Twice in the calendar year, young aviators at PAF Academy Asghar Khan climb the stairs at Falcons’ Hearth to join the ranks of men in blue who have safeguarded the aerial frontiers of their beloved country since its inception. From Sarfraz Rafiqui to Rashid Minhas and from MM Alam to Noman Ali Khan all have been through this prestigious institution which is considered to be nursery of producing the finest.
T he sturdy walls of the PAF Academy Asghar Khan have been patron to countless promising cadets who went on to become heroes of the nation. Men who went on to save thousands of lives have begun their careers in this Academy which stands tall in its humble yet enduring grandeur at Risalpur. From Sarfraz Rafiqui to MM Alam, every ace of PAF has once laughed in these halls, trained in its vast grounds and set ablaze the skies above it, the first time they flew their planes.
On the fine morning of 18 October 2021, the usually sombre PAF Academy Asghar Khan was abuzz with excitement. A jovial, inspiring spirit could be felt by everybody present. And there was good reason for it. It was the day that the academy longed for quite some time. The day when all the cadets who had been putting in their sweat and blood for years would finally get their well-deserved reward; the coveted branch insignias on their chests and officer ranks on their shoulders. They would remember this day for the rest of their lives, when they finally take their first step into a new and promising carrier.
The graduating cadets belonged to the 145th GD (P), 91st ENGG and 101st Air Defence courses. A total of 125 Aviation Cadets including five Royal Saudi Air Force Cadets graduated at the Ceremony. The synchronized parade of the graduating cadets was a sight to see. With months of practice under their belt, every single movement was executed perfectly, which made the group of cadets seem like a single, coordinated organism. First to enter the parade venue were the four squadrons of the academy under the command of Academy Under Officer. Marching on the patriotic tunes played by the PAF band, the synchronised movements of the marching-in cadets enthralled the audience which comprised foreign dignitaries, senior military and civilian officers, parents and families of the graduating cadets.
The voice of the parade commander leading the parade, boomed across the grounds throughout the event. Once settled in front of the audience, the parade commander called-in the ‘Alam’ party, carrying the flag of the Pakistan, the PAF and the ‘The Quaid-e-Azam Banner’. This proud flag is symbolic of the nation’s father, Quaid-e-Azam’s famous visit to the academy on the 13th of April, 1948, where he coined the term ‘Second to None’ for PAF. At the end of each term, the banner is awarded to the champions squadron of the academy. Once lined up in front of the audience, it was the time for the arrival of the chief guest. Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu, Chief of Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force was the chief guest at the graduation ceremony. The Air Chief arrived at the academy in the morning and was received by the Air Vice Marshal Muhammad Qaiser Janjua, Air Officer Commanding (AOC), PAF Academy Asghar Khan.
As the Air Chief took position at the dais, he was presented with guard of honour by the parade. Later, accompanying the parade commander and the AOC Academy, the chief guest reviewed the smartly tuned out cadets of the academy. Later, recitation from holy Quran was carried out.
Once the recitation was done, it was time for the main event. The cadets were neatly lined up, waiting to finally receive the reward for their toil. Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu walked to the cadets and awarded them branch insignias, pining them on their chests one by one. He also spoke a few words of encouragement and acknowledgement to each cadet as he faced them. These words will be remembered by these young men forever. Then, there were the cadets who stood out from the rest, the ones who went the extra mile. These cadets reaped the reward for their extra labour in the form of prestigious trophies.
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Trophy for the best performance in General Service Training was awarded to Aviation Cadet Squadron Under Officer Nayyer Ashfaq whereas Chief of the Air Staff Trophies for best performance in Air Defence and best performance in Engineering disciplines were won by Aviation Cadet Sargent Hanzallah Moin Khan & Aviation Cadet Sargent Muhammad Aqib respectively. Chief of the Air Staff Best Pilot Trophy for outstanding performance in Flying Training was awarded to Aviation Cadet Sargent Abdul Rehman. Sword of Honour for overall best performance in College of Aeronautical Engineering was won by Aviation Cadet Wing Under Officer Sufiyan Sidique whereas Sword of Honour for overall best performance in College of Flying Training was awarded to Aviation Cadet Squadron Under Officer Anas Mustafa.
After the cadets had been officiated by Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu, it was time for them to be sworn in. The oath was read out by the narrator and the cadets repeated it, swearing that they would uphold the sanctity of the prestigious burden they were about to take on and to never hesitate to put their life for the nation.
Once the oath was done, it was time for the Air Chief’s address at the occasion. While addressing the audience, the Chief Guest said, “I am proud that Armed Forces of Pakistan are professionally competent and well-trained to cope with all internal and external challenges. Our brave Air Warriors have always displayed great courage during testing times and upheld Quaid’s vision of PAF being Second to None. I assure you that PAF is very well poised to preserve our freedom at all costs.” The Air Chief also emphasised that “Pakistan is a peace-loving Nation and desires to maintain friendly ties with all countries. However, our desire for peace must not be misunderstood as weakness. Let me make it clear, that there can be no peace without a just settlement of the Kashmir issue. We condemn the grave human rights violations in IIOJK. I urge the international community to play their role in ending human rights violations and atrocities in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.”
Addressing the graduating cadets in the end, he said, “Remember, today is the beginning of your journey in PAF as an officer. You have been trained well at this leading Air Force Academy and must continue to work hard in order to keep abreast of latest developments in technology, modern concepts and current trends related to role of Air Power in modern warfare. You should also seek inspiration from the legacy of our forefathers who, despite tough challenges, kept PAF’s flag high.”
The address was followed by the graduating cadets marching out of the grounds, saluting the Air Chief one last time before they moved towards the stairs at the historic ‘Falcon’s Hearth’ monument. Next up was the impressive ‘Hamza Drill’, a display designed to pay homage to the companion of the Holy Prophet (SAW), the revered Hazrat Hamza (RA). It was an impressive display of synchronization, with every single participant performing flawlessly, executing group manoeuvres which were a sight to behold. The display was accompanied by several well-timed, blank shotgun shots which added to the overall experience. At the finale, was the aerobatic display by a 9-ship formation team of the fearless ‘Sherdils’, pulling off their world-famous, death-defying manoeuvres in front of the enthralled audience. The team was led by Wg Cdr Yasir Khan, OC Advanced Jets Training Squadron. Thus ended the passing out ceremony, with boys turning into men, ready to take fate in their own hands and defend their nation with their soul and body, just like their predecessors have done before them.