Serve Guyana

Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Patrick West, Senior Officers, Ensigns:

The Colonel Ulric Pilgrim Officer Cadet School from which you are graduating today has been inspired for almost four decades by its motto – I serve Guyana – which is an explicit expression of the determination and dedication expected of cadets who train and study there.

Guyanese cadets belong to a blessed state– the biggest, most beautiful and bountiful country in the Caribbean. It is the only English-speaking country in South America. It is a continental state with Caribbean characteristics but is bound by unbreakable bonds of blood, culture, history and language to the Caribbean.

I congratulate you, the newest and youngest officers of the Guyana Defence Force on your successful completion of the Standard Officers’ Course. You are the scions of a legendary lineage of servicemen who have protected our territory for generations and, today, you have become the heirs and successors of that heritage, proud guardians of Guyana’s patrimony.

I was a cadet – just as you are today – standing on a parade ground in Aldershot, Hampshire, fifty-four years ago, in June 1966. I was just 20 years old, like many of you here today, but I remember my commissioning ceremony and church service as if they happened yesterday.

I left the colony of British Guiana as a British subject and I returned home as a Guyanese citizen of an independent state. I consider my commissioning ceremony to become a military officer as one of the dearest and proudest moments in my entire life. I received my State Commission from the hands of our first President, Arthur Chung, when Guyana became a Republic.

I shared the same aspirations and ambitions then as most of you do today. I looked forward to a career of service to my country and to my fellow Guyanese.

I understand the pride and satisfaction that you must be feeling today – your last day of cadetship and your first day of officership in your country’s Defence Force.

Your graduation and promotion as second lieutenants are proud personal rites of passage. They are auspicious events at the organisational and national levels, also, by their occurrence during the Defence Force’s 55th anniversary this year and the start of Guyana’s ‘Decade of Development’. A decade from today:

  1. Guyana would have ended its Decade of Development, 2020-2029, which I launched on 1stJanuary this year. The Decade will confirm the country as a petroleum-producing state; a green state; a digital state and an education state. We will witness unprecedented economic transformation. You and your families will enjoy a superior quality of life. Our people will be pursuing the path to the good life.
  2. The Guyana Defence Force will be playing a greater role in protecting the country’s patrimony, Independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  3. Cadets today can expect to be promoted to the rank of Captain proving, thereby, your preparedness to command our nation’s soldiers on operations; you will be among the leaders helping to influence defence policy and to build a more professional Force.
  4. Officers can expect to continue their studies on advanced courses at higher military schools, on academic courses at the University and in training in science and technology thereby enhancing your own, careers and the Force’s capabilities.

The Guyana Defence Force has been reorganized and reequipped over the past five years. The Force’s transformation is aimed at enabling it to become a more professional organisation so as to execute its mandate.

The Force’s reserve – the Guyana People’s Militia – is being expanded and equipped to become a citizens’ army to be of greater service to the people. The Militia has been deployed to all ten of the country’s administrative regions, thereby allowing the Force to respond readily to threats and emergencies. The Militia has increased its strength more than ten-fold from January 2015 to January 2020.

The Force’s technical corps have been improved. The Air Corps’ fleet was augmented with the acquisition of light reconnaissance aircraft. The Signal Corps benefitted from the acquisition of new communications equipment and personnel training. The Intelligence Corps is being strengthened. The Engineer Corps received equipment to improve its responsiveness to climate hazards and to promote greater stability and climate resilience in frontier communities.

The Force’s training regime has been enhanced. Border operations and the promulgation of a ten-point Frontier Villages’ Policy have improved the Force’s readiness to respond to threats within hinterland communities. Field training exercises continue to boost the troops’ readiness and their mastery of all forms of terrain and weather conditions. The Force is building on its traditions and techniques of training in our local terrain – the grasslands, highlands, islands, wetlands, waterways and rainforests.

Training remains indispensable for the development of professionalism and proficiency. It is essential for ensuring the success of military missions; for operational effectiveness; and for developing physical endurance.

Training will be intensified at all levels during the next ten years. Your personal education and expertise are essential to improving your leadership and stewardship. All of you will be provided with opportunities to upgrade your qualifications and skills. Emphasis will be placed on improving expertise in the technical corps – Air Corps, Coast Guard, Engineer Corps, Intelligence Corps and the Signal Corps – deployment of para troops and the employment of artillery.

The Defence Force does not function in a vacuum. Its mandate is defined in the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and specified in the Defence Act which stipulates [at 197A (1)] that: “The State’s defence and security policy shall be to defend national independence, preserve the country’s sovereignty and integrity and guarantee the normal functioning of institutions and the security of citizens against any armed aggression.”

The Defence Act [at Section 5] explicitly entrusts the Force “with the defence and maintenance of order in Guyana …” inter alia.

The Defence Force is charged with preserving, protecting and safeguarding Guyana’s patrimony, political independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Force is mandated to protect our territorial borders and maritime zones and to resist and repel attacks on our land and people. The Force can execute this mandate best if it is guided by a relevant defence doctrine, commanded by well-trained officers and equipped with adequate resources.

Guyana’s national defence policy – the doctrine of Total National Defence – implies that all the elements of national power – diplomatic, economic, military, political, social and technological – will be deployed in support of national defence. This doctrine dictates that the nation must depend on an affordable but effective, Defence Force while counting on the cooperation of citizens in the event of a challenge to its territorial integrity. Diplomacy is part of the country’s defence arsenal.

I addressed the Force’s Annual Officers’ Conference in 2016 noting that Guyana employed diplomacy successfully to denounce acts of aggression against its territory and to discourage adversaries from continuing such conduct. It mobilised international solidarity to support its territorial integrity and to secure respect for its sovereignty.

Guyana’s foreign policy aims at safeguarding our territorial integrity and sovereignty. Our external relations are predicated on the paramount principles of international relations such as respect for the inviolability of borders and international agreements, the peaceful settlement of disputes, non-aggression; non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and the right to peaceful co-existence.

Guyana utilized international juridical mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes taking its maritime dispute with the Republic of Suriname to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITCLOS) in February 2004. That tribunal vindicated Guyana’s rights, ensuring that sovereignty over 31,000 km² of its waters would remain unchallenged. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will commence public hearings on its jurisdiction to hear the case asking the Court to affirm the validity of the Arbitral Award of 1899 in relation to the claim of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on our territory.

Guyana, through public diplomacy, and confident in the correctness of its cause and its case, petitioned the Secretary General of the United Nations to refer the controversy for juridical settlement. It expects a favourable outcome that will assure future generations of the territorial security of their homeland.

Guyana pursues a policy of defence cooperation with friendly countries as the basis for collective security, the resolution of regional tensions, collaboration in combatting transnational crime and managing disaster. Its importance as a bridge between South America and the Caribbean allowed it to pursue a policy of defence diplomacy.

The Force established fraternal relations with armies and defence forces on the continent, in the hemisphere and around the world. The Force participated in peace-keeping and humanitarian operations over the last half century, for example:

  1. Haiti, to support the United Nations mission from September 1994 to March 1995;
  2. Trinidad and Tobago, to support the Caribbean internal security mission following an insurrection in 1990;
  3. Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis and Montserrat to support restoration operations after the destruction wrought by natural disasters; and
  4. Uganda, as part of the Commonwealth Military Training team (1982-84); Namibia, as part of the United Nations transition team (1990); Mozambique, as part of the United Nations Stabilisation Operations (1992-1994) and Rwanda, as part of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission (1993).

Defence diplomacy presented opportunities for our officers and soldiers to be involved in major international training exercises usually in the annual international exercises involving Caribbean, continental and hemispheric states.

Officers continue to benefit, at this moment, from education and training scholarships in the People’s Republic of China and in the Federative Republic of Brazil. I have benefitted, personally, from training at the School of Infantry in Britain, the Army Command and Staff College in Nigeria and the Jungle Warfare Instruction Centre in Brazil.

Defence diplomacy allowed the Force to improve its capability through training, joint exercises, the exchange of information, intelligence-sharing and donations of non-lethal equipment, foremost of which has been assistance provided by the People’s Republic of China.

This cooperation is providing training opportunities for all ranks, improving the Force’s capacity – human and material – to deter aggression, defend national sovereignty and build a safer, stronger and more secure state.

The Standard Officers’ Course (SOC) from which you are graduating today, aims at inculcating the Force’s values and standards in cadets and at developing your powers of command, leadership and stewardship to the country. The SOC has been improved continuously to include an enhanced academic programme and intensified jungle, paratrooper and equitation training.

The Colonel Ulric Pilgrim Officer Cadet School, established 39 years ago in September 1981, continues to provide training to a number of officers from Anglophone Caribbean states. The School’s aim is to develop character; instil discipline, initiative and self-confidence and inculcate the duties of citizenship, loyalty and patriotism. Training together strengthens solidarity among Caribbean Community states.

The Standard Officer’s Course exposes cadets to the values and standards expected of an officer. Officership is a complex quality – requiring obedience to your superiors, compliance from your subordinates and cooperation with your compeers.

The Force is not a stage for showmen or a theatre for lone rangers; it is built on groups and is guided by solidarity among all servicemen and women through its Values and Standards – the officers’ catechism. Officers must embrace the five values of duty, discipline, identity, integrity and loyalty:

  1. Duty, obliging them to display dedication in the performance of their functions;  
  2. Discipline, for maintaining organisational cohesiveness;
  3. Identity, determining how officers relate to their comrades, their corps and their country;
  4. Integrity, prescribing honesty in officers’ relations with their superiors and subordinates; and
  5. Loyalty, binding officers to the service of their country.

This is an exciting time to be a military officer in our country. Your graduation today is not only a personal achievement but an institutional celebration of the maturity of our Defence Force and the recognition of Guyana’s integration with the Caribbean, the continent and the hemisphere.

You are heirs of the Force’s illustrious legacy of service. I charge you to ensure continued adherence to your professional values and standards in the enhancement of the Force’s capabilities and in your service to our citizens, to our country and to the Caribbean.     

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