Early Life and Education
Gunjan Saxena was born in 1975 in Lucknow to Lt Col(retd) Anup Saxena. She completed her graduation from Hansraj College, University of Delhi and meanwhile, joined the Safdarjung Flying Club, New Delhi to learn the basics of flying. She dreamed of becoming a pilot at the age of five, when her cousin, who was an Indian Airlines Pilot, first took her to the cockpit.
Induction into Indian Airforce
In 1994, she cleared SSB and joined the Indian Air Force alongwith 24 other women pilots as trainee. It was the very first batch of women IAF trainee pilots. She was posted at Udhampur with 132 Forward Area Control (FAC) Flight
Challenges Faced during her Career
There was a fair amount of challenges faced by the women trainees, especially gender based. Saxena recalls at an event, “My first posting was at Udhampur. When a course mate and I reached the unit, we saw that basic things like a separate washroom for women weren’t there. A corridor with two walls and a couple of strategically placed almirahs served as a makeshift changing room until requisite arrangements were made by the authorities.”
Role in Kargil War
She was 25 years old during the Kargil War in 1999, when she along with her fellow Flying Lieutenant Srividya Rajan got an opportunity to serve the nation. Indian Army carried out two major operations during Kargil War– Operation Vijay and Operation Safed Sagar. Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena was associated with Operation Vijay. She was tasked to evacuate injured soldiers, surveillance of Pakistani soldiers’ positions in the war zone and suppling crucial types of equipment to the Indian army units at Dras and Batalik sectors.
She is the only woman warrior who flew her Cheetah helicopter in the Kargil War, that too in not too favourable weather conditions. She evacuated 900 casualties and fallen down soldiers. While performing her duties, her helicopter was attacked by the Pakistani troops where she had a narrow escape. She is the first woman who was awarded Shaurya Chakra Award for her true grit.
Retirement and Family Life
Since in the 19th century, there was no Permanent Commission for women, she was inducted through the Short Service Commision, she retired from the IAF in 2004 after seven years of her service. She gave birth to a daughter Pragya in the same year. Her husband is also and IAF Pilot who mostly flies Mig-17 helicopter. She is now an homemaker who lives in Jamnagar in Gujarat.