The Indian Army has one class of soldiers which can truly be termed “exceptional”. These are the Drill Ustaads. They come from all regiments, but predominantly from the Infantry. After months of rigorous training and undergoing one of the most difficult selection processes ever, the handpicked few are then posted at the military academies. Headed by a towering personality in the form of a Subedar Major, the Drill Ustaads are the strongmen who literally run the academies. With the single-minded mantra of ‘Drill, Discipline and Danda’, their sole job is to convert young boys into men. Men, who, in due course, would lead troops into battle.
Several of these Ustaads go on to become legends. Sub Raghunath Singh was one of them. An experienced instructor from the Infantry School, and a war hero to boot, Raghunath joined the National Defence Academy in 1968 and remained as our Drill Ustaad in Echo Squadron over the next few years. He was a proud man. Proud of his lineage, proud of his paltan, the famous 1 Dogra, proud of his Vir Chakra, which he won in the 1965 India-Pakistan War. He was a great Ustaad, who taught us the values of ‘Izzat, Naam, Namak, Nishaan’.
The story of Raghunath’s leadership during the 1965 War is also quite amazing. On September 11, while leading a depleted platoon of 18 men during the Battle of Asal Uttar, he came to know about a group of heavily armed Pakistani soldiers deployed in a sugarcane field. Knowing he was outnumbered, the then Havildar Raghunath, displaying great presence of mind and confidence, started shouting orders to other non-existent platoons to surround the field and prepare to assault. As he moved forward, he yelled at the enemy to surrender or perish. Amazingly, the Pakistanis lost their nerve and emerged with their hands up in surrender!
Havildar Raghunath, without firing a single shot, had captured the top leadership of Pakistan’s 4th Cavalry, including the Commanding Officer, Lt Col Nazir Ahmed, three officers and 17 men. Without their leadership, the entire armoured regiment was left hors de combat.
For this act of gallantry and his stellar leadership in battle, Raghunath was awarded Vir Chakra, while his battalion was bestowed with Battle Honour ‘Asal Uttar’.
We, as young cadets, were enthralled with Raghunath’s stories of the war. He never showed off, he never added “mirch masala”. But we knew we were in the presence of a true warrior.
A few years later, we were commissioned and joined our respective battalions, almost straight into the battlefields of the 1971 India-Pakistan War. Raghunath, too, had been posted back to his battalion.
1 Dogra was part of the Indian offensive into Shakargarh bulge. On December 15, Sub Raghunath, with his Charlie Company, along with 7 Cavalry, was launched into an attack against a strong Pakistani position. During the fierce combat that ensued, Pakistani aircraft swept into the battlefield, strafing our exposed troops. A burst of bullets hit Subedar Raghubir on his chest.
The Tiger of 1 Dogra, the gallant Vir Chakra recipient of 1965, fell on the battlefield with the battle cry “Jwala Mata Ki Jai” on his lips, never to rise again.
Our beloved Drill Ustaad was gone forever.
“As I lie on the battlefield,
I open my eyes a final time
To see my flag fluttering high
I know that I’ve not died in vain”