NEW Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) chief Antonette Wemyss Gorman — the first woman to take the reins of the 60-year-old military body — says mulling over strategies to better support the island's national security apparatus to reverse the “culture of violence” is the issue most likely to keep her awake at nights.
“I would imagine that, first, as a Jamaican, it makes me very concerned; as a person in the security forces that concern is amplified, specifically now in my role that I am going to be leading the men and women of the force who have a significant role in supporting the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to deal with the crime issue,” Wemyss Gorman told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday some hours ahead of her ascension.
Noting that the crime situation is one which has “evolved over a very long period of time with many antecedents”, resulting in what is now “a culture of violence”, Wemyss Gorman said the JDF's role in changing that ethos would be, among other things, through “immediate support to the JCF in managing crime”.
“As it is now, it is something that is very important to us, and that is one of our main, more visible roles,” she told the Observer.
“I take that very seriously and that is the kind of thing that will probably keep me up at night, trying to figure out how we can better support the whole national security apparatus in that regard,” Wemyss Gorman, who was sworn in Thursday afternoon by the governor general, told the Observer.
This afternoon Wemyss Gorman will officially take control of the JDF from outgoing Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant General Rocky Meade at a change of command parade at the JDF's Up Park Camp headquarters in St Andrew.
Wemyss Gorman, who held the rank commodore, will now be titled rear admiral.
On Wednesday, Wemyss Gorman was, however, careful to point out that the JDF, which has many other roles than just supporting the JCF, has been finding other avenues to control crime and criminality even as it navigates through an articulated 20-year plan published in a strategic defence review which she led.
“It looks at the force, how we want to develop it going to 2037. So, in whatever period I am leading the force, my goals are really to try to align and achieve the goals within that plan and, of course, just to put it in context, a strategic defence review is always morphing and changing as the security environment and the global environment changes,” Wemyss Gorman outlined.
“Our role that actually causes us to be involved in that way is really our internal security role, and we conduct that in support of the JCF. You will notice that the JDF has transformed into getting into things like more focus on our education, our youth engagement programme, and so we think there are some short-term things that you have to try and cauterise the problem now. But it is going to be a long process and we have to be very deliberate about how we go about changing that culture,” she stated.
According to Wemyss Gorman, “Engaging the youth is one way [the JDF] can significantly contribute.”
Meanwhile, she said the early days of her tenure will be spent taking aim at building the individual proficiencies of soldiers and the support base for the recently established naval unit, known as the Second District JDF Coast Guard, which is tasked with increasing the security presence in the maritime space, countering drugs and weapons trafficking, illicit fishing and other illegal activities.
“People like to say that the maritime space of Jamaica is 25 times the land size, but it doesn't necessarily translate to how we focus on it, and the Jamaica Defence Force is the organisation that has the capability to do that.
“So, I will focus on continuing to build that out, putting in maritime law enforcement policies, and so on. And, of course, we have our cyber domain which we have added as a new domain for the force, very much in its infancy, so there will be some significant focus there as well,” Wemyss Gorman outlined.
On building proficiencies, the new army chief, who was the first female officer to attain a flag rank (a naval officer above the rank of captain who is entitled to display a flag indicating his or her rank), said, “I've done it in my previous command at the coast guard. I think we do very well, as a force, as an organisation in training. That's what gives us the advantage in a lot of things that we do.”
“When I say focus on the proficiency, what I mean is, when one becomes qualified in whatever area at whatever level, what we want to do is ensure that they continue to demonstrate this level of efficiency. So, they will have annual checks at their level, and I think that will cause more effectiveness, because people will have to constantly demonstrate that they are still cutting-edge, they are still able to do what they have been trained to do five, 10, or one year ago,” she explained.
Wemyss Gorman — a career officer with more than 29 years of service who has performed at the strategic level of command within her technical area of expertise and in other domains, both internal and external to the JDF — holds a master's degree with distinction in national security and strategic studies from The University of the West Indies.
She has held various command appointments across the force and is responsible for the establishment of the Caribbean Military Maritime Training Centre and the Maritime Air and Cyber Command, which includes the JDF Coast Guard, the JDF Air Wing and Special Forces. Other notable appointments, external to the JDF, include a secondment to the Ministry of Transport and Works as deputy director for marine transport, appointments to the Fisheries Advisory Board, and the National COVID-19 Response Advisory Committee.