The first platoon of reservists for the Cayman Islands Regiment officially graduated on Sunday, but the 51 men and women who make up the new entity could only share the occasion with a select few due to COVID-19 restrictions.
However, the scaled-back passing-out ceremony did not change the feeling of pride 23-year-old Johanan Eugene said he felt as he marched in his uniform onto the field at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex as a member of the Cayman Regiment.
“It’s a really great honour to be a part of this new organisation. I love all the people that I have worked with so far. The officers were great,” he told the Cayman Compass. “The training was rigorous, but you could see the importance in everything that we did. We did so many things that we would definitely use in the field to better the island” in case of any disaster.
Over the last two weeks, Eugene and his fellow reservists underwent intensive training, from taxing physical activity to practical classroom exercises and, on Sunday, they paraded before a handful of relatives and officials.
Under the current COVID-19 regulations, only gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed; however, a special exemption was granted to allow for the passing-out parade. Social-distancing rules were in effect for the event, which limited interactions.
Eugene said when he first heard about the regiment, he was unclear what exactly it was, but he was glad he got involved.
“I had no idea what it was about, but as I got more information, I found out that it was an organisation that would do a lot of good for the island and other surrounding countries. Because, as the regiment, we would go out and help other countries and also our own citizens,” he said.
“In times of disaster we would just offer relief and offer any assistance that the local authorities would need and that’s essential because, back in Ivan, we didn’t have such support, but now for future disasters, you will have that support.”
Regiment a mission accomplished
It was that lack of support in the days after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 that drove Premier Alden McLaughlin, when he first became a minister in 2005, to want to establish a regiment in Cayman, he said. However, the UK was unwilling at the time.
But, he said, he still pursued it as he had an affinity for the uniform.
“I always wanted to be a soldier; honestly, I always did. I always loved parades, uniforms. I was a cub scout all the way through to chief scout. I think they kicked me out at 20-something because you’re just too old for the scouts, but so I’ve always loved that sort of thing and it is hugely gratifying to see now Cayman has a regiment of its own,” he told the Compass.
McLaughlin dismissed criticism of the regiment being a military entity, saying it was created to focus on disaster relief.
“Their role principally is to support and to help during times of crisis and to train and to prepare to be able to deal with adversity, whatever form that takes… I actually hope they’re going to have a very quiet summer and autumn and that we don’t have any hurricanes to grapple with or any other disasters to have to deal with.
“But in the event that does occur, we now have a team of 51 ready men and women who help augment the other resources we have always had,” he said.
It is a point Governor Martyn Roper echoed in his address Sunday to the regiment officers and reservists.
“The UK’s sole objective in supporting a regiment is to provide Cayman and the region with added resilience in responding to humanitarian and disaster relief. The UK will continue to provide capacity-building support,” he said, adding Cayman, at the peak time for hurricane season, now has a “troop of men and women with the initial skills to add that extra resilience to our disaster-management response”.
McLaughlin lauded the governor for his efforts in making sure the regiment was established, even in the face of a global pandemic.
“Without him and his, not just support, but enthusiasm and drive, this just would not happen. It would be more… difficult in any event, but to do it during a global pandemic in 10 months is just incredible. So, I pay tribute to him and his office and the UK government, in particular the Ministry of Defence in the UK, because they have actually made this happen,” he said.
McLaughlin said he is hoping eventually to grow the regiment to at least 175 members.
He said he expects to take the Defence Bill, which creates the legal framework to govern the regiment, to the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly, near the end of September.
McLaughlin said he was touched by the sense of pride and patriotism displayed by the reservists since their participation in the regiment is voluntary.
“The enthusiasm of the troops today and the diversity in terms of not just gender, but social backgrounds, the type of work that they do and their age, it is incredible. I think that is just so good for building any organisation to have proper representation right across the full demographic range [as it] always makes any institution stronger,” he said.
In his remarks to the reservists, McLaughlin said the regiment over time undoubtedly will have a positive impact and play an important role in youth development and leadership in Cayman as future young Caymanians and residents join up.
“As you go forward, remember what you have gained from that training and use it for the benefit of our islands and our regiment,” he said.
He reminded the reservists of their responsibility to carry themselves with pride.
“The future success and growth of the Cayman Islands Regiment rests largely in your hands; you as its first members,” he said. “It will be in what you do and how you deport yourself that will help define the regiment in the eyes and hearts of Caymanians and give it whatever reputation it earns.
“This is an awesome and important responsibility. Regardless of your rank, each one of you has a part to play in the success of this regiment. Hold fast to your motto ‘In Arduis Paratus’ – prepared in adversity.”
Roper, in congratulating the reservists on their graduation, reminded them that “we have turned our ambition into reality despite the pandemic. This is a landmark day for us, but most of all, it’s a landmark day for all of you.”
Training for the reservists will continue over the coming weeks, he said, and even over the next months and years.
“You will have lots of opportunities to enhance and expand your skills in lots of different directions,” he said.
Roper said he knew everything the reservists have learned will be hugely valuable to Cayman should their services be needed.