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Hercules in hand, chief in school where dream took wings

Purulia, March 14: Indian Air Force chief Arup Raha today said the role of women would “increase” in the armed forces in the near future.

During his first visit to his alma mater — Sainik School, Purulia — after becoming Air Chief Marshal on December 31 last year, Raha today urged cadets at the institution to “join the camaraderie, the friendship and good spirit among personnel” in the services.

“Go for the armed forces, it is a way of life and not just a career,” he told a gathering of teachers and other staff members, cadets and their parents.

Raha was a student of the school between 1965 and 1970 before he joined the National Defence Academy. “When I was 10 years old, I wanted to join Sainik School, and once I did, I never hesitated to say that I always preferred the IAF,” said the air force chief, wife Lily by his side.

The officer, who has won the Param Vishisht Seva Medal, the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and the Vayusena Medal, said he owed his achievements to the training he received at Sainik School.

“This is my third visit here since I left school. Each visit reinforces my confidence. Sainik Schools are among the best in the country. Parents of cadets should be happy and proud that their children are being groomed in such institutions.”

Raha later told journalists he was happy he could make the visit. “It’s a great opportunity to meet the teachers and parents and relive old memories.”

Asked if girls will eventually be allowed to study in Sainik Schools, Raha said: “Women’s role in the defence services will increase. So Sainik Schools might be set up for girls in the near future.”

In the audience was Adhir Sutradhar, 75, who taught Raha the use of machine tools in Sainik School.

“As a teacher, it feels great that I taught a boy like him. Those days were different. The boys, including Raha, used to celebrate Holi with their teachers and carried us on their shoulders. We behaved like friends, the boys knew how to show respect,” the retired teacher said.

Later, Raha presented Sutradhar with a Kashmiri shawl.

Before leaving in a helicopter, Raha gave the school a cheque of Rs 50,000 and a huge picture of a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft landing in Ladakh.

Raha also visited the Kalaikunda air force base near Kharagpur, where he met senior officers and flew in a MiG-27 trainer aircraft.

“The Indian Air Force is on a trajectory of modernisation and is transforming into a strategic aerospace power with full spectrum capability,” the air chief said in his address to the personnel at the air base.

While it is routine for any new air chief to visit the formations and air bases, Raha’s tour of Kalaikunda is being viewed against the backdrop of the rising military might of China along the Line of Actual Control in the Northeast.

“The capacity of the Kalaikunda air base will be augmented by introducing many fighter aircraft and increasing the number of the existing varieties of aircraft in the region to instantly retaliate to any aggression from China,” a retired air force officer said.

In the past few years, the armed forces have upgraded facilities in the eastern sector. Last month, the foundation for a military station that will house a regiment was laid in Murshidabad.

Mountain Strike Corp, a new formation specialising in warfare in mountainous terrain, will soon be coming up in Burdwan’s Panagarh. In the past, the IAF has held joint exercises with the US and Singapore at Kalaikunda.

The air force chief is likely to meet chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Calcutta tomorrow.

He will also meet some of his schoolteachers and batchmates from Purulia who are based in Calcutta.