–Proves troops ready to engage the enemy
GUNSHOTS rang out just off the Tacama Airstrip, immediately followed by the sound of grenades being lobbed every which way, and billows of smoke.
At that ungodly hour of the morning; just after dawn, it was enough to send any civilian in its immediate environs cowering in fear, and wondering whether we were being invaded.
Thankfully, it was just a tactical manoeuvre, what in military parlance is called a Field Tactical Exercise (FTX), and entailed soldiers launching a ‘mock’ attack on enemy positions in the vicinity of the Tacama Airstrip, at Tacama, in Region Ten (Upper Demerara-Berbice).
It happened just this Friday, and marked the conclusion of ten-day operation, codenamed ‘Exercise Greenheart’, designed to test the preparedness of our troops in the face of adversity, and saw the participation of a total of some 951 ranks drawn from the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), the Guyana People’s Militia (GPM) and the Guyana Police Force (GPF).
In the end, the exercise did serve the purpose for which it was intended, as our troops succeeded in vanquishing the enemy after 10 days of rigorous training in the dense jungles.
According to the Army, ‘Exercise Greenheart’ is the second operation of its kind since 2015, and “is aimed at testing the preparedness of the troops to conduct operations in a close-country or jungle environment. It is also aimed at identifying deficiencies which could be corrected to ensure optimal competency.”
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President David Granger in his address to the troops at the end of the exercise on Friday, said the GDF has been restructuring and rebuilding its strength over the last four years, and that he was pleased that ranks of both the GPF and the GPM were able to be a part of it.
Contending that the GDF is now in an even better position to protect Guyana’s territorial integrity, President Granger is quoted as telling the men and women under his command, “The rebuilding is continuing; the re-equipping is continuing. You have a wider range of vehicles now, additional aircraft.” He said, too, that with the restructuring of the GDF, several aspects of it have been strengthened. “We are also reforming the Force, so it is not only about a rebuilding or re-equipping or restructuring… In addition to the training you are receiving here, you’d be training in values and standards. And I was happy to see in ‘Exercise Greenheart’, elements of the GDF paying attention to the civilians in this East Berbice-Corentyne Region by meeting and engaging with civilians who live in this Region.”
Giving a background as to how it all started, President Granger said that every year, since 2015, members of the GDF have been participating in Field Tactical Exercises and a number of other training programmes. Addressing the troops directly after witnessing the mock assault on the enemy, he said, “Soldiers, this is an important part of your military experience and military service. This year, we have included members of the Guyana Police Force, because, in accordance with the requirements of Operation Armadillo, soldiers and police have to operate in the border and hinterland regions together. But you the members of the GDF, in particular, are very important to this country. The people of Guyana look to you to defend this country. They look to you to deter aggression against this country. This annual Field Tactical Exercise is a very important part of your career, and you can look forward year after year to being here.”
Reminding them of the importance of their being familiar with the country’s topography, as they have to be able to operate in all forms of terrain, President Granger said:
“Without training you would never be able to perform your functions; you’d become flabby as an army; you’d become incompetent. What you do here today is essential and normal, and should in no way be regarded as something extraordinary. “Every year you should be able to look forward to your Ironweed or Greenheart.”
The Commander-in-Chief’s position is agreed upon and accepted not only by the hierarchy of the GDF and the GPF, but also the ranks who participated in the exercise. Police Commissioner, Leslie James explained that though ‘Exercise Greenheart’ is a military operation, yet one police officer and 30 “other ranks’ were able to participate in it.
He described the exercise as an opportunity for persons within the Guyana Police Force to enhance their training and skills, especially since, from time to time, the army and police are required to work together when responding to cases of disturbances in the country.
This being the case, he is of the opinion that the Joint Services, of which the Police Force is a part, must be physically and mentally ready to defend Guyana at all times.
He said it was not the first time that the GPF has participated in the FTX; that it has been doing so since the 1970s, and it is only prudent that “the Joint Services ranks work together, because there are times when they are in the fields, they are expected to work shoulder to shoulder.”
As he went on to say, “The training would allow them to formalise the requisite camaraderie, and motivate them. It is very beneficial, because it speaks to readiness, resilience and preparation. And in an overall view, it allows for that joint approach where, as I said, the ranks would be fully ready in case the need arises for them to work together.”
Noting that the GPF’s participants were drawn from the Tactical Services and SWAT Units because of their specialised training, Commissioner James said the GPF is more than happy to engage in military exercises to better enhance not only the training but skills of its ranks.
Major Althea Daniels-Stuart, who is a reservist in the GPM, said the agency, which has a strength of approximately 1700 persons country-wide, explained that since its re-establishment in 2015, the GPM has been actively involved in all sorts of military training exercises.
A teacher by profession, Major Daniels-Stuart explained that as part of the GPM’s contingent, there were medics, doctors and teachers, as well as persons who are unemployed.
‘GEL AS A UNIT’
“Participation this year is as a result of consistent and continuous training,” she said, adding: “We train so the doctrines that are taught by the Force in general are also done by the reservists, so that when we come as a team, we can gel as a unit.”
She also explained that the ranks of the GPM voluntarily participate in training exercises such as ‘Exercise Greenheart’, because they understand the importance of continuous training, and believe deeply in being prepared to protect Guyana’s integrity.
“It helps you to build your confidence; it helps you to improve your discipline, and you also get to learn military skills,” which she believes are critical to the protection of the State.
Major Daniels-Stuart noted that everyone who participates in the FTX are also given an opportunity not only to see Guyana, but to understand the differences in landmass. She explained that knowing and understanding your domain is critical to being able to protect the country when called upon.
“It is a great learning experience. You become more aware; you are more vigilant; you also get to see areas you would not have been otherwise able to see,” Major Daniels-Stuart, who joined the GPM 19 years ago, said. “I have no regrets; it is a life-changing experience,” she said while encouraging others to join the GPM.
A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY
Similarly, Sergeant Carol Livan, a 32-year-old teacher from Bartica, explained that she joined the GPM because she saw it as an opportunity to learn new skills and be able to make a meaningful contribution to her country.
“This is the first national exercise I’ve participated in; it was quite interesting. I anticipated the exercise, and I really wanted to get the experience,” she said, while explaining that ‘Exercise Greenheart’ is about building both physical and mental capabilities.
“It really wasn’t a challenge for me; it was all about adapting to a new environment. Most of the activities were outdoors, and you basically had to survive for ten days. Service is my motto,” she said.
Sergeant Livan said, too, that being a part of the GPM is not only about learning military skills to protect Guyana’s sovereignty and integrity, but ranks are taught the importance of discipline and values.
“I would encourage persons to join the GPM; it gives you a sense of identity. It really is not all about drills and exercises; there is more to learn. You learn so much here. It is an invaluable experience,” she said.
President David Granger has said repeatedly that training offers tremendous benefits to both soldiers and civilians, as it keeps them physically fit, and affords them valuable life skills, which they’d be able to put into practice.
The Commander-in-Chief has said that reservists and soldiers alike must be familiar with the core values of the organisation to which they belong; that all soldiers must be exemplars of high standards.
Lieutenant Hubern Collins explained that ‘Exercise Greenheart’ has had its fair share of challenges, but also proved a worthwhile and interesting experience. “It was challenging because the exercise was conducted in an otherwise unexplored jungle. That is, this is the first time the GDF conducted the exercise there. The challenge posed by the jungle not only included the dense vegetation, but also swamps, bees and snakes,” he said.
Lieutenant Collins said too, “The distance covered over the period tested every faculty. Physically, I had never walked so far before with a 50-plus-pound pack on my back through the jungle. Mentally, you had to keep convincing yourself that it will end in ten days. It was not easy, but, as the Commander-in-Chief would continuously say, we must be able to go into every part of Guyana.”
‘Exercise Greenheart’ was not Collins’ first FTX. Last year, he participated in ‘Exercise Ironweed’. The People’s Militia was established over 260 years ago. In 1976, it was re-established as the GPM, but was demobilised in 1997. Upon taking office in 2015, President Granger reinstated it.