Incredulous! That is the only way that I can describe the absolute distasteful handing over ceremony at HMBS Coral Harbour on the 21st of May 2020. Honestly, I had intended to leave this alone and had initially soothed myself with the joy of watching Tellis Bethel fade into the sunset, but, it was Facebook (damn that Facebook) that reminded me of the time Tellis Bethel took over the force from another man dressed in civilian clothes.
What the past two Commanders Defence Force have done to the morale and now the historic catalogue of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, are almost imprison-able offenses in my mind. They have left the ship in a rut and this notion that they can hand over a military organization while in civilian dress is offensive to state it mildly.
Particularly in the case of Mr Bethel, whom as best I understand, is still employed with the Bahamas government at this time. How could a man who although nowhere on the short list for the leadership of the force’s future seventeen years ago, still become the deputy of the ship and eventually, the man at the helm. While nowhere on anyone’s short list, had anyone ever imagined that he could become commodore, commodore is what he became.
The question for me then, is why would a man still payed from the public purse, that had attained the rank of commodore, not find it fitting to adorn his naval uniform to officially handover not just the most elite organization in this country, but the best little navy in this region? Why would a man that has sat at the helm of a Defence Force that is the envy of the Caribbean, dilute its handing over ceremony by showing up dressed as Mr Tellis Bethel, rather than as Tellis Bethel, Commander Defence Force, former?
There is no doubt in my mind, that this was his final single attempt at casting a dark cloud over his imminent successor in a most injurious way and by doing so, he not only slighted the men and women of this organization, but also the history books that will be written tomorrow. Think about this, the last time in the history of this organization, that a Commander Defence Force former, and a newly appointed Commander Defence Force had an opportunity to be photographed together, fully regaled in ceremonial dress, with all of their medals and ribbons affixed, was more than a decade ago, when Commodore Clifford Scavella took over from Commodore Davy Rolle.
To my mind and as a former member of the organization, it was an embarrassment to watch as the now Commander Defence Force and his new command team, sat at the feet of Mr Bethel dressed in his turquoise necktie as he pat himself on the back for nearly eight minutes about how he had such a brilliant naval career and was the Commander that oversaw “the transition of a new era” of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
He went on about having served every Minister of National Security with the exception of Sir Arlington Butler and that he had served every Prime Minister and every Commander Defence Force in the history of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. Certainly, someone with as memorable a career as such, must have understood the importance and the historical value of a Commander handing over a military to a Commander. Yet, despite the orders, that stated that all members of this organization were to be dressed in ceremonial dress, with medals and ribbons, Tellis Bethel, the holder of a Meritorious Medal in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and the holder of a Distinguished Medal in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, while as the instrument holding Commander Defence Force, in a most ignominious fashion, thought it fitting to show up without his wife, without his sword or without his medals and that embarrassment was one that I was willing to bet he would be dragged off the ship at the hands of armed guards by the cuff of his pants for.
I suggest, for that, he will forever be known as Tellis Bethel, “a Meritorious Mess”.
Now, all things in context, many people will ask, why such a big deal? To that, the reply is simple; Commanders are expected to behave like Commanders and those who command men should lead those men by example. They are to be above the political frivolity and they more than others, must understand, that when given a lawful order, you simply march. How then, does a man whom after a break in service of a half a decade, yet holds two of the most senior medals in this organization, not deem it appropriate to parade that chest of medals before a platoon of dressed soldiers that would desire to march pass it, among whom, were men that even survived the HMBS Flamingo.
I make the case that men give their all for these medals, they pay for the weight of the metal in toil, sweat, tears and sometimes blood. They affix them to their chest so that mortal men know that they are more than mortal. Yet on the 21st of May, a Commander that these men served, convinced himself that it was neither mandatory or necessary for him to affix, for the last time, his medals and permit soldiers to salute them one final time. I am telling you, Tellis Bethel will go down as a distinguished disgrace. We all know that in this organization, you attest and upon attestation, you lose contemplation and the ability to decide. You receive instruction and you follow it with operation. That is what makes this organization such an august institution. The feelings of men do not alter it and it adjusts the lives of men. Its rules are promulgated and its doctrines, principles and practices are open to debate but never to discretion. We are the Queen’s men. Every single man of us and we are all that, until the final salute. Could you imagine that we dressed soldiers, armed them with rifles, marched them in platoons while officers bore their swords, in hopes that they would see the changing of a guard, only for Mr. Bethel to show up dressed as the chief of security of a private resort, somewhere on a tropical beach?
Dear Editor, think about this, amidst heightened COVID-19 pandemic times, His Excellency descended from Mount Fritzwilliam to Her Majesty’s ship. The Most Honorable Prime Minister came aboard the ship as well. Both of whom are men in the age range of persons considered high risk during these pandemic times. Yet, when they got to Her Majesty’s ship, its departing Commander (for whatever his reason may be) considered it unnecessary to be dressed appropriately to meet Her Majesty’s representatives. Surely, His Excellency could have summoned Commodore King to Mount Fritzwilliam and simply appoint him Commander Defence Force. There was no need then for a ceremony if Mr Bethel’s intent was to diminish the grandeur of a changing of the guard. It is my prayer that we never see it again in the history of mankind that we permit a civilian dressed man to hand over Her Majesty’s ship.
A hundred years from today, when the children of the children who are children today, ask about the man called Tellis Bethel, history will echo that he once led the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and Oh! What a Meritorious Mess he was.
Leyvon A. Miller III, JP.