Subedar Imliakum Ao was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for showing exemplary courage in the face of the enemy during the Kargil war of 1999. Promoted to the rank of Subedar on August 1, this highly decorated Junior Commissioned Officer continues to serve the nation with pride and dignity.
Subedar Imliakum Ao was born on July 25, 1976 in the village of Chuchuyimpang in Mokokchung, Nagaland. His father is a retired state government employee and his mother is a homemaker. He has five siblings – four brothers and a sister. Two of his brothers are in the Nagaland police, one is in the civil services, and another is in the army.
“My siblings and I studied at the village school. During those days, kids were crazy about joining the Indian Army. Like most children, I too was impressed by the uniform and discipline of army personnel. My teachers encouraged me to join the army and serve our motherland. Moreover, being the eldest son in my family, I have to shoulder many responsibilities; I realised the Army would help me take these on,” says Subedar Imliakum Ao.
After completing his matriculation, he joined the 2nd Battalion of the Naga Regiment on May 4, 1994.
Between the months of May and July 1999, the Indian government launched Operation Vijay in the Kargil sector of Jammu & Kashmir. The Indian Army, supported by the Air Force, had to recapture the areas on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LOC), which had been infiltrated by Pakistani troops and militants. The 2nd Battalion of the Naga Regiment was one of the first units to be inducted into this area during the conflict. It moved from the Patan sector to Drass and thereafter to the Mushkoh valley.
Though the Washington Accord was signed on July 4, 1999 and the Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif agreed to withdraw his troops, the infiltrators continued holding on to positions on the Indian side of the LOC. Twin Bump in the Point 4875 complex was one such position. This was the enemy mortar position and 2 Naga was tasked to capture it.
“The schedule in the unit was very busy due to the ongoing war situation and to top it the weather conditions were just not forgiving. We moved into Mushkoh valley, which is located 15,000 ft above sea level, and were faced with heavy mortar bombardment on one side and inclement weather on the other,” continues the decorated soldier.
In order to neutralize the bombardment from the enemy mortar post on the night of July 8, his company was tasked to assault and capture Twin Bump.
The Subedar was just a Sepoy in 1999. He was part of the assault group that was tasked with stealthily neutralizing the enemy on the outer perimeter of the enemy mortar post.
According to a Naga Regiment publication that described the operation: “Sepoy Imliakum Ao approached the enemy sentry during broad daylight and killed him. Thereafter, he kept moving forward and killed one more sentry and subsequently stormed the mortar position along with the Assault Group….. The elimination of the enemy personnel by Sepoy Imliakum Ao was a big success wherein three 120 mm and two 81 mm mortars were captured along with a huge stockpile of ammunition. The valiant action by Sepoy Imliakum Ao, which was a true demonstration of valour, in the presence of a well entrenched enemy was the sole factor which paved the way for a successful raid on the enemy mortar position which led to the destruction of the enemy ammunition dump.”
“It was a very difficult mission and all those who participated in it were aware of the threat. Though Nagas are born warriors, a scout’s job is the key to a mission’s success,” said an officer of 2 Naga. The assault group’s task involved killing the Pakistani soldiers guarding the mortar positions and ammunition depots. “The enemy positions were heavily guarded and the mission was to be carried out in daylight. But Ao volunteered for it,” he added.
As a young sepoy he had shown exemplary courage and determination. His grit and raw courage in the face of the enemy were instrumental in him being awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest gallantry award of India, in Jan 2000.
There are many men who have joined the Indian Army from Ao’s village and they are all respected as they are in the service of the nation. However, the MVC has made him a celebrity in his hometown and the fact that he was acknowledged for his gallant service as part of the winning army makes him a real life hero.
With the battalion promoting him to the rank of Subedar, he says, “It is an honour that the unit has bestowed upon me. With this new rank comes a lot more responsibility, which I am sure I will live up to, to the best of my ability.”
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Aparna Menon is a freelance writer, writing for various newspapers for the past 10 years. Her main fields of interest are wildlife, heritage and history. A keen traveller, she loves to read and write and does a lot of art work too.