The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has generally enjoyed a good reputation, even when some question the relevance of its existence.
It has been 49 years since the JDF was established, and with no major threats to Jamaica from outside sources, as such the level of understanding of the role of the army has diminished. The JDF has often been called on to justify its existence to an increasingly pluralistic society.
However, at the dawn of the 21st Century there is no question that the JDF has accomplished a lot and is respected internationally and regionally for excellent service. It has even been described by many in the Caribbean as the best trained armed force in the region.
So how relevant is the army to Jamaica and why should anyone want to join the organization?
Colonel General Staff of the JDF, Colonel Rocky Meade, says the JDF, over the years and in recent times, has shown how important it is through the work it has done while adding that Jamaica is not immune to terrorist threats.
“There has been a lot of debate about the relevance of the JDF, but it is important to note that the JDF provides an insurance policy for the country and if you think about what an insurance policy provides, it basically provides for unforeseen circumstances. So, for instance, you have the terrorist threat that has been increasing worldwide, Jamaica is not immune to that,” he asserts.
Colonel Meade, who is also the JDF’s spokesperson, says the training procedure is of paramount importance. Training is done at the highest international standard, which allows the JDF to respond to unpredictable situations.
Citing the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti, he says the work carried out by the JDF in that instance, demonstrated their ability to respond effectively, both regionally and locally.
“Recently we had to respond to a devastating disaster and what that demonstrated is two things: our ability to respond to disasters like earthquake; and our ability to help our partners in the region. Jamaica was actually the first country to respond to the situation in Haiti and the Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding, was able to travel to Haiti on the second day, because the JDF was standing ready to go in,” he outlines.
Highlighting some significant achievements of the JDF, the Colonel says Jamaicans should not underestimate the work of the force. He says the hijacking of the Canadian Aircraft and the Tivoli incursion are pointers to the relevance of an army to the country.
“Many people look at the Tivoli situation in terms of us helping the police to serve a warrant. When in fact, the gangs were trying to prevent the warrant from being served and decided to make the community inaccessible to the state and to assault agents of the state, that is actually the beginning of insurgency,” he declares.
” So had the JDF not stepped in to assist the police, then the criminal elements would have been emboldened. They would have thought that they can take on the entire state and maybe seek to go after the government structures, and so what we did was significant.”
He says now, more than ever, the JDF is of more relevance to the country because of the new challenges it faces with organized crime.
“The military provides the opportunity to respond to challenges, and if you accept that each year we come across new, different and challenging circumstances, then there is no doubt that the force is relevant,” he says.
“You now have criminal organizations that are discovering more ingenious ways of succeeding against the organized structures of the country and, to the extent that they are coming up with new ways, we have to adopt and be relevant especially with the new challenges that the country now faces,” he states.
While there are other such successful operations carried out by the JDF since its inception, Colonel Meade says the force is not solely about fighting crime.
“Almost anything you can do in civil life you can do in the army, except politics. There are also some areas that are unique, such as the infantry. But, in general, it is a good service for all young people to consider, simply because of what it does for the individual; it makes you a better person, it makes you more capable, and it brings out in you a lot of capabilities that you did not realize that you had, because we push you to the limit. If nothing else it helps to develop individuals in the country,” Colonel Rocky Meade stated.
Persons wishing to join the JDF can apply to be a commissioned officer, or a member of the regular infantry. Commissioned officers need at least 5 CXC’s, while applicants for the regular infantry must sit a reading and written test. Certain basic physical requirements are also required for both entries.
The applicants applying to become members of the regular infantry are trained locally. Candidates for commissioned officer, as well as regular infantry, are taken through a number of assessments, such as medical, dental and physical, before they are enlisted in the force.
The JDF offers two types of commission, a short service commission for seven years, and an indefinite commission which is for career officers. During the recruitment process, all potential officers must successfully complete an interview, conducted by a recruiting board.
The potential officer will participate in an obstacle course, which is done in Newcastle, one of the force’s main training bases. After successful completion of the obstacle course, the candidate will be sent overseas for further training, which may last up to one and a half years, based on availability of courses. Training is mainly done in the USA, Canada, India and Britain.
Some of the successful applicants told JIS News they chose to apply to the army because of the chance of a good career; an opportunity to join a professional organization that instills discipline and allows them to serve their country.
One such applicant, 22 year old Melbourne Williams, a Medical Technologist from May Pen, Clarendon, was successful in his recent application to join the JDF officer core. A past student of the University of Technology (UTech), Williams says he has a passion to serve his country.
“Ever since I always wanted to get into the army and getting my degree was a way of improving my mental background, so I could be more suitable for this job. The selection process was challenging but I was determined to make it,” he says.
Kemar Morris of March Pen Road, Spanish Town, St. Catherine, says that he wanted to be a role model to his family and his community. He says joining the army allowed him to show that persons who are less fortunate can also make a difference in Jamaica.
“I decided to join the JDF because I like the lifestyle of the army, also the opportunities of development in training and leadership. The JDF is a reputable organization, because of their commitment to discipline and integrity,” he shares.
The army recruits every year. Persons who wish to join can apply online at www.jdfmil.org or write to the recruiting officer, Jamaica Defence Force, Up Park Camp Kingston 5.