Imagine a person having his chest ripped open and tiny shards of metal spread all over his visible internal organs, including a shard on his heart, right lung punctured, several broken ribs. His right humerus shattered and his right arm hung from its skin, and his thick beard matted with dried blood. Seems dead, right?
However, a man survived the impossible. He is none other than Lieutenant Varun Singh of the Indian Navy’s Marine Commandos (MARCOS), one of the best special forces units in the world.
Journey From A Little Boy To A Marine Commando
Varun Singh was born in Satna, Madhya Pradesh. He was named after the Hindu god of water because an astrologer said he would die in water. His father was a sailor in the Indian Navy. Thus, he was inspired to serve the nation from a very young age and grew up with the confidence that he would join the military.
He joined National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1989 to become an Army Officer, but his father persuaded him to change to the Navy. However, he knew his dream of combating the terrorists had gone down significantly as the Navy would send him to sea, and as expected, he was commissioned as a navigating officer on a warship.
As the years rolled on, Varun Singh got married, and in 1997 he was blessed with his first child, Shivani. He knew that his childhood dream of going into combat was not an easy decision to make anymore. Many people questioned and discouraged him from joining MARCOS, saying that he now has a family to care for and should not put himself at risk. Finally, however, his wife Reena supported and pushed him to get into MARCOS.
Going To Kashmir
He enlisted as a trainee combat diver as he was a star at the Navy’s diving school and could dive underwater for up to 180 meters with the full combat gear. After completing his training, in December 1999, just five months after the Kargil war, then as Captain, Varun Singh and seven other MARCOS were sent to Kashmir to operate under the Army’s 15 Rashtriya Rifles (RR), its headquarters in Watlab.
Wular lake is a vast wetland reservoir flanked by gentle hills, making it a veritable highway for terrorists infiltrating from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Moreover, their Journey to Srinagar was cut by 40 km, and they would not have to face Army checkpoints. Due to all these factors, it was a hotspot for terrorist movements. Thus, MARCOS were given the responsibility to secure the lake and patrol its environs.
In April, the heavy snow would melt, and again the infiltration would start in significant numbers. So the MARCOS were ready as they were summoned on 2nd May along with 100 Army men to investigate an Intelligence tip-off about terrorist bunkers in the mountainside.
A Dream Come True
As they were scanned through the mountains, they received a radio signal that three Al-Badr terrorists hid inside a two-storey house in Puttushahi, Bandipora. Captain Singh immediately asked the Army team leader if the MARCOS could dash to the encounter site. He permitted them, and in 45 minutes, Captain Varun Singh and his colleague, Lead Mechanical Engineer Vijay Singh Rawat were at the encounter site.
The terrorists were hiding in a house that was 18 feet high and was surrounded by a 6 feet high boundary wall, and it also had a small cowshed in the rear. So Captain Singh and his partner rushed to the right side of the house. Vijay threw his two grenades (which MARCOS always carried in their vest pouch) inside the house.
But nothing happened other than a loud explosion. Just as Captain Singh was handing over his grenades, an Army team leader radioed him to come and check the RDX explosive that was to be planted to bring down the house of terrorists.
Soon after, a resident went into the compound and planted the bomb quietly on the house’s ground floor. As the explosive was detonated, the impact was perfect. Not a single brick went outward, but the entire structure collapsed into a cloud of dust. In addition, the impact shattered all the windows in a 20 meters radius.
A Costly Mistake
As the dust settled, body of one terrorist was visible, but the other two were not seen. So Captain Singh, along with three other Army men, went inside and cleared the debris and held the hand of the visible terrorist to check the pulse, there was none, and he was confirmed dead. As it was the first kill after the snow had melted, the excitement took over due to which chaos happened as 14 soldiers jumped over the wall and went into the compound to see the dead terrorists.
Amidst the cheer, they forgot about the two missing terrorists, and one soldier went towards the cowshed. The standard operating procedure was that the cowshed be destroyed with a rocket or a bomb, but Army Jawan Reddy opened the door and peered inside in a severe lapse of judgment. As a result, he was shot with a hail of bullets by the two hidden terrorists.
Hearing the fire, most of the jawans went back over the wall and took the safe positions to combat. However, two Army Jawans had frozen where they were shocked by what had just happened.
As the terrorists slowly crept out of the cowshed, Captain Singh leaped towards the two Jawans to save them. After forcing the jawans on the ground and landing on his knees, Captain Singh fired seven rounds towards the terrorists eliminating both of them. However, one terrorist, while falling, had his hand on the trigger, due to which he sprayed a flurry of stray bullets.
One the bullet came straight at the pouch in which Captain Singh had placed his grenades. Luckily, the bullet penetrated the upper part of the grenade, splintering it but not detonating it.
He was unconscious and all covered in blood when the rescue team reached him. He had the faintest pulse, and everyone thought he would soon bleed out as they have seen people with lesser injuries get martyred. He was rushed to Army’s 15 RR Headquarters from where he was airlifted by Army’s Cheetah helicopter and taken to 92 Base Hospital, Srinagar.
Even the Army doctor in charge at that time thought that he was too far gone to be retrieved, but nobody gave up, and he was operated on for 3 hours, where doctors carefully removed splinters and sewed him back.
He was kept on a ventilator and finally regained consciousness on the evening of May 4, 2000. He was kept in the Intensive Care Unit for a week before being airlifted to Delhi’s Base Hospital, where he spent the next two years being operated on. For his broken arm, doctors had installed external fixators with metal rods bypassing the smashed humerus.
A New Form Of Service
He was awarded Shaurya Chakra in 2001 for his bravery in saving two Army Jawans and eliminating two terrorists. Nevertheless, his injuries had taken a toll on his body, and the Navy medically downgraded him.
A process where the person is allowed to be in service other than combat duties.
However, he did not give up and learned how to fire a weapon with his left hand. He also played an instrumental part in setting up a training unit for MARCOS in April 2002 in Mumbai. The same year he was blessed with a son.
In 2016, he was made Commanding Officer of INS Karna, Home Base of the Marine Commandos (MARCOS). His journey from a Trainee to the Commanding Officer of MARCOS is an inspiration for all.
Again Defeating Death
He has defeated death not once but twice. Once again, in February 2018, when he was detected with Kidney Cancer, he fought bravely and was back in service in just a few months to take command of INS Tir.
As lieutenant Varun Singh he continues to serve the nation.