In Conversation with Sena Gallantry Awardee Rabindra Kumar Sahoo
Yet another day of the never-ending lockdown but today I am excited. I am looking forward to my conversation with a Marine Commandos (MARCOS) of the Indian Navy. There was definitely some nervousness as his reputation preceded him as a hardened military veteran but a strong yet friendly voice at the other end was rather comforting. Receiver of the Sena Medal (Gallantry), Jeevan Rakshak Padak and with an amazing life story, Mr. Rabindra Kumar Sahoo took me through his training process back in the days and what it took for a sailor to become a Marine Commando (Advance), the special force of Indian Navy.
“How did a young boy from Dekuri village (Near Ratnagiri) think of the defense forces, I asked.” “I just knew this is a way how I can serve my nation,” he answered with a smile.
“Joining the defense forces was a decision I took at a very early stage. When I was studying +2 in Kendrapada College, I saw an ad in the employment exchange that said ‘Join Indian navy’. I submitted the form and got a call letter to appear the exam. My father wanted me to study further and not to opt for jobs at that point, as I was too young. My brother however was of the opinion that since I have got a call, I should at least face the written round. I didn’t have too much knowledge about Navy or the defense forces; I appeared the written test, then cleared the physical and medical rounds and got selected. I joined in Chilika for basic training,” he added.
“I didn’t know much about things. After our training was over, we realized we have joined as sailors not, officers. And there was nothing we could do about it then. I wanted to do something different so that my presence is felt. One day we all had to leave but I wanted to make a mark before retiring so I asked people.”
I was curious so I pressed on. “I had a choice to lead a simple life as a sailor or to be special in the navy by opting for courses such as clearance diver course and the MARCOS course”, he continued. “These two courses are purely volunteer basis and extremely tough both physically and mentally. So after the professionaltraining I volunteered for navy’s most rigorous training which is that of a Clearance Diver (CD). All commands (Visakhapatnam, Kochi, Mumbai) select candidates after a screening process. They are sent to the diving school in Kochi, out of 56 people who came to Kochi, finally 6 qualified as Clearance Divers. Out of the 6, 3 were from Odisha including me, 2 were from Rajasthan and 1 from Haryana. To be a diver one should have excellent skills in land exercise, water activity and performance underwater with all diving sets. In the end what matters is your prompt action and mental strength to carry out the underwater task. During this 8 months training, Clearance Divers learn scuba diving, air diving, oxygen diving, mixture diving.
He went on, “Air diving is when you normally take air, go in and come out. Oxygen diving constitutes of pure oxygen. In this there is a depth limit of 18mts because below that oxygen turns into poison. And the merit is that no one on the surface can notice the presence of a diver underwater. Which is why this is used for clandestine attacks because it doesn’t form bubbles on the surface of the water, for e.g. when we have to place mines under a ship. There is a canister and co2 observant involved which regulates the exhaled co2 and releases fresh oxygen. Basically it’s a closed circuit breathing set. The inhalation and exhalation is done in the breathing bag hence no bubbles are produced on the surface. Mixture diving involves both oxygen and nitrogen. If there are mines spread in somewhere underwater and we have to hunt them down to dispose, usually mixture diving is undertaken. Then there is high altitude diving which is done in minus temperatures.”
Sahoo is also qualified as a diving supervisor who can conduct diving. “When a group of divers are underwater, I remain on the surface and take care of them. During long dive sessions, the cylinders that are carried inside do not have sufficient air in it. So I give the divers, surface supply through a compressor. The pressure has to be constantly regulated from the surface and communication has to be manned for which the diving supervisor is responsible. The safety and smooth conduct of diving is a must.”
Next was the long and rigorous training for MARCOS, which is an advanced course. MARCOS is the elite special force of the navy. A member of MCF 18, Sahoo was the best commando in his batch, he proudly informs. “The core values of MARCOS are duty, honor, courage and valor and I have tried to live up to it all my life, he stated.”
“Since I was a Clearance Diver, I qualified as Marine Commando (Advance). We received training in chariot operations, which is used to conduct suicide attacks under water. You go with a chariot, bang on a ship, explode and die,” he further said. After that he became the instructor for MARCOS.
Sahoo was deployed in Jammu & Kashmir operational area thrice for tenures of 6-7 months during which he killed 2 terrorists in an encounter. For that he was awarded the Sena Medal (Gallantry) in 2007. He also received the Chief of Naval staff (CNS) Recommendation for his role in a 2002 encounter in Kashmir. He was the recipient of the President’s Jeevan Raksha Padak in 2006 for saving lives of 3 women at the Rishikonda Beach in Visakhapatnam. In his 12 years as special forces he has participated in multiple operations like Ops Rakshak, Ops Parishta (Mozambique), Ops Parakram, anti piracy ops, joint exercises with Navy Seal (USA) etc. He retired in 2012.
“Special Forces are tracked by investigative agencies even after retirement so we stay cornered for at least 5 years after our service tenure,” Sahoo said. Currently Sahoo is actively working towards the welfare of veterans. They have formed a state organization in Bhubaneswar called the Indian Ex- Serviceman League. In future they plan to create a Veterans Club Odisha (VCO) in which there will be a war memorial/ museum.
“We say Navy is three dimensional, I would rather say MARCOS is four-dimensional: land, air, above and underwater. It’s a silent special force. I want people to know more about MARCOS.”
“Last month the nation celebrated Kargil Diwas on 26thJuly.” On a lighter note he emphasized the role of navy during that period. “When the Kargil war was fought, everyone spoke about the contributions of the army. The army did Ops Vijay and Ops Kargil. Air Force’s was known as Safed Sagar. Not many people know Navy did an operation called Ops Talwar. They went through Arabian Sea and blacked out their harbor in Karachi. They blocked their commercial movement. When the war was ongoing, Pakistan had fuel reserve left for 6 days because of the blockage that Navy had created. A country needs fuel to fight a war. This is called pressure tactics, which actually ended the Kargil war. I was a young commando at that time and was deputed for the operation.”
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