Today the Royal Bahamas Defence Force celebrates it’s 37th Anniversary. A twelve page supplement was produced and distribute in The Tribune’s March 31 Edition. Download your digital copy here.
If you ask the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF), any obstacle can be overcome with the right mix of training. Whether it’s a leopard crawl through sand at its Coral Harbour Base stationed at the southwestern tip of New Providence; rough seas and a harsh unforgiving sun; or the capital’s crime-filled hot spots — it makes no difference. Such is the mind set the Tribune encountered during its media embed evolution on Friday, March 17, which marked the RBDF’s 37th anniversary by offering to the public a bird’s eye view from the front-lines – through the experience of four hapless journalists.
Bleary-eyed and unsure of what challenges lay ahead, media personnel lined up with young RBDF Rangers and two undercover Marines for what would be the start of a very different kind of immersion reporting. Stripped of personal effects, and some degree of bodily autonomy, the media was thrust into the life of a new-entry recruit as the itinerary shuffled from training to strategy and mission deployment. While the physical elements were grueling depending on the physical fitness of the journalist, it is true that there is a mental toughness that emerges in situations of total physical exertion.
The young Rangers and undercover Marines that took part in the training exercise, complete with a mini-obstacle course, established morale among the group. The easy harmony that can only be attributed to the dilution of ego, inspired a weary media team, and lifted spirits in a challenging and unfamiliar environment.
“Pain is weakness leaving the body,” was an oft-repeated mantra by course participants, and the attending Marines who shouted harsh words of encouragement to push every person through each activity. The recruits were grouped into teams with a journalist on each team. As the training wore on, and journalists lagged behind, it became clear that the exercise was not only a test of physical skill, but also a mental test of team-building as no team member could be left behind by the group. This meant that each team had to pace itself based on its slowest member, and account for how it would effectively progress through the obstacles.
“First of all it’s teamwork,” said Commander Defence Force (Acting) Captain Tellis Bethel when asked for the secret to maintaining such an expansive operation, “understanding the command structure of the Defence Force and the persons who fill those critical roles. For example we have an Operations branch and we have an Administration branch and those are two principle areas for governing and coordinating all the activities of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
Captain Bethel said: “I use those resource elements for the purpose of addressing all of the demands at hand, for example you can have a situation where we’re required to patrol our borders 24/7, and what we do for example is divide the Bahamas up into quadrants or patrol sectors and we ensure that those vessels that are assigned to those areas are actually doing their job.”
As journalists would soon come to realize, each element of training reinforces the core principles of the RBDF’s operations. Each action, each procedure, journalists would discover, has a practical and often times vital consequence.
“The obstacle course is just like a microcosm of what will happen in the daily routine,” Leading Seaman Omar Albury of Commando Squadron, said.
“Each obstacle is actually a task to be done. You can do it properly where it will be easier to do, as simple as the leopard crawl, it may sound simple to crawl under an obstacle but if you are not fully there you’ll be dragging, your technique will be off, it’ll take you longer, you’ll do it hard, you might give up halfway. But if you were to be trained to be in a stressful environment and keep the technique in mind it becomes easier so we use the obstacle courses to see how the training is affecting you.
“For instance, as a simple obstacle it should be done simply, if we see you having trouble with it we already know you’ve shut down mentally. It gives us the opportunity to see how you would perform somewhat remedial tasks when the body is stressed.”
While news of the nation’s military often centers around reports of migrant apprehensions and smuggling operations, and the whopping $232 million invested in vessel-acquisition, the under-reported phenomenon at the heart of each mission, and every deployment, is immense personal sacrifice.
And for the nearly 1,500 enlisted men and women, it’s a sacrifice they can make only as a result of intense mental and physical training to prepare them for weeks-long tours of duty away from loved ones and comfort amenities.
One of the biggest things I think for a Defence Force officer is getting to understand that it’s a lot of thankless work,” said Leading Seaman Albury, “and if you are a part of this organization one of the first things you will get to understand on that first operation you go on is that they ain’t gonna call your name, they ain’t gone come and tell you thanks or do a big parade.
So if you’re not able to have that personal pride and not able to get past the ego you will have a problem in this organization. It’s a lot of thankless work,” he said.
It takes a special type of person to continually do that over the years. Once or twice on average but after a third of fourth time a lot of people just suck their teeth and say I’m not going no more, you have to hone that part of your character in this environment.”
If not palpable after a morning of intense calisthenics, that sacrifice would become demonstrable as new media officers donned official fatigues and stepped on board HMBS Arthur Dion Hanna. The ocean has an indescribably humbling effect on an individual, due to its unpredictable and seemingly infinite depths that can turn maddening to the undisciplined seafarer. Under the command of Acting Lieutenant Commander Berne Wright, journalists were stationed to several different crews and took part in fire and safety drills before descending out on a smaller craft to do a cay search with Leading Seaman Albury and members of the Commando Squadron.
Evident of the mortal consequence of even the most routine task, Tribune reporter Rashad Rolle fell overboard while attempting to board a particularly craggy cay. Due to the jutting sharp rocks, the small craft had to be tethered and then held stable by a Marine from the land. When Rashad slipped under water while still holding on the rope, there was no time for alarm or panic on the part of the Marines, who later explained that the Tribune journalist could have been crushed between the boat and the cay by the forceful waves if he had become tangled in the rope. The unpredictable nature of the job was again put on display when the smaller craft’s radiator overheated and began to smoke as the cay search team headed back to the HMBS AD Hanna. Although a fire drill had been planned for on board the patrol vessel, journalists were immediately thrust into a real-time fire emergency when thick black smoke billowed out of the engine hatch and water flowed up into the sea boat as it tossed back and forth on the choppy waves. Once the situation was under control, journalists were then able to participate in a search and rescue as the engine was out for the count, and Marines had to saddle up to the HMBS vessel and help the search team climb aboard.
Out at sea it becomes unmistakably clear that your crew mates are your lifeline and, as espoused by the ship’s Executive Officer, Acting Senior Lieutenant Tamiko Johnson, why training is so important in ensuring that all ship’s company return back to the Coral Harbour base in the same condition that they left.
Carving a distinct path for itself as a unique maritime-oriented force, the country’s military is blazing ahead on its mandate of “guarding the nation’s heritage”, and in turn, is seeking to rebuild the nation’s character, courage, and integrity.
“Training is key to success for us,” said Captain Bethel, “it’s fundamental to joining the Defence Force and certainly it should be ongoing throughout one’s career. We’ve found that with the international exposure that we’ve gotten we’ve been able to gain experience and also to add that experience and exposure to others. The Bahamas is a unique place, it’s a maritime nation, and the Defence Force is unique, maritime-oriented force unlike many in the region that are infantry-oriented. We have over 100,000 square miles of water and approximately five percent of our territory is land. There are unique experiences that we have and we’ve been able to master them but now we are looking forward to exporting those experiences.”
He said: “We’re looking to establish our own officer training program and invite people from the region to come and be a part of our program. That will be historic, we’re looking at the beginning of next year to begin our first phase of training our own officers.”
“The Defence Force is a world where ordinary people do extraordinary things as an ordinary way of life. By all means I would welcome all those who want to do extraordinary things to join the RBDF and be prepared to grow, develop, and learn both in leadership and character-management, technical skills.
“We see the Defence Force as a leadership manufacturing plant,” he said.