Bold, fearless JDF not backing from COVID-19 enemy

Colonel Mahatma Williams, acting brigade commander for the Jamaica Regiment, Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), says the military is well-equipped to play its part in fighting the unconventional enemy that is the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“We are just a cog in the overall wheel that makes the solution. We are conducting our role and we are sufficiently resourced to do the security component of the response to this unconventional threat.

“We have contingency plans prior to now for these particular instances. So, where there are any requirements, those are being resourced. It’s nothing to prevent us from conducting our duties as a part of the overall national solution and as a part of the overall JDF involvement,” Colonel Williams said.

The highly contagious virus, according to the acting brigade commander, has also had a positive impact on the internal security operations of the JDF.

“The Chief of Defence Staff’s (Lieutenant General Rocky Meade) intent is to use our forces to protect the citizens of Jamaica both from crime and the virus. He has directed that we use the force to achieve that intent. Single deployment may be achieving the same aim. So you may have a deployment which is in security operations, searching vehicles, building information, doing raids. Then the same group may enforce the curfew and enforce the social distance and the requirement for not more than 10 persons gathering. It really is incorporated in our internal security but also the additional deployment for the curfew lockdown has a security role,” Colonel Williams said.

As it relates to enforcing the curfew and lockdown, Colonel Williams explained that in addition to the soldiers already deployed, additional deployments are in place to assist the police on the ground.

“What you will see on the ground are like patrols and you will see soldiers interacting with persons especially closer to the time of lockdown. They will engage with persons generally just to give them an advance notice,” he said.

Where precautionary measures are concerned, to ensure the health of soldiers are protected, Colonel Williams said in addition to personal protective equipment, regular temperature checks and surveillance are done to keep a close watch on soldiers’ health.

“We have various levels of protection. The soldiers on operations wear either a commercially procured mask or a variant of the mask that we have tested and procured. We have the mask being built in the same pattern as the uniform and then we have some commercial ones. You will see some soldiers in gloves as well. Those who have to interact with the public to do searches and check papers and IDs, they will have gloves and masks. Across the board we are following the Government’s regulations of wearing masks on operations,” Colonel Williams said.

He added: “Internally, we do temperature checks on all the bases we deploy from to include forward bases. Also when persons change vehicles, the vehicles are sanitised, so we are doing internal things to protect us also. We are doing a lot to ensure they don’t get exposed or infected.”

Colonel Williams said soldiers are also tested regularly for the virus.

“Testing is going on. In initial stages, if they report that they are going in contact, we do testing. We have our own medical team set up to treat with the testing and so on. As it stands, if soldiers have a fever, the surveillance method will pick them up. Once their temperature is elevated we immediately move to isolation facilities in Up Park Camp and they are held there until their tests come back. All the persons they come in contact with are isolated in place. So we are really trying to preserve the force,” Colonel Williams said, pointing out that so far no member of the JDF has tested positive.

Though an unprecedented time, Colonel Williams said there have been no expressions of apprehension or fear among soldiers.

“The soldiers have expressed no apprehension. Fear? None detected. But, that is taken care of by training. Any kind of fear is superseded by the training that we give them. Persons are trained to deal with those type of circumstances. In this case there is training and there has been training up to this point that we’re preparing them on how to deal with those circumstances,” he said.

Further, Colonel Williams appealed to the public to cooperate, inform themselves and listen to the instructions of the security forces on the ground.

“Be familiar with the rules so when you interact with members of the security forces we’re both working on the same page. It’s really for the public to inform themselves and follow those instructions. We will help to protect them by enforcing the same requirements that they would be familiar with,” Colonel Williams said.

Article: Published in the Jamaica Observer on Sunday April 26, 2020

Writer: Kimberley Hibbert