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A life in the army

Published:Monday | April 12, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Wray was among the first females to join the army, first female to join the Coast Guard, first female writer at the Coast Guard, first female chief clerk at the JDF, first female to get warrant office and first female to receive meritorious award from the Governor General. - photos by Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer
Major Elaine Wray is the keeper of records at the Jamaica Defence Force whether it's personnel in the former West Indies Regiment or how many children a soldier has, she has all that information at her fingertips
Wray has no regrets for her army life, and if she had to do it all over again, she would still choose to serve her country in that capacity.

Nashauna Drummond, Lifestyle Coordinator

Major Elaine Wray joined the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) on Thursday, February 18, 1977. That's 33 years and 55 days ago to the day. The precise date rolls off her tongue with ease. That's because Wray was among the first set of 56 women who joined the army, and as the person now in charge of the JDF's records, recording is her thing.

Growing up in Lower River, Trelawny, Wray was inspired to enter the armed forces by veterans of both World Wars. "I used to see the veterans from World War I and II walking up the streets with their backs very erect, wearing their medals. I later learnt they were senile," she says, a smile crossing her lips.

Wray's intention initially, was to become a police woman. She even took the admissions test, but while she awaited the results, the army announced it would start accepting women.

Wray (then Williams), joined the army as an enlisted person. They were all trained by a female major from England.

After graduation, Wray went immediately to join the coastguards, though she had an early desire to become a military police officer. According to her, women were welcome in the force, especially at the coastguards.

"There were fewer men there, they treated us like equals."

State of emergency

Joining the army during the 1976-imposed state of emergency when the country was in turmoil, Wray felt no fear dealing with the challenges.

"I was a tomboy from day one. All my sisters would call me mummy's last boy. There were 13 of us and the first three were boys. We (female soldiers) were like the 'guinea pigs' but I really wanted to serve."

She noted that some civilian men did not like being searched by women but the male soldiers always had their backs and they never went out in groups of less than seven. She noted that even though women were limited to administrative roles, they went on the streets with the men when needed.

The only scare Wray ever had was as a coast guard on a trip to Guantanomo Bay in Cuba. "We were towing a boat which was about 200 metres out and sometimes the waves were so high you couldn't see the boat. That was scary."

Her only regret was not being able to go to Grenada in the 1983 attempted coup. "I was very disappointed."

Army is my life

Wray enlisted at the age of 22 and has had no regrets. "The army comes first. If you're single, during a hurricane you have to protect here (Up Park Camp). If you have a family you may be allowed to go home, but as soon as the storm passes, you are expected to be here." She notes that army wives are educated as to what to expect when they marry a soldier.

"I would do it again. The army is my life, especially being among the first females, I have made my mark."

Along the way, she has also earned her medals; one for meritorious service and another for 18 years of service and good conduct. The latter includes a clean record of never being late or being disciplined. A woman of order and discipline, Wray learned to be on time while working with the coastguards. She had to be on time or miss the ferry. Now she's a major, which is the highest level an enlisted person can achieve.

The mother of two wanted her sons to be in the army (their father was a police officer) but they didn't follow in their mother's footstep, though the younger was part of the cadet corps for a while.

Now S02J1Wray (her title) is as organised as her responsibility as keeper of records requires, and as she puts it, "I love to be in charge."