Belize last faced a major military threat from Guatemala in 1977, when approximately 8,000 to 10, 000 troops amassed on the border in preparation for an impending invasion. The British troops stationed in Belize at the time and the Belize Volunteer Guard started to prepare defensive positions in order to block this invasion. Fortunately, this invasion did not materialize and an uncertain peace returned to Belize.
This year, 39 years after the last major Guatemalan offensive, we are once again threatened with the buildup of troops on the Western and Southern borders of Belize. Although the numbers are not those seen in 1977, the alleged troop movement is still significant enough to cause concern among Belizeans. The only organizations that stand between the Guatemalan military and the people of Belize are the brave soldiers of the Belize Defence Force and the brave sailors of the Belize Coast Guard. These young warriors maintain vigilance on the borders every day of the year and stand prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for us, the Belizean people.
Military service is a life of hardship. This hardship starts from the very first day the potential soldiers enter a military compound to start recruit training. Who in their right minds voluntarily submits himself to the harsh treatment that is meted out by unforgiving instructors? Who wants to be shouted at all hours of the day and night? Who willingly hands over total control of his/her life to the military? It is a special breed of Belizean who does this; these are the Belizeans who have answered the call to serve Belize. The call to service is greater than the hardships endured during recruit training. It is greater than the dangers faced while protecting Belize’s borders. The call to service is not an abstract concept that evokes romantic visions of battle. Rather, it is a way of life, a sense of being. Soldiers understand service by always placing the mission above themselves, by never accepting defeat and by never leaving comrades behind. Service is not about the individual and definitely not about what material benefits can be gained. This is the warrior ethos that every soldier and sailor understands.
Service in the Belize Defence Force and in the Belize Coast Guard is an honour. These vital organizations are not repositories for those who are not academically gifted. They are not institutions of last resort for those who can’t make it otherwise. During my twelve-year service, I heard and was told these ignorant comments by my fellow Belizeans. In the same breath, these people spoke with awe and admiration about other Belizeans who had joined the US or British militaries. This attitude still pervades throughout Belize and is unfair and disrespectful to the current and former members of the BDF and BCG. The sacrifices made by Belizean soldiers and sailors are no less admirable than those made by American, British, Mexican or any other military personnel. I was privileged to command soldiers during my service and I can attest to the fact that the Belizean military man or woman is as professional and as dedicated as any in larger armies across the world.
During this time of heightened tension, I am comforted in the knowledge that our soldiers and sailors are alert and vigilant. I am glad that they are in the jungles, in the observation posts, in the air and on the seas deterring the activities that threaten our future. I am confident in their abilities and skills. I admire their bravery and resolve as they place themselves in the jaws of danger each time they deploy to Belize’s land and maritime borders. They do this without complaining, without fear and understanding that failure is not an option.
I laud the families of our military personnel; they, too, have make great sacrifices as their fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters deploy to danger areas. Military families understand more than any others that the military profession is fraught with danger.
At this time, I believe that it is fitting that we take the time to honour our soldiers and sailors. They are doing the jobs that few Belizeans dare. This is not the time to look at our military with derision but it is a time to give them support. To all our current service members, I salute you. To all our past BDF soldiers, thank you for your service. To all our future military men and women, I applaud your choice of profession. To our military families, thank you for the support that you have given and continue to give our soldiers and sailors. Through the efforts of the Belize Defence Force and Belize Coast Guard, our country will continue to be a safe place to live.
Shoulder to shoulder!
Captain Daniel Mendez (retired)
Belize Defence Force