Cayman plans to stand up a military regiment next year.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said he believes it is the first such unit the nation has ever fielded. Its focus will be on disaster relief.
The announcement was made Friday afternoon as visiting UK Minister of State for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster was preparing to depart the island. Lancaster, McLaughlin and Governor Martyn Roper held a joint press conference in which they said they had agreed to a cooperative effort the establish the regiment.
McLaughlin said he anticipates the initial size of the force will be between 35 and 50 members.
But talks between the two governments on the subject – which began early this year – have included projections that allow for growing the unit to several hundred members.
The regiment would be a volunteer reserve force, with only a handful of full-time personnel. McLaughlin said, because of that structure, the cost of operating the programme would be manageable.
Training and equipment would be supplied by the UK armed forces.
Establishing the regiment was the primary reason for Lancaster’s visit to Cayman. He said he got the idea for the force on a trip to the Caribbean last year.
“It would be useful for the overseas territories to have their own capacity” for emergency response, Lancaster said. “This will be locally recruited and locally led.”
He said the initial core force would likely be trained as engineers.
A team of UK military and civilian experts from the UK Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office plan to deploy to Cayman before the end of the year to conduct an operational needs assessment to determine how much support from the UK will be needed.
Officials said the initial assistance would likely be logistical advice and support. Later, it is expected to include operational training and equipment.
The team will also look at where best to station the regiment.
McLaughlin said having such a unit would allow Cayman to better respond to the next hurricane to hit its islands. Rather than being wholly reliant on outside assistance, as was the case with Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the proposed regiment would be able to provide immediate help in the wake of such a disaster.
He said it would also benefit the rest of the Caribbean.
“We’ve demonstrated how much we care about our brothers and sisters across the region,” the premier said, referring to the teams Cayman has sent to areas damaged by hurricanes in the past two years. “These events are becoming more and more common. It’s very clear that as a region we need to work together.”
The proposed regiment, he said, “is going to be a huge boon to our ability to respond”.
Bermuda has a similar force, Lancaster said.
“When we had issues there,” he said, “the fact that Bermuda had its own force was incredibly helpful.”
Roper said the regiment members would be armed when in action.
“This will be in the same way the cadets use weapons,” he said, referring to the Cadet Corps, “and the way the police use weapons. We’re not creating an army.”