End of a lifelong dream
Drowned JDF recruit's mom speaks of his ambition and determination to succeed
IT must have resembled a scene from a Hollywood army movie — the force chaplain, flanked by uniformed soldiers, all bearing solemn expressions as they prepared to inform a mother that her 'boy' had been killed in combat.
But 27-year-old Keon Salmon was not at war, neither was he a commissioned solder. He was only a recruit — so death was the farthest thing from Catherine Salmon's mind as she invited the army men into her home.
"The chaplain told me to sit down, and said that he had sad news for me. Then he told me that my son drowned while training," said a distraught Salmon, staring off into space as she tried to recall details of the visit.
Gentle prodding from this reporter offered little help.
"You lucky I remember what I am telling you, because after he said that, is pure black, white, yellow, and blue I started to see," she continued. "My belly just started to burn me, and I remember just beating my foot on the ground. Just beating it, beating it," the woman said, stomping her right foot on her verandah floor.
"My eyes just turned foggy; is like I couldn't see. The same chaplain came back the other day and I didn't even recognise that it was the same person. Is like that day never happened," added the obviously still shaken woman.
Keon, the second of Salmon's four sons, died while executing a swim test at the Jamaica Dfence Force (JDF) Coast Guard base in Port Royal last Sunday. The test was among the last he would have had to endure before being promoted from the National Reserves to a full-fledged soldier — his lifelong dream.
Official JDF reports stated that Keon was conducting a military swim test when he disappeared underwater.
"Lifeguards in the water and divers from the JDF coastguard immediately went down to rescue him, but when they found him and pulled him out he had no pulse and was not breathing," stated a release from the JDF last Sunday.
Doctors on the scene tried without success to resuscitate the recruit before he was flown to the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew. There, he was pronounced dead, the release continued, adding that both the JDF and the police have commenced separate investigations into the incident.
On Friday, the release, which was published by various media houses, only further confused Salmon, who is still questioning her son's death.
She said it was different from the story told to her by the force chaplain.
"He (chaplain) said that my son was underwater for 20 minutes. For 20 minutes they were there searching for Garth (Keon's alias) and they couldn't find him," stressed the mother, her face wrinkled in befuddlement.
"Garth could not swim, and if he was doing a test, there must have been persons there watching over him. So how come it took them 20 minutes to find him and take him out of the water? How come?," the woman asked, before she was interrupted by Flandria Scott, another of Keon's relatives.
"I have a terrible feeling inside; it's like he was my son. Whether he could have swim or not I don't understand how he went under and nobody saw him. Worse, is just pure different stories we getting," said Scott.
The two described Keon as a hard worker, determined to better his life. A past student of Vere Technical High, Keon went on to pursue courses at the University of Technology (UTech) and the University of the West Indies. He was still attending college when he decided to enlist in the JDF, Salmon said.
That decision came from his need to serve his country, she continued.
"He had so much ambition. He always said 'Mommy, I am going to become a soldier and walk beside the queen'," said the mother, adding that she never questioned her son's decision to join the army. Instead, she said, she supported it, washing and ironing his uniform ahead of his training missions. At times she would even help to scrub dirt from his back after these sessions, she said.
"He was intrinsically motivated, he kept on trying and trying. He would explore the Internet to find out how to achieve the things that he wanted. He was a strict disciplinarian, loyal, kind, and willing," continued Scott, adding that the whole community of George's Pen in Clarendon has been in mourning since hearing news of his death.
Last week, JDF Civil/Military Co-operation Officer Captain Basil Jarrett said Keon was the first recruit to die in training in the past decade. Jarrett outlined that the JDF has always adhered to strict safety measures and that only a post-mortem examination and the investigations could determine for certain how Keon died.
"The JDF makes no distinction between a soldier or recruit who dies in training. In such cases, there are a number of standard procedures that the JDF would follow," said Jarrett.
"First an internal investigation would be done to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the incident and the cause of death as verified in a post-mortem. The next steps would then be determined by the findings of that investigation." he continued.
"In any event, the JDF assists the family with the funeral arrangements and covers expenses as authorised by the Government of Jamaica."
The funeral service for Keon Salmon is scheduled for November 24 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Four Paths, Clarendon. His body will be interred at Rock District, a few miles away.