Dr. Raymond King was officially sworn in as commodore of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) during a change of command ceremony at the RBDF Coral Harbour base yesterday, becoming the eighth RBDF commander in the country’s history.
In a break from tradition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony was held indoors with a limited number of guests and the governor general did not conduct an inspection of the guard in observance of social distancing protocols.
King, after receiving his instruments of appointment from Governor General C.A. Smith, said he was “humbled” by the opportunity.
“I wish to publicly acknowledge and express my profound gratitude and humility to the government of The Bahamas, national security consul and the minister of national security for their demonstration of confidence, faith and trust in my ability to effectively lead the transformation of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force at a pivotal period in the history of our national development and the organization’s existence,” he said.
King extended gratitude to all past commodores and his colleagues for his development; and to his family for their support.
He has been a part of the defense force for over 30 years, becoming the acting commodore last October when then-RBDF Commodore Tellis Bethel was sent on leave.
In handing over command, Bethel said yesterday it has been “a profound honor and a privilege to have served alongside the men and women of the best little navy in the world”.
“In view of [the force’s] numerous accomplishments, and the many programs initiated over the past five years, I can truly say that my greatest desire has been accomplished,” he said.
“This desire was to lay a foundation on which a new generation of the defense force members could build their lives, their careers and their nation at the beginning of a new era in the defense force’s history.”
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis thanked Bethel for his years of dedicated service.
“Commodore Bethel has been a consummate naval officer [and] has demonstrated great patriotism and love of country,” Minnis said.
“He leaves behind a legacy of integrity, dedicated service and commitment to the success of the defense force and to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas for which we are grateful.”
Bethel will be taking up a position at the Ministry of National Security.
Both Minnis and Bethel, as they extended congratulations to King, cautioned that he is assuming command in an era where natural disasters caused by climate change and a global health pandemic are compounding the traditional security threats being faced in The Bahamas.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the ceremony, King addressed these matters, claiming that the RBDF has plans for both.
For natural disasters and ahead of the upcoming hurricane season, King said the force already has a written protocol for how it will function.
“We’ve now made provisions to acquire specialized disaster equipment and to be more preemptive in what we do,” he said.
“I wish not to criticize the process that was used, but just to say going forward you can rest assured that the defense force will be timely in its response in responding to affected islands.”
Meanwhile, although he noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has “stretched” the force as it assists police with enforcing emergency orders, King also said the RBDF is seeking to hire more than 200 new members and to recruit on a continuous basis.
“The government has consented to an entry that we intend to enlist within a matter of days, at least 120,” he said.
“And we are making provisions for 240 in the next budget year. Attrition is something that we’re monitoring. It’s at about three-and-a-half to four percent.
“In excess of 20 percent of the members now in the defense force would have served in excess of 23 years, and within two years those persons can take their retirement package and move on. So we want to continue to recruit.”
King also said that he intends to bring change to the force through a number of initiatives.
He pledged to transform the organization’s culture and command climate to one of inclusiveness.
Further, he said he will also focus on organization and restructuring to achieve the ideal force design; mission readiness of the RBDF’s human capital; fleet maintenance; and fostering greater appreciation for diversity.
He added that the development of a professional and high performance workforce that is results-based, research-focused is also critical to his plan.