GDF has produced scholars and leaders at all levels

Stabroek News
July 16, 2001

Dear Editor,

I refer to an article captioned 'Massive police recruitment drive on Saturday,' published in SN (10.7.2001), where Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj told reporters at a press conference that because of the need for the police to interact with the public, take statements, give testimony in court and be subjected to cross-examination which has the objective of humiliating them, the academic requirements have to be maintained, unlike those for the soldiers in the army which required them to be skilled on "dashing down, crawling, observing and returning fire."

As a former Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Guyana Defence Force, I view the Honourable Minister's pronouncement as a kick in the mouth to both the serving and former members of this prestigious and disciplined organisation. Has Mr Gajraj forgotten that he was once an officer in the GDF? Or is he the bearer of some animosity against the institution for reasons best known to him? Regardless of what his reason(s) might be, Mr Gajraj who is supposed to be a learned member of the Bar, has projected members of the GDF as simpletons to Guyanese, nations within CARICOM and other readers of SN further afield.

During my tenure in the army, I encountered soldiers from all walks of life and from every region in Guyana. A very high percentage of these soldiers had attained secondary education, while those without had a sound primary background. However, with the Venezuelans' claim of three-fifths of our territory and them showing signs of aggression in the late 1970s, the army was forced to increase its human resources by recruiting young men who possessed sound minds and healthy bodies. This move may have seemed to be a mistake by the then Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, but according to military strategists, numbers (strength) are of utmost importance in limited wars, especially when the recruitment drive of the proposed defenders are known to the intended attackers.

This 'Not a blade of grass' era had created the opportunity for many civilians who may not have met the academic requirements of the recruitment policy to become soldiers; but in 1987 when President Hoyte proclaimed that the GDF must become a small affordable army, it reverted to its original standard of recruitment.

Over the years, the GDF had produced many scholars and leaders at all levels. Most, if not all, officers and soldiers alike, after completing their initial training courses were given opportunities to accelerate their academic upliftment.

This is a necessary requirement of the military, because officers and soldiers are required to fill positions, cum staff and training appointments, which require considerable academic alertness and accomplishment.

Officers and soldiers are also prepared by this institution to pursue tertiary education at the numerous tertiary institutions available in Guyana. I am one such beneficiary of the GDF academic policy, having attained a diploma and a degree from the Government Technical Institute and the University of Guyana respectively during my tenure of service in the GDF.

And it is no secret that more than 70% of the officers corps of the GDF are university graduates, as well as a large number of other ranks who benefited from training at the GTI, GITC, Carnegie School of Home Economics, CPCE, NATI, Burrowes School of Art, Bovell Business School and Kuru Kuru Cooperative College - and I can go on.

Further, since the early 1980s, the GDF had embraced an initiative called 'Academic Upliftment Programme' (AUP). The programme, as was made known to me, is aimed at upgrading the soldiers' academic level and at the same time preparing them for the CXC.

I am heartened to note that your edition of Thursday, July 12, 2001, highlighted a soldier from the GDF who having been a beneficiary of the AUP went on to top a course in the USA. The army's AUP must be working.

Apart from the AUP and attending courses at external institutions of learning, upon completion of the Basic Recruit Course, soldiers must attend and pass military promotional courses, all of which have academic packages. These courses are designed to evaluate and ensure that soldiers possess the requisite military and academic competence in order to enhance their upward mobility.

Therefore, while I agree that dashing down, crawling, observing and returning fire is a fundamental for soldiers to remain alive in a battlefield situation, I wish to state quite clearly that it is just as important, or even moreso, that soldiers be trained for leadership and for being good ambassadors of the GDF and the country as a whole whenever they attend courses, seminars or any event external to the GDF and those held overseas.

My former Lieutenant and leader, not only am I surprised at you, but also many of us men who served under your command. Your pronouncement has left us in a state of shock.

Be careful, Honourable Minister, you are firing at your own troops. I therefore call upon you, Honourable Minister, to hold your fire and apologise to the GDF.

Yours faithfully,

Leroy Cameron