- Dennis Coke
Potential Officers, from left, Lovell Richards, Robert McFarlane, Demerce Guscott and Christine Francis examine a gun during training.
THE command post is stationed at an abandoned hotel. Communication is via a field phone (as in the movies) and uniformed personnel are everywhere.
This is not a Saigon-era military base. The setting is the Old Titchfield Hotel in Portland, where the Jamaica Cadet Corps (JCC) hosted its special combined camp. The uniformed personnel are youth between the ages of 11 - 17 years old, and their accompanying officers led by the grim-faced camp commandant, Lieutenant Colonel Woodburn Miller.
Once every four years the six battalions of cadets across the island convene for a combined camp, however, individual units hold separate camps each year as well.
For one month, at a cost of $500 (for those who can afford it, those who can't are subsidised), 1,200 secondary school youths are submerged into an environment where discipline, aptitude and survival are the order of the day.
Lt. Colonel Trevor McCurdy of the JCC is excited that the youths get the opportunity to come to camp every year, stating that "to spend three weeks in camp conditions will socialise them to deal with anything".
This year's camp which ended last week, spread over six sites in Portland. It required sleeping outdoors in tents, or on mattresses on classroom floors and waking up at 5:30 a.m. But between those two activities it provided the opportunity for adventure, socialising, skills and leadership training.
"Camp is a concentration of what cadet is all about. Here, we provide training in discipline and leadership using military modality, drills, map reading, adventure, hiking, and community service," said Commander Miller.
Cadets are also taught shooting skills, seamanship and to fly a plane. In fact since 1998, eight cadets have received private pilot licences after 30 hours of training on the JCC's 1975 Cessna 150 airplane.
More than 80 volunteer officers, most of whom were cadets themselves, run the camp with a firm hand of empathetic discipline. Each has a commitment to "giving back" to a generation that is deprived of guidance.
They include Dr. Mark Williams, a general practitioner who studied medicine in Russia. He stated that, "my training as a cadet equipped me for life in Russia, I want to help the youth to gain that kind of discipline, which will help them with all aspects of their lives."
But the challenges of Dr. Williams' cadet days in the 70's are somewhat different as, according to Lt. Colonel McCurdy, "today's youth have many more negative influences and too many soft options."
Soft options are the "allure of 21st century life with the rising influence of drugs, multiple cable channels and lying in bed all day, but the cadet changes that, we take 'softies' and make them assertive and strong."
Sharing the camp were cadets and officers from St. Vincent, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Canada, who said they observed that the problems affecting Jamaica's youth, mainly the need for guidance, leadership and a sense of belonging, were common to their countries as well.
However, the JCC has successfully influenced the lives of many. Included in Camp 2000 was training for 30 potential officers (PO), most of whom were cadets.
PO Christine Gracey, at 19 years old, is a licensed private pilot and she wants to help youth experience the transformation and opportunity she received as a cadet.
"When I joined the cadet I was so shy and insecure, but now I feel that I can accomplish anything. I have realised my career by getting the opportunity to learn how to fly. I would never have had the money to pay otherwise," she told Generation Today recently.
The potential officers agree with Lt. Colonel McCurdy who boasts that cadets are usually better students academically and otherwise.
Eighteen-year-old Corporal Michael Spencer, or "Spencer M", who leads 22 other cadets said, "I am proud to be a cadet, I am sharper, stronger and faster than many of my friends, and I always think in cadet mode."
This, he said, means that he is always on the look-out for opportunities to serve his community and to help others.
While in Portland, a group of cadets cleaned, fenced and painted the main block of Moore Town Primary and Junior High School.