I was ten or eleven years old when I decided I wanted to join the army. At the age of sixteen, I had already secured a seat in a medical college when I got the call letter giving me admission to the National Defence Academy (NDA). So I did the first semester of MBBS, then came home and convinced my parents to let me switch. I have never regretted it.
I did reasonably well at the Academy, became a Commando Instructor and eventually retired as a Lieutenant General in the army, specializing in counter-terrorism. You may not know my name, but you would know of one of the last operations I oversaw as Corps Commander – the surgical strike of 2016 in Kashmir, in response to the terror attack at Uri.
I gave the armed forces thirty-nine years of my life. I had my successes as well as my share of upsets in military operations. I had close shaves and survived, while sadly some of my dear comrades did not. And I made a village of close friends. This is the soldier’s life. This is my story.
My story is also the story of an army officer who learnt how to live and train and go into battle with soldiers. Who learnt how to plan operations so that innocent bystanders didn’t get hurt, lead troops boldly, take decisions even when there were no clear directions, deal with emotions and hide his own fears. As I always say, counter-terrorism is the trickiest operation – it is like playing chess with live bullets.
Every infantry officer aspires to command the unit he has been commissioned in and hopes to get an opportunity to lead his soldiers in combat. I was fortunate to get to do both in the summer of 1998. That year I was promoted to the rank of a Colonel and was appointed as the Commanding Officer (CO) of my own battalion of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, 8 JAK LI (Siachen), which has the official honour of ‘Bravest of the Brave’. Our unit was deployed in an operationally active area on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir ( J&K).
This is a collection of stories mostly from my days as a CO – they are stories of operations, risks taken, lucky escapes, extraordinary colleagues; and of the unseen aspects of the soldier’s life, from the rigorous training to the outstanding hospitals that ensure we can return to battle and serve our country again.
Those years in command taught me life lessons, tactics and empathy; they made me emotionally sensitive, and at times ruthless; they taught me to put faith in my soldiers and in God and recognize the power of positive thinking. Above all, they taught me that when things seem uncertain and the path is unclear, one has to take a leap of faith and aim high. My officers, my soldiers and my gut instinct never let me down.
I hope you enjoy these stories.
Lieutenant General Satish Dua (Retired), PVSM, UYSM, SM, VSM, retired as the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. As the Corps Commander in Srinagar, he planned and executed the surgical strikes in Kashmir in 2016. A counter-terrorism specialist from 8 JAK LI (Siachen), he has operated extensively in J&K and the Northeast during his four decades of service. He has also been a Commando Instructor and India’s Defence Attaché in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
India’s Bravehearts: Untold Stories from the Indian Army is his first book.