MONTEGO BAY, St James — A member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has sounded an alarm over what is being alleged as unfair treatment being meted out to army personnel.
According to the soldier, who requested anonymity out of fear of being sent to military prison, there have been growing concern over the benefits of being a part of the defence force. The soldier told the Jamaica Observer that military personnel, like people of other professions, have set specific short-term and long-term goals for their personal development.
However, the soldier stated that those goals seem unattainable based on alleged interferences by those in high places of the JDF.
"Normally we have certain goals like getting our visa, our licensed firearm, a house, and a car. The older soldiers always encourage us to get those things as quickly as possible because it was harder for them to acquire them, so as younger youths join the JDF, we try to get those things done," the soldier said.
The JDF member continued, "But there is something that has been going on over the JDF and because we don't have a union, we do not have anybody to represent us. They are saying that they notice that the soldiers are using the force as a stepping stone and I think they are trying to stop us from getting these things."
The soldier argued that the defence force has also made it harder for military men and women to achieve those personal goals in their first stint, subsequently pushing them to sign additional contracts.
"The other day as well, the JDF basically cut their contracts. They had increased the contracts to nine years, but they cut them to three years the other day, because they are saying that soldiers are running away after that time, so they are giving soldiers the opportunity to leave after three years. But upon moving the contract to three years, what they did was make certain things that we could achieve within the three years' time, they have now moved it to six years," the soldier told the Sunday Observer.
Speaking from personal experience, the soldier explained that attempts to achieve goals since joining the JDF had caused major heartache, as doors were continuously being bolted shut. In one specific instance, the JDF soldier stated that an application to obtain a licence for a firearm was denied by the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA).
Noting that the issue is not with being turned down by the FLA, the soldier complained that it is believed that outside influences played a major part in that denial.
"They called for me to come pick up the decision package and I was denied. Nothing is wrong with being denied, but the reasons why we are being denied are not right. They are turning us down because they say that we don't have 'living out'," the soldier told the Sunday Observer.
'Living out', as explained by the soldier, is a term given to soldiers who reside at their personal addresses, as opposed to being based in a military camp.
"If you are a single soldier then your address is at the camp, but if you are married then you can stay at your home or if you have a home for yourself, you can apply for living out. However, you cannot apply until you have given five years of service. They moved it from two years to five years, so again, they are putting things in place to ensure that we sign another contract," the soldier.
However, the soldier protested that the safety of members of the JDF should be paramount, regardless of where they reside. He told the Sunday Observer that since joining the defence force, there have been instances where attempts were made on his life.
This, the soldier said, was the main motivator to obtain a personal firearm.
"If an incident should occur, what should I do? Should I tell the gunman to not shoot me because I don't receive living out [benefits]? I had to run into some bushes to save myself before," said the soldier.
"It is ridiculous because the person who did my inspection said that even taxi men were receiving licensed firearms, so why are JDF members without firearms? We are at work daily with the Government's weapons, yet we can't get our personal firearms to protect ourselves and our families when we do go home. That is crazy. It is full time that we have someone to stand up for us. I think that what they are doing is quite unfair," he continued.
The soldier further argued that other issues inside of the JDF were also being silenced, due to the fear of military prison and the lack of a union.
"Even the other day when we were supposed to get a lump sum of money, some of us didn't get our full sum. But these things are being silenced and I am frustrated. This is my second major failure. Even though we don't have a union, we should at least have someone to represent us in cases like these. We don't have anybody at all," he said.
At the same time, the soldier told the Sunday Observer that the alleged treatment being received by military personnel has negatively influenced the way in which they go about their duties.
"These are the reasons why the soldiers are so complacent on the roads — nobody wants to work. We just go out because we have to go out there. Sometimes soldiers go out there and just find somewhere to relax, this is the reason why," the JDF member complained.
"If you go to a checkpoint the soldiers are so complacent, they are probably on their phone — they don't care. We realise that they do not care about us. Everybody sees the level of crime and violence across Jamaica, it is no secret, yet we are being turned down," the soldier said.
Efforts to get a comment from the JDF leadership failed.