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Record number of Regiment volunteers

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A record number of volunteers will be in boot camp this January after the Bermuda Regiment recruited 70 men and women in a major drive.

However, the number is below that required by the Regiment on an annual basis, according to the group Nine Colonels, which has represented leadership in the Bermuda Regiment since its inception in 1965.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Foster-Brown, who heads up Bermuda's military, said: “The Regiment is doing everything within its power to meet the Government's intent to end conscription.

“We have had some early success, and Recruit Camp 15 is likely to see a record number of volunteers — approximately 70, of which two thirds are female — but we are not complacent about the challenges.

“Many find their service very rewarding and half the Regiment are currently volunteers, although most of that number were originally conscripted.”

After releasing the results of a poll conducted before and after this year's hurricanes showing broad public support for the Regiment, Lt Col Allan Rance, said: “We are a small, tiny, isolated Island and we require 400 soldiers.

“We are looking at between 100 and 120 [new recruits] a year, if people stay on [in the Regiment]. So, [without conscription] we are asking that between 20 and 25 per cent of our births go into the service voluntarily. I would suggest this is not going to happen. Not here, not anywhere.”

He said that at the moment, all those conscripted were male, which means between 40 and 50 per cent of boys born each year must join the Regiment.

“We're roughly talking about having 50 per cent of all male births volunteering,” Lt Col Rance said. “It is unlikely you are going to have 50 per cent. What are you going to do if you don't get sufficient numbers of volunteers?”

Pointing to the support of both the One Bermuda Alliance and the Progressive Labour Party for ending conscription, he said: “We have undertaken to educate the public and the political leadership with respect to this.

“We are basing a national policy on an erroneous premise. Abolishing conscription is more complicated than it appears.”

Lt Col Rance noted that the Regiment had a policy of encouraging volunteerism with various incentives, such as signing on bonuses.

“Others will join because they want to join,” he said. “There will always be folks who want to do this.”

Lt Col Foster-Brown also spoke about the benefits of volunteering for the Regiment.

“The Regiment offers adventure, good pay, leadership and management experience, fun, new friendships, national pride, new challenges, life skills, service and personal development. The commitment is approx 3 months (one of which is abroad) over 3 years, for which the pay is nearly $15,000.”

Colonel Eugene Raynor, also a member of the Nine Colonels group, said: “The question is, will we be able to maintain the numbers required, if we don't have conscription?”

Lt Col Rance said: “Economic conditions, social attitudes play a big part. When our economy is buoyant there is going to be less interest in volunteering because the bonus payments are not as significant as during hard times.

“We think that if conscription is abolished, it will be extremely difficult or impossible for politicians to write it back into the legislation. The Government of the day will have a difficult task on its hands to reintroduce conscription.”

Col Raynor believes there is an additional issue.

“Because of the constraints that volunteers have, because of jobs, family, education, et cetera, we have a problem in having a sufficient quantity of numbers to fill all the ranks of the permanent staff now, and they come from the volunteers as well as the conscripts,” he said.

The two men said it raised the spectre of hiring soldiers from overseas to fill the ranks.

Lt Col Rance said: “You have heard it said that the Regiment must have a number of 400. That is based on the many different roles, tasks, that the Regiment night be given.”

The pair also tackled the question of human rights, which formed the basis of a campaign against conscription led by the group Bermudians Against the Draft (BAD).

“Conscription is not a violation of human rights,” said Lt Col Rance, adding that the point had been argued in court numerous times by the group with no success.

“The beauty of the Regiment is that there are people of many different backgrounds who pool together, which creates a dynamic organisation.”

Lt Col Rance and Col Raynor said their poll revealed the public's changing views on conscription.

They cited the need to sustain a manpower of 400 soldiers of all ranks with a broad range of skills, and stressed the impracticality of taking on the expense needed to raise a regiment made up entirely of volunteers in the current economic climate.

The Nine Colonels commissioned Global Research to carry out the polls after a Royal Gazette poll to gauge support for the abolition of conscription released its results, showing 51 per cent supported the move to eliminate conscription.

“We were disappointed that the poll did not go on to ask how many people supported keeping the Regiment in being — a question we felt was key to understanding public opinion on the subject,” noted a Nine Colonels statement.

The Regiment's September poll was followed by another in December, commissioned after Hurricanes Fay and Gonzalo.

In December, 76 per cent of those surveyed indicated they supported the need for the Regiment. That number was up four per cent since September. Both polls showed levels of support in all categories at 60 per cent or higher. The results also showed that support for conscription was up after the storms, rising from 50 per cent to 55 per cent. The number who said they were undecided fell from 12 per cent to 11 per cent.

The only category that came in below 50 per cent was the 18 to 34-year-old age group. However, this group's level of support increased after the hurricanes, from 38 per cent to 44 per cent.

Those polled aged 65 and older were the strongest supporters of conscription. Sixty-six per cent expressed support in September, rising to 81 per cent in December.

Lt Col Rance and Col Raynor pointed out that those who said they did not support the Regiment dropped from 23 per cent to 12 per cent.

The undecided vote rose from five per cent to eight per cent. Their statement said that taken together, those figures indicated a significant increase in support for the Regiment, and that they believed the increase is not because “ the publicity about the Regiment's post-hurricane work made them prettier and more popular”.

“It is, instead, because the hurricanes had a sobering effect. Suddenly, those who were polled had been given an opportunity to see clearly what the Regiment means to Bermuda,” they said.

The Colonels said the polling results had been sent to Governor George Fergusson, Premier Michael Dunkley and the leader of the Opposition, Marc Bean. For information about volunteering with the Regiment, visit www.bermudaregiment.bm/content/BdaRegRecruit.pdf

Support for the Regiment rose after October's hurricanes, when soldiers were involved in extensive clear-up and repair efforts (File photo by Nicola Muirhead)
Lt Col Allan Rance said the Regiment encouraged volunteers through incentives (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)

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Published December 18, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 24, 2014 at 1:11 pm)

Record number of Regiment volunteers

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