Bermuda Regiment to the rescue here . . . and overseas
While many believe that the primary role of the Bermuda Regiment is internal security, the realistic main role is to provide disaster relief, especially during a hurricane.
Of course the Regiment has many other roles like ceremonial duties and supporting the Bermuda Police in internal security matters and anti-terrorism as was evidenced in 2001 following the September 11 attacks on the United States when the soldiers were embodied to take over responsibility for the security of the airport, docks and other important areas.
But it is really during and after a hurricane that the Regiment shows its true colours much to the relief of Island residents who may have seen their roofs blown off or trees come down blocking roads.
And it is not just in Bermuda that the Regiment shines after a hurricane. In 2004 and 2005 the Regiment deployed to the Cayman Islands and Grenada to assist in restoration efforts after the vicious Hurricane Ivan. And more recently they helped with relief on the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2008.
It was when Hurricane Emily struck the Island in 1987 that the Regiment really started earning their stripes in disaster relief although it had helped out before that but not to the extent that it was involved in when Emily passed over Bermuda causing such widespread damage.
And since that time the Regiment has been learning on the job so to speak when hurricanes hit or come close to Bermuda. And that expertise has also been used to help out the islands to the south of us.
“We now deploy overseas to our international neighbours,” said the Commanding Officer of the Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Brian Gonsalves.
“It does not take much to put a tarpaulin on a roof or clear a roadside. But with using a chainsaw it does take specialised training and we have people who do that we have had courses training for that. Of course years ago anyone would pick up a chainsaw and operate it but not these days. It does take more expertise.”
But much the work is before the soldiers hit the ground running.
“There is a lot of planning and organising expertise which takes a bit of thought,” said Lt Col Gonsalves.
“We have a model internally a tasking group and we have had it for five or six years. That has been the model that works and we always have it ready to go. I have had already had my EMO (Emergency Measures Organisation) stores inspection on March 31 this year (ahead of the season). That allows the Quartermaster to make any repairs or purchases that are needed before (the overseas camp) and well before June 1. Then we have training internally before June 1 we have little rehearsals to make sure everything is OK. Every year we go though this and bring out the book from last year bring up the points that we must remember to do and give a lot of reminders. For instance we make sure our bags are packed and make sure our own homes are sorted out. We are not immune to forgetting those things. We have to make sure our own personal affairs are sorted out before most other people.”
Recently Lt Col Gonsalves went with other members of the EMO to a three day seminar in Miami. Leading the Bermuda contingent was Deputy Governor David Arkley and the Bermuda representatives met up with their counterparts of the British Caribbean Overseas Territories where they discussed preparations for the forthcoming hurricane season. Along with Mr Arkley and Lt Col Gonsalves were Chief Inspector Junior Watts of the Bermuda Police Service who is Bermuda's National Disaster Planning Co-ordinator.
Represented at the seminar were members from the Ministry of Defence, Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the UK Department for International Development, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the US Coast Guard, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and the Pan American Health Organisation.
“It went very well,” said Lt. Col. Gonsalves who said he talked to other representatives about Bermuda's role in helping out with relief in the Cayman Islands, Grenada and “the Turks and Caicos which was the most recent one”.
He said that territories to the south of Bermuda can suffer more from hurricanes because of the “challenges of their building codes and geographical position”.
He added: “Bermuda have more chances for hurricanes to turn slightly away and miss us. All we need a slight miss and we are OK. However it only takes one (on target) hurricane to make the hurricane season a bad one. They (down south) are more in the line with hurricanes than we are. And remember that the Cayman Islands are basically at sea level even more than the Turks and Caicos.”
In 2004 Hurricane Ivan struck the Caymans and it was the 10th most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.
Ivan also caused catastrophic damage to Grenada.
In the Cayman Islands, the Governor Bruce Dinwiddy described damage as “very, very severe and widespread”. Ivan's winds and storm surge were so strong that a quarter or more of the buildings on the islands were reported to be uninhabitable, with 85 percent damaged to some extent. Much of Grand Cayman still remained without power, water or sewer services for several months later.
Three dozen volunteers from the Regiment went to help in the Cayman Islands and saw that many of the residents were still in a state of shock following the hurricane. Heaps of garbage were piled outside residences, untouched since the devastation, and the Regiment soldiers immediately set to work within a day of touching down.
Initially without any kind of army or military body, Caymanians were somewhat puzzled at the sight of the Bermuda soldiers in uniform in their neighbourhoods, reported Captain Chris Wheddon.
He told The Royal Gazette at the time: “To see guys in uniform on the street stopping their cars because we were closing roads we were clearing is a bit of a culture shock for them. But what's been happening in the last two or three days is now the residents are becoming clearer on what we are doing and what our capabilities are. And they are now trying to assist.”
It wasn't long before locals and soldiers were working together doing basic cleanup duty on the roads, covering roofs with tarpaulin and removing debris.
For Lt Col Brian Gonsalves it was when the Turks and Caicos was hit by Hurricane Ike that he remembers the best.
“I really was at the centre of gravity for TCI deployment I did the rec (reconnaissance). I flew back and coordinated the effort here,” he said.
“It was a proud day for me to see all our guys muster up in such a short time. We had six hours notice to move because it was hit and miss whether we would go or not. We all had our kits packed on trucks and ready to go. It gives me chills thinking about it it was so professional.”
The Regiment soldiers along with volunteers from the Parks Department spent a couple of weeks helping the people of Turks & Caicos Islands recover from Hurricane Ike, a Category 4 storm. The Regiment repaired roofs and put a temporary repair on the fence at the port to secure it. They worked at schools, government buildings, doing a lot of roof top repairs. They tarped the water tanks at the reverse osmosis plants as well.
There were in total 52 volunteers that flew from Bermuda to get the country's infrastructure back up and running.
Initially the Bermuda team was expected to be in the country's capital, Grand Turk, for four weeks, however hard work and perseverance ensured they completed their tasks in two weeks. Ike damaged nearly every building in Grand Turk after it made its first landfall with sustained winds over 130 miles per hour.
Lt Col Gonsalves said of the Regiment's work in Bermuda and overseas during a hurricane: “Everyone kicks in. Some people have perceptions of what the Bermuda Regiment is but that (perception) was from years ago. The Bermuda Regiment is far more a fine-tuned machine now. We have improved it. We are far more efficient and tuned up. We can do a lot of stuff.
“We are learning all the time. Lots of times we get it right, but sometimes we don't. We try to make a best guess with the information provided. For instance Hurricane Igor (last year) was expected to be Category 3 or 4 and thankfully it went down to 1.”
And he is proud of the Bermuda CableVision award given to the Regiment after Igor.
CableVision awarded the team of nine officers from the Regiment with its Community Service Award for ensuring the safe passage of a paralysed man on life support and his heavily pregnant sister to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (KEMH) as Hurricane Igor battered the Island.
The Regiment team consisted of: Captain Duncan Simons, Sergeant Major Gary White, Colour Sergeant Frederick Pereech, Sergeant Jason Smith, Corporal Shannon Jennings, Corporal Carol Everson, Lance Corporal Jason Swan, Acting Lance Corporal Eric DeSilva and Acting Lance Corporal Daniel Bascome.
Lt Col Gonsalves accepted the award and said: “We were proud of what our guys did.”
The Regiment team went to the rescue of Wolde Bartley during the evening of Sunday, September 19, as winds were building up to hurricane force and it was deemed no longer safe to send out any ambulances from the hospital. Mr Bartley, a former Regiment soldier, is heavily dependent on life support equipment in his home having suffered injuries in a car accident five years earlier. At the time of the rescue, power had been lost in Mr Bartley's home and his oxygen supply was reliant on one remaining gas generator to continue operating.
Accepting the award, Lt Col Brian Gonsalves, said: “I am deeply honoured and humbled to accept this award on behalf of the Bermuda Regiment. At the time of the request, there was no hesitation to dispatch a team to assist Wolde Bartley. The response team, under the Command of Captain Simons, acted swiftly yet cautiously to negotiate their way through debris and high winds to transport him to the hospital. The Regiment exists to help the people of Bermuda 24/7 regardless of the circumstances. We were only too happy to do what we could for Mr Bartley in a time of need.”
Lt Col Gonsalves said he is always battling some attitudes in Bermuda during and after hurricanes.
“There is a lot of complacency on the Island which we are constantly battling with. If everyone did what they were told when they were told it would be a lot less clean up and work for the emergency services. We want to make sure everyone is aware of what is happening and please stay off the road after the hurricane passes.
“We don't do what we do for recognition. We do it because we are Bermudians and we want to help everyone get back to normalcy as soon as possible. We are just doing a job and proud to do it.”
Lt Col Gonsalves became the commanding officer of the Bermuda Regiment in May, 2009, taking over from Lt Col William White.
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