The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has always been a male dominated Force. However, with the tide of change blowing and gender optimization being a part of the JDF’s thrust, the Force’s ranks are now permeated by females who are equally seen, respected and highly regarded by their male counterparts in all aspects of military life. As a result, more and more women are taking on new roles and opportunities in the Force; one such way is by volunteering for training that is traditionally outside of their comfort zones. One such training course is the Commandos Course, which is designed to test the mettle of each candidate under grueling and tough conditions. Commando Course 1901 saw the inclusion of two females, namely Second Lieutenant (2Lt) Sherona Smikle and Private (Pte) Vanise Fisher of the First and Second Battalion The Jamaica Regiment (1 JR, 2 JR) respectively seeking to be amongst the best in their craft upon successful completion of the course.
On Monday 5 May 2019, Second Lieutenant Smikle assembled on the Support and Services Battalion Square, Up Park Camp for departure to the Moneague Training Camp. Armed with her issued backpack as well as personal items prior to being transported to Camp Bear in St Ann, she was the only female in a cadre of males at this point. There was chatter amongst the males whilst on the truck heading to Moneague saying they would be giving her approximately two weeks to call it quits from the course. Proving them wrong was her first order of business.
On reaching their new home for the course, their first challenge was to pull down a 32 ft x 20 ft tent that was better suited for the training which was to commence. The course candidates were assisted by Engineers who were more familiar with such tent matters.
For the first week of training the intensity was mild as the soldiers were being tested as to where they were physically. They did their first Basic Fitness Test the day the course commenced which included the dreaded two-mile run with a fifteen minutes pass time stipulation, a swim test in which each candidate is tasked to swim two hundred meters and thread for three minutes. Commandos must be a cut above the best and be able to perform twice as hard as a normal soldiers while possessing the fighting spirit to continue the fight to the very end.
As the weeks progressed the training intensified and the demands on the candidates doubled. The nights also got shorter, walks got longer, and timings to complete tasks got less. The soldiers lived from their backpacks and lived under their bivouac at nights. The night dew was very thick and in the mornings, the soldiers had to put their bedding out to sun.
2Lt Smikle stated that “two quotes I can’t get tired of hearing whilst on the course was ‘the only easy day was yesterday’ and “yu think a so parson get him gown”.
Everything the soldiers were being taught directly and indirectly came into play in the fifth week of training: Testing week, time to separate the lions from the sheep, men from boys, women from girls. This week was specifically designed to eliminate weak minded candidates and once the process started there was no turning back. It was either do or die or be booted off the course. The greatest challenge whilst doing this course was the obstacle course. Both 2Lt Smikle and Pte Fisher considered themselves physically fit servicewomen but their mettle was really tested. It consisted of a fireman lift, (lifting someone of equal range weight and carrying them for one hundred meters), climbing the thirty feet rope with twenty additional pounds to include their weapons and equipment all within a six minute timeframe.
The first time the women attempted the obstacle course, they failed because of how tired their hands and their muscles were. The soldiers soon theorized that there is always a method to the madness and once they paced themselves whilst going through the obstacle course with the proper techniques, they were left with enough energy to climb the rope. Being females on the course meant that they relied on each other more. “Having known each other from their days as recruits they had always had each other’s interest at heart even when they were competing” stated With this attitude playing on their minds they successfully completed the Commando Course and were bestowed with the title First female commandos for both an officer and soldier. The stripping away of ranks and gender from everyone aided each candidate in building comradery and mutual respect amongst the course because of who you are and not because of his/her rank.
Meet Second Lieutenant Sherona Smikle
2Lt Smikle hails from Unity District in the parish of St Andrew, born to Miss Angella Brown and is the third of four children. She attended the Oberlin High School up to sixth form. Whilst at Oberlin High School she took part in scouting, badminton, netball, track and field to name a few. In 2017 she enlisted in the JDF, after being put through the rigors of the selection board process and passing it. She was elated as out of a batch of fifteen candidates only two persons passed the Selection Board. She went to the Military Training Wing now renamed Caribbean Infantry Training Centre for basic training and then onto the Officer Commissioning Course held in St Jean, Quebec, Canada at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruitment Schooling. She has always been one who defies the odds set about by males as to what females are limited. Her philosophies are “Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny” and “success is getting what you want while happiness is liking what you get”.
Meet Private Fisher, Vanise
Pte Fisher hails from Belmont, Mocho in the parish of Clarendon, born to Mr Lascelle Fisher and Miss Clarisa Downer. She is the fourth of six children and the only girl; she attended Mocho Primary and Infant School then onto Clarendon College where she attained eight passes in CXC and four in CAPE. Her years spent at Clarendon College were well spent and saw her serving as House Captain, Student Council President, Head of the Drama Club, recipient of the Principal Award 2017 for Leadership, Conduct and Academics, the South Florida Chapter and New York Scholarship, public speaking champion and to top it off, Miss Clarendon Farm Queen for 2017. She is proud to be from a farming family, and has always been an active community volunteer. Hence, transitioning to the JDF was easy as the groundwork was already laid. Her philosophy is “always try and never limit oneself to challenges but continue to challenge my limits”. Pte Fisher’s bucket list includes attaining the highest possible enlisted rank in the JDF whilst making notable achievements as a serving female. Views of women doing comparatively lighter duties in the army is scoffed at by her, as she someday dreams of serving under the command of a female Chief of Defence Staff.