'My task includes providing strategic operational communication to further-most troops located in the vicinity of Line of Actual Control.'
Major Bhavna Syal is posted in Eastern Ladakh at a military station that deals with troops serving on the China border.
As an officer with the Corps of Signals, her task includes providing strategic operational communication to the further-most troops located in the vicinity of the Line of Actual Control.
The officer, whose father and both grandfathers served in the Indian Army, has spent nearly two years at the high altitude military base located at 11,500 feet.
As the company commander of the unit, she is in charge of 5 junior commissioned officers [JCOs] and 188 other ranks.
There are two lady officers in the unit which comprises 19 officers, 42 JCOs and approximately 600 other ranks.
"We are on 24 hour duty and can swing into action at a very short notice," said Major Syal over the phone from Eastern Ladakh.
Commissioned into the Army in 2012, her first posting was in a counterinsurgency environment in Rajouri, Jammu and Kashmir.
Then a lieutenant, she was the first woman officer to be posted to the Romeo force which deals with counterinsurgency in J&K.
"I was section commander in the radio relay section. My task was to provide communication to the forward most troops," says the officer who has had several highpoints in her decade in the Indian Army.
She was deployed in Lebanon with the UN Peackeeping Force for 19 months in 2019-2021. "I was the information management officer. My responsibility broadly was to computerise information into the system and protect data," she says.
The officer's UN tenure was extended due to the pandemic. During that tenure she also travelled to Uganda in east Africa for a 14-day course in peacekeeping intelligence.
"I also got the honour of representing the Corps of Signals on the 70th Republic Day parade on the transportable satellite terminal vehicle," says the officer, talking with pride about the landmarks of her career so far.
"I am really proud of my current posting in Eastern Ladakh. It has been a great learning experience," says the major who is a native of Chandigarh.
"There is no difference between women and male officers -- everybody is a soldier. He gives us the same tasks and doesn't shy away from sending us to forward locations."
There are two lady officers in the unit.
Stationed at a location where the temperatures go down to -25, military personnel here not only deal with a hostile and belligerent adversary across the border, but battle a harsh terrain and weather.
"The winters are severe, and the terrain is difficult. However, with proper clothing, acclimatisation and physical activity, one can tackle both."
"The CO keeps telling us the golden rule -- 'there is no such thing as bad weather, there's only bad clothing'. So we are well equipped, and clothed to protect ourselves," says the officer giving a peek into the challenges faced by military personnel at those heights where troops have to undergo acclimatisation at stages.
"We do PT even when the temperature goes to minus 25. That is how we keep ourselves physically fit," adds the officer who has travelled to posts where the temperature goes down to minus 40 degrees as part of her duties.
The daily routine in the unit sees personnel waking up at 6 am followed by PT for an hour from 6:30 to 7:30 and then office from 9 am onwards. An hour in the evening is earmarked for games where the officers and other ranks play volleyball or basketball together.
"Playing games with the troops deepens the bond with them and keeps the morale high," says Major Sayal.
Office work is resumed in the evening. Dinner is at 9 pm.
The troops watch motivational movies or programmes about Param Vir Chakra awardees every Sunday.
There is a facility where they can speak to family members and loved ones over the phone.
Reflecting on the tradition, culture and ethos of a military unit, Major Syal says that she remembers her early days of being groomed as an officer with immense gratitude.
"When you join your first unit, you are in the charge of a senior subaltern who is probably a rank senior. It is his responsibility to groom you."
"He corrects your mistakes and is ruthless because he wants to ensure that you never repeat those mistakes."
"He taught me so well. If you are not groomed in the first unit, it's difficult to move ahead because you keep making the same mistakes," says the officer who nurtured the desire to join the armed forces since she was a child.
"My father's olive green uniform, and the brass on his shoulder always fascinated me. I don't think there is a better profession to serve the nation with pride and honour than the armed forces."
Elated and encouraged with the fact that command roles will now be offered to eligible lady officers, she says the position and projection of women officers is progressing steadily in the Indian Army.
"I'm very sure this will lead to many more women joining the armed forces. Women officers are getting what they deserve," she adds.
"I hope someday I will get a command role too. I'm working towards that goal."
Watch: Major Bhavna Syal on her mission
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com