I am not a survivor, I am a warrior. I have always been motivating myself with these words ever since I was a child. One fine morning in 2013, I was excited by the news that Lady Officers who were interested to undergo BAC (Basic Airborne Course) would soon be shortlisted and a series of tough screening tests were to be conducted by the selection team from Special Services Group (SSG). Only the participants who cleared all tests would qualify for the subsequent training.
Despite this Herculean task, it was a dream come true. Paratrooping insignia decorated on an officer’s chest used to inspire me from the days back in Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Kakul. It was, therefore, my one of the greatest desires to successfully participate in Pakistan Army’s Airborne Course. This also meant that I had to start working hard for qualifying the tests ahead.
I didn’t want any negligence to hamper my preparations for the screening test. I still recall preparing myself strenuously for the ‘hanging test’ which I felt was my weakest area.
As time passed and finally the day arrived, we gathered at Chaklala Garrison Physical Training (PT) Ground for the 1st Screening Test. A team from SSG headed by Colonel Commandant of Para Training School (PTS) was already present at the venue.
A famous quote described my emotional status at that time perfectly: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
First came the One Mile test followed by Push-ups, Sit-ups, Rope Skipping and finally Hanging, which Alhamdulillah I was able to clear with flying colours. The fact was that only 30 out of hundreds of applicants cleared all tests and qualified for the next screening test. And after the second screening test, 25 participants were able to make it to PTS Peshawar.
One of the biggest challenges we faced during the whole ordeal was to get the consent from our family members for the course due to its hazardous nature. “I think you don’t like your arms and legs safe, why would you ever want to cripple yourself?” Such worrisome questions echoed around. My unwaveringly reply had always been: “I have faith in Allah and I have nurtured this unwavering passion since my childhood. Despite my personal humility, I will make sure my institution feels proud”.
As June ended, the time came to pack our bags and move towards PTS Peshawar. The next morning at PTS Peshawar was the 3rd Screening Test. Failing this test meant going back home instantly. But Alhamdulillah all performed well and then started the rigorous SSG training. The aim of this training appeared, “no mercy at all”, irrespective of the participants’ gender. Always aiming for excellence at each step was what our instructors instilled in our minds in a very short span. As the weather started to take its toll on us, the humidity and tough training schedule both tested our tolerance. We used to have sweat-showers during the training but nothing could waver the unflinching resolve of any student. I must say that the training was much tougher than PMA.
After our tough 2 hours morning PT, our staff with a grin on his face used to say, “Run a mile and break off to enjoy the breakfast”. We thought he was kidding as we were exhausted after the nonstop morning thrash, but much to our surprise he said again, “You are wasting your breakfast time madams, do the mile and go for breakfast and fall back in 30 minutes”. With puzzled faces and confused thoughts, we ran the mile and went for breakfast. After the initial few hours of training, the doubts we had about our future course of the training and the stay at PTS Peshawar were crystal clear. It was not an easy task for sure and things were going to be tougher with each passing day. However, the toughest training increased our endurance and hardened the spirits.
After basic physical training modules, special training started that consisted of parachute landing starting from 2 feet and then working towards the 4 feet wall with the particular falling patterns which taught us to land with our feet and knees together, static line paratrooper jump, and how to wear parachute harness correctly, etc. Then came 34-feet Mock Tower to practice jumping SOPs and how to exit from an aircraft. It created the sensation of a ‘free fall’ – of actually falling from a height – a feeling similar to an actual jump. One critical skill was how to identify, face a parachute malfunctioning and then deal with it. This included emergency procedures of when and how to deploy the reserve parachutes followed by how to steer the chutes into the wind, and aim for the Point of Impact at the centre of the Drop Zone avoiding any trees, light towers etc. and what to do in order to avoid dragging on the ground. Hence, each and every aspect was taught and learnt with military precision and professional excellence.
Then came the final jump day, and we had to jump from a MI-17 at the height of 1200 feet. We all prayed and went to the venue. We were excited but nervous, too.
When I jumped from the aircraft everything was so smooth. When I started shouting “One Thousand Two thousand” (one has to say One Thousand Two Thousand till Five Thousand as it is expected that the main parachute operates within five seconds, and in case of a failure, one has to operate the reserve parachute) my parachute opened at once and I was static in the air for some seconds and could see the ground looking so beautiful.
Suddenly, velocity to come down started increasing due to the gravity of ground. Now I was ready to make the formation with my hands and knees to avoid crash landing. Alhamdulillah, I made a perfect landing and instantly untied my parachute to avoid dragging. We had to jump thrice in order to complete the course successfully. There and then I bowed down to thank Almighty who gives us all the power, fortitude and wisdom to conquer the unconquerable!
PTS School training staff made sure during the three (3) weeks that all training steps had become our instinct and performing every step correctly was now our second nature. Their effort and training proved to be so fruitful that all of 24 Lady Officers jumped and landed just perfectly and none were injured. PTS School training refined these student officers into priceless diamonds; firm and shiny. It was a huge success and our faith further strengthened that if one aims to achieve a goal and persistently makes efforts to achieve it, Allah makes it achievable and easy.
Every trying moment sparked in my mind:
“I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.”