It was only a short three weeks ago that I saw the video of a former comrade by mine being circulated throughout social media. The rumors surrounding the incident suggested that he had won a drinking competition but had lost his life.
Christopher Delancy was his name.
While many took the opportunity to scoff, snarl and share their misguided opinions of him, I thought to inject some facts about who he indeed was.
There was a time not long ago that he was one of Her Majesty’s most royal, loyal marines.
I met him as a young seaman fifteen years ago, when I too had recently enlisted and attested to serve God and country and to fight and to toil and to give blood, gut, sweat and tears no matter the task.
He, along with many like him were counted among the rank and file as myself.
You see Mr. Editor, what the forty-five second clip did not show was just a little over a decade ago he held the fastest record in the mile-and-a-half among all his squad mates.
A good marine he was, who had completed advanced infantry training as well as undergone an excessive number of operations and successful evolutions in the protection of the sovereignty of this nation.
What may be out of the conceptual grasp of many, is the ability to understand that the same things that make marines great are usually the things that prove to be our greatness weaknesses and challenges. It is that training, the reconditioning of the mind, that I am greater than the average man, that my body knows no limit, that life is nothing more than a series of tests and adjustments and that unlike the masses I am able to adapt and overcome all situations. It is this thinking, that as a marine makes you a force, but as a man makes you fallible. It is, however, the coping mechanisms, I feel that are the most dangerous of all.
Marines are told to just get over it, to soldier on, to truck on through, and we do so without a second thought in many instances. From the gruesome situations, to the scenes that strum heavy on the chords of our emotions, to just putting aside basic, personal, self-actualization for the common good. It all has a cost, it all takes a toll and sadly, because we were trained to just deal with it, we were trained to just cope with it, some of us are beginning to just pay for it, with our lives.
Life as a marine isn’t just life.
You become a creature of orders and instructions, but recklessly you are taught never to take consideration for the human being that you are. Many that wear the uniform suffer gravely in relationships because we are taught never to attach and to always prepare to deploy and at a moment’s notice, be ready to lift and shift. They tell us that all situations are temporary and that everything in life is a competition. That kind of training cannot just be turned off. However, the way they teach us to cope, is what I am most fearful of and what I deem unhealthiest. I’ve lived long enough to understand that a marine is only as good a marine as the human he is and that every soldier is only as good as the soldier standing next to him.
I’ve learnt that although a killing machine you may be, or a well-oiled fit fighting tool you may be described, although you may believe that you are more than the average man, you are still tied to a heart, to a mind and to those emotions and this notion that a trip to the beagle or a few rounds with a shipmate, or an amazing shore leave at a port, is enough to wash away the daily trauma and the stress that comes along with wearing the uniform, is by far the greatest misconception.
The question that comes to my mind is are we doing enough?
Have both the Royal Bahamas Defence and Police Force put the same amount of vigor and energy into the re-humanization of the young men that they, through their uniformed standard of coping mechanisms have desensitized?
Our welfare sections in these organizations must be just that, a place of solace and comfort and not just a tick on the command’s operational checklist.
Welfare sections cannot only appear to look after the welfare of the men but the men must feel looked after. It must be a unit of people, with professional qualifications, who are equipped to deal with the effects of trauma on one’s being. There must be people that care to see progress in the personal lives of the soldier and people that take the “follow up process” after trauma seriously.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force in particular is an organization that is designed to purge itself, and so it takes with it the strong and cares in great depth for the weak but by my humble estimation, it simply spits out those persons that find themselves trapped in the vacuum at the middle.
I believe it is in an attempt to be in keeping with its mandate of guarding our heritage, while wanting to appear that it is an organization with a heart; and it is not.
Mr. Editor, I do not know how much longer Her Majesty’s navy will be able to keep its rudders amidships purporting this idea that the man and the marine are two separate units or how much longer will we stare dead ahead towards the concept that a good marine needs only a little lager and a minute bit of down town to reset the mental damage done, when he dips up the dead, retrieves the mangled, searches for the lost, or even sees the child drowned at sea.
If my calculations are correct, the organization has had the same chaplain (welfare officer) for 15 years, and while earnest in his duty, and while even committed to his tasks, seeing the forty-five second clip three weeks ago makes me wonder, are he and his team missing the mark? Are we serving those well that give their lives as service to country, that risk limb and health in the protection of their fellow citizen or are we comfortable with the thought that the cowards may never start and that the weak will simply die along the way.
It is my hope, therefore, that we begin to look and revamp the way we treat welfare in these uniform organizations. It is my prayer that the command recognizes one day that a good marine and a terrible human being may share the same body, if his mental and emotional health are not effectively looked after. It is even the more my prayer that the soldier admits within his own self when he’s had enough and cry out for help.
I am uncertain about what it would take and I won’t take this opportunity to pretend to be a subject matter expert, but what I do know is that it troubles my heart to see a marine tarred and feathered in the court of public opinion for falling victim to his once accepted coping mechanism.
To marines everywhere, I say, we do have limits, there are things our bodies cannot do, places we cannot go and some battles we will not win, but when we find ourselves there, we must understand that our coping mechanisms won’t work.
Leyvon A. Miller III, JP