Master Chief Petty Officer Class One Audrey Christie was the first female to be appointed Force Sergeant Major (FSM) in the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), on August 1, 2020. During her military career, Master Chief Petty Officer Christie attended and completed several courses, including the Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Professional Development course at the NCO Academy of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), located in Fort Benning, Georgia. On September 16, Master Chief Petty Officer Christie was inducted into the WHINSEC Hall of Fame. To learn about her upbringing in Jamaica and her military accomplishments, Diálogo spoke to Master Chief Petty Officer Christie about her leadership and guidance to her subordinates at the JDF, while facing a global pandemic.
Diálogo: Can you briefly describe your upbringing in Jamaica?
Master Chief Petty Officer Class One Audrey Christie, Force Sergeant Major of the Jamaica Defence Force: My upbringing in Jamaica can be best described as a dynamic and humble experience. I was born and raised in a little district known as Albion in Manchester, Jamaica. We weren’t affluent or even close to being, but no matter what I was provided, I was always grateful. I am privileged to be the seventh of nine children for my mother, Alice McClymont, and the second of four children for my father, Collin McClymont.
My mother, a dedicated and resilient homemaker and fish vendor, deposited everything she had in her children. My father, a farmer and a construction worker, believed that my siblings and I were his prized possessions.
Although my father did not complete secondary schooling, he ensured that completing at least that level of education was a priority for his children. He did his best and whetted our appetite to learn by teaching us how to read from an early age. He would ensure that we read and explain each section carefully, while being very analytical during our discourse.
My siblings and I shared everything and seldom complained about anything. We all learned to be responsible from an early age, and household chores played a big role to that end. The fetching of firewood and water from miles away sometimes were not gender-based tasks. I would find pleasure carrying out these chores even before some of my younger siblings were awake in the mornings. I would then have to get myself and my younger siblings ready for school.
My community was my safe haven, as everyone looked out for and did much to protect me, as home, school, and church were in neighboring districts. Back then it took a village to raise a child.
I attended May Day Secondary School, where I would do cross-country runs. My perseverance was strengthened as I competed against boys and girls alike, most of them older and stronger than I was at the time. I was not at all intimidated, as I grew accustomed to this level of competition, having four older brothers at home.
Humility and selflessness are strong traits that, back then and now, are consistently displayed by my mother. A particular act of selflessness would often see her sharing our meals but never taking a plate until she was convinced that we were satisfied.
My father displayed the true meaning and value of hard work and dedication interwoven with a love for family. In so doing, while working in and through pain and under uncomfortable conditions, he demonstrated that goals could be achieved with that solid foundation. These naturally became traits that I adopted over time. That environment prepared me very well for my military life.
Diálogo: How did you first get in contact with the JDF?
Master Chief Petty Officer Christie: I would say that I was first made aware of the JDF like most kids on the island — seeing the soldiers pass through my district on various vehicles owned by the force. On my walks to and from school, I would have the opportunity to see the soldiers going through their routines at Foster Barracks in Manchester, commonly called “solja camp,” which was a base for the National Reserve. That was always a spectacle to behold and left a mark on me.
Diálogo: When and why did you decide to enlist?
Master Chief Petty Officer Christie: After completing my secondary education, I started looking for employment; however, with no prior work experience it was difficult to get a job. I was then encouraged to join the JDF by a former classmate and a family friend, Calvin McKenzie, who was a JDF recruit. I was intrigued with the idea, so on his advice I did further investigations as to the procedure that I should follow. In February 1998, I enlisted and completed Basic Training in August that same year.
Diálogo: What characteristics resulted in you being appointed as the first female Force Sergeant Major in the JDF? Do you consider yourself a trailblazer?
Master Chief Petty Officer Christie: Hard work and dedication, as was demonstrated by my father, professionalism, attention to detail, and a passion for whatever area I am employed. I lead by example and incorporated leadership skills learned during the various leadership courses I have attended, in conjunction with upholding the core values of the JDF. It is very important to highlight the fact that I could not have achieved any of this without support from the men and women of this Force. I would not consider myself a trailblazer, as women have been doing extremely well in the Force and have laid the foundation for me to realize I can achieve my full potential. And this is quite evident in the promotion and appointment of a female brigadier as the Force executive officer.
Diálogo: What does the fact that you are the first female FSM in the JDF mean for young women in Jamaica and even around the world?
Master Chief Petty Officer Christie: Women have been doing well in various spheres in society. In the JDF, they have been the empowering women who display aptitude and attitude for leadership at the higher level. Being the first female FSM means that gender no longer defines positions and appointments that were previously deemed to be male-oriented. It proves that the Force is evolving and that the Chief of Defence Staff is a visionary leader beyond his time. I sincerely hope that women will use my achievements as inspiration to motivate themselves to strive for greatness, especially the women here in the JDF.
Diálogo: Do you feel the Force has changed since your tenure as FSM? How?
Master Chief Petty Officer Christie: The Force is currently going through some degree of change at all levels, being in the appointment for such a short period it is really too early to tell.
With that being said, I can say that I have been representing my soldiers at the strategic level, which is one of my main responsibilities as FSM, and this will impact the lives of my fellow enlisted and their careers going forward.
Diálogo: Since you assumed this role, have you changed anything in terms of taking advantage of the talent pool as a whole, regardless of gender?
Master Chief Petty Officer Christie: The Chief of Defence Staff’s mantra “Mission, Men, Merit” is one that speaks for itself. Based on his mantra, I’ve identified enlisted persons, regardless of gender, and made sure they are recognized based on the level of professionalism and dedication shown, which was accepted.
Diálogo: What unique talents do women bring to the table when it comes to security forces?
Master Chief Petty Officer Christie: Women have a natural instinct to care and think outside the box. Traits such as gentleness, empathy, sensitivity and humility are traits that come easily to women. This is not to say that men aren’t capable, but a woman naturally employing these traits will get so much more from the soldier who believes there is someone who cares.
Diálogo: What defines success for you or what talents do you need to be successful regardless of gender?
Master Chief Petty Officer Christie: Concurring with the profound statement made by Michelle Obama, which posits, “Success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives,” my true success will be experienced in the difference I make as I continuously serve and represent the men and women of the Force with pride.
Diálogo: You were inducted into WHINSEC’s Hall of Fame. What does that represent to you and the JDF? What does one need to do to deserve this honor?
Master Chief Petty Officer Christie: My induction into the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation’s Hall of Fame is a significant achievement, both for me and for the JDF. The fact that I am of a humble beginning and from a force in a small island state, to be elevated and recognized by a partner nation that is a world leader, is an awesome feeling. This recognition would not be possible without the visionary leadership we are now experiencing in the JDF. I recall a remark made by U.S. Army Colonel John Dee Suggs, Jr. during his remarks at the induction ceremony that the Jamaica Defence Force is so small, yet we are leading the world. That is an innate characteristic of Jamaica and most Jamaicans, of which I am very proud.
Diálogo: What is your guidance to your subordinates during the COVID-19 pandemic? Is the JDF preparing for a new normal?
Master Chief Petty Officer Christie: I have and will continue to encourage my subordinates to follow the relevant COVID-19 prevention protocols established by the Force to protect themselves, and also the necessary measures to protect their families. We are the first and last line of defense for the country. We have to minimize the unnecessary exposure to remain safe. As we have a duty to protect the citizens of Jamaica, we also have to be operationally ready to fulfill our duties.
I would say this has already become our new normal and to remain safe will take some amount of sacrifice and discipline to protect ourselves from contracting the virus. It means a change in our lifestyle. The Force, in general, continues to operate in the COVID environment as our citizens continue to look to us to provide a safe environment for them.