By Wg Cdr T.K. Singha, IAF PRO
Growing up watching Indian Air Force (IAF) trainer jets fly over her native town of Bidar in Karnataka, Jyothi Yerolkar always wanted to join the Air Force as a pilot. She also dreamt of living a life full of adventure.
Jyothi went on to become a doctor instead, got married and had two children. After completing Masters in Medicine, specialising in Gynaecology from U.S.A in 1999, and a hiatus of seven years from the profession bringing up her children, Jyothi returned to India in 2006. Not many believed she ever stood a chance to realize her dreams under the changed circumstances.
Upon her return, the unthinkable was about to happen. Jyothi’s dreams were soon to turn into reality, courtesy, the Indian Air Force.
Without giving even a second thought about administering their 200-bed, family-run, super-specialty hospital in Bidar, Dr. Jyothi wasted no time in applying for the IAF who were seeking doctors to join the service, even if it was, on a short service commitment.
Dr. Jyothi joined the IAF as a doctor in 2007 in the rank of Flight Lieutenant. Within a year she was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader on the basis of her M.D. qualification and has served well in Air Force Hospitals at Yelahanka, Kanpur and Air Force Academy, Dundigal.
Having realized one part of her dream of joining IAF, Sqn Ldr Jyothi Yerolkar is now on the verge of creating history by realizing the next, being the first lady officer from the armed forces ever to take on the grueling ‘Desert Storm-2011 Car Rally’ that begins from Ahmedabad on Tuesday, February 22. The IAF is fielding three teams comprising six drivers as the ‘Sky Hawks’ team
“There was no special favour done to you,” Air Officer-in-charge Administration, Air Marshal JN Burma told Sqn Ldr Jyothi commending her endeavours while flagging-off the team from Delhi on Friday. Sqn Ldr Jyothi qualified with top honours in the tough selection process where driving, navigation skills and knowledge of the vehicle were tested out.
“I used to drive out in my Dad’s car while still in sixth standard, and by eight I was an expert on bikes,” says Jyothi, a former national-level player who represented Karnataka in swimming, hockey and handball, recalling her early tryst with driving in Sudan, where her engineer-father served. Jyothi practiced hard and fast in her personal Tata Safari before coming that helped her qualify as the first woman armed forces driver in the rally.
Sqn Ldr Jyothi pairs up with Wg Cdr S Swami, a Jaguar pilot in the lead Sky Hawks team. The other two IAF teams have Wg Cdr Ajay Pratap, a Navigator pairing up with Flt Lt Rahul Sahni, an Accounts Officer, while Sqn Ldr Rajender Chaudhary, a Fighter Controller pairs up with Junior warrant Officer AK Singh, a specialist IAF rally driver to form the triad of IAF’s ‘Sky Hawks’ team. Ten others will rally behind as support team making it a truly formidable team.
The rally will run through Bhuj, Naliya, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Jaipur and end at Delhi on February 27. The 2,400 Kms rally will see 156 teams in various categories, drive through flat country sides of the Rann of Kutch, through thick clumps of ‘Keekar’ whose thorns can prove deadly for the inflated rubber wheels and provide speed breaks and navigation difficulties.
“Drivers have to watch out for sand dunes, muddy roads, puddles, lake beds containing water or slush, unexploded shells from firing practice done by border forces and brave through dust and grime and over the horizon sun impeding visibility,” says Gp Capt MK Abhrol, an experienced IAF car rally expert who took to this adventure sports beginning with ‘Himalayan Rally’ way back in 1984.
The IAF offers opportunity to all who seek adventure and glory, a confident Sqn Ldr Jyothi said while zooming-off in her rally-modified gypsy hoping many others would also find their ambitions fulfilled in the Air Force.