Flight lieutenant Srikant Sharma who will lead the 144-strong India Air Force contingent on Rajpath in New Delhi on January 26 said he will not only fulfill his own dream to march down the ceremonial boulevard during the Republic Day parade, but also redeem wishes of his father, who wanted to join the armed forces.
The 26-year-old IAF officer said the "eyes of the country will be on us too when the contingent walks past the president, but the honour also fills me with humility".
"I have seen the R-Day parade on TV and my brother had led a contingent of an army regiment last year. And now I will be at the helm for the IAF contingent. So, my dad will have seen both his sons as leaders," Mr Sharma said.
The IAF officer, from Jaipur, said he was ecstatic about leading the contingent, but "my father will be more delighted".
"He wanted to join the armed forces and had also given the entrance examination. But, as fate would have it, this was around 1984 and due to some contingencies back then the interview could not take place. So, this honour feels special, as it will also be a fulfilment of his dream in a way," Mr Sharma said.
"Getting into the armed forces was a dream come true and this opportunity to lead the contingent is an icing on the cake," he added.
Flight lieutenant Pankaj Choudhary and Flying Officers Ragi Ramachandran and Vikas Yadav will be in the vanguard of the contingent led by Mr Sharma, the IAF said.
Ms Ramachandran, the only woman fronting the contingent, said it is a "moment of great pride" that also "inspires great humility in me" given the prestige the Republic Day celebrations hold.
But preparing for the parade has not been easy, though armed forces regimen prepare them well, the officials said.
"We would have to wake up at 3am for rehearsals at Rajpath. We would initially do some warm-ups to shrug off the morning cold and then do the marching. On January 26, we will have to walk all the way to the Red Fort, so we have to build stamina, but the enthusiasm and spirit is running high," he said.
An IAF marching band will be ahead of the contingent when they walk down the Rajpath.
"On the first day, it was quite difficult to match the steps with the beats as we have to march in a synchronised way. We used to see on TV and it looked so easy, but it takes a lot of hard work to perfect the steps," Mr Sharma said.
The IAF will also showcase a host of air defence capabilities of the country during the Republic Day celebrations, including a "vic" formation of An-32 aircraft, whose lead plane will be flying using a mix of traditional and bio-fuel for the first time during the parade.
The end of the parade will be marked by a single Sukhoi aircraft Su-30 MKI of the IAF performing the signature "vertical charlie" in the air.
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