CAR NICOBAR: The boom of Jaguar fighters tearing across the runway and disappearing into the clear blue sky beyond the palm groves signals the coming back to business of India's farthest military outpost in the Bay of Bengal. The Carnic air base had been overwhelmed by the December 26 tsunami.
The take-offs proved that the military had the resilience to overcome a great natural disaster. The repaired runway can host any fighter since the `Shamshers' (the Indian name for Jaguars) occupy the maximum length of the runway during take-offs.
The Defence Secretary, Ajay Vikram Singh, and the Chief of the Air Staff, S. P. Tyagi, were at hand to underline the importance of this air base to Indian security interests and ambitions.
The runway flanked by abandoned household goods and uprooted trees on one side and on the other by the Air Force residential quarters that now house the memories of the Indian Air Force (IAF) mates and family members swept away by the tidal wave had disappeared under the debris caused by the tsunami. Army engineers along with IAF personnel overcame the trauma of losing one in four inhabitants of this island and toiled to ensure that India's watchtower on South-East Asia was primed for operations before the monsoon is expected to hit construction activity by the first week of May.
"This is a vantage point for us over Myanmar, Indonesia and the Malacca Straits [the busiest and most vulnerable sea lane in the world]. In the middle of the sea, it gives us an excellent reach and its restoration in such a short time has shown the world that India has arrived as a regional power," said Mr. Singh. During the post-Kargil security review, policy-makers noted the island chain's strategic importance and set up the first Tri-Service Integrated Command. An Army officer now commands the combined forces of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard to make optimal use of assets.
Though the base has been revived the psychological scars and the harsh living conditions cast a shadow. The IAF transferred personnel after the tsunami and replaced them with a fresh batch. But the loneliness is taking a toll.
The Chief has received requests from the men to reduce their tenure on the island. The first pilot to land a fighter plane (a Shamsher) here in 1985, Air Chief Marshal Tyagi, said: "I know there are many problems here and I will see what can be done. But remember that you people have volunteered or been handpicked to restore the Indian flag to its glory. Do not relent till the job is completed." The Army, the Navy and the Air Force are attempting to do just that.
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