As i’ve posted elsewhere on this blog I served in the Bda Regiment from 2003 to 2006, serving my conscripted three years and two months. Following Recruit Camp I signed up for the Corporals Cadre, which involved twice the regular drill nights and an overseas training camp in Northern Ontario. In my first year we were hit by Hurricane Fabian, and I was part of the advance group of soldiers stationed at Warwick Camp during the hurricane itself, responding to events as best we could during the storm, and heading out immediately at dawn. My group cleared a path (one lane) from Warwick Camp to the Arboretum where we ‘liberated’ the Acting Governor who was functionally trapped in his official residence by fallen trees; following this we were detached to the Causeway to secure it while the searches were conducted for the victims of that disaster. Much of my remaining time during Fabian was spent assisting with the Causeway reconstruction, clearing South Road (from Spittal Pond to Botanical Gardens), clearing up the area around St. Brendans/MAWI, and clearing the grounds of West End schools.
After Fabian I joined the Medics, and served in the capacity of a Medic and Lance Corporal, and later Corporal, for the rest of my Regimental career. This involved the 2004 overseas camp in Jamaica, post-hurricane operations in Cayman after Hurricane Ivan, and the 2005 overseas camp in Grenada as part of a CARICOM post-hurricane reconstruction in Grenada; our focus was in their St. Davids Parish, mainly on rebuilding a primary school there.
I won’t say I was a great soldier, but I think alot of my problems came from my inherent rejection of alot that constitutes military authoritarianism that really drove my defences up. Plus I have a hearing disability that really didn’t help matters during drills and parade practice (its not easy executing commands when you have no idea what the commands are is all I can say). I also have a more or less permanent injury to one of my feet that I think originated from my time as a consript.
Despite all this, I won’t deny I made alot of friends, visited places I had never thought I would, learned all sorts of wonderful military tactics and strategies, and generally did what I consider to be alot of social good in the form of post-hurricane operations here and abroad. I won’t deny there are some things I wish I had done differently, but that is the benefit and curse of hindsight. Such is life.
Also, as stated earlier in this blog, I support the idea of conscription, but I would like to see it expanded to cover everyone and an end to gender discrimination. And there is alot that needs to improved in the existing structure of the Regiment.
During my Regimental time alot of my focus was on two areas:
1) Resisting the union of State and Church that was prevalent in the Regiment at the time. This included forced Church Parades (varying from marching in parade to and from Churches, complete with Regimental Band for services, or services in the field), forced saying of Prayer prior to major operations and banquets, non-mandatory (but reccommended for promotions) prayer breakfasts, appointment of an ordained Christian Minister to Regimental Chaplain, the ‘availibility’ of Gospels in military camoflage binding, and the ‘reccommendation’ of decorating ones barracks with bibles and posted Ten Commandments.
2) Organising soldiers councils to democratically represent soldiers interests, advocating better pay conditions, free public transport for soldiers, better equipment (from boots to rifles), better food, better health and safety policies, better living conditions (in barracks), better training (especially in instructing new JNCOs) as well as numerous other positions (right to grow beards, right to choice of hair style, calls for the abolition of salutes).
In regards to the first issue, I refused to attend any religious service. My defiance served as an example, and I was joined by fellow atheists at first (we do represent close to 15% of the population actually), and then Muslim conscripts. Many of our Christian comrades came and listened to us, and many, in fact the majority, supported our arguments. The movement slowly grew, even though we were often persecuted by various means, and publicly harrassed. We approached the Human Rights Commission, who quite frankly were no use. As the delegate sent forth I was informed that because we were ‘part-time’ workers as conscripts they wouldn’t help us. I tried to point out that part-time workers were still human and deserved to have our human rights protected, but quickly concluded that route was pointless for the time being. We did seek legal advice, and petitioned the High Command, outlaying our positions clearly, backing up our arguments with precedents from the UK and the US militaries. From a legal point of view the High Command had an ace up their sleeves; if you read the constitution and the relevant Bdian legislation on the Regiment, there is a provision that basically says any and all ‘rights’ can be suspended in regards to soldiers and military discipline.
Nonetheless we continued, more or less covertly, gathering increasing support from the regular troops. Partly this was due to an inherent tendency amongst rank and file conscripte to resist however they can military authoritarianism, but most supported us for our ideological position that the Church and Military should be separate.
We won some concessions. Church Parades continued to be scheduled in advance, but were always cancelled for various unspecified reasons. Soldiers were allowed to ‘fall out’ if they objected to the saying of prayer or grace; we saw this as an attempt to publicly humiliate us, but decided to use it as a weapon of our own by subsequently showing the strength of our resistance.
Soon after I left the Regiment the Lt. Col. was also changed, and as far as I am led to beleive from my comrades still in the Regiment, they haven’t had to actively mobilise as we had to since.
On the second issue we were less successful. We sent delegates to both the BIU and the Bda Police Services Association for assistance. This was, by necessity, done covertly, and I will be careful not to incriminate any comrades still serving in either the Regiment or the Police. Both organisations were supportive, and I would like to personally thank them for their positions. We, the soldiers, as well as the BIU and the BPSA realised that it would be an uphill task, especially as we constantly were threatened with charges of mutiny.
We organised by a bottom up model of the regimental infantry model, with the smallest units consisting of about ten soldiers who elected a soldiers deputy recallable at all times, and this system went up in a federated system (ten ‘section’ deputies elected amongst themselves a ‘platoon’ deputy, and then ten platoon deputies would elect a company deputy, and so on, up to an executive council of soldiers deputies).
As one can imagine, under our conditions, this wasn’t a perfect system, and we weren’t able to really make any formal organisation. The system of soldiers councils existed in an ad hoc fashion, mostly when the High Command had done something to provoke us to a sufficient degree. In our organisational infancy the system would collapse under fear of repression and failure to understand how to challenge the authority of the military hierrachy properly.
In short, we failed, but many of us realised the potential of such a system of organisation. Some of our proposals, which we acknowledge we never formally put forward due to our organisational issues and pressure from above (charges of mutiny, etc.), were more or less reflected in a report written by British military observors sent to critically review the Regiment (better equipment, better training, etc.). We wonder how much money could have been saved if our soldiers councils had been allowed to develop. One must also acknowledge that wage increases and public transportation for soldiers have occurred since our time there, and we are not sure whether we had anything to do in this regard or not.
Alot of the soldiers most active in advocating the cause of soldiers councils were also active in the other issue of resisting Church and State union in the military, and indeed, that was my own primary focus. Perhaps we could have combined the two better (they were complementary after all), or focused more on the soldiers councils. I don’t know.
Since leaving the Regiment I have had more time to reflect on the issue. I remain convinced that the conscripts need some sort of labour union, which our soldiers councils were effectively. There are actually quite a few nations that have soldiers labour unions, the most prominent one being the military of the Netherlands. Denmark is also another example. Their models, and their successes deserve to be studied, as does our failures at forming a union ourselves.
I have found some interesting articles and links that are relevant to this discussion. I would advise that any serving Regimental soldiers use a psuedonym if they wish to discuss any current grievances they have, or ideas for organising a Soldiers Union. I will, of course, support however I can any movement to developing such an organisation.