The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has embarked on a multifaceted approach to change the culture of violence in the country. The plan includes providing more support for the police, restructuring the force, and increasing its members.
The driving force behind this effort is Lieutenant General Rocky Ricardo Meade. The chief of Defence Staff spoke with Diálogo at his office at JDF headquarters in Kingston about this initiative and another topic that he has been working on for many years: involving women in peace and security missions at all levels.
Diálogo: What are the main issues affecting Jamaica today in terms of security and defense?
Lieutenant General Rocky Ricardo Meade, JDF chief of Defence Staff: The most significant issues affecting us locally are organized criminal gangs, illicit trafficking, and associated violence. The organized criminal gangs defending their turf will fight each other for influence, for lead sheets that they use for a lot of scamming, illicit trafficking, and for the resources and funding from that.
Diálogo: In support of the police, what has the JDF done lately to counter these issues, especially gangs?
Lt. Gen. Meade: We are taking a three-phase (a short, medium, and long-term) approach to the problem. We need urgency while planning for the long term so that we do not have this problem in the future. What we have done is to use emergency powers to allow the military to support the police in violent communities as a short-term plan to give them that help. As a medium-term plan, we are building capacity by building a class of the Jamaica Defense Force and Jamaica Constable Force to better enable us to deal with the organized crime and violence without an emergency force. The emergency force is a short- to medium-term component, and then we can build the capacity.
The long-term engagement is to interact with our youth because we want to provide them with opportunities for employment and the chance to get exposed to the right values and attitudes. We have started the Jamaica National Service Core Program, which is intended to engage thousands of youth to teach them some military values, as well as to let them work and see the value of that work. I think that it is a 20-year program minimum; and if it continues, it will influence the culture of violence that is so pervasive in Jamaica.
Diálogo: Is that the main reason you are planning a more robust JDF?
Lt. Gen. Meade: Yes. Capacity building is where I am increasing the size of the force, resources and equipment, but at the same time I am doing the National Service Program, which is engaging the youth, and what do I do when I engage them? I keep the majority of them for both. I am simultaneously influencing the youth and recruiting for the JDF from the same National Service Force pool.
Diálogo: What are you doing to attract more women to the JDF?
Lt. Gen. Meade: For a long time, we did not regularly recruit women into the JDF. One of the things I have done is to make it a part of the policy that every intake must include women and that has been working very well since 2017. We advertise, we encourage women, and it is a part of my strategy that every time we recruit, we must have women.
Diálogo: Are the standards equal for both women and men?
Lt. Gen. Meade: Same standards, absolutely. One little clarification: Our physical fitness tests are tailored to take into consideration the biology of the woman, so that is designed to be slightly different from the men, but we don’t offer any exceptions for women to meet the requirements. There is a very slight difference, which takes into account medical perspectives, the physical biological structure, but once we set that standard, we don’t waive the standard just to meet the quota for women.
Diálogo: Is there still a quota related to women?
Lt. Gen. Meade: Yes, there is a quota. My long-term ideal goal is not to have a quota, but we were coming from a force from the 1970s where we were aiming for a quota of 10 percent, and we never got there. I have said, let’s target 25 percent, but my long-term goal is that one day we will just take any Jamaican citizen who is competent. If the numbers should get to be 50-50, so be it. However, in the transition, I need to set another goal for us to aim toward and at this moment, it is 25 percent.
Diálogo: How important is it to have the first female commanding flag officer (Commodore Antonette Wemyss-Gorman) as part of the JDF in support of these efforts?
Lt. Gen. Meade: I think it is very important. I would say not because she is female, but because she is competent in a general or flag officer role. She is the first female flag officer in Jamaica, not just in our force, but in the English-speaking Caribbean. She’s the first flag officer and a female, and it’s very well deserved. So male or female, as a person she would have made flag officer. She just happens to be female.
Diálogo: What unique talents do women bring to the table?
Lt. Gen. Meade: They bring a perspective that is very often different from the male perspective. It’s not always right, it’s not always relevant, but it is sufficiently different to give a commander like myself pause, to think of different options. I value having a team of advisors that includes different skillsets and different genders, as a way to get a wide range of ideas, because sometimes things are mentioned that I have never thought about.
Diálogo: Does Jamaica train other countries in the Caribbean?
Lt. Gen. Meade: Absolutely. We have a number of courses. At the noncommissioned officer level, we train the English-speaking Caribbean. At the staff level (from captain to major), we have a training program that includes individuals from the Caribbean, Africa, and even some Eastern European countries. In addition, we are developing flight training that includes other countries. We like to expand it because we would love to be the center for small forces training.
Clearly, the U.S. has major programs that they deliver and many people want to go to the U.S. to take the training, but can’t afford it, or there aren’t enough spaces, so we would like to become the center for small forces to train from around the world. That is what I envision.