The Fledgling Marut Days: Air Msh PV Athawale (Retd)

(From the book “Indian Air Force: The Maintenance Paradigm” by Air Mshl PV Athawale

I have been blessed by what I call ‘the ideal script for leadership’. I began my journey in the Air Force at the ‘Marut’ base under the stewardship of the Chief Engineering Officer, Wg Cdr SS Ramdas and later found Air Mshl VA Patkar, the AOM to lead me to my destination. The following examples have been a source of motivation for me throughout my career

  • It was all learning under Sqn Ldr AA Francis (Air Cmde retd as DMI) as my first STO; an engineer par excellence who was the permanent O i/c CR&SS. He must hold a record of sorts for the STO’s hours of ground running and the number of entries into the air intake where only the gutsy Airframe or Engine fitters usually ventured. When I was escorted by a senior colleague to be introduced to the STO, I saw him feet first as he pushed himself back and out of the Marut air intake. Association with him taught me the virtues of professional knowledge and hard work without attempting comparisons with other branch officers. The whole Marut fleet seemed to run on the CR&SS production by ‘Father’ Francis as he was fondly called. The trust between pilot & engineer couldn’t have been better demonstrated than the Flt Cdr – STO equation between Dodi Bansal and Father Francis. Wg Cdr KK (Joe) Bakshi, the CO was the happiest commander one could find. For me, the CO with Flt Cdr and STO duo were Gods giving me an exciting entry into the squadron life. At the first opportunity, the CO took me up in a Hunter trainer to indoctrinate me through a few combat manoeuvres. In a few months, the Flt Cdr followed when the first manufactured Marut trainer was allotted to the Sqn. Engineers were thus nurtured in a Sqn which was formally assigned the role of a Marut pilots’ training Squadron. The warmth of mutual appreciation and total trust built among Sqn mates is something I carried in my heart throughout my Air Force life and continue do so well beyond it into my years of retirement.
  • Air Mshl SS Ramdas has been one man who has influenced and inspired a whole generation of maintenance men. In fact I call myself belonging to the Ramdas ‘gharana’ of engineering officers, which incidentally raises my stock among friends. Memories of him as the Chief Engineering Officer are worth recalling for the benefit of future leaders and generations of CEOs to emulate.
    • The CEO had told us not to hang around outside his office with F-700. When we required extension for servicing, we rang him up. He drove in promptly to check documents and sign extension.
    • As a routine the CEO visited each of the three Squadrons in the morning between 7 and 7:30 AM. We were relieved of problems needing his attention right in the morning, so we could to face the day with confidence.
    • He had a watchful eye for detail, which we could never match. Besides his routine morning visits (known to all airmen), if he drove in without notice, we could see big movement across the long tarmac. It was time for us to note how many air cylinder trolleys and starting bottles without proper reducer valves were being moved out by technicians.
    • When in trouble we dialled 210. Before the telephone bell rang twice, there was a click of the receiver being picked up and a familiar voice answered “Ramdas”. All our problems were taken care of instantly –there was never a PA between Ramdas and his men anyway! He connected with all officers most naturally. Many came to know the first names of colleagues because of the CEO. Years later when he was the SMSO at HQ WAC, he had a PA, but no staff officer. And the PA did not have any say in the matter of officers’ entry into SMSO’s office, the door to which was open at all times.
    • A few years later, when I attended Junior Commanders’ Course (JCC), we had a scientist from NASA (an Indian on sabbatical) to deliver a talk. He introduced to us, the astronaut as a man who was an ace pilot, a PhD in engineering, and at least a MBBS in medicine. The first thought that flashed across my mind was of then Gp Capt Ramdas. He was as good as a PhD in every field; way ahead of everyone else in professional knowledge, commitment and vision. He slogged the most, socialized the best and had a lot of time for his people.
    • Another event is most worthy of being an organizational lesson. The centralised servicing org structure had just been promulgated where the Chief Engineering Officer (then called S Maint O) was given supervisory authority over all maintenance activity including work in the squadrons. As per AFO, we had a morning meeting of all tech officers of the base at SMaintO’s office. This led to great professional understanding and social atmosphere among tech officers to an extent that the Sqn Tech officers’ farewell parties were also duplicated under the aegis of the SMaintO.  When Wg Cdr Ramdas took over, he stopped the practice of duplicate farewells for Sqn tech officers. We, as youngsters took a little time to understand the deeper meaning of his action; an action that avoided unintended damage to the honour of Squadrons by a branch of officers grouping together socially.

© Copyright Air Mshl Pramod Athawale (Retd). All rights reserved. Reproduction or distribution of this article in any form without the express written permission of the author is prohibited


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