MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE ARMY – PART II

In the Part I we agreed that the Army personnel are as nice, as professional and as normal as any of us in the Navy. The one thing different or peculiar about them is the penchant to use abbreviations and acronyms in their writing.

Then there is another very peculiar thing about the army. To understand this, one has to recall ‘A Psalm of Life’ by a certain bloke called Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. HWL in this poem exhorts us to make our lives sublime. “And, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.”

Army is convinced that spending as much time as possible with the sand shall make the lives of its personnel sublime. Hence, Army has conceived something called Sand Model and seemingly nice, professional and normal people spend quality time around it as one does around a bonfire during the North Indian festival of Lohri. There is not too much difference between Lohri and Sand Model discussions. During the former, many people sing and dance around the fire. During SMD, ditto. Perhaps the only difference is that the Lohri bonfire burns itself out in an evening; whereas, the SMD can go on and on like Tennyson’s Brook. The Army takes its poems very seriously.

I had earlier seen Sand Model discussions during the Staff Course at Wellington;  and I thought I had seen it all.  None of those had prepared me for SMDs at Higher Command Course in Mhow. As soon as I saw the first Sand Model in Mhow, with my PCK (Pre Course Knowledge) acquired during DSSC, I felt that on the outside chance of prolonging discussions; they may be able to carry on for about 2 – 3 hours. Little did I know that spending a week discussing the course of battle over a sand model is for them as easy as Geoff Boycott playing an entire session during a cricket test match without scoring a run. Sand Model discussions, in Mhow, are not controlled by sand glass shaped for an hour. They wet the sand and make the hour glass dispense it very slowly until it is totally poured out into the lower half in about a week’s time. On the last day, the DS wraps up the discussions by saying that certain aspects could not be discussed properly “due to paucity of time”.

Generally the area is about 50 miles by 50 miles. But, when navy officers goad them to be strategic in their outlook, they increase it to 100 by 100 miles.

The main thing of interest in a Sand Model is an arrow pointing North. Hours into the discussions, the naval officers will still be trying to sort out this all important question: Where are we? On ships, on a radar screen, they know for sure they are at the centre. But, in a sand model,  you could be anywhere.

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Another thing that I have discovered in SMDs is that an attack can take place from any direction. It is like the discussions on enemy courses of action in an appreciation; Course B is the most likely but A and C also can’t be ruled out. So, if two days of discussions have taken place on enemy attack from North, West and South West and you have observed a vast expense of land between South and South West over which no discussions have taken place, sooner or later some smart aleck would point out that though difficult because of the riverine area, just as it happened in 1943 in Southern France or some other unheard of country, the enemy might choose a feint from West or North and the main attack might just come from that area in the South and South West.

Great professionals who had immersed deep into their seats after saying their bit in the first two days are jolted into sitting straight in their seats with this “unexpected turn of events”. Suddenly, they look at the smart aleck as Mister Wilson used to look at Dennis and wish he would be elsewhere. However, the smart aleck, not unlike Dennis has done his innocent (?) Boy Scout act and is ostensibly oblivious of the fact that another two days of discussions would ensue due to this ‘unexpected’ development.

The staff is busy moving those curious placards indicating battalions and independent companies etc; more such words of “accretions”, “ab-initio”, “advance”, “axis”, “regroup” etc are heard.

I have often thought what would be the naval equivalent of SMDs in Naval Higher Command courses? I couldn’t come anywhere close to these. We have to, perforce, doff our caps at the Army officers for having come out with something that is so unique that there is nothing anywhere close to it that the navy has.

Sand Model Discussions are something where from the sand will never totally run out; at least for the Army.

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