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‘Courage is to hold on’: How Kargil fighting turned 3 Army doctors into frontline soldiers

Vijay Kumar, Rajesh W. Adhau & V.V. Sharma were among doctors who won Sena Medal for Gallantry for playing pivotal role in reducing Indian casualties in the Kargil war.

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New Delhi: For Vijay Kumar, Rajesh W. Adhau and V.V. Sharma, being doctors was career, but their heart bled for the olive uniform — the Army.

As the country celebrates the 22nd anniversary of the Kargil Battle and pays homage to the bravehearts who made the supreme sacrifice while fighting Pakistani soldiers, the three doctors, who are now Colonels in the Army, are proud of having saved hundreds of lives during the battle.

The three doctors, along with another who is now retired, won the Sena Medal for Gallantry, for playing a pivotal role in reducing Indian casualties by treating the injured on the frontlines, amid heavy gun fire, with no regard for their own safety.

While these doctors knew what they had signed up for, the Kargil Battle brought out the best in them.

“Before joining the forces, I was aware of all these circumstances. You can learn from history that doctors have always played their role, even in old wars like World War 1 and World War II. But yes, it was really a different experience,” Col Kumar told ThePrint when asked if he knew what he was getting into when he signed up after finishing his MBBS.

He added: “A military hospital provides a stable environment and you are adequately equipped. But in Kargil, it was about managing the casualties in a rugged high-altitude area with no cover and especially under heavy enemy fire and artillery shelling. I used to manage casualties inside temporary bunkers, and also in the open, which was quite challenging in extreme weather conditions.”

Also read: Vajpayee took journalists, analysts to Kargil frontlines. In 2020, Modi can’t even say ‘China’

In the line of fire

He is supported by Col Adhau who said when he first joined the Army, he was “so happy” to get his first posting at the prestigious Army Hospital Research & Referral, Delhi Cantt.

“I thought I would be there forever. I never really thought that I would be a part of an ongoing war, where I would be operating on soldiers wounded by gunshots in an area of extreme shelling from the enemy side,” he said.

But then once put into the frying pan, the doctors fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their fellow soldiers.

“War scene is dreadful, as one is surrounded by casualties, catastrophe, fear of impending death. That is natural but as they say ‘courage is to hold on a minute longer’ and the true gallantry, valour and zeal to defeat the enemy who had encroached our land with wrong intentions was far more motivating than the war scene and its after-effects,” Col Sharma said.

“Every passing day was creating epoch stories of heroism exemplified by our soldiers and officers. This motivated me to not let them down and I decided to move with them to the war zone in the middle of battle,” he said.

Their first job was to provide immediate medical help to the war-wounded so that casualties were minimised.

This meant that field medical camps had to be set up in close proximity of the battlefield, so that at the time of evacuation, the doctors could start first aid and resuscitation in the ‘Golden Hour’ after injury, when treatment is most likely to be effective.

“Because of me moving close to the battlefield, I could save about 150 casualties. Whenever I meet these soldiers and their families, it gives me strength and their smiling faces, which are full of gratitude, often tells me that I have done my bit as doctor and soldier in uniform,” Col Sharma said.

Also read: Kargil: What kind of a democracy are we that we are shy of facing the truth about our wars?

Moving memories

Col Kumar will never forget a soldier whose life he could save only because he decided to be in the battlefield.

While he, along with his Alpha Company of a Battalion, were moving towards the Line of Control in Dras sector on 27 May, 1999, they suddenly came under intense fire from the enemy, by heavy weaponry and artillery shelling.

“Many soldiers of the Alpha Company got injured and sustained multiple splinter injuries, including one fatal case. During this attack, one of the young soldiers lost both his hands. He was bleeding profusely and was unconscious due to shock when I attended him,” Col Kumar recalled.

He and the unit Battlefield Nursing Assistant shifted the patient behind a rock to cover him from incoming enemy fire, as the engagement was still going on from both sides.

“I managed to stop the bleeding by compression bandages on both the hands and further administered IV fluids to manage shock. Afterwards, we shifted the injured soldier with others to the next medical echelon by stretcher till the road head and thereafter by ambulance. He was then airlifted to Forward Surgical Center (FSC). He survived because of his strong will to live and timely medical management in the battle area. I will not say that this incident broke me, but it was indeed an emotionally demanding day for me, seeing many young boys of the company sustaining lifelong injuries and trauma of all sorts in a matter of a few seconds.”

While it is popularly believed that doctors are immune to seeing pain, the three doctors told ThePrint it was not the case.

“When I was at Tololing complex, one of my jawans from the mess staff had recently got married. During a chat with him, I asked ‘Why are you joining the front line? You should be amongst the administrative party!’ The brave lad replied ‘Sir, fighting the enemy is my final Dharma! I have to fight against the enemy!’ After two hours, I received an unfortunate call informing me of our first casualty by a gunshot wound in the forehead (It was the jawan mentioned above). I was completely shattered after hearing this. Later, when Capt Vikram Batra made supreme sacrifice, I lifted his mortal remains and felt extremely sad,” Col Adhau said.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: How Indian Army’s valour and Vajpayee’s diplomacy won the Kargil War for India


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