Amidst all the negativity and protests across the country I was searching…. Abhi Bhi Bhalai ka zamaana hai kya? Even in the Defence Forces, of late there has been murmurs of how senior lot have let down its rank and file by their utterances and actions. Those were seen as going against the welfare of the Officers and men and the Disabled.
And then I chanced upon this story that shows how one person can make a difference in his or her ecosystem. How one person can work within the system and improve things in their area of influence exponentially. This is a story, NOT to praise one individual (Therefore, I am NOT going to name him, lets call him Brigadier G) but it is the story about one man and his vision of how to transform things that are under his Command and Control, an eye opener for all Commanders at their level to see how they can create islands of excellence by their single handed focus and larger vision.
The story starts in a small town dusty cantonment in Central India. It is in the middle of nowhere with nearest big city about 2 hours away. The Brigade has been there for many years and minor improvements have been taking place. And in comes the newly minted Commander. Brig G
His First Impression. There are five villages bordering the Military Station which itself formed part of an old Cantonment. These villages next to boundary wall feared the Army personnel. There was a mutual fear psychosis and suspicion. There was literally no interaction between the faujis and villagers. The village ladies used to make breaches in boundary wall to come in and collect firewood. Many of them would get chased away. There was a Garrison School whose building was last painted decades ago, the curriculum was primitive, Teachers disgruntled, having Poor Pay. The hygiene was poor, the bathrooms were so badly maintained that the Medical Officer reported that maximum cases were of Urinary Tract Infection esp. in girls who refused to go to these toilets. There was a Section Hospital, a poorly functional ECHS Polyclinic and a Central MI Room and scores of disgruntled veterans who had once upon a time given their best of their youth for the nation.
His Interaction. On assuming Command of the Brigade, Brig G called for a meeting with the Mukhiya (Headman) of the villages. He invited them for Tea and snacks. This broke the ice and the Mukhiyas started telling about their problems of lack of medical facilities during an emergency, they spoke about how illiterate they were, how they required firewood to keep their chulas burning. Brig G immediately allowed them access to the Cantt for firewood collection but the entry would be governed by ID cards and through the main gate only within an area specified for firewood collection. He assured them of medical help during emergencies.
He next called for an Open house with Veterans where he literally got hauled over coals by the disgruntled veterans. They said they had poor medical facilities, too much time standing for their CSD billing, and hardly getting any respect. He spoke to jawans and found that they were spending a lot of time and money for coaching and helping their children get better education. His view became crystal clear. He prioritized THREE main issues. Education, HealthCare, Veteran Welfare.
Education. His first priority was to get the infrastructure of the Garrison Public School improved. He built a modern washroom for children. Got pure Drinking water through an RO plant. Got the Teachers and Students to do cleaning of their premises regularly and take pride in the school area. Got a play ground built, got Air Conditioners fitted in class rooms and Heat Convectors for winters.
All these he did within the existing funds of the school without breaking any Fixed Deposit. The improvements were immediately appreciated by the people and more children started enrolling which improved fund availability. Teachers pay was revised, syllabus improved, Smart Boards were installed, cost renegotiated with vendors, and sections and classes upgraded every year from the current 6th std. A case was taken up to convert the Garrison Public School to an Army Public School so that better facilities could be provided. The defunct school started attracting kids.
The Pre-Primary section was restructured to have a proper Pre-Nursery, Nursery and Kindergarten. It was made into a Stand-alone school.
Parent Teacher Meetings were started. Top Teachers were hired for special coaching of students to join Sainik School and Military Schools after Class 5. They were provided resources in terms of books and class premises were utilized for tuition’s in the evenings. 42 students attended in the first year and 28 qualified the written exams and 2 finally found their names in the merit list. This year numbers will go even higher.
To engage the womenfolk and Ladies, Takshashila Education Hub was created. During the day a Govt certified Diploma in Nursery Teachers Training is conducted. As a welfare measure one girl child in each of the five nearby villages was fully sponsored by the Brigade. Others were admitted. This gave a great fillip to women education as these trained teachers were then employed in the Garrison school or nearby civil schools. During evening the same facility turned into an APTECH Certified Computer Courses for Ladies and kids. This facility also provided Certified English Speaking Course from British Language Council. This facility was also used by the jawans to improve their own education. The National Institute of Open Schooling node helped them complete their schooling and the IGNOU Army Education Program node helped the jawans complete their graduation.
A separate facility was created for officers to help clear their professional exams. Result of this endeavor was that the Brigade had 100% pass results for Offrs in Part B Exam and one even got 500/500 in Military Law.
The Officers, Men, Ladies, Children and Civilians Education requirements were met by these fantastic improvements.
Health Care There were over 10K people who were serving and veterans in the station. They wanted quality Health care. They used to go to faraway cities for basic health needs. The ECHS polyclinic was energized, by selecting a hardworking veteran. He went out of the way to visit veterans who were unable to move to get their needs fulfilled. Funds and medical equipment were requested and released from ECHS central organization. The ECHS poly clinic was improved with critical care equipment. Brig G worked to get funds released from Sub Area to improve the station. Besides, ECHS Polyclinic, the Station Polyclinic and Section Hospital were also resuscitated through MES and Station Funds. The first task was to upgrade the ambulance in the station into a Critical Cardiac Care Van as a life saver, so that the evacuation to the nearest city was easier and life could be saved. A Health Care and Wellness Group on social media was started where suggestions were taken from the environment. Patient Management Software was developed in house by the Sparrow (Officer Commanding Signal Company). These improvements immediately found favor with the people. The nearby villages were informed that first aid for emergency cases would be provided. This in fact saved a couple of lives on few occasions. Health Care improvement was visible and highly appreciated by all. Very soon the Station Polyclinic was adjudged No 1 among minor station in the entire Command Zone.
Veterans Welfare Every quarter an open house was conducted chaired by Brig G, attended by Doctors, Adm Commandant, Zila Sainik Board OIC, OIC ECHS, Canteen Officer, Brigade AAG and AQ. The Veterans vented out their frustration in the first meeting. A cadre was conducted for those jawans who were the point of contact with Veterans, so that they could handle all situations. Boards were put all along cantonment that said “We Welcome Veterans and Veer Naris. We salute your services”. This improved the respect for the Veterans. CSD Counters for Ladies and Senior Citizens were established which resulted in No Waiting at all. A Separate Parking area for Veterans were earmarked. Veterans Day was celebrated with gusto. Veer Naris were felicitated. Veterans came from far and wide. They came with lots of gifts to express their love for the serving people. Today the remarks of Veterans on various feedback registers are proof of the quality of improvements done.
End Result These actions over the last one year have made a lasting impression on the serving, veterans and civilian people. Brig G has made a 15-year Perspective plan so that the good work will continue in improving the quality of life in the station. His next aim is to make the Cantonment Board School as a model school that will be better than the Delhi Govt Schools (that have been improved recently by the Delhi Govt.)
All these were not only possible due to Brig G’s vision but also due to the excellent support given to him by his Staff Officers and the Battalion’s under his command led by truly great Commanding Officers. He was also supported by his seniors be it his Division and Corps Commanders or the Sub Area Commanders. I wish to praise all who have chipped in their might. All these activities doesn’t mean their Training has ever suffered. These highly motivated men, have been outperforming others in Training field too as evident from their Firing results. Their motto is People First, Mission Always
One Man can indeed make a Difference. Instead of cribbing about the system, you become the system and get it moving. I wish and pray that you are that One Man who can do this within your eco system so that the max persons get benefited from your actions. If you are reading this and you happen to be that one who can make it happen, take inspiration and DO IT! I wish this story becomes a Case Study in HC/HDMC senior officer courses so that many future Commanders can take inspiration.
More power to you Brig G. May your Tribe grow!
(I request all readers NOT to name the Officer or Cantonment in the comment section if you know whom I am talking about. Let us respect his privacy. But do share this story so that more such Cantonments can benefit in future from actions of people like you)