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Apr 28, 1998

CARICOM soldiers compete in Tradewinds ’98

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It was almost a month ago that planeloads of soldiers from all over the Caribbean arrived in Belize for the annual training exercise of the Regional Security System. The over 700 participants from ten countries were rotated through three locations: Consejo in the Corozal District were they practiced amphibious landings, Salamanca in Toledo where they trained in jungle warfare, and the Mountain Pine Ridge of Cayo, where they got a chance to engage in live firing. It was in the high altitudes of this last venue that News Five’s Patrick Jones joined the troops as they vied for top honors in a competition known as “March and Shoot”.

To a soldier who has just covered five grueling miles on foot, in the middle of the Belizean dry season, those orders can be challenging. This is the part of Exercise Tradewinds ’98 that in a war could separate the living from the dead.

Lt. Kurt Archer, R.S.S. Training Team

“The March and shoot is a combat competition. It simulates travelling over a certain distance at section level to an enemy position and then still be in a good enough condition to engage the enemy once war gets there.”

At ground zero the teams of eight men each get some basic instructions before they hit the trail.

Captain Andrew Reid, Trinidad & Tobago Defence Force

“It’s a lot more challenging than I have seen around about the Caribbean. I want to believe as well that the troops who traversed this terrain for the March and Shoot competition will feel that they have achieved something special having gone over such terrain. The terrain lent itself perfectly to this type of exercise. And I would like to see that probably in the future wherever March and Shoot may be done in Tradewinds that we could have something like this to traverse.”

Patrick Jones

“The soldiers are required to march, or run – the choice is theirs – up to Baldy Beacon. While getting to the top is a challenge in itself, perhaps the greatest test is at the end of the road.”

The teams, which take off at fifteen minutes intervals, are given seventy five minutes to get from start to finish. Bonus points are awarded for every minute under the allotted time. Likewise points are also subtracted for every minute over the hour and fifteen minutes time limit. Judging is carried out in three areas.

Lt. Kurt Archer

“We look at team spirit – how they work together coming along the route under certain conditions. Some people will become exhausted and we want to see how the remainder of the team helps that individual along and gets him to the finish point. So that’s one, team work. Secondly is fitness. Of course if you’re going to run and walk five miles, you need to be relatively fit. And thirdly, the ability to shoot. Their marksmanship skill.”

There is no shortage of motivation, both within the teams and from colleagues at the finishing point. Service stations along the route, also double as evaluation posts where checks are made on teamwork.

Private Daniel Reyes, Belize Defence Force

“The strength of the unit that you have been operating in is the strength of the weakest man. So when the weakest man reach, or when the last man reach, that’s when the time finish.”

And as one half of the drill ends, the other begins. The weary participants are given just enough time to catch their breath. Then, it’s off to the firing range where they are given a magazine of twenty live M-16 rounds which they must empty on a target a hundred metres away in under sixty seconds.

Corporal James Tonge, Antigua & Barbuda Defence Force

“It’s difficult to shoot after a long run, but if you know what to do, you can overcome these because actually what we did, when we came in closer to the point, we slowed down, got back our breathing so that when we went down on the firing range, we were at the level off there. We were at the level.”

After the firing time has expired, supervisors collect the empty magazines and the soldiers pick up their targets, some pausing long enough to see for themselves how well they did, before handing them in for evaluation. The number of hits on the target are added up and the scores entered on the score sheet. As each entry is made, the excitement among the thirteen teams builds. Coming down to the wire, the teams from Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados had their eyes fixed on the sure footed Belize Defence Force as the team to beat. But when the sound of gunfire ceased, it was painfully obvious that neither the B.D.F., the Belize police or any of the other CARICOM forces were a match for the marksmanship of the Barbadians.

A.I.P. Ralph Moody, Dragon Unit, Belize Police Force

“Well due to the fact that the condition is running from one point which is five miles but to us it’s like ten miles. It’s a bit tiresome and the breathing, we need to control our breathing to get the shot properly whet.”

Lead Seaman Gregory Burrows, Bahamas

“We gained quite a bit from it. Back home, we’re from the Bahamas. The highest point we have is about two hundred and six feet. We don’t have any mountains there so we had to push hard and I think our team did extremely well, because we don’t have any mountains back home where we’re from.”

Sergeant Roy Joseph, Dragon Unit, Belize Police Force

“It could have been better, but it’s already done so all we can do is wait until the next time and ensure that whatever difficulty we had on this one doesn’t occur on the other one.”

While the Belizean military personnel lament their less than stellar performance in the March and Shoot, the trainers were most impressed with the way Juliet Company pulled it off.

Captain Andrew Reid, Trinidad & Tobago Defence Force

“The training overall has been very rewarding. The guys came here to do the live firing aspect of their training and I am confident that they have left here with a number of important lessons learnt.”

They may not leave Belize with bragging rights to the top positions in the March and Shoot, but some of the other participants from the islands say they will go back to their respective countries more confident of the role they will play in the Regional Security System.

Lance Corporal Paul Thompson, Barbados Defence Force

“Well the biggest thing overall is basically the experience and working together because most of the guys here are fairly young. Young in terms of to the unit, but Tradewinds, this Tradewinds gave us the chance to do a lot of stuff together as a group.”

P.C. 296 Harvey Franklyn, St. Vincent & The Grenadines

“This place here that we’re at right now is one of the coldest places I’ve ever been for years so that’s quite an experience for me.”

P.C. Kenrich Ambo, Dominica

“But I think that this area is a very cool area. Sometimes although it may be very cold at nights and terrain is a lovely place especially when it comes to heavy artillery and so on and I really believe that the Belizean Government must try to seek assistance to help develop this place. But I must say it’s a very beautiful place, man – terrain, the rolling hills – it’s pretty man.”

P.C. Elias Auguste, St. Lucia

“The biggest country probably I’ve been to so far in the Caribbean. I mean travelling distance, eight hours ride. We don’t usually take an eight hour ride on a bus, if you travel eight hours you do it on boat or plane. It’s been all good except the roads are very dusty compared to our home and the areas you have in the jungle, very dusty, the jungle and very hot. And over here extremely cold. Two extremes.”

Patrick Jones

“While the Barbados Defence and Royal Police Forces topped the scores in impressive fashion, all the officers and soldiers of Tradewinds ’98 say the experiences in the hills of Cayo over the last week will prove invaluable to their chosen career with the Regional Security System. From Baldy Beacon, Patrick Jones, for News Five.”

The operational phase of Tradewinds ’98 ends on Thursday and the visiting troops will depart Belize on Saturday. Next year’s regional exercise will be held in Guyana.

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