President David Granger: Honourable Carl Greenidge, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs; Honourable Joseph Harmon, Minister of State; Honourable Dawn Hastings-Williams, Minister of Public Affairs; Chief of Staff, Brigadier Patrick West; Colonel Nazrul Hussain, Inspector General; Colonel Gary Beaton, Commandant, Guyana’s People’s Militia; senior officers, officers; Non-commissioned Officers (NCOs); members of the militia and defence force; fellow Guyanese soldiers.
I am happy to be here with you today at the conclusion of this important exercise and also to congratulate the recruits who’re graduating from the Basic Recruit Course (BRC) here at the Colonel John Clarke Military School. It’s a unique occasion, many young soldiers look forward to, a very glamorous ceremonial passing out parade, but today you have a very functional operational passing out parade so you will have a story to tell your grandchildren. So congratulations to you who have successfully completed your BRC and congratulations to all of you who participated in this very important annual exercise.
It’s always great to be back here at Tacama. I was first here pulling grass out with my hands as a cadet 57 years ago, a long time, and of course, Tacama has been transformed. Similarly, military service in Guyana has been transformed. This camp was founded by the British Guiana volunteer force. It used to be called Camp Haywood after the commanding officer but today is the Tacama training area and it is the permanent home of the Colonel John Clarke Military School, but this exercise and this training course are very important – important because they signify a rite of passage of the people who are called upon to defend this country. Each one of you would have been guided in your training by this little green book, The Values and Standards of the Guyana Defence Force. Those values are: duty, the values of discipline, the values of identity, of integrity and loyalty and throughout your military career you’ll be guided by the standards of responsibility, of respect for law, respect for other citizens of Guyana, of correct conduct and social behaviour.
I mentioned these at the outset because in war, in operations, in your military service- your equipment is important, your rations are important, your weapons and ammunition are important but even more important than these materials is your standard of moral values. The moral factor is more important, no matter how much equipment you have, if your morale is low and if your conduct is improper you cannot be a good soldier in Guyana. So your attitudes, you behaviour and your conduct are as important as your weapons and the rations and the clothing and the equipment that you wear.
I know you have been through a long exercise and this has been a long morning so I would not give you the conventional passing out parade address, I just want to call your attention to a few important aspects of your future career. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Today is the first day of the rest of your lives and we have challenges to face in this country and a big challenge is the security of our borders and this exercise, IRONWEED, is an exercise dedicated to ensuring that Guyana is ready to protect its borders and this is something you must never forget.
Guyana has over 3,000 kilometres of borders and we are a small population but in so doing in protecting our borders we have to ensure that we have the mobility and we have the correct deployment so that every part of our border will be secure. We have a very complex landscape. We have islands in the Essequibo River. Three of those islands are bigger than the British Virgin Islands. We have wetlands in Canje and elsewhere where our national bird comes from, the Canje pheasant. We have highlands, some covered with clouds; we have grasslands like here at Tacama. Some of you before you came here, would never have seen grasslands like this, you believe this is a picture from some postcard from some foreign country but there are bigger grasslands than this in the Rupununi, in the south of Guyana. You’ve got lakes in the Essequibo; you’ve got rainforests as you have come into contact with here at Makouria.
You’ve got rivers and rapids but, you as soldiers of Guyana, have got to be able to operate in all of those terrains by day or by night, whether the sun is shining or the rain is falling that is why you must train rigorously and regularly and I never want to hear again that the GDF passes a training cycle or passes a year without a major field tactical exercise. There are more lessons to be learnt. I’m not here to criticise, I’m here to observe. The Chief of Staff will come to the Defence Board and we’ll discuss there, how we’ll improve the organisation of the defence force. One improvement that we’ve embarked on already is to ensure that the People’s Militia is strengthened and deployed to every single region. Every region will have a company or battalion of the People’s Militia. This will enable us to have a small, regular force and a large reserve force so that when a problem arises at Lethem or Mahdia or Bartica or Mabaruma the militia will be on hand to respond immediately.
I’ve also asked the Chief of Staff to consider converting the coastal battalion to a border battalion so that we deploy more troops on the borders and internally. I’ve also asked him to consider and I’m sure this will be done, to reintroduce mounted troops so that every graduate of the Colonel Ulric Pilgrim Cadet’s School and those graduates of the Colonel John Clarke Military School who choose to do so, will leave their training course able to ride horses, to conduct patrols in the hinterland of Guyana.
So by the time you come back next year, maybe on a NCO course or some advanced course you’re gonna have here a school of equitation so that soldiers can learn to ride and go on patrols in the Rupununi. So, these are some of the changes which will be taking place. A better militia, equitation training and of course continuous training at places like the Colonel Robert Mitchell School at Makouria; you’ve got to learn to operate in all of the terrain in Guyana, in swamp, in jungle, in open country and of course in the grasslands and in the highlands and the rainforests of this country.
Soldiers of Guyana, we have a very complex task before us. We have to protect our environment, our fragile environment. People can come across our borders with road building equipment unknown to the centre and build airstrips and, maybe, get Guyanese to collaborate with them to remove our precious minerals and other commodities. So the Defence Force has to take on a greater role in protecting our territory, protecting our environment from degradation and from despoliation you’ve got to preserve the ‘green’ character of our country.
As I said, I was here 57 years ago and we didn’t destroy the environment. We can still come here and conduct operations because we were able to protect and preserve the environment and this is what you have to bear in mind. We have to prevent illegality throughout the country. At present everyone knows that along our three thousand kilometre borders in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela there is a certain situation and that we must ensure that our territory is not affected by any problems that may affect our neighbours.
In Brazil, we know that that country is one of the biggest exporters of small arms and although the Brazilian Government co-operates and collaborates with us there may be elements; rogue elements which try to bring contraband, illegal weapons into our country. Along the border with Suriname too, we have to ensure that we remain vigilant so that our territory is protected.
So soldiers of Guyana, the most important lesson you can take away from IRONWEED and from your basic recruit course is the need to protect the territory of our country. You have a lot of work ahead too. You have chosen, I think, one of the best careers a young person can choose, but you will not be here forever. Ten years from now, twenty years from now you would have entered another profession.
Ten years from now you would be looking back on the 25th August, 2017 and telling your squaddies that you’re proud of your military service, but while you go ahead remember that without your vigilance, without your effort, without your enthusiasm, without your expertise the rest of this country will not be able to sleep safe at night.
So I congratulate you on successful completion of this course. I congratulate you on the completion of Exercise IRONWEED and I urge as you embark on this career, this noble career of soldiering, this noble military career that you remember that Guyana needs you and you need to remember the core values to ensure that your conduct is always appropriate, that your training is always relevant and that from the moral point of view you are always committed to the service and protection of this great country- the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
Once again congratulations and may God bless you all.