A group of Jamaican soldiers, the first under the Jamaica Defence Force’s (JDF) revamped recruit program, is set to graduate in July 2018. The Jamaica National Service Corps (JNSC), JDF’s new standard mode of enlistment, enrolls youth age 18-23, and prepares them for careers in the armed forces.
The first cohort, made up of 234 soldiers, is currently deployed to support national security operations in various parts of the island. The youth’s deployment in St. Catherine, a southeastern parish under a state of public emergency, and in Denham Town Zone of Special Operations, a Kingston neighborhood under a joint force effort to curb crime, serves as part of their on-the-job training.
“This is for operational purposes, to see how an infantry works,” Colonel Mahatma Williams, of the JDF General Staff, told Diálogo. “They, however, do not engage in internal security duties nor conduct specific classification training that would bring them to a certain level of competence on weapons, simply because not all will go on to join the regular force or reserves.”
Empowering youth through service
JNSC officially became Jamaica’s new form of recruitment in May 2017 with the amendment of the Defence Act of Jamaica. In the past, new recruits either signed on for the regular or reserve forces. The objective of the one-year enlistment is to empower youth through national service with the hopes of bringing JDF’s annual intake up to 1,000.
“So, you will join the National Service Corps and spend one year within the corps and after that, you can choose whether or not you will sign a longer-term contract with the Army,” stated Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, as the bill establishing JNSC passed in April 2017. “Those who choose not to go on, become available to the wider society, and it would be a good recruiting ground for the police and the various emergency services.”
JNSC soldiers receive basic military training and on-the-job experience, as well as vocational and life skills training. Upon completion, soldiers can continue on with JDF or seek other opportunities with law enforcement.
“With nothing to do, the chance is high that youth could get into criminal activities,” Col. Williams said. “A lot are from decent homes, but they are all young people from the same pool, looking for opportunity. While serving in the JNSC, they do community work and a whole host of other training. I’m dead sure they will be better leaving here.”
Phases of training
The yearlong training is broken down into three phases: basic military training, vocational training, and hands-on experience. Soldiers are rewarded with certificates during ceremonies to mark the completion of each phase.
Phase one provides trainees with basic military skills such as first aid and military tactics. Soldiers also learn tools for stress management and conflict resolution.
Phase two introduces recruits to vocational training within JDF or for the civilian workforce. During this phase, soldiers learn about the different opportunities with JDF’s Infantry Regiment, Reserve Corps, Air Wing, and Coast Guard.
“Both [civilian and military training] will result in certificate that reflects the type of training they have received,” Col. Williams said. “The difference is in the track, military or civilian, that they completed.”
The last phase allows recruits to put their newfound knowledge into practice. For Major Alicia Cooper, detachment commander of JDF’s Directorate of Training and Doctrine, a key element of the program is to bring forth the distinct character traits proper to service members.
“They are also integrally involved in transforming their minds and way of thinking,” Maj. Cooper told Diálogo. “So that they become overall better citizens and human beings at the end of their engagement with the JDF.”
Reaping great benefits
Benefits for the recruits are many. Aside from earning essential skills, the youth receive a unique opportunity for lifelong careers serving their country. In addition, enlisted receive a stipend and are enrolled in a savings plan for the duration of their service.
“The JDF is seen favorably by corporate Jamaica,” said Maj. Cooper. “It’s normal that persons who leave the service are able to find suitable employment elsewhere, not only because of the skills and experience they acquired in the JDF, but also because of their attitude and discipline in the workplace.”
Graduation for the first batch of enlisted men is around the corner. Following cohorts have 100 women enrolled. Plans are in the making for JNSC to increase its reach to female recruits.
“Females have played significant roles in the JDF for several years and are employed in all units and at all levels throughout the force,” Maj. Cooper concluded. “As the JDF expands, it’s important that women continue to be engaged and are integrated in all areas.”