Describing himself as an army man “till grave”, Honorary Captain Mohammed Ilyas Ahmed even after his retirement helps in training troops to face avalanches in the higher reaches of the Kashmir.
Hailing from remote village of Tangdhar in north Kashmir, Ahmed retired from the army’s Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry in 2016 after 31 years of service in the mountains.
But the motto of his regiment – ¬BalidanamVirLakshanam (sacrifice is a characteristic of the brave) — remained etched on his mind even after he hung up his boots.
“An army man is always an army man till the graveyard,” said 63-year-old Ahmed, whose services were utilised in the first week of this month by the army when an avalanche hit its camp in Tangdhar area.
“Duty towards the nation and the army comes first,” Ahmed, who retired as NaibSubedar and was later made Honorary Captain, told PTI.
Running a condiment business post-retirement, Ahmed, father of two daughters and a son, was quick to pack his bags after the army post in Tangdhar requested him to lead a rescue team to a forward post along the Line of Control.
The team had to walk for five hours on a severely difficult terrain and in extreme weather conditions to participate in the rescue efforts.
“Unfortunately, we could rescue only one person alive while three other brave soldiers had fallen to nature’s fury even before we arrived,” said Ahmed, who was conferred with ‘Chinar Corps Medallion’ by Kashmir-based XV corps Lt Gen K J S Dhilon at a function on Saturday.
Lt Gen Dhillon said the medal was given to him in recognition of his exemplary services, dedication and commitment even after his retirement.
“He (Ahmed) is a living example and a true hero who not only represents the best traditions of the army but also of Kashmiriyat. People like him will always be a role model for today’s youth in the Kashmir valley,” Lt Gen Dhillon said.
Decorated with two Sena medals and five times with the Chief of Army Staff’s (COAS) Commendation, Ahmed’s services have been tapped by the Army to use his experience in training crucial Avalanche Rescue Teams (ARTs) before the winters set in.
He unflinchingly gave a lot of his personal time and this year he missed celebrating Eid with his family as he was out training the ARTs, said an officer of the regiment.
“Once an army man, always an army man” he said with sparkle in his eyes.
Tangdhar is a part of Karnah tehsil in Kupwara, a place known for its walnuts. “When I was young, I used to wave at the army convoys passing by and always had a dream of being one of them someday,” Ahmed recalled.
He is also part of a club in the army, known as ‘Seven Thousanders’, of those who have climbed above the height of 7,000 meters. Ahmed has scaled peaks like Kamet, AbiGamain, Mana, Nun Kun and SaserKangri.
He has been an instructor at the prestigious High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) at Gulmarg and Siachen Battle School and has also participated in Operation Vijay along with a very renowned infantry unit.
Not used to rest and relaxation, he has been running the business in his hometown. His two daughters are professionals in the banking sector and medical field and his son helps him in business.
He has been at the forefront of social work for the people of Tangdhar and has been motivating the next generation towards positivity, says the officer.