• By: Ibn-e-Taha
  • Khan_adnan040@yahoo.com

What would you expect when in the late hours, your Officer Commanding (OC) in uniform is at your door, asking you to accompany him for a duty flying mission. It may be an emergency! but why should the OC ask you to take some clothing and leave some cash with your family behind? I could say you are going out for a long duration, nonetheless, it is always safe flying missions as you were not a fighter pilot? The veteran coughed and asked for a glass of water placed opposite to him at his table. After getting normal, he continued: “Well, that’s my point, dear, generally Transport pilots are not the frontline heroes.”

We were attending the “Defence Dinner” to commemorate the sacrifices of PAF Shuhada’s and veterans. I found a chair on the table of PAF veterans. Their experienced wisdom and war stamina were still fresh like as they were ready to get air borne within five minutes. Their discussions realized made me, logistics support is the back-bone for a fighting force and transport fleet is Center of Gravity (CG) for this logistics support during war or peace. Specifically, during the wars, sustainable logistics and CG ensures success. With reference to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), this CG depends upon its Transport Command. The C-130 aircraft is not a name but a Pakistani culture, representing the PAF in daily lives. The dependable Hercules is always there, providing food and clothing to flood affected, earthquake victims, drought hit, stranded people in various parts of the country as well as abroad. “By the way, the first Sitara-e-Jurat awarded to PAF was to Transport Command, when Flight Lieutenant Mukhtar Dogar successfully dropped the support items on 4 April, 1948, and refused to surrender to Bharti aircraft trying to force it land in Bharat” the veteran added.

The Officer Commanding waited for him downstairs in his staff car while the veteran took basic clothing and flying gadgets. A military man can’t tell his OC that his young kid is running high temperature right now or he has a family commitment the other day. Salute to those veteran’s wives, who know the service exigencies and do not have a frown. The lady wife wished him good luck and helped him in packing flying crew bag. The veteran then boarded the car of OC, who was a reserved person. This time, the silence was nerve breaking, sounding the seriousness of the mission. On reaching the briefing room, the veteran found the Base Commander and OC Flying Wing waiting for him. Our veteran was briefed about the secrecy, timings and sensitivity of the mission. He was briefed, this mission was in reference to Pakistan’s neighbors’ nuclear explosion a few days back. He had been honored to be part of the team taking the sensitive parts to the forward location which were being transported in different batches. Pakistan was eager this time to respond to verbal aggression faced by the country since the neighbors conducted the nuclear tests. These parts were to be handed over to the senior most person in the field for likely nuclear tests, giving a befitting reply to the enemies of Pakistan.

The familiar aircrew was already there at the aircraft with warm smiles and pleasantry exchange. The transport aircrew is unique as they’re vulnerable to any missile or drone attack due to slow speed of their aircraft. They all will be martyred or declared Ghazis as a crew-team together. Right from the take- off, instructions of Base Commander and OC Flying Wing started striking his mind. “You have been selected because of your flying experience and composure in crisis…There are no proper night landing facilities at the destination base…. There is a likely to be a thunderstorm once you reach there… You have to deliver the keys of the box kept inside the aircraft only to the base commander of that base…. You may be attempted to be hijacked by an intruder aircraft…”. The last instructions were lurking his mind with Stanza from Robert Frost poem.
“Between the woods and frozen lake/The darkest evening of the year”.

He had special feelings of pride and excitement. He could hear the heartbeats and warm flow circulation of blood throughout his body, the narrator continued. Nearing the western border of Pakistan, he could see the searchlights installed on the Pakistan’s border unusually more glaring than usual in previously experienced night flying missions in the area. An aircraft across the border appeared approaching them, making him recalling the instructions
“Remember if any intruder tries to hijack you and ask to land at another destination outside Pakistan, you may take evasive actions including any extreme action you consider in the best interest of Pakistan.”

Identification of aircraft in air took nerve breaking time. Keeping his cool, he could spot it as a passenger airliner outside borders of Pakistani air-space. To shunt the distraction, our veteran switched on Radio Pakistan on another frequency. Famous song “Maen bhi Pakistan hoon, too bhi Pakistan hay” was being aired. The poetry and the melody of the song was this night a unique touch this time.

On getting connected to ATC of the landing base, he asked for assistance. Landing strip was immediately lit up with different wavelength lights of dim intensity. The pilot could understand the base has parked all the available vehicles with their lights on with full beams, all along the landing strip on both sides. Right then the aircraft experienced severe turbulence. It was becoming difficult to control the aircraft, which was being drifted away due to fast tornadoes and sand storm in air. The aircraft got unstable and wavered like a straw. Silhouettes of dimming lights started appearing and disappearing due to this poor visibility. He turned on the Ground Positioning System (GPS) and visualized surrounding marks mentioned in the ground map of the base. Faces of all of his instructors swarmed in front with the old quote “Trust your instruments”. He also recalled the landing strip is short. Slight early landing will result in touching down before the strip and a slight overshoot will take him away from the landing strip. In both the cases the aircraft will enter the desert and could start sinking in sand. Reciting surah Fateha, Allah had been kind in blessings for touching the strip exactly at the point they were supposed to land.

On opening the door, they could find the base staff anxiously waiting for this consignment. He was also conveyed the message of “Good job, boy” from his parent base’s, base commander with another message from OC, that Squadron Leader Ashfaq and his wife will accompany the veteran’s son and wife to the hospital the next day. He was also conveyed next assignment of point “X” commencing next day morning. The crew was taken to the tents already erected for the personnel deployed there. By now the dust storm was over and the veteran preferred to lie on the camp folding charpoy outside the tent. The huge dark sea in the sky was full of studded stars like a spread carpet full of white twinkles. The night was sleeping, but the base and its’ personnel were awake. Noises of military trucks, double cabins and small cars could be heard carrying the goods from the aircraft to forward location. He could also hear an intermittent frequency of the song from a nearby tent.
“Yaad kurta hay zamana unhi insanon ko, Rok letay haen jo burrhtay huway toofanon ko”.

Transmitted up and down frequency of the song with a cool breeze, studded stars and a sense of achievement did not let him sleep, for the remaining part of the night. The Fajr Azan brought them a new sunrise like an egg yolk, rising from plane desert ground. Next day, the aircraft and its’ crew moved to another location for another special task, with dependable aircrew and aircraft.

“Yaum-e-Takbeer marks a special day in our history. Kudos to the dependable, which ensured positioning of the strategic assets at the right time and place. “When I heard the Nara-e-Takbeer on nuclear explosions of Pakistan on 28 May, 1998, every part of the body responded to Allah-o-Akbar” were the last words of this veteran.

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