By Ravin Singh
IN what he described as three successful years as Chief-of-Staff in the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Mark Phillips has credited successes under his watch to the leadership team in the Force, and not just to himself.Born in a working class family in the mining town of Linden, Phillips attended the Christianburg Primary School and the Christianburg Wismar Secondary School (Multilateral School), where he completed the General Certificate Examination (GCE) and the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) before joining the GDF in December 1980.
Being 19 at the time, Phillip said, it was a little challenging for him, just as it would have been for any youngster leaving home to work in a new environment. However, he did not let this deter him from pursuing his dream of becoming a soldier.
“I came with an open mind, and I met people in my age group who were going through the same process; so to me it gradually became easier. There might have been a few ripples along the way, but it was a good transition from civilian to military life,” he said.
The outgoing Chief-of Staff described his years in the GDF as mentally and physically challenging, but very necessary for the kind of work military personnel are required to do.
“I literally grew up in the GDF, and I’ve had junior and senior appointments; so I went through the ranks. I served in all the senior positions before (becoming) Chief-of-Staff, so I would have known how the Force operates and what is expected for the Force to move forward.”
Having passed through the ranks, Phillips was fortunate enough to have attended and graduate from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom. He has held several appointments along the journey, including Colonel (Administration and Quartering) and Colonel (General Staff), Defence Headquarters, during his 35 years of military service.
Phillips has also been Guyana’s Head of Delegation to the Inter-American Defence Board from 2008 to 2009; and was, up to 2011, Guyana’s non-resident Military Attaché to Venezuela.
He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier back in 2013 by then President Donald Ramotar, before he took command of the GDF. He succeeded Rear Admiral Gary Best.
A REWARDING EXPERIENCE
“GDF has been good for me. I’ve been here for 35 years and nine months. I came here as a youth and I can say that all my achievements, both academic and professional, were as a result of my service in GDF. I’ve gained a lot of experience over the years.
“The GDF is an equal opportunity provider. I say that because children of the working class, like myself, are able to, through application and the right attitude, move up through the ranks. I didn’t come from any elite background,” Phillips detailed.
And according to Phillips, during his tenure, he sought to focus on transforming the GDF by introducing the concept of “operation readiness”,
aimed at improving the operational readiness of the GDF in the sense of utilising what resources it has to be able to get to any part of Guyana for any situation that requires military intervention.
During this time, he said, the Force intensified training in all departments and at all levels, while at the same time programmes were being executed, such as “Operation Greenheart” last year, which yielded much success. Some 800 military personnel participated in that operation.
Phillips also referred to an internal security exercise known as Exercise Readiness that was held this year, and more recently Exercise Home-guard.
“So we’ve been carrying out these exercises with intense training, not only to define aggression on our borders, but to help us to better work in an inter-agency setting with the Police Force and other law enforcement bodies,” he explained.
The Chief-of-Staff has boasted of infrastructure development on every GDF base. “Over the three years, we’ve been able to improve the quality of life for persons on the base, and even as far as on the borders. We’ve embraced the Green Economy even before it was announced as a national policy. We have solar electricity on our borders now, and we have interconnectivity in terms of Wi-Fi and so on. And there are other ongoing projects on these bases which have been supported by the Government, all aimed at improving the quality of life for those serving in GDF.”
But interestingly, while listing these successes, Philips humbly remarked that these should not be credited to him in isolation, but rather to a “leadership team” which the GDF has been able to create.
“There were some good times and some challenging times, but what I think happened over the last three years is that we’ve created a leadership team that has transformed the GDF. Over the years, it was never me who was leading. We were leading; and by that I mean all the senior officers who played their part in helping to strengthen the Force,” he explained.
As such, he says, it is his desire to see the Force continue along its transformative path, in keeping with the pace and rapid advancement of wider society.
Commenting on life after he officially leaves the Force, Phillips said his next move is to take off his uniform and find appropriate civilian clothing, after which he would look for an appropriate civilian-type job to continue to serve the people of Guyana.
He believes that during his three years of service as Chief-of-Staff, he executed his functions to the best of his ability, while keeping his promise to the Guyanese people.
“When I became Chief-of-Staff, I did mention that professionalism (would) be my guide; and today I’m happy to say that I’ve upheld that commitment and promise to the Guyanese people for the last three years,” he declared.