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J'cans making the best of the Falkland Islands

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, October 15, 2012    

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FOR 37-year-old Jamaican Lance Corporal Louis Henry, the Falkland Islands — the scene of a brief but bitter territorial war between British and Argentine forces 30 years ago — has borne its scars well.

"My impression is, it doesn't seem like a place that has gone through a difficult period, it's just normal, there is no sign that there was a conflict... and I was stunned because when I went to Europe I could still see scars of World War II, but here you don't see all that, it's a normal place," Henry told the Jamaica Observer during a recent interview at the Mount Pleasant army base of the British Forces South Atlantic Islands in the Falklands.

The past student of the Jago High School in St Catherine who is one of two Jamaicans currently serving in the Falkland Islands, holds pride of place within the Catering and Rations Squadron, part of the Falklands support unit helping to deliver vital supplies to military personnel serving around the islands and feeding up to 1,200 military servicemen at Mount Pleasant airbase on the islands.

Although he has been in the army for nine years, the jovial Jamaican has "never been in a conflict zone" although he has been deployed to Kenya, Canada, Cyprus and "places like that".

For him, the strangely wild Falkland Islands, flung in the South Atlantic on the brink of Antarctica, is a sheltered spot where he feels closer to God. So far he has yet to be touched by the tragedy that so many in his profession combat daily.

"I have been in the army for nine years and a lot of people question how come I have never been to Afghanistan after being in the army nine years. I have done the training three times and been issued the kit but I have never been deployed there, I don't know why, but I think God is keeping me away from that," Henry — who was promoted to corporal in July this year — told the Observer chuckling.

Although half a world away from his tropical island home, Henry — an ordained Pentecostal minister — has not skipped a beat since leaving Jamaica in 2002.

"I can tell you everything that's going on back in Jamaica, not because I am away. I have been keeping track," he said. His army colleagues who have not seen the island have certainly tasted its culinary delights, as Henry has been serving them Jamaican dishes — rice and peas and jerked chicken being his latest exploit.

He has found his own way of making peace with the isolation of the Falklands where neighbours are few and far between in a population of just 3,000. And the distance from London, where his family lives — 12,656 kilometers or 7,865 miles — has not kept him from staying touch with them.

"It's bad enough being away, but because of mobile phones and the Internet I am able to talk to my children and wife on a regular basis," he said.

The other balancing act, he said, is maintaining his Christian faith and an army career.

"It has been challenging, but it never deterred me from doing what I love and ministering to people," he explained. "My pastor back in England supports my being in the army because she knows I can have a great influence. I move around to different regiments and I invite loads of persons back to church, some of them have never been before and when they come they are amazed. It's a good experience."

Henry, who described his run-in with Christ at 22 years of age as "dramatic", said, too, that he has no regrets.

"So many times when I was out there I could have died, but I believe God kept me, I know for sure he has a purpose for me," said Henry, who completes his Falklands tour of duty later this month.

His sunny colleague, 31-year-old Corporal Tanehsa Bent, is of the opinion that "the Falkland Islands is what you make it".

"I am here for six months as well, I do administrative duties, like flight bookings and other things in-between, like my normal day job that you have to do. It's all right, I have only been here a month-and-a-half but it's what you make it," she told the Observer.

Bent, a former resident of Portmore in St Catherine, left Jamaica in 2001 and has been in the army 10 years now. She has, however, not severed links with Jamaica.

"I go back every chance I get because my parents are still home. Before I came here, I was in Jamaica for two weeks," she shared laughing.

Bent, who was promoted to corporal in 2004, still sees being deployed to Iraq only two months after completing basic military training as her most challenging experience.

"There were days when things happened and luckily when I was there nobody was killed, but you had frightening times," she told the Observer.

The Jamaican, who also works as a guard commander, has also served in Bosnia and Afghanistan. She has served in the Adjutant General's Corps for 10 years and at a number of bases, including Colchester.

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