EMBRACING THE PAST: #embracingthepast #RBDFveterans #RBDF40thanniversary #pioneers #season1
Force Chief Petty Officer Ralph Francisco McKinney…. Sports Manager/Protocol Officer/Training Instructor
By Force Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Rolle
If he was being drafted to become a part of a sporting team, Ralph Francisco McKinney would be the top pick for anyone. Not because he has always remained athletically gifted, or is highly knowledgeable with the game of sports, but rather because he is simply a team player.
When Force Chief Petty Officer (FCPO) Ralph McKinney joined the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in August 1980 as a member of Entry 7, the organization had only been officially established four months earlier. His inclination to join was spurred on by a sense of patriotism from an incident where four of his comrades lost their lives after their vessel, HMBS Flamingo was fired upon and sank in the Atlantic Ocean. He also enlisted because he had hoped to be a part of the newly established Airwing section as an engineer. He eventually rose through the ranks from that of a Marine Recruit, achieving the highest position within the rating structure as a Warrant Officer.
During his early years of Basic Training, Leading Seaman Cyril Sands, who served as an instructor, stood out because of his professionalism and commitment. McKinney recalls that his final day of New Entry Training was one of the highlights in his early naval career.
“My most memorable experience would have been when we finally reached the very end of a long road, and we realized that we were finished out of training and into the normal force”.
His 36 years of experience while serving as a member of the force has been outstanding. After successfully completing New Entry training, FCPO Mckinney served in several essential areas of the force. These included the Squadron Department as a member of HMBS ABACO, HMBS YELLOW ELDER, Patrol Craft P-43 and the Operations Department. He also served in the Military Police and Force Protection Unit, the Public Relations section and within the Diplomatic Services.
If there is one word that can describe Force Chief McKinney, that word would be ‘remarkable’. In addition to his regular duties in the Defence Force, he has volunteered his service as a member of the Protocol Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with whom he is currently actively involved. In this capacity where he has assisted for over 25 years, McKinney is often called upon to provide the support necessary to make dignitaries, diplomats, officials and the ordinary person feel welcomed and appreciated at special events and functions.
Another significant contribution as a serving member was the establishment of the Sunday services for Recruits. After conferring with the then Training Officer, Lieutenant David Duncombe, recruits were able to take a day out of their vigorous training and worship either at local churches or on the base. This aspect of New Entry Training is still being practiced today.
McKinney mentioned that the eighth Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth of Nations (CHOGM) held in Nassau, between 16 October 1985 and 22 October 1985, was one of the highlights of his naval career.
“I worked 2-fold; in the day-time I worked as a searcher where we go to all the areas where the Queen and the various Heads of Government from Commonwealth nations would be attending during a given day. We would start at 3:00 am, ensuring that the place was safe from threats of bombs or any other violence, and seal them off for the officials. Her Royal Highness attended one of the viewing of Sammy Swain performances at Crystal Palace hotel, so I had to be there also”.
FCPO Mckinney’s contributions to the organization is countless. Along with assisting the force in numerous capacities during the various sporting disciplines including basketball, softball and track and field and other in-house events, he has been a great ambassador for the country.
Apart from his normal duties as a Marine, he was, and is still actively involved in other sporting bodies. These include the Bahamas Association of Certified Officials (BACO), where he has held numerous posts. He also serves as Manager of the Commonwealth Giants a team in the New Providence Basketball league, and works with gymnastics dancers at the Bahamas Dance Theater. McKinney has traveled globally to every continent, representing the country in numerous roles for national teams.
‘I was prepared to take on the challenge while travelling”, said McKinney. “I was responsible for marines assigned to vessels, and there were individuals who may encounter any number of problems. This made it easier when traveling on National teams. Being a team manager is likened to a Commanding Officer or a Coxswain”.
Despite all of his accomplishments, he however, leaves behind one regret – He was never afforded the opportunity to live his dream of being a part of the RBDF Airwing Department. He has had numerous opportunities to ride in an RBDF aircraft, but never got the opportunity to work as an engineer. He does not know how to fly an aircraft, but his one wish is to work just one day as an engineer on one of them.
On June 23rd, 2016, FCPO Mckinney disembarked the ship of HMBS Coral Harbour for the final time in his illustrious career. After his retirement, he encouraged RBDF personnel to become a part of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Veteran Association (VA), a non-profit organization established in 2007 to foster comradeship among those who have served honorably in the military for not less than six (6) months.
“The VA is very important for persons who’ve served in the RBDF for a period of time, and it also allows us to continue to be a cohesive unit away from Coral Harbor”.
FCPO McKinney said that preparing himself for life upon retirement was not a difficult transition. He saved towards retirement, took a much-needed break and traveled abroad before searching for employment elsewhere.
His advice for retirement: “Make sure your finances will sustain you because the medical insurance plan which is covered by the government will cease. In most cases, you will need to maintain the coverage yourself, because it is important as you age”.
After spending more than 35 years as an active military personnel, FCPO McKinney has a few words of advice for current members.
“Initially when I came in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, I think we missed out some things”, said McKinney. “That is, at the age of 55, or having served 25 years plus, you will be going home. I don’t think we hammer that home enough to the persons here in the force. Notwithstanding, as long as you live to be 55 or serve beyond 25 years, that you have to retire and move on; and after moving on, there is life after the Defence Force”.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force salutes Chief Petty Officer Ralph Francisco McKinney for his valuable contributions. May your sun never fade as you continue to enjoy your twilight years.