Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena (retd) is the first female Indian Air Force (IAF) officer to serve in the war zone. Long before the first female fighter pilots were commissioned into the IAF, she made history by flying a Cheetah helicopter in the Kargil War and rescuing several soldiers. Saxena was inspired to join the IAF by her father, who served in the Indian Army. As part of the family legacy, she decided to join the armed forces after completing her graduation from Delhi University's Hansraj College. In 1994, she cleared her Services Selection Board (SSB) interview and joined the Air Force Academy in Dundigal. When the Kargil War broke out in 1999, she helped turn things in India's favour, becoming one of the first women on the front line.
Kiran Nirvan is the pseudonym used by authors Kirandeep Singh and Nirvan Singh. Together they have authored two bestselling books-Nasteya: The Aryan Saga and 21 Kesaris: The Untold Story of the Battle of Saragarhi. The latter inspired the Akshay Kumar-starrer Kesari. Kirandeep Singh is the former head of the department of management studies, Global Institutes, Amritsar, and is currently pursuing his doctorate in the discipline. He began exploring his passion for writing in his teenage years and has authored more than a hundred poems, short stories, novels, song lyrics and couplets in both English and Punjabi. Nirvan Singh is a serving officer in the Indian Army, while also being an avid artist, writer and adventurer. It is his endeavour to write the stories of grit and determination, wisdom and valour, of men and women from the Indian armed forces, and other exemplary individuals of this nation.
In 1994, twenty-year-old Gunjan Saxena boards a train to Mysore to appear for the selection process of the fourth Short Service Commission (for women) pilot course. Seventy-four weeks of back-breaking training later, she passes out of the Air Force Academy in Dundigal as Pilot Officer Gunjan Saxena.
On 3 May 1999, local shepherds report a Pakistani intrusion in Kargil. By mid-May, thousands of Indian troops are engaged in fierce mountain warfare with the aim to flush out the intruders. The Indian Air Force launches Operation Safed Sagar, with all its pilots at its disposal. While female pilots are yet to be employed in a war zone, they are called in for medical evacuation, dropping of supplies and reconnaissance.
This is the time for Saxena to prove her mettle. From airdropping vital supplies to Indian troops in the Dras and Batalik regions and casualty evacuation from the midst of the ongoing battle, to meticulously informing her seniors of enemy positions and even narrowly escaping a Pakistani rocket missile during one of her sorties, Saxena fearlessly discharges her duties, earning herself the moniker 'The Kargil Girl'.
This is her inspiring story, in her words.
|Author:||Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena (Retd.)Kiran Nirvan|