Written By: Maria Khalid
August 6, 2015, 1700 hours
“I am going to Gilgit for a night for casualty evacuation. Will be back tomorrow Insha Allah.”
Col (retd) Hashmat Ullah read the message, looked at his younger grandson and mumbled to himself that ‘he will have to babysit him again today’, not knowing that it would become his duty for coming years.
Maj Dr. Usman’s four years old son used to eat with his father every day and wouldn’t eat if he wasn’t around. “We saw him growing up in a day. A day after he heard his father has died; he quietly ate all by himself”, told Colonel (r) Hashmat Ullah in his deep voice and tearful eyes. The military helicopter carrying Maj Dr. Usman and eleven other military men that was being used for rescue and relief operations in the flood affected areas crashed in Rani Bat area of Koh-e-Bhaingra hill, around 65 kms from Mansehra District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. All the military men, including the pilots and medical team combine, who were to evacuate a critical patient from Gilgit to CMH Rawalpindi, were killed as the helicopter struck a mountain, caught fire, crashed and burnt the corpses beyond recognition. The helicopter, a Medical Evacuation (Medevac) version of MI-17, remained on fire for hours.
The helicopter had taken off from Rawalpindi for the hard-to-access villages nestled into remote hillside of Gilgit. The site of the crash was a mountainous area with dangers compounded by the difficult terrain for operating choppers. The helicopter encountered inclement weather phenomenon due to monsoonal buildups and crashed.
Sitting across from his mother, I found it hard to imagine her loss and contain the tears falling down my cheeks. It is a huge loss – a loss she would never overcome. “Military men brought the body to me for 10 minutes and then took it away for the burial. He has gone to Allah and our trial has began”, she said, her eyes reflecting the pain she was suffering from. “He used to wear his father’s uniform shirt when he was young. Joining Army was his passion.”
On August 10, 2015, his funeral along with the other martyrs was held at Chaklala Garrison. The Army graveyard was filled with people. A large number of people including General Rashid Mahmood,Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee (CJCSC) and General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) gathered to lay the valiant sons of soil to rest, now that they had fulfilled their duty.
His father then narrated this story “When Usman Ullah was a child, he used to play with the batman and was very attached to him. We were collecting ration as his hometown Bhakkar was devastated by the flood in 1977. Usman had collected coins in his saving box which was a sum of 82 rupees. He was only four years old. That was the time when gold was 700 rupees per tola, now it is 60,000 rupees. He told the servant he should take the money because his house was broken.” The story was punctuated with sobbing, pride and longing for his son. After his demise a woman came and told them how he was treating a thalassemia patient that he never had told them. The treatment at the hospital was very expensive yet he was paying from his own pocket.
Among the people watching the transmission of this crash was a sweeper whose father Maj Dr. Usman treated free of cost. When he saw him in the news, he was overwhelmed with grief.
“He was our pride when alive, and now his name has become the nation’s pride. The pain of losing a son who was our heartbeat would never be healed. When his helicopter crashed we received a letter congratulating him on passing Pulmonology exam with distinction’’, Col Hashmat told Hilal. In a letter to General Raheel Sharif, Javid Kayani, the Deputy Medical Director at FRCS wrote,
“Major Usman Ullah was an Army Medical College (AMC) officer who received advance training in pulmonology at University Hospitals Birmingham. He was an outstanding physician who received wide praise from his supervising consultants.” He went on to say, “His death is not only a loss for his family, the Army and the nation, but also for the medical profession.”
For a couple of minutes we sat quietly in his drawing room, trying to hold our tears. There was a lump in our throats as they talked about Maj Usman, thinking about the cards life had dealt them. These letters are of great value and reassurance for the grieving father that his son was indeed a hero. And he had always put the common good ahead of his personal concerns.
In another letter to Maj Gen Sukhera from Dr. Benjamin Sutton, the Consultant Respiratory Physician from UK wrote, “I wanted to personally say that I found him a thoroughly decent human being when he was with us and became very fond of him. I asked him on a number of occasions to come and work over here with us but he was adamant that he would go back to Pakistan and serve with the military. I know that he wouldn’t run away from his duties and it is ironic but perhaps fitting that he died doing something he was so dedicated to.” His dream to be wrapped in the green flag was greater and superior to all the possessions he had.
The pilot of the chopper, Maj Muzammil Bashir from the Baloch Regiment joined Basic Aviation Course in July 2005 and completed the flying course in 2006 with a distinctive display of performance both on ground and in air. Later in Quetta, he participated in various operations using the MI-17 helicopter endangering his life multiple times to the call of duty. He flew extensively as he participated in flood relief operations. “After a hectic day at work, we always cherished his smiles because in the time of need, he never considered it a duty but a source of fulfillment,” said Major Sheraz Khurrum, a colleague in Army.
Due to his excellent performance on MI-17, he was selected for the conversion of AH1F (Cobra) Helicopter. Major Muzammil Bashir started fulfilling his share of responsibility of bringing peace to the motherland by actively flying cobra helicopter and engaging the terrorists on the western front. For almost two years he was the Cobra Helicopter pilot before he was sent to Sudan on United Nations Peacekeeping Mission. He proudly represented Pakistan under the UN flag.
During Operation Zarb-e-Azb, he supplied necessary stores/medicines to the troops and evacuated casualties as he was posted to 27 Army Aviation Squadron. “He was a daring man who was never reluctant to endanger his life for saving others” said Maj Sheraz. Muhammad Ali, his two years old son, says his father has gone to heavens but he will come back. Although still in shock and very quiet, his wife, Maria is satisfied that he was happy with her. Four days before his death, they spent 15 days together in Peshawar after a very long time. He had intended to keep every promise he made to her including the one about celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary on the 14th of August. “He brushed off the scolding from everyone, the parents and sisters. There hardly was any reaction. He was so cheerful that life followed him wherever he sat,” says his sister, Sumera Shaukat.
How Maj Wasif Hussain Shah confronted militants and laid his life in Datta Khel in North Waziristan Agency during Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
When Major Wasif Hussain Shah, S.Bt. reported for duty in 32 Baloch Regiment in Datta Khel on October 12, 2014, and he was given the task to clear and establish posts at Zarramsar and Spairaghar. The first three days were difficult as there was no water to drink; no shelter and he spent the nights casually in open air. These areas were used by the miscreants to fire rockets at Datta Khel for the last many years. It was his exemplary courage, physical endurance and sacrifice for motherland that Major Wasif captured Zarramsar without any casualty. He established the posts, Obaid 1, Obaid 2 and Obaid 3, and chose Obaid 2 as his headquarter.
On November 15, 2014 at about 1730 hours, terrorists around 400 in number fired rockets and mortars at Obaid 3 Post. Disregarding his own safety, at 1750 hours, Major Wasif arrived at this post along with soldiers under intensive fire and surprisingly he was the first to reach Obaid 3 post. Major Wasif now in the forward trenches fired at the terrorists with his Light Machine Gun.
At about 1900 hours, the bunker of Major Wasif was surrounded by terrorists from three directions. His reflexes took over and he moved out of the bunker to fire directly at the terrorists. The terrorists who had suffered heavy losses fired a Rocket Propelled Grenade from close range and a splinter of RPG pierced side of his face near his upper lip and after penetrating in the flesh came out from his neck. As Sepoy Ayaz who was fighting alongside Major Wasif embraced shahadat, Major Wasif also fell on the ground. He recited Kalma-e-Shahadat and closed his eyes. “He fought like a lion from the forward most trenches and embraced shahadat. The presence of Major Wasif at forward most trenches was a source of motivation and high morale for his regiment,” said his proud father, Irshad Hussain Shah, an Assistant Professor at Hazara University. “Major Wasif fought for a noble cause in line with the noblest traditions of Pakistan Army.”
These are the stories of a few shuhada but are repeated every time a soldier embraces shahadat. The pain is immense, loss is huge but the pride is forever.
Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.