.

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