Friday, Jul 3, 2020
HomeOpinionLettersThe change needed in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force

The change needed in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force

Dear Editor,

Let me begin by saying that I have successfully bitten the inner quadrants of my lips to a thin, trying to sit back and say nothing in reference to the suspected Haitian sloops that landed two miles and four miles from the HMBS Coral Harbour Base, according to Commodore Tellis Bethel’s report.

It was a God-awful experience to sit and listen to the commander ramble on about the operations and execution of his own policies, with no real trajectory or clearly formulated plan. Not to mention the part where he blamed a dead man for his most recent failings, only to then have a former Cabinet minister rebut him, resulting in him having to retreat from his earlier statements, to then make statements that still didn’t tell us what the plan is going to be. Oh, the quagmire!

It was saddening that even when given the opportunity to tell taxpayers the what, the when, the where, the why and the how, Bethel failed to own the situation and flopped in communicating the force’s immediate action, which is primarily his responsibility because every action the force takes is subjected to a thing they call the commander’s intent.

Interestingly however, I am still on the side of the RBDF on this one, as I know beyond doubt that the numbers of its arrests, round-ups, boarding and searches, detection and detentions far exceed the numbers of those who illegally land.

It is with that in mind I thought I would offer the commander some advice and my view. The primary issue with the reason anything or anyone lands that close to HMBS Coral Harbour is because it is still being run as just another agency of government. They operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday with all holidays and weekends off.

While that was good for a time when we were a quaint, little, sleepy fishing village, we must realize that the world has changed. Terror is a very real thing and the fear of that terror is even greater. It is with this in mind that I am suggesting that HMBS Coral Harbour must now turn into a real 24-hour operation, with operational staff compliment and actual physical patrols of all of its bordering areas, especially its very open waterside.

I know, the response to this will be that there is a duty watch and those men guard the base and answer any and all calls during the hours that the base staff is on shore leave. Well, to that response I would simply offer that judging from the fact that sailing sloops are now landing only a stone’s throw away from the country’s premier naval base, it is fair to assume that the duty watch system – which is the one that was implemented in the 70s, and even with five captains walking around still hasn’t been amended to date – could finally use some tweaking and amending.

The HMBS Coral Harbour still suffers a great probability of having takeovers similar to the one that is said to have occurred in the 90s. The entire base staff complement now needs to be on a 24-hour shift system that permits for optimum performance aboard HMBS Coral Harbour, no matter the hour of the day.

Further, let me note how aware I am that ships do not sail themselves and that radios do not man themselves either, and certainly, the manpower isn’t endless, but I imagine that the Harbour Unit watch rotation coupled with smooth and consistent recruiting of manpower exercises would work perfectly and be quite productive in optimizing the performance of HMBS Coral Harbour. I think that this should affect every member beneath the rank of a senior officer and suggest that this might now be the best direction we can go at this time.

If my estimations are correct, I believe this should provide for full patrol complements and optimum readiness of a far larger portion of the fleet at any given time. This could also save the commander the embarrassment of a 7 p.m. sunset landing while the last of his marines are just being dropped off at their Blanco stop. Frankly, with the time of year and the luck of the draw that he has had over the last two months, I further estimate that this very thing could happen in the not too distant future.

My next recommendation would be for the commander to begin looking seriously at planted intel agents in Haiti and the bolstering of OP static patrols.

I have said time and time again that in 1776 Lord Dunmore came up with a plan that worked. He called it forts. Yes, that’s right. The largest of our forts was built for Napoleon, who according to history, never showed and it is believed that it may have been because the forts were that effective. It is almost needless to point out that our border issues involved a French then and, interestingly 241 years later, it involves the French now.

Forts are nothing new and you won’t find them in your most trendy weapons store, or even on the Internet, but I am prepared to bet that four properly outfitted forts in my estimation, strategically placed and constructed, could aid enormously in the securing of the very porous southern border of our capital city and would with little maintenance provide greater results than any of the favorite gadgets that the call-in radio warlords like to suggest.

Now to address the notion that a radar could or would have made a difference if HMBS Coral Harbour had one. I have said before and will say here again – drones, radars nor heat-detecting ray goggles affect arrests. Marines do. That means physical patrols are still the best way to detect and apprehend all traffickers.

I continue to hear the arm-chair military field experts telling me how perfect a radar would be, or would have been, particularly in these two last landings. To be honest, the way radars work some days, the radar would probably have marines out there chasing clouds, or mariners in tin skiffs, or floating sheet metal.

The point I’m making here is the radar won’t say, “beep, beep, beep, Haitian vessel with 200 people approaching at 024 degrees contact 6 Nm from the fixed position” or any of that.

All the radar will do is show me blips that indicate a contact is in the area. And marines, if they are smart, will have to suit up and check it. Let me hasten to note though that as reasonably good an idea as that sounds, this still won’t help our French fight any, as we have proven over and over that wooden sloops are very difficult to detect with radar. In short, there is nothing here to satisfy my mind with this idea that to invest more money in ideas like the radar would somehow make it yield the fruit that we want.

I guess what I am really saying is, I hope the good commander realizes that there is no way around it. The time has come for HMBS Coral Harbour to go on a full shift system and provide the Bahamian people with a uniform standard of operational capability and competency around the clock and not just the appearance of security that really is drastically depleted daily at 5 p.m.

I am also trying to tell him that the field craft techniques applied in the past are still very applicable and that a consistent sequence of roving patrols at sea and on land coupled with static patrols (yes, I do mean the forts again) can and will save the security of our city and there is no way around that.

Once he can pull that together then my last piece of advice to the commander would be to speedily get himself a real press officer and, might I add, a really good one. I suggest this with the hope that he never again comes as the commander to discuss the commander’s intent. That, from all indications, makes it too easy for witty journalists to cause him to fall over himself and even seem irritable during what could possibly be described as the world’s shortest interview.

A good press officer can keep the image of the force out there for the world to see, call press briefings to provide hard interdiction numbers on the spot, inform of new policy strategy yields and allow the commander to continue commanding.

I know it may seem strange and many will say that I have always wished harm on the commander’s tenure, but nothing could be further from the truth. All I wanted then was for him to take that cap off and once we got past that (these politicians finally promoted him) then in my heart of hearts I wanted well, and still want well for him and his organization.

Lastly, I want to let him know that we are all counting on him to get it right and that in the face of poorly advised civilian orders we, the Bahamian people, expect our commanders to command and to do the very best that they can with our resources that we afford them.

Bethel is a good man and I still have faith that he can get this done right.

A marine always…

– Leyvon Miller

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