During World War II, at the age of 17 and straight from Nizam College, Idris Latif joined the Air Force as an Officer Cadet. After barely five months of total training, he was posted to an Anti-Submarine Coastal Flight in Karachi. Soon thereafter, he went to a fighter squadron operating in the North-West Frontier Province of pre-partition India. Later, after a year’s flying in England, early in 1945, before the end of World War II, he served with the No. 3 Squadron in Burma, flying the Hurricane fighter, in support of our Army against the invading Japanese.
Though primarily a fighter pilot, during his 40 years in Service, Air Chief Marshal Latif flew most of the fighter, bomber and transport aircraft in our Air Force. During the final years of his service, as Chief of the Air Force, he also flew the Jaguar ‘Deep Strike Aircraft’, as it is known, and the French Mirage. Finally, barely a month or so before retiring in 1981, to his delight, he tasted the flavour of the Russian tri-sonic MiG-25 and was able to view the Himalayan peaks from 70,000 feet!
The family in our Air Force and, in most if not all other Air Forces, is not just the husband, the wife and the children. It’s much, much more: it is truly a life closely bonded with trust, with constant caring, and deep affection. It is a life of shared values, of shared happiness and joy. But sometimes, sadly, even in times of peace, it has its moments of tragedy and loss of one’s dearest: Will he safely return from the daily sorties that are his life? Deep down there is always that fear. But even this is common to all and shared; and, in its own way, it becomes yet another bond.
In the Air Force, though they’re occasionally stationed in or in the vicinity of large cities, more often, Air Warriors (as they are now known) and their families must adjust to living in relatively remote parts of our vast country. Frequently, these are areas with limited school facilities and entertainment. But again, with the full involvement of family members - organising picnics, staging plays, promoting games, sport and other entertainment - there is a tremendous boost to a common sense of sharing. With this comes the experience and enjoyment of a wonderful sense of belonging to the larger Air Force family. Even a family, newly posted in, very soon feels at home and secure. Compared to what they give to our country, salaries and perquisites may not be much, but the values earned and learned, for themselves, and for their children are incomparable.
Of course, this life isn’t without its challenges. Danger to life is there in war and peace. With the family there is, inevitably, a fear that one day without warning, someone will come knocking at the door, to break the news that a loved one is no more. Being far from other relatives, it could become unbearable. But at Air Force stations, always and every time, a specially selected close friend is given the sad duty of breaking such news. And with it, very soon, the whole Air Force family at the station is near you to hold your hand and to help in every way.
Constant transfers - whether single or married, with children or without - are an unavoidable part of life in the Air Force. Packing, unpacking; losing close friends but making new ones; for children, new schools with new teachers, are only some of the challenges that must be faced. But it all has its bright side, and it is, truly priceless. It helps one develop an extraordinary and most valuable capacity to continuously adapt and adjust. In the long run, it is for all, including children, a truly invaluable lesson.
Growing up in an Air Force family is unique, and I wouldn’t have changed that wonderful life for any other. As children, the pride we felt - and still feel - to see the Air Force’s transparent respect and affection for my father, not only when in Service but even after thirty years of retirement, is something we treasure. Unforgettable also is how he taught us the importance of character and true values, the fun and the special richness of shared happiness. Also cherished is the love, care and sacrifices of my mother. Equally memorable is her confidence, and the warmth of her smile, even in adversity. Growing up in the Air Force is not just another life. It is, believe me, a privilege, both rich and treasured. - Asad Latif