Bengaluru: The Indian Air Force (IAF) stations across India played a very silent and significant role ever since the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Air Force Station (AFS) Agra is one such wing of IAF which took on the challenges head on following the lockdown, ensuring the smooth operations under difficult conditions.
As part of our efforts to highlight unsung air warriors during Aero India 2021, Onmanorama spoke to couple of officers who played a significant role at AFS Agra.
“As the effect of the pandemic continued to increase day by day, the flying efforts were also multiplying. Besides logistics loads, requirements for transportation of stranded people and casualty evacuation were also increasing,” says Flt Lt Yogika.
He said flying for long durations in PPE kits didn’t make the task easier but had to accept the discomfort, even in sweltering weather, for their own safety.
“The cockpit was also shielded from the passenger cabin as a necessary precaution. Even after flying with all protective gears, and sufficient sanitiser sprays, somehow the COVID-19 virus did make its way to our squadron and some of us had to be put under quarantine,” he recalls.
He said it while the commanding officers of flying units were vastly experienced in the fleet to fly under such constraints, it was a first-time experience for junior pilot like him.
According to Flt Lt Robin, one of the important learning of Covid pandemic was to make the most of scarce resources.
“Be it food, space, facilities we learnt to make the most of it. Many of us picked up new sports, gardening, reading, music etc as hobbies. Few also battled psychological challenges though thankfully we have overcome this by the strong and unique social set up that only the services can boast of,” says Flt Lt Robin.
“There were people waiting for essential supplies. So off we flew. We did take all the precautions which we could imagine at that point of time. In September 2020, in the line of duty I too was detected with Coronavirus. Having been witness to the pandemic, taken part in Corona supply missions, been a Covid patient, recovered and taken full part in squadron activities, I do feel now that last year has been an eventful year for me and I think for most of us,” he adds.
Wg Cdr Pipariya, Senior Medical Officer says IAF’s missions as air warriors had already started way back in February last when they were tasked to get back stranded Indians in Wuhan.
“Slowly Director General Medical Services (Air) website become more popular than Instagram in Air Force. Personnel got used to having a morning cup of tea and finding a new guideline uploaded here,” she recalls.
She says the IAF took on the duties beyond its charter. The aircrew in the forefront and the administration on ground put in place an extraordinary effort in balancing and consistently neutralizing an invisible enemy.
“The unified efforts ensured that there was no mortality amongst air warriors in the station due to the virus in the base. This was despite the fact that AFS Agra, was continually engaged in providing all stations under Central Air Command with medical supplies arriving from all around the country,” she said.
Narrating then tale further, she said the medical staff stood guard with thermal guns in hand day and night. “Medical officers’ signatures became autographs much sought, in station for any movement inside or outside station. Station Medicare Centre looked like a fictitious planet with aliens roaming in weird dresses and head gears,” she recalls.
She said the fear psychosis and forced isolation were among the new set of challenges face by all.”
“But the battle is far from over and much remains to be done. Being a health worker in a warrior’s uniform has never held such significance before as we continue to combat the most potent enemy of humankind,” says Wg Cdr Pipariya.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)