By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) welcomed its largest recruitment cohort at a passing out parade of the New Entry 52 class at the Coral Harbour base yesterday.
The all-male class of 108 recruits marked the largest in the 35-year history of the Defence Force
Minister of National Security, Bernard Nottage, said the size of the new class was engineered by the government to meet their primary target of 2,000 active, serving marines.
"This grouping of 108 new members is important to being able to have the human resources to deal with the challenges that we are faced with today," said the Bain and Grants Town MP.
"It has been very necessary for us to expand the fleet of vessels that we have to decentralise our force throughout the Bahama islands to guard against things like gun smuggling, drug smuggling, trafficking of persons," he added.
Mr Nottage explained that the due to the RBDF's concentration on protecting the country's borders and associated crimes, in the coming years a high demand will be placed on personnel.
According to State Minister of National Security, Keith Bell the manifestation of the Sandy Bottom project and the $232m investment derived from it for the RBDF will allow for the upgrades and establishment bases and the acquisition of nine boats for the marine corps.
"We will need a significant amount of personnel to man these new vessels, to man these new bases," Mr Bell said. "What you saw here today is just the beginning of the government's drive to not only make sure that we meet those numbers, that we meet the demands of protecting our borders, but also that we carry out our mandate as embodied in our charter of governance.
"The Defence Force is mandated to be the defence of our territorial sovereignty so we have to ensure that we put them in the position to do just that."
The Sandy Bottom project represents the single largest capital investment the government has ever made in the Defence Force since its start in 1980. The project will ease the implementation of the Force’s decentralisation programme over the next two years.
The latest recruitment entry marked not only the largest in the marine corp's history but also the first class overseen by a female Commander. Training officer, Cheryl D Bethel, is the first female Commander in RBDF history.
Cmdr Bethel insisted that her advancement in rank signified that accomplishment for women is in the realm of possibilities in a "man's world". She added that the joys of being the first female Commander were endless and that the joys of overseeing such a "highly skilled, intelligent, talented class" made the job even better.
"We have a number of skilled recruits coming in, we have a number of persons that are qualified for other professions," she said. "There is a pilot in this entry, masons, lawyers, engineers and a variety of other professions. That is something that is also special for this group. These young men have proven themselves in and out of the line of duty.
"We have to recruit these people from society and there are issues going on. But our training programme is geared towards transforming these young men from just ordinary young citizens to (marines that) recognise that the Bahamas is something that we must preserve."
During the course of the 17-week training programme, recruits trained in a wide range of disciplines. Recruits were exposed to navigation training, seamanship, field craft certificate, small arms training, hand-to-hand combat training and charter development.
The Best Recruit award went to Douglas Palacious; the Training Officer's Award (Academic Award) to Tiano Williams; Fitness Award to Ricardo Mason; and the most improved recruit was Wayde Anderson.
The recruits are expected to assume their new posts in the coming weeks, with many expecting deployment to front line service by RBDF commanders.