The Indian Air Force fighters have garnered a dozen medals this Independence Day for their audacious air strikes on a Jaish-e-Muhammed camp at Balakot and the subsequent skirmish between India and Pakistan. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was awarded Vir Chakra, country's third highest war time gallantry medal. The defence ministry announced the military awards on the eve of Independence Day celebrations.
Varthaman, 36, was captured by the Pakistani Army on February 27 after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in a dogfight with Pakistani jets during aerial combat. Before his jet was hit, he downed an F-16 fighter of Pakistan. Varthaman was released on the night of March 1 by Pakistan.
The IAF gallantry list also included Vayu Sena Medals for Mirage-2000 pilots who successfully struck the JeM facility with Spice-2000 penetration bombs after crossing the Line of Control in the early hours of February 26. The five pilots include Group Captain Saumitra Tamaskar, Wing Commander Pranav Raj, Wing Commander Amit Ranjan, Sq Ldr Rahul Basoya, Sq Ldr Pankaj Arvind Bhujade , Sq Ldr B Karthik Narayan Reddy, Sq Ldr Shashank Singh. The IAF received a total of 13 awards including five Yudh Seva Medals and seven Vayu Sena Medal.
A woman ground-based fighter controller, Squadron Leader Minty Aggarwal, who showed exceptional alertness and presence of mind as flight controller during the Pakistani retaliation has been awarded a Yudh Seva Medal for “distinguished services” during wartime. Besides Agarwal, the Yudh Seva medal winners are Air Commodore Sunil Kashinath Vidhate, Group Captain Yeshpal Singh Negi, Goup Captain Hemant Kumar, Group Captain Hansel Joseph Seqeira.
Sapper Prakash Jadhav (posthumously) and CRPF deputy commandant Harshpal Singh were awarded the Kirti Chakra, the second highest peacetime gallantry award, for “conspicuous bravery beyond the call of duty” during fierce encounters with terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir. Out of 14 Shaurya Chakras in the list, eight were from the Army, one from the Navy, two from CRPF and three police officials.
The Shaurya Chakras have been awarded posthumously to Major Vibhuti Shankar Dhoundiyal (Engineers/RR), Lance Naik Sandeep Singh (Para-Special Forces), Sepoy Brajesh Kumar (Punjab Regiment/RR), Sepoy Hari Singh (Grenadiers/RR), Rifleman Shive Kumar (JAKLI/ RR) and Ashiq Hussain Malik (special police officer, J&K).