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Building Better Youths For Jamaica

by Bevol Henson
(Portmore, St. Catherine)

Jamaica Independence Article/ Story Contest - Entry #11 - Building Better Youths For Jamaica

The rich annals of Jamaica’s history show many local and foreign organizations that have touched the Jamaican landscape.

Sadly, some have come and gone… lost in time and forgotten. Thankfully, and to the benefit of Jamaica, there are many, many other organizations that have come, stayed, matured and are truly rooted as they continue to fulfill the mission for which they were created.

I grew up in the 1950s sub-urban Jamaica and, while attending primary school, I was drawn to the allure of one of those vintage organizations. Such was my fascination that on my ascension to the attendance of high school, I immediately joined the organization.

As a ‘grubite’ at St. Jago High School, I became a member of the school’s Cadet Unit in September of 1972 and spent all my high school years within its ranks.

Such is its vintage that the Jamaica Combined Cadet Force (JCCF) actually pre-dates independent Jamaica. It was established in November of 1943 with a mandate to use the vehicle of military training to appeal to the imagination of youngsters channeling their energies into becoming model citizens equipped with discipline, leadership and life skills.

In my reflection on ‘those’ days, one very memorable part of my cadet life was the Annual Administrative Inspection which each Unit had to undergo.

These annual events were very competitive as each school vied valiantly to maintain its spurs and to earn bragging rights based on the order in which the Unit placed each year. The inter-unit rivalry was intense but friendly and, as I recall, St. Jago High School was always very competitive and was a beacon of excellence in the Middlesex County.

Each iteration of the Administrative Inspection was judged by a senior officer assigned from the Infantry, the Coast Guard, the Air Wing, the Support Battalion or from whichever arm of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) they were rostered.

On reflection, these officers were always a source of mystery, admiration and inspiration to us as schoolboys – especially if we shared the same alma mater.

As I recall, they came to us in infinite variety and no two were ever the same. Some were tall, others short and there were shades of variety in between.

They came bemedaled, stern and authoritarian. Cadet-wise, they were experienced or inexperienced; sympathetic or unsympathetic.

The one thing they had in common was that, on that fateful afternoon when they descended on a Unit of the JCCF for the Annual Inspection, they were the Inspecting Officer.

On their arrival at a school, they found variety as infinite as their own. They found excellent Units, good Units, up-and-coming Units and Units in the doldrums.

They found things done and things left undone. They were pleased or displeased and they reacted according to their various dispositions. So be it.

Sure enough, there were some things which they found in every Unit of the JCCF. They found fatigue uniforms which fitted well or badly and the persistent creases that were sometimes present were either the result of too much wear or the use of a red-hot iron.

They found boots plus gaiters and shoes minus gaiters. (Not all of us cadets were privileged to have received our ‘army issues’ all at the same time.)

Invariably, the Inspecting Officers did see some cadets in berets with beret badges and some without.

Our consumption of beret badges was high, very high, and the young man in the centre rank really did lose his on his way to the Parade. He was having a friendly romp with his ‘squaddie’ who lives next door and that’s how it happened.

But, the Inspecting Officer could be assured that the Unit’s Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS) still wielded his youthful authority and the young man in the centre rank would pay-up for a new badge.

Payment may not have forthcoming in the very week of the loss, but the 5th Form CQMS would not let him get away with it for too long – even if it meant garnishing the young man’s meagre lunch money a little piece at a time.

Oh yes, the CQMS who runs the Unit Stores is a boy in the 11th Grade. Yes, a B-O-Y! It’s a short word but one worth remembering by each Inspecting Officer.

The rather apprehensive looking Unit Officer who he meets on arrival is not running a young army. He is running a youth organization and the little figures on Parade, each one trying hard to conform to the physical definition of ‘Attention,’ are boys boys!

But why are they there? It’s an excellent question and one which each Inspecting Officer would have, hopefully, asked himself.

After all, it is a sunny afternoon and the boys on the Annual Inspection Parade don’t really have to be there. They could be out somewhere else and there is no end to the things they could be doing...things good or bad.

They could be out playing cricket, basketball, seated behind a gadget playing computer games, breaking into a shop, smoking something on a street corner, getting a girl into trouble…etc, etc.

And yet, for some strange reason, they are standing there in straight ranks straining the buttons on their uniforms waiting to be assessed by the Inspecting Officer.

But the reason they are there is not the Inspecting Officer. Oddly enough, neither are they there because of the Unit Officer. He is a volunteer and he really doesn’t have to be there either. He has DIY chores at home, a backyard garden to tend, a wife to placate and probably children of his own to take care of.

The JCCF offers him nothing tangible except the right to wear uniform and a little allowance to offset the cost of the fuel required to travel around in the performance of his Unit duties.

Arguably, he could turn his back on the Inspecting Officer and walk right off the Parade Square, out of the Unit and out of the JCCF. He could do so at any time and return his uniform just as soon as he had taken it off.

Quite frankly, the whole Unit could fall apart right under the eyes of the Inspecting Officer and so long as the various items of stores and equipment were safely returned to the authorities at JCCF Headquarters there is nothing that anyone could do or could be held accountable for.

But this is not going to happen and there is a very good reason why.

The reason all the cadet stores, equipment and uniforms do not lie idle is standing in straight ranks right there beside the Inspecting Officer. Every one of those boys is anxious to show that he knows about the business of being a citizen. Not just any citizen but the sort that Inspecting Officers admire – or ought to admire. The boys have an interest in the JDF and all that it stands for and have joined the JCCF to try their ‘apprentice hand’ at doing some of the things that real soldiers do.

Many of them aspire to join the ranks of the JDF to serve Jamaica as true professional soldiers. The 13th Grade Company Sergeant Major (CSM) who is commanding the boys on the Parade is about to finish his final exams later that year. He knows that one of them in the ranks will succeed him and he has already submitted his application to Headquarters JDF…probably. I know I did.

So, gentlemen, Inspecting Officers, at the end of the day’s activities it is expected that you will do your duty and prepare your Report - praising or condemning as you see fit. The members of the JCCF would not have it otherwise as they too have their pride and their standards. However, as you move throughout the Unit making your notes as you go along; and when you frown as you peer down the barrel of their most obstinate drill-purpose rifle; when your eagle-eyes observe the wind-blown bag-juice plastic by the doorstep; the traces of dried ‘brasso’ on the odd web-belt; the blushing, self-conscious salute of the smallest and youngest recruit.

When you note all these and other shortcomings, please do not forget why the youths are standing there on Parade. They have a Cadet Motto which is quite short and easy to remember. I hope that its words will be fresh in your mind when the Unit CSM staunchly declares his charges - “All present and ready for your inspection, Sir!”

From its genesis in 1943, seventy-nine years later the JCCF continues to be one of the most vibrant youth organizations in Jamaica with current membership in excess of 4,000 persons serving in some 120 Units across the island.

As an active member from 1972 - 1977, my reflections are primarily on those years when the JCCF was a male-only organization devoted to ‘Building Better Boys for Jamaica.’

With female cadets admitted to its ranks in 1980, today the JCCF is a co-ed organization but it continues to ignite a nation for greatness as it continues “Building Better Youths for Jamaica!”

Bevol Henson

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Jul 25, 2022
Excellent Essay
by: Anonymous

Hevol, this essay made me feel like I would join the JCCF right now ... such vivid images it conjured up in my mind's eye ... your writing style is excellent indeed!

Jul 25, 2022
JCCF Ignite the Nation
by: Rush

Well written essay, which demonstrated all the important points of how the JCCF has contributed to national development and how the service had impacted our youth.

Jul 24, 2022
"The business of being a citizen..." - yes
by: eMBee

"The business of being a citizen" - That was my favourite part of this story. A recollection of a time past that transitions into now. Reliving this experience the author so intimately painted, helps one to understand why the JDF are who they are and represent what they represent - Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. The pride that the JCCF embodied is Definitely evident in the JDF and the admiration they receive to this day. I hope the JCCF continues to grow and shape our youth and nation.

Jul 24, 2022
Reflections of the JCCF
by: Anonymous

Very insightful article Hevol. You had me reminiscing there. Your recollection is amazingly accurate. I too believe the the JCCF can add value to our youth and Nation.
Good show!

Jul 24, 2022
Well done JCCF
by: MCK-L

Bevol Henson's excellent essay truly provides a very good overview of the impact of the JCCF on the lives of young people. As an ex-cadet (1968 - 72) l also had similar memorable experiences.
Importantly, the JCCF's mandate that he alluded to : "discipline, leadership and life skills" were all important ingredients for 'Building Better Youths for Jamaica' during that era.
It is good to see that the JCCF continues to play such a vital role in the development of our youth.

Jul 23, 2022
by: Jayda B

Great story! Hevol, you should be a writer! 😉
This was a well-detailed recollection of your days in the JCCF. It also shows the importance of having an organization like this committed to assisting in the overall development our youth.

Jul 22, 2022
by: Lt Col Marlon Case

This is an excellent recollection and I do too share similar experiences and sentiments about my time as a Cadet at Wolmer's Boys School. I joined just at the introduction of girls and had a couple of months as Wolmer's Boys School Cadet Unit. I have so many fond memories during my time from September 1980 to August 1988.. winning the Ruel Vaz Trophy in 1986 and 1987.. winning the Daly .303 Shoot in 1987... seeing at least 10 members of the unit being successful in the Air Proficiency exams and a least 3 gaining their PPL... MANY senior officers of the JDF served in WCU to include the last Chief, Lt Gen Rocky Meade, my first Sgt Major.. many of my best friends are former cadets from that era. My greatest wish is that the government really sees the value of the JCCF and give it adequate resources to make the impact on this country that it really can make!

Jul 22, 2022
In service to the nations youth
by: Anonymous

Well written.
You have captured and displayed in this article,the essence of serving in the JCCF and and the invaluable role the force plays in moulding the lives of our youth into solid citizens of our great nation.


Jul 22, 2022
An exceptional Institution
by: Omar

Thanks for you thoughtful and entertaining description of the cadet core. Although I never had the chance to join the institution, I always looked on with administration. Having read your remembrance, now I know my administration was well warranted. Thank you for your service, and may the venerable institution continue to shape and mold men of character dedicated to the security and well being of Jamaica for another 60 years and more!

Jul 22, 2022
Those were the days
by: Anonymous

Well written. Reminds me of my days in the cadets at XLCR high school.....the drum ccorps...the drills, camps.

Above all the discipline which was bolstered by the punishment of running a lap around the playing field with the 303rifle held high above your head. The camaraderie was great and to this day over 60 yrs later, many of us hsve remained good friends and kept in contact.
To be a cadet, especially with a rank such as sergeant or so would ensure you were appointed to serve on in some capacity at school...prefect, form captain etc.

Such were the days and this article brings back vivid memories of my yime in the JCCF during the late 50s to early 60s

Jul 22, 2022
Well played
by: Anonymous

That was a great read, Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Hevol you should be writing books. One thin I noticed you went from 1943 to talking about video games, very subtle yet powerful transition there to modern day. Well played.

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