Q&A with a Colonel in the Indian Army

Featuring Colonel Rajendra Bhagwat, retired from the Indian army with 35 years of service, a travel enthusiast and a wonderful speaker. His interview sheds light on what it is like to be in the Armed Forces, the eligibility to enroll, the responsibilities of an officer and the opportunities for personal development.

Khardung La Pass

Khardung La Pass

Could you tell us about your educational background and what made you decide to join the Indian Army?

My schooling was in Gwalior, in Madhya Pradesh. I did my Bachelors in Biology at the Govt. Science College, Jiwaji University, in Gwalior. During that time, I was inclined towards joining the army because I felt a sense of social responsibility and purpose in serving my country. I completed my Bachelors and took the Indian Public Services commission exam, which allowed me to appear for the Service Selection Board (SSB) to join the Indian Military Academy (IMA).

Are there other entry points into the Indian Armed Forces?

There are various entry points: after 12th grade, a student can apply through the SSB to the National Defense Academy (NDA). I chose to appear for the SSB to join the IMA after my Bachelors.  After training for 1.5 years, a candidate gets commissioned as an officer to join the Indian army. There are also technical entries into the IMA for graduates and students in final year BE and BTech (select streams).

How has serving in the armed forces shaped your life? Can you share with us some of your experiences from your service?

I served in the Indian army for 35 years, and I have enjoyed every moment of it.  Travel has been a big component in my life. I had the opportunity to work and live in various states, explore the different cultures and experience the rich diversity India has.

I have grown to become a strong communicator. I am a commentator for the National Equestrian Championship tournaments and ceremonial parades.

Could you elaborate for us your duties in the army and the path one would go through as an army man?

I started as a Lieutenant responsible for transport Management, after finishing my Bachelors. I moved up the ranks (Major, Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel) to become Colonel accountable for Administration of Animal Transport Units and Supply Depots. My work altogether involved arranging transport and supplies to the fighting troops of the Indian army. This was a major responsibility for me. Our borders with our neighboring countries are mountainous and some of them are snow-bound areas. Our job included transport of water, rations, ammunition, clothing and equipment from the place of production to the army officer sitting at the farthest border in the fastest way possible. Various modes of transportation such as trains and trucks are used to move goods around the terrains at Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. At the foothills, the goods will be loaded onto mules and other animals, after which they are transported to the forward most post.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to face in your career?

While I served as a Captain, I faced the huge challenge of figuring out the logistics for safe transportation of 300 vehicles of ammunition and artillery. The vehicles had to be moved from Leh to our basecamp, nearly 130 Kms away, in the peak of winter, through the Khardung La pass (it is the world’s highest motorable pass), which is at a height of ~17500 feet above sea level. 

What is your advice to a student who is interested in joining the army?

If you are motivated to join the army, research the requirements and consult with officers who are already serving in the army  to understand the big picture. Analyze the opportunities the army can offer you and then move forward. Numerous avenues (For example, education, sports and fine arts) are available in the army for one to grow professionally. You have to be self-motivated to pursue your goals in this career path.

What are some personal hobbies that you pursued alongside your career?

I draw caricatures and play the harmonium. I am a sought-after Master of Ceremonies in the army. I often anchor cultural programs in the army as well as other private and official events. 

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