It is impossible for regular people to fathom the kind of life an Indian soldier leads on Siachen, the highest battlefield on earth. So, when many of these retired soldiers come back to civilian life, and work as security guards and owners of neighbourhood Mother Dairy booths, it falls on every citizen of this country to give them the utmost respect and dignity.
The weather beaten faces of these army veterans tell stories of months spent in the scorching heat of deserts or the impossibly frozen conditions of Siachen. Many of them now serve their countrymen and women from behind the counters at Mother Dairy booths – from sunrise to sunset – with the same dedication they showed for the nation.
However, the path to transitioning to a civilian life is not smooth for our soldiers. After years of following orders, it is difficult for them to be entrepreneurs. They may not the best salesman but they know what discipline is.
Watch this video to learn more about how these servicemen have transitioned from Siachen to civilian life.
All of them went through a comprehensive rehabilitation process in order to make their transition smooth, and it is especially brilliant to see this transition work beautifully for these men as well as their patrons.
Running a booth is challenging. The owners have to work 16 hrs a day, waking up at 4 in the morning. They have to manage everything on their own – from receiving milk, keeping accounts, maintaining hygiene, managing the milk cold room, and handling customer service – 365 days a year, with no time off for family or festivals.
Adjusting to civilian ways of life after spending so much time in the army, unlearning what they have been taught for years, is extremely difficult. But they do their work with dedication, discipline, integrity and honesty.
Here’s how we can help the servicemen we see on a day to day basis at the Mother Dairy booths:
- Do smile and greet them every time.
- Don’t take it personally if they come across as a little rude or harsh. That’s just the way they have been trained for years. Some may be friendly but others may not strike a conversation or indulge in small talk.
- Be forgiving of shortcomings in customer service. Remember, they have lived the lives of soldiers, not businessmen.
And if you don’t know what it means to serve on the heights of Siachen, here are 10 facts about Indian soldiers serving that will make the toughest ground job in the world sound like child’s play.
1. Our soldiers face off against the Pakistan army atop a 76 km long glacier at 5400 metres altitude. This is nearly twice the altitude of Ladakh.
Photo source: desicritics.org
2. Temperatures at this altitude fluctuate between minus 18 and minus 60 degree Celsius.
3. The Pakistanis are less of a challenge to them than the extreme, harsh, cruel, body and mind numbing conditions at this height. Here, you are at risk of getting frostbite if your bare skin touches the trigger of your gun for more than 15 seconds.
4. A person’s body cannot acclimatize to conditions over 5400 metres. If you stay at this height for long, you lose weight, stop eating and sleeping, and experience memory loss. Speech starts slurring. In short, the body just begins to collapse.
5. Avalanches are a reality soldiers live and die with. Snowstorms here can last three weeks at a time.
6. Fresh food is an extreme rarity for our soldiers posted here. An apple or an orange freeze to the hardness of a cricket ball within a few minutes. Rations from tin cans are the norm.
7. As if surviving in these conditions wasn’t beyond belief, the soldiers have to acquire special skills: crossing crevasses, climbing over and cutting through 90-degree ice walls, avalanche clearing, drilling and casualty evacuation.
8. These are taught over a month at the Siachen Battle School at the base camp, also called the snout of the glacier, at 12,000 feet. It is only until this point that outsiders — celebrities and political leaders — can visit.
9. In the last 30 years, over 850 soldiers have been martyred at Siachen.
10. Their names are etched on a war memorial on the banks of the Nubra river at the base.