Students of grade 9 and 10 of Ekya School JP Nagar went on a field trip to the Madras Engineering Group, MEG, an army base in Bangalore. Here is an account of Nidhi Bhavsar, student of grade 10 on the experience at MEG.
The army base, located in Ulsoor, was a great learning experience. As we looked into the sacrifices of our soldiers pre-independence, we learned about the hardships and workings of the present day army too.
The Indian defense system consists of three main wings – the army, navy and the air force. Bangalore, having an abundance of army land of all the three wings, opens a door for students to learn about a very important aspect of a nation’s maintenance. The Madras Engineering Group or the Madras Sappers are the engineering corps for the Indian Army. They have been serving the nation since 1780, under the name of the Madras Pioneers. They were renamed as the Corps of Madras Sappers and Miners in 1831.
The visit started with the hour-long drive to the base. On entering the army base, we were told that space was a plastic-free zone. No plastic bags were allowed inside and littering was strictly forbidden. The army proves to be the epitome of discipline. We were asked to maintain silence and discipline as we took a trip around the base.
We took a round trip of the models and the museum there. A record of the sappers was kept on the walls of the museum, the information written with white paint on the wooden walls. The medals awarded filled up the museum walls, along with their names. One very memorable item on display was an American flag. If you looked closer, you would be able to see a few words written on the flag. We figured out that the flag was given to the Indian soldiers who fought with an American brigade. The soldiers had written small messages to the Indians, thanking them. One of them said – “Thank you for the friendship.” It truly was an emotional, eye-opening sight.
The museum took up quite a bit of our time, but when we exited the museum, a man gathered us all up and started to brief us on the history of The MEG. The MEG is known for mining and bridging. They deal with bombs, bridges, etc. and are responsible for demolition and building. As we know from Indian history, there were four European countries that tried setting up trade in India. The Portugese got to India first, landing in Calicut. The three others were the Dutch, the French and the British. The British’s fort in India was St.George fort. The British, as well as the French, settled down in India for trade and the two of them fought for trade in India. The British won the early wars. The British traders gradually gained territorial power and started to involve themselves in Indian politics, slowly turning it into a colony.
Mysore was not a small city then. It was the state that ruled the whole of South India. The British tried having a war with the kingdom but lost due to lack of local knowledge. During this time, there was a lack of combat pioneers which led to the rise of the Madras Pioneers in the army of the Madras Presidency. The Madras Pioneers would become the forefathers of the Corps of Engineers in the Indian Army.
An officer working in the MEG, who turned out to be our guide for the day, quickly took us to the war memorial. There were slabs of stone erected in the soil with the rank and names of soldiers who served in the regiment. We stayed there for a minute, then passed the quarter guard used for weapon storage to get to a ground. A very large ground. There were a group of soldiers in a rectangular formation standing in attention. At the front was one man, most probably their captain. Behind them was a man with a drum, the kind of drum used in parades. They were standing with a beautiful backdrop of a gate with the flag of the regiment on the sides and the Indian flag soaring at the highest point. They demonstrated a parade for us. We could hear the loud, proud words of the marshal, commanding the march. We watched the parade intently, occasionally exclaiming in awe.
The soldiers marched for the next batch of students while we left to get to another building. On the way, I saw a board. It was a wooden one with this painted on it.
“I hear, I forget.
I see I remember.
I do, I understand.”
– A trainee.
It seemed interesting. The quote is something everyone should understand because a lot of life becomes easier if executed. Doing something is a more efficient way of learning, rather than letting information enter one ear and exit the other.
We reached a building that had models of different types of bridges outside. The building had rows of rooms. Each room was a model room, explaining different things the MEG deals with. We were taken to a few of them and were given explanations on them. The first one had models of different explosives, the walls filled with information about the different kinds. The officer took us to a few other rooms, telling us about their work. There were rooms about bombs, bridges, the different types of gadgets used against enemies to ensure injuries on a large scale and mines.
The next destination was a small bridge they had built. It was a small walk from the building of models. We walked onto the bridge when we were asked to gather at the front of it. The memories made from trips are often captured in pictures and we did not miss out on this ritual. The ninth and tenth graders had a group picture with the teachers and soldiers.
We then were taken to a small fenced place with a few targets and rifles. We could see a few soldiers holding the rifles, some sitting, some crouching, some standing and some lying down. We were told that this was a weapon training nursery. An officer there asked us to gather around him and told us that there were a few stances soldiers were taught. A soldier cannot shoot while standing when their targets are of different heights. Hence, we were briefed on different types of stances, when they were used and a few exercises soldiers were made to do to strengthen parts of their body.
There were four basic types of stances used by soldiers. They were – standing, sitting, kneeling and lying. Standing stances were used for an approximate height of 4 to 4.5 feet. Enemies were shot in the middle, chest region area, as opposed to their head. There are two reasons. First, soldiers often wear helmets, so penetration of the bullet is not guaranteed. Second, the bullet could easily miss the enemy and sail above the enemy’s head. But if shot in the chest region, even if the desired target is missed, the bullet is bound to at least hit the enemy. Kneeling positions are taken up for a target of around two and a half feet in height. The lying position is taken for a target height of one to one and a half feet. Sitting positions are incorporated when an enemy is being shot from a distance. Example, from a mountain. The soldier sits in a suitable place on a mountain and when movement is required, take up a scouting position.
We were also told about the different techniques marshals use on soldiers to strengthen a few important parts of their body and increase the accuracy of shooting. Weights are placed on the barrels of soldiers’ rifles while they are in a lying position. This strengthens their arms and shoulders. They are also repeatedly made to wring out water from the cloth into a bucket and dip the cloth in the water again. This is supposed to strengthen their fingers, and hence their grip. A coin is also sometimes placed on the barrel. This tells the coaches how much the barrel moves when soldiers shoot. If the coin falls, the soldiers are not opposing the recoil with enough force, which is an important aspect of learning how to shoot properly.
We were given the name of the rifle they were using. It was called INSAS, or the Indian Small Arms System. It has a weight of four kilograms and does not have much of an effect. It has a lesser force at which the bullet flies out.
The last destination we visited out of the seven they had prepared for us was a small room that had a display of artisan works made by the army soldiers and information on them. They had models of the types of building built by them too. We were told that soldiers were trained to be artisans too, as it was also a requirement in the army. Artisan work included carpentry, masonry, building, metallurgy, painting, etc. The soldiers made a lot of furniture. These included a shelf with hidden drawers and compartments, a ladder cum ironing table, a ladder that became a chair when the top part of the ladder was flipped over, rocking chairs, etc. They were truly very innovative making optimum use of space and materials.
The artisan room was our last stop, after which we were taken back. The experience was an educational one as well as an inspirational one. It opened our eyes to the endless possibilities and choices we have. It showed us the dedication and hard work of the soldiers of our country’s defense system. It may have inspired a few to become soldiers in the army, or made us appreciate the comfort of living in a country like India. Either way, every student took away something from the field trip.
Soldiers train for years, their blood, sweat, and tears all for the safety of someone else. They lay down their lives to protect the country that has given them a home. They shed blood to give us a better life. They become physically as well as mentally strong to endure the years to come. The years of war and fighting to protect their sacred homeland. The defense system is an underappreciated but crucial cog in the great wheel that is the Indian government. So let us take a moment to pray for the soldiers that are, have been and will be.