Back in 1974, I was a young Captain then, posted to a Unit located in High Altitude. My Signal Company consisted of detachments providing wireless communications to combat elements all along the border in Central Himalayan range. There were a few men at the Headquarters (HQs) also who manned telephone exchange and provided local telephone connectivity. We were authorised one jeep and couple of mules since there were no roads in the forward areas.
It was time of September and the weather was fairly cold. Unit’s yearly Administrative inspection was coming up in a month. Our Commanding Officer had stopped leave of all men till the Administrative inspection. Urgent cases had to be referred to him. I had one Havildar ( Indian equivalent of Sargent ) Badri who came to me with a request for ten days casual leave since his mother was very sick and he had to rush home to get her treated. I explained to him that the leave had been stopped by the CO, however I would ask him. That day the CO had gone down to the base where our Higher HQs was located. Those days the telecommunications were not very good (no mobiles era ) and I could not get in touch with him. So I took the decision myself and allowed Badri to proceed on leave. When my CO returned back to the unit location after two days, I informed him. He was very annoyed and let me have it for disobeying his orders. My men also came to know that I had got a good dressing down from the CO.
After ten days, Havildar Badri returned from leave and we all prepared well for the Administrative inspection which went off well. It was then the month of November and it had started snowing. Due to change of weather some men of my company had fallen sick. Havildar Badri was located in a detachment about three miles away at a Hilltop called Pathar ( Stones ) from our HQs. Even Badri had climate change effect and was suffering from high fever. He was placed by the Medical Officer as Sick in Quarters ( SIQ, A term implying complete rest). I was called by my CO who informed me that the Divisional Commander was coming for a sudden visit that day afternoon and besides visiting our HQs, he would also visit Pathar location. Therefore necessary telephone communications must be provided both at HQs and Pathar location. This entailed laying of field cable for a distance of 3-4 Miles. Since time was at premium we decided to start laying the field cable from both the ends, that is HQs and Pathar. I was then informed by my radio detachment at Pather that two of their men had accompanied a long-range patrol and were not available and the only person available besides the operator on duty was Hav Badri who was suffering from high fever that day and was placed SIQ. So I along with two men carried field cable on our backs in dispenser packs and started laying cable uphill from HQs location towards Pathar, we knew that we would take double the time as on the other end no person was available for laying the cable. The VIP was to arrive in next three hours by a Helicopter. It was a tight schedule and matter of touch and go. Anyway there was no alternative and we carried on as fast as possible.
As we had covered just about a mile of cable laying, we found a small stature person running down from Pather location. When he came close, we found it was Havildar Badri with a cable dispenser pack on his back and laying the cable from opposite end with a good speed. He had already covered two miles as against our one mile ( we were laying cable uphill ), since being downhill he could achieve faster speed. Finally we met up and jointed the cable, thus telephone communications were established between two locations. We still had two hours to spare before the Divisional Commander came.
I touched Badri’s forehead, it was burning with fever, I was literally moved by his dedication. I asked him, “Badri, you were supposed to be Sick in Quarters, why have you taken the risk and done the cable laying.” He replied, ” Sir this is nothing, when you could get CO’s displeasure after sanctioning me leave, how can I see you in problem! Due to my reaching the village in time, I could take my mother for treatment and she survived. This is a very small thing that I can do for you.” I could only say, ” Badri, I am proud of you.”
From this incident, I learnt a big lesson which is, ” Always attend to the Hygienic needs and welfare of your subordinates and lead them upfront by personal example. They would never let you down.” I applied this lesson in my following years of military life and kept getting promoted till I retired as a two star General. I always feel that these promotions were due to the efforts of my men like Badri.