On February 27, 2019, when the world was recovering from the shock of Indian airstrike on Pakistani grounds, India faced retaliation from Pakistan Air Force (PAF) entering Indian air space. With an Indian MiG-21 Bison shooting down a Pakistani F-16, the news was released that the former crashed into Pakistan and later, the pilot was taken into Pakistani custody. The pilot’s name soon became very common in the Indian household — Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. And the rest, as they say, is history.
As many may know, the entrance of PAF into Indian Air Space was thwarted by the Indian Air Force (IAF), and the success of that mission is accredited to the competence of the IAF. In the entire saga of events in which Abhinandan Varthaman was hailed as a hero, there existed an unsung hero. Let’s read about this hero together.
Meet IAF Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal. She is the first woman in Indian history to be awarded the Yudh Seva Medal, which is an award that recognizes any member that provides a high order of distinguished service during war, hostilities, or conflict. And, the Government of India had good reason to do this. Here is why.
A day after the Balakot airstrike, when the team of fighter aircraft that Abhinandan was a part of took off, Minty Agarwal was a member of the crew that was instrumental in providing air situation picture. Minty was in continuous two-way communication with Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman from the moment he hit the skies. During the course of this time, she provided him with air situation picture from her radar and also, witnessed the PAF F-16 fighter aircraft blip fade off her screen. That makes her the first to confirm that the Wing Commander hit his target.
Not only was she a part of the historic dogfight involving Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, but she was also an integral part of the team that carried out the airstrike on February 26. According to her, the airstrike at Balakot was successful and the IAF was completely prepared for an eventual retaliation from Pakistan.
The strike carried out on the non-military camps at Balakot was considered as India’s reply to the Pulwama attack that took place on February 14th. In the attack, a convoy of vehicles that were transporting Indian security personnel was attacked by a suicide bomber.
Minty Agarwal’s team was equipped for a response from the PAF, which arrived within 24 hours. On the historic day, Minty Agarwal is reported to have spotted a significantly large package of PAF aircraft heading towards Nowshera region in Jammu and Kashmir. With a strong presence of mind and quick response, Agarwal alerted the teams at IAF, who immediately swung into action.
What started with only a handful of Pakistani aircraft, turned into a dogfight with the density of aircraft increasing. Her swift responses played a vital role in thwarting the PAF attack, the absence of which may have been a large-scale loss of life and property.
Minty Agarwal was part of the seven member fighter controller team that was on-duty on 27th February morning. It is said that Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal also asked Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to turn back when he entered Pakistan Airspace. However, he was unable to receive the instruction since the PAF had jammed the communication system.
Of the 132 recipients of the gallantry award which are given to honor the defense personnel, Abhinandan Varthaman received the Vir Chakra and Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal.
Way after independence, only since 1992, women have begun to enter the armed forces of our nation. However, even then, they were allowed only into the operational roles, before which women served only in the medical branches of all the three forces. In 1993, IAF witnessed its first batch of women in the pilot training course, and the following year, Harita Deol was the first woman in the IAF to fly solo.
Against this background, however, women were only allowed to pilot helicopters and transportation until 2017. In 2015, the Government of India allowed women to take new roles and 2017 saw the first batch of women fighter pilots in IAF — Air Officers Bhawana Kanth, Avani Chaturvedi, and Mohana Singh. Over the course of the last two years, the Indian Air Force is reported to have the highest number of women employees compared to the other two defense wings. There are over 1,500 female officers in the IAF of which over 100 of them are frontline combat pilots.
In the light of these developments, Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal has reached new heights and accolades over the years. Despite women given entrance into the combat world only recently, Minty Agarwal has created history by being the first woman to earn the award.
The defense has been considered as one of the most challenging fields of work, not merely for women, but men as well. In the wake of recent events in India and the world, women have decided it is time to put on their capes and board the combat bandwagon.
What do you think of this brave woman, and several others in the line of defense?
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