The Belize Coast Guard received added reinforcements today in the form of 30 new recruits. The new Coast Guard officers – known as Recruit Intake #4 – were officially inducted this morning at a graduation and inauguration ceremony that was held in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.
Amandala was there to witness the 3-tier event, which encompassed the acknowledgement of the Coast Guard’s 8th anniversary; the graduation of Recruit Intake #4; and the inauguration ceremony for a brand new Coast Guard forward operating base, 1 ½ miles southwest of the island – dubbed as “Station San Pedro.”
The surveillance post, which is built to withstand hurricane force winds, is strategically located on a plot of land that is situated on the leeward side of the island town – at the entrance of the marina channel of ‘La Isla Bonita.’ The land – which was initially acquired from the Belize Port Authority – also accommodates a diesel generator and two full-sized fuel tanks that have the capacity to hold 5,000 gallons of diesel and gasoline to service the Coast Guard’s fleet of Boston Whaler boats which will be attached to the station; while the structure is capable of housing up to 16 Coast Guard personnel at any given time. It also includes a command center with state-of-the-art equipment and tracking devices, and a docking facility for up to two large vessels. The specified area of operation for the new base extends way beyond Ambergris Caye – as far north as Chetumal Bay, and as far south as Caye Caulker.
The 16 officers who are posted at the station will be engaged in maritime and intelligence operations, and will be on the lookout for contrabandists, drug traffickers, and others who conduct illicit activities in Belize’s waters.
The new station – which was constructed at a cost of about US$1.5 million dollars – was made possible courtesy of the United States Southern Command, which has made various notable donations to Belize’s security forces in the recent past.
Deputy Chief of Missions for the United States Embassy, Margaret Hawthorne, was on hand for the ceremony, and in her address to the audience, she commented on the Coast Guard’s new building and its purpose: “This Forward Operational Base (FOB) here represents the culmination of years of teamwork and collaboration between the Belize Coast Guard, the Government of Belize and the US Southern Command. The FOB will provide a security presence in the transit zone for narcotics trafficking, and provide maritime safety, search and rescue, law enforcement and environmental protection capabilities in Belize’s most northeasterly sovereign territory. The Coast Guard continues to seek opportunities for education and training, bilateral exercises, and operations with the regional neighbors and partners in order to confront transnational threats and illicit trafficking, thereby contributing to overall regional security.”
She said that the US and Belize enjoy a very strong bilateral relationship demonstrated through continued cooperation in defense and security matters, hence the base represents an important step in their commitment to realizing a safe and secure Belize.
The Commander of the Belize Coast Guard, Admiral John Borland, later remarked on the passing out of the new Coast Guard personnel and the development that the Belize Coast Guard has been able to achieve over the past 8 years. Borland told the new officers that they are now part of a “small elite force.” He said, “The Coast Guard is being built on a 15-year strategy that started in 2005. This strategy – which was approved by the Coast Guard and subsequently the National Security Council – is broken into a short regional and long term plan. The strategy calls for a force that will be 365-strong by 2015 with 20 intercept vessels, 6 forward operating bases, three sectors with sufficient logistics and maintenance support to maintain our forces and assets combat ready – ready to meet any threat that might manifest itself in our area of operation, the maritime domain.
“One thing I am sure of is that quality cannot be mass-produced. Good men and women cannot be produced on a commercial scale. It requires intestinal fortitude, endurance for pain, mental and physical toughness and the ability to get back up every time after you hit the dirt. 400 people applied; 220 were invited to the recruiting drive; 80 were invited back for training and 30 of you made it. That’s almost as tough as being in the SEALs.”
Borland also made sure to encourage the new officers to focus on their newfound mission and the core values that they have been taught while in training.
The CEO in the Ministry of National Security, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) George Lovell, outlined the degree of training that the recruits endured, and described the new intake as “yet another milestone of the Belize Coast Guard.”
Lovell said, “They are the few, the proud, that survived out of 80 that entered the hallowed halls of the Coast Guard training company. Their training included physical fitness, swimming, drills, first aid, seamanship, law enforcement, weapons training and marksmanship.
“A typical day – just for your information – included being up at 4:00 a.m. in the morning; PT at 5:00 a.m., and fatigue which is generally getting the compound and their environs clean at 6:00 a.m. They then go and have breakfast at 7:00 a.m., followed by a hard day of training, building discipline, teamwork and learning the tools of military trade.”
From the 80 individuals that started the vigorous 12 weeks of arduous mental and physical training, only 2 females and 28 males succeeded. After the ceremonies, Admiral John Borland told us why. He said: “We had a target to graduate 40 recruits annually. The training is not for anyone because it is terribly hard and the transition from a raw civilian to become a military person that absorbs the military routine is rough. You have to transform your physical body, your mental state, so it really takes a toll on one’s body. Most people are out before the first week of the training. By the end of the third week of training, it gives us a clear indication as to who will survive the military training, but we do our best to retain our recruits.
“It is a very strict and rigid selection process…. As it relates to female to male recruits, yes it is disproportionate. Even if we should go by the policy for recruits in the military — females make up 15% of the military, we would not have the amount of females we want. We certainly welcome women in the Coast Guard. At one point, we had three in the squad but in the third week of the training we fell to two. However, we have a female officer waiting to be promoted to Commission Officer. She is Kaina Martinez, who represented Belize in the last Olympics.”
With the amount of assistance that the US has offered to Belize’s military, there has been much public discourse regarding the “Americanization” of Belize’s security forces – namely the Belize Police Department, the Belize Defence Force, and the Belize Coast Guard. With that in mind, the question was put to the head of the Coast Guard, Commander John Borland.
He responded: “I wouldn’t say we are being Americanized, but our doctrines have to start somewhere and develop some direction. Most of the military units in the world are based on 18th century German doctrines. What is happening between the American and Belizean military is that we share common goals and common threats as it relates to drugs and other challenges, and so we are in the fight together. The Americans are our biggest allies, no doubt about that, and there is no way the Belizean military would be able to continue to grow at the pace we are growing. Like I said, the threats are mutual and there is no intention from the US to Americanize our military.”
As the Belize Coast Guard commemorated its 8th anniversary, Borland told us that he is proud to see how the Coast Guard has grown over the years, and that he is also proud of the new intakes, whom he said “constitutes a step further in the growth and development of the Belize Coast Guard.” He mentioned that he is glad to see that foundations are being put in place to guarantee the longevity of the Coast Guard.
According to CEO Lovell, there are future plans in store for the Belize Coast Guard, including projects that have been approved for the southern sector, such as a new building at Hunting Caye and construction of a Southern Forward Operational Base at Big Creek, which will commence in 2014.
By 2020, the Belize Coast Guard should have six operational bases at various areas in Belize, in addition to the establishment of an air station, which is part of their long-term strategy.