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Mr Marshall’s views are dated and out of touch

It's probably a good thing that the first time I've gone into combat as a soldier of the Regiment it's against someone who's probably never worn a uniform.

And — with any luck — Mr Larry Marshall Snr, of Bermudians Against the Draft (BAD), is a pacifist as well, so he won't hit back.

I must stress, however, this is an entirely personal campaign and I'm writing as a hack who just happens to be a soldier as well.

But Mr Marshall, who is, judging from his letter in The Royal Gazette recently, perhaps a little highly-strung, can relax. My first major offensive on behalf of the Regiment will involve nothing more than firing a few facts at him.

Mr Marshall took aim at The Royal Gazette columnist Al Seymour, who defended the Regiment as an institution the Island could be proud of.

He even quoted the Nazi arch-propagandist Joseph Goebbels in support of his counter-argument that Mr Seymour has clearly been “brainwashed” into believing the Island's only armed service is a positive influence on Bermuda's young people.

But only weeks before, Mr Marshall told a TV station that, while he is against conscription, he disagreed with suggestions that the Regiment should be abolished and that “it does have a role.”

I reckon someone must have put Mr Marshall's brain through a service wash at Quickie Lickie in the interim. Perhaps he wasn't using it at the time.

You see, for all Mr Marshall's bluster about the horror stories he's heard about the Regiment over eight years, I've actually been there. In January for recruit camp and at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in April and a fair few weekends and nights besides.

I'm not sure how many members BAD has — although I suspect not many and with the majority of those involved called Marshall.

I do know, however, the Regiment has more than 400 members, drawn from all walks of life, and I've seen quite a lot of them over the past year.

So I think I can claim just a little bit more in the way of insider knowledge — and current at that — than Mr Marshall.

And, I've got to tell you, it's not all that bad. Despite Mr Marshall's lurid list of corrupting influences young men fall prey to, apparently almost exclusively at Warwick Camp, I recall writing elsewhere that the only contraband I saw in two weeks basic training was an illicit pack of chocolate chip cookies.

And I would think even Mr Marshall — who appears to blame the Regiment for promoting every vice known to man — might, especially with his considerable experience of courtrooms, be inclined to acquit chocolate chip cookies of being a corrupting influence on the young. In moderation, of course.

Mr Marshall wrote: “Many young men entered the gates at Warwick Camp having never drank alcohol, smoked or used excessive profanity yet at the end of boot camp are doing all of the above.”

Now me, I'm a sensitive guy. I've still never been able to watch the Disney cartoon classic Bambi all the way through after running out of the cinema in tears when his mom died. And I was 28 at the time.

Okay, I made the last bit up. I was aged around five, but you get the picture. And the picture is rather different from the one painted by Mr Marshall.

I doubt the Vatican has me pencilled in as a candidate for sainthood — but I like to think I'm a decent sort of chap and I've seen nothing at the Regiment likely to offend the moral principles of anyone not a member of one of the stricter monastic orders.

I am knocking on a bit, to be honest, and the young are fast becoming a mystery to me. But has Mr Marshall not listened to the radio or watched TV recently? Perhaps seen one of the more graphic video games? Or watched a football match in a pub?

The reality is, the Regiment, like every other armed service in the world, gets its people from the society it operates in — and if that society has problems, then the armed forces get them too. And, more often than not, the services do their best to deal with those problems to the benefit of all involved.

Apart from anything else, it's a bit difficult to drink during Recruit Camp on the grounds that alcohol — and indeed any other form of drug — is strictly forbidden. And they check.

As for “excessive profanity”, I suggest Mr Marshall visit a busy newsroom, or perhaps a police squad room, a rugby club locker room or even a hospital staff lounge. Then again, maybe he shouldn't. I wouldn't want him getting upset.

I admit I've been shouted at, sworn at and thoroughly abused — but that's UK tabloid journalism for you. Wouldn't get away with that sort of thing at the Regiment, I can promise you. It has rules.

And the recruits don't get to listen to music or play video games either — a welcome break from some of the nastier stuff out there, I feel.

Mr Marshall added that former Regiment personnel have been convicted of crimes, therefore the Regiment must be bad.

Applying BAD logic, because some policemen turn corrupt and teachers and clergymen have been convicted of sexual offences against children, we might as well abolish the cops and shut all the schools and churches.

And I would much rather have avoided the rigours of a Jesuit education as a child — but I had to go to school, whether I liked it or not.

I also come from a culture where you pay income tax, up to 40 percent for most people. Nobody much likes that either, but it's what pays for the hospitals, roads and much else besides so we stump up for the greater good. Just like Bermuda's soldiers do with their time.

And, although most still join as conscripts, more than half of the Regiment are former conscripts who volunteered to stay on — which suggests they're doing something right up Warwick way.

But — just in case anyone is any doubt — I have enormous respect for those brave enough to declare they are conscientious objectors to military service.

While I served in the UK Royal Naval Reserve during the Cold War — when the threat of nuclear conflict was still very real — I had several friends who declared they could never join the armed services, for a variety of reasons.

And that's fine. The raison d'être of service personnel is to protect people — including those who, for whatever reason, can't or won't do it themselves.

And there is in Bermuda a forum where those with genuine objections to military service can argue their cases, which are judged fairly from what I have seen, having covered such cases in the past.

And there are alternatives — people who don't want to carry a rifle can find a host of non-combat roles in the Regiment, including the medics.

Joining the Reserve Police or St John Ambulance gets you out of Regiment service, too.

Although I suspect those on their moral high horses about conscription have yet to form an orderly queue outside either of those worthwhile organisations.

Only yesterday, a letter in The Royal Gazette said that the Regiment cost between $10-$12 million to run — the reality is, it's less than $7 million.

For that, the Island gets a highly-trained force able, ready and willing to respond to everything from natural disasters to large-scale civil disturbance and one that proudly trumpets the name of Bermuda overseas, at major events like tattoos and in humanitarian relief.

The writer did concede the Regiment does indeed have a valuable role to play — but took another swipe at conscription.

Oddly enough, the Regiment works very hard to attract volunteers and conscription is designed to make up the shortfall.

And it's hardly onerous — 28 days a year in total — and we do get paid. Around $140 a day for a private soldier, one of whom told me the cash is going to help fund his return to college in the US.

Today will see the second of two recruitment nights up at Warwick Camp — my advice would be, take a look around. At most, people might decide to sign up.

At least, they might be able to dispel some of the dafter notions swirling around service in the Regiment.

In training: Bermuda Regiment soldiers learning how to patrol

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Published October 02, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 02, 2013 at 6:40 pm)

Mr Marshall’s views are dated and out of touch

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