As we come to the end of another year, it is with a deep sense of pride that I extend my gratitude to you, my officers and soldiers, for your service over the year. I am constantly in awe of your commitment to achieving the Mission that I see demonstrated across the force on a daily basis. I commend your desire to continuously give the highest level of service to Jamaica and its people on a daily basis. Of course, the sacrifice is not yours alone. I acknowledge the critical support given by all our families throughout the year that enables us to carry out our roles and responsibilities.
The theme selected by our Chaplain for Carol Service this year, “Building Peace through Transforming Lives” is as relevant today as it when Christ was on earth. Jesus had a radically transformative approach to salvation. The religious elite at the time, including the Scribes, who were scholars and experts in the law, and the Pharisees, who were the authorities on the traditional practices of the elders, rejected Jesus’ transformational teachings.
We are faced with numerous challenges not the least of which are the outcomes of violence. We have arguably spent the past four decades normalizing intolerance and violence, which our youth are perfecting. However, in demanding solutions, we seem to be more concerned with symptoms rather than radical sustainable solutions to the underlying problems. We tend to be critical of any effort that is not familiar, convenient and instant. Critical we must be indeed, but we should also consider how we are contributing to the solution.
The JDF, for its part, has embarked on a multifaceted approach with short, medium and long term measures that will see us transforming the Force to contribute to changing the culture of violence in Jamaica. In the short term we are supporting the police, aided by emergency powers, to cauterize the impact of violence and, based on the trajectory of homicides up to 2017, have arguably saved well over 600 lives in the past two years.
In the medium term we are restructuring the Force to make it more capable of defending Jamaica’s interests and securing our citizens and visitors. In this regard we now have 5 Brigades including 3 regional commands of the land domain as well as the Maritime, Air and Cyber Command. We have ensured that the Reserves maintain the same standards as the Regular Force, but provided for the unique aspects of their terms of service, such as proving a gratuity since they would not earn a pension for reserve military service.
We have put special emphasis on proactive, preventative health care including the care for our retired service persons. We have also focused on:
Our long term goal is to contribute to changing the culture of violence in Jamaica, and the Jamaica National Service Corps, which is the main line of effort in this regard has made great progress since it was launched in 2017. We have engaged over 3,000 youngsters and, once funding is available, it is our intention to eventually touch the lives of all our available young people.
As we look ahead to 2020, our focus will be enhancing the standards and policies of the Force. We must work hard to maintain the trust and confidence of the citizens of Jamaica and our partners.
The past year has been one of ongoing transformation for the Jamaica Defence Force. This year, we further amended the Force structure to establish the Caribbean Military Academy as the Force’s fifth Brigade. We have continued to expand our recruitment of professional entry officers and commenced the recruitment of Professional Entry Enlisted Ranks. We introduced a number of ground-breaking policies to include the Gender Optimisation Policy; Sexual Harassment and Fraternisation Policies and we have begun the process to amend many of our remaining policies.
Operationally we remain heavily tasked as the Government sought to build on the successes of the previous year and improve citizen security across the length and breadth of the island by reducing the high rates of murders, shootings and assaults. We have experienced a number of challenges in this area and we are working to put structures in place to ensure that in 2020, the goal of significantly reducing the high levels of crime and violence is realised. This will of course require increased levels of accountability at all levels, from the Private soldier to the Brigade Commander, all the way through to my Office.
As I look back on the words of Niccolo Machiavelli, I am reminded that change is never easy; in fact it is one of the most difficult things to implement in any organisation, large, small or medium-sized. As change is a necessary component of personal our lives; it is equally critical to the success and longevity of any organisation, including the military. Without change we remain stagnant and risk being left behind in a fast-paced, national, regional and global environment that is itself undergoing almost daily transformation.
One of the driving forces behind the current era of transformation is the commitment that I made to improve the lives of each and every member of the Force. Even as we have encountered challenges along the way, your unwavering support across serves as a constant reminder that we are on the right path to transform the JDF into a leaner, more efficient, 21st century military organisation, one that possesses the manpower and the capabilities to protect Jamaica and her people, from all categories of threats, both seen and unforeseen.
The changes that we have witnessed over the past months, while significant, represent a small portion of what lies ahead. Our key focus must be on maintaining the current momentum, while ensuring that we continue to change the culture of violence in Jamaica, impact the region and influence the world.
The process of transforming the Force is not yet complete. In 2020, we will place greater focus on updating our strategies and policies. Critical to the success of our transformational activities, is the development of transparent, effective and relevant strategies and policies, that will ensure that our actions are in conformity with the relevant rules and regulations. They will also ensure that all our actions are able to withstand both internal and external scrutiny.
I take this opportunity to commend you once again for your hard work throughout 2019. I am confident that you will continue to rise to the challenges that may be presented to use in the year ahead.
In closing, on behalf of my family, I extend my best wishes to every member of the JDF family for a safe, happy and blessed holiday season, and a happy new year.