THE nation’s top gallantry awards this year have been conferred on Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel who died while undertaking rescue operations in Uttarakhand and Army personnel who fought infiltrators on the border and dealt with the fidayeen attack at the Samba camp last year.
While nobody has been named for the Ashoka Chakra, three security personnel have been conferred the Kirti Chakra. This includes Wing Commander Darryl Castelino who was piloting the Mi 17 V5 chopper that crashed near Kedarnath while undertaking rescue missions and Constable B N Choudhary of the CoBRA battalion. Both these are posthumous.
The third Kirti Chakra awardee is Naib Subedar Bhupal Singh Chhantel Magar of the 5/5 Gorkha Rifles. Magar killed two heavily-armed terrorists who were trying to cross over the Line of Control in Kupwara in August.
The Navy, which has had a bad year as it lost 18 personnel aboard the INS Sindhurakshak submarine that sank after unexplained blasts, has not been conferred any of the top gallantry awards. However, Navy Officer Commander K M Arun Kumar and Air Force Officer Wing Commander K M Raghuraman, both pilots, have achieved a unique distinction by being conferred the Nao Sena Medal (gallantry) and Vayu Sena Medal (gallantry) respectively.
While Kumar, deputed to the Coast Guard, was awarded for rescuing a merchant vessel that sank off Lakshadweep, Raguraman undertook rescue operations at Uttarakhand. Both belong to Chennai.
From the Army, two officers have been awarded Shaurya Chakras for fighting the fidayeen attack on an Armoured Regiment camp in Samba on September 26. Lieutenant Colonel Bikramjit Singh, the second in command of the 16th Light Cavalry that was attacked, has been awarded the medal posthumously for “his speedy, tactically sound actions, courageous and bold leadership in the face of mortal danger and for acting swiftly without waiting for a weapon or protective gear”.
The officer directed the initial operations against the terrorists and despite not being armed, led them away from the nearby family quarters where several Army wives and children were staying.
Captain Mahabir Singh of the 9 Para (Special Forces) was also awarded the Shaurya Chakra for leading the assault on terrorists in the Samba camp. The officer closed down all escape routes and shot one terrorist at point-blank range.
Other Shaurya Chakra winners include Major Mandeep Singh Ghumman of 1 Assam Rifles, Major Gaurav Thakur of 24 Rashtriya Rifles, Captain Sandeep Bhartiya of 17 Jat, Sepoy Lallawmzuala of 18 Rashtriya Rifles and Sepoy Ran Bahadur Gurung of 5/5 Gorkha Rifles (posthumous).
From the Air Force, Wing Commander Nikhil Naidu has been conferred the Shaurya Chakra for his daring rescue operations in Uttarakhand. Also, other than Wing Commander Castelino, the entire crew of the ill-fated Mi 17 V5 that crashed in Uttarakhand, has been conferred gallantry medals posthumously — Flight Lieutenant Krishnamoorthy Praveen, Flight Lieutenant Tapan , Junior Warrant Officer Akhilesh Kumar Singh and Sergeant Sudhakar Yadav.
Another Air Force officer who has been awarded the Shaurya Chakra is Wing Commander Aditya Prakash Singh, a Mig 21 Bison pilot who managed to land the plane in pitch darkness after its electrical systems crashed, shutting down all displays that assist in flight and navigation.