Monday, February 20, 2012

JDF CHIEFS: Profiles in Jamaican Courage

by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Observer column | Monday 20 February 2012

The Pollyanna in me had been struggling with the tragic death of Edgar Gallimore and the troubling crime statistics, so thank goodness, I made it to last Thursday's "Conversation with JDF Chiefs 1973 to present". At the UWI Faculty of Law, history unfolded in the accounts of seven leaders of the Jamaica Defence Force spanning the past 39 years. They spoke of our soldiers in war, states of emergency, hurricanes and floods. In the Caribbean and as far away as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, our women and men in uniform have been giving comfort to the suffering and defending democracy and human rights.  

Major General Rudolph Green recalled Jamaica's year-long state of emergency in 1976 when the JDF's resources were stretched to the limit. Major General Robert Neish was appointed as chief in 1979 and his watchwords of "professionalism, loyalty, military discipline and impartiality" were crucial in the face of the violence-ridden run-up to the 1980 elections.   

In October 1983 came "Urgent Fury", the US military invasion of Grenada after the violent coup in that country. General Neish said that this was the JDF's first "all-out war", and the professionalism of the JDF was in top order, their capability quickly recognised by the Americans. "In a few weeks, they were able to pull out," commented General Neish, leaving the JDF in charge of operations.

Rear Admiral Peter Brady took over leadership in 1990, describing the force as a "well-oiled machine" which then had to face the spectre of rising crime. The JDF collaborated with the US Coast Guard in their war against the drug trade. Admiral Brady also established the JDF Engineer Regiment as a homogenous body which we know has done yeoman's work throughout the island.  

He recalled the demands of the visit of Pope John Paul in 1993 which went off without a hitch. However, a helicopter trip with Prime Minister Michael Manley and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell did not go as smoothly and the aircraft landed just a few inches away from the coastline.  This experience was recounted in the first chapter of General Powell's book, My American Journey.

Major General Simmonds, who took over the JDF reins in 1998, said he emphasised the importance of intelligence. He said the National Youth Service programme with the military should have continued, euphemistically commenting that "the system calms you". He described the elaborate arrangements for the funeral of Michael Manley: "The Force came together so quickly" to mount a world-class event. After a tense moment, the stuttering Land Rover leading the hearse to Heroes' Park yielded to a good Jamaican "push".

Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin who took over in 2002, remarked on the excellent training given on following orders, describing his first experience on the frigate HMS10 when his steering instructions were followed instantly: "I had goose bumps". At the request of then National Security Minister Peter Phillips, he rolled out a five-year plan "which the JDF not only developed  – we implemented."

Major General Stewart Saunders, who was appointed head in 2007, remarked on the JDF's excellent relations with the Jamaica Constabulary Force. General Saunders served under National Security Ministers Derrick Smith, Dwight Nelson, and Trevor MacMillan. He stressed the importance of continuity to avoid "championing causes all over again and losing momentum".

The current Chief, Maj General Antony Anderson, raised our consciousness of "the threat over the horizon". He reminded us of the danger of natural disasters – "in Haiti, in a minute, there were 200,000 dead – way beyond war."  The JDF's mission, he said, was "to ensure the protection of Jamaica and its interests".  

Moderator for the evening Prof Stephen Vacciannie asked about the "glass ceiling" in the JDF, to which the chiefs responded that there was no gender bar as all soldiers are eligible to do promotion examinations. In fact, Admiral Lewin said that women soldiers now serve in the infantry.  As to the proposal to move Up Park Camp from its current location, there was resounding applause when General Neish declared, "Leave Up Park Camp in the safe hands of the JDF!"   

General Anderson emphasised that "this business of crime is certainly not in the nation's interest - we lose too much of our potential for growth.  We are supporting the JCF overtly and covertly".
As we observed our valiant JDF leaders and the soldiers who so precisely supported this event, we need to ask our political players to examine their consciences. As we see the courageous efforts of the many decent members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, we have to speak out in their support. Is this upsurge in crime linked to a desperate 'las' lick' game that the two political parties are playing over the upcoming Local Government elections?  Are thugs being brought into this scenario?  We have to stand strong with Crime Stop and other civic groups so we can get to the root of this sickening crime problem.  What a great day when our security professionals can use their considerable skills not to fight crime, but to contribute to the sustainable development of our beloved Jamaica.

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