Soul of Steel: Global Special Forces Vets Take On Mighty Himalayas


Photo credit CLAW

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By Ramananda Sengupta

Chennai, January 14: There’s something incredibly special about the World Alpine Skill and Endurance Challenge which began on January 14 in the high reaches of the Himalayas, as the competitors are all ‘Special Forces’ veterans from around the world.

The seven-day challenge, aptly titled the ‘Soul of Steel’, is a gruelling mix of military-style high-altitude operations and alpine adventure sports. The race, as well as the training for its earlier two stages at Nainital and Gamshali in Uttarakhand, is being filmed for international release.

The ‘Soul of Steel Alpine Challenge’ was launched by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who was in Dehradun to preside over the 7th Armed Forces Veterans celebrations. He then flagged off the Soul of Steel, which began with a car expedition from Dehradun to Ghamshali in Niti Valley, and involves a winter expedition to high-altitude snow bound tracks and an off-roading display, among other displays of grit, endurance and training.

This ambitious venture was initiated by the Ibex Brigade under the umbrella of the Indian Army’s Adventure Wing, and ‘Conquer Land Air Water’ or CLAW,  which comprises Indian Special Forces veterans with multiple specialisations in mountaineering, skydiving, SCUBA diving, unarmed combat, multi – terrain survival skills and emergency medical response in hostile terrain.

The Joshimat-based Ibex Brigade — (raised in 1905, and thus the oldest, and also the only Independent Mountain Brigade of the Indian Army)  — defends 250 km of the LAC in Garhwal Himalayas. It took Ibex and CLAW over six months to plan this event and ensure all security concerns were addressed.

This also comes amidst the tensions and relentless pace of military deployment and development on both sides of the Line of Actual Control or LAC, the disputed sections of the Indo-China border.

Despite ranking among the professional forces in the world, there are limited opportunities for military veterans after service. Similarly, despite the immense scope for adventure tourism, locals in the forward areas too have very limited opportunities. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s had recently warned that migration from the villages along the LAC posed a security concern. This event, backed by the Indian Army, is one of the attempts to close this loop by showcasing the massive potential of adventure sports in the greater Himalayas.

CLAW created history on 11 September 2021, when a team of 8 People with Disabilities reached Kumar Post on Siachen Glacier at an altitude of 15,632 feet. The group was trained and led by Team CLAW,

As one officer put it: “The oldest Indian Army Brigade (Ibex) comes forward to help the youngest veteran Startup (CLAW) in creating the newest adventure challenge in the Himalayas.”

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