Army softens rules on pregnancy, failed drug tests

- as part of ‘humane’ approach

Female members of the Guy-ana Defence Force (GDF) will no longer be booted out of the force if they become pregnant before the expiration of the mandatory two years of service, Chief-of-Staff Commodore Gary Best said yesterday.

“The previous policy in the military was that a female could not become pregnant and bear the child within the first two years of service,” Best said during a media conference held at Camp Ayangana.

However, some did get pregnant and what they did “was to abort and in that context sometimes hurting themselves in the process.” He said while he did not have the numbers, he knew of women who had hurt themselves in the process of aborting the child as they attempted to remain in the force. “The new policy is that it doesn’t matter how soon after you join the military if you get pregnant then that is not a problem… [however] thereafter you have to observe the two-year rule…” he  said.

The two-year rule has been a part of the military for more 30 years, Best explained. Now, even if a woman gets pregnant two months after recruitment she does not have to abort the child to remain in the force.

Additionally, Best also announced that if either an officer or a rank tests positive for drugs for the first time, that person would not be dismissed from the force, as was previously the case. Best said while drug use in the army is not a “serious problem,” there were incidents where persons failed random drug tests, resulting in immediate dismissal. “We felt that indeed a person may just experiment, perhaps a weekend or a one day or a one off shot with a fellow school mate or past school mate and then that person [is] tested and his entire career is gone down the drain,” Best said.

He said that now if a person tests positive, s/he would be tested again in a mandatory 90-day period. If s/he still has drugs in his/her system, then the person would be dismissed. If not, the person would be counselled over a period of time and monitored but allowed to remain in the force. He said persons have tested positive exclusively for marijuana.
Best said the changes were made as the army attempt to “adopt a more humane approach to the social dilemma facing our ranks.”

Meantime, Best said the force has embarked on an academic education programme that will benefit ranks and take them to Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and technical institutions level.

He described it as a “back-to-school programme” that would commence in January and it would be done via distance learning. The programme will take the ranks through forms one to five and then to CSEC, which the military would pay for. Prior to this programme, some ranks will be involved in a foundation programme and as it continues persons would attend technical institutions and better prepare themselves for life after the force. “It is distance learning. The students would have all the material. There are a number of teachers we have employed to run the programme and the officers would also be supervisors…, so that wherever the soldier is located he can continue to study,” Best said.

The programme is open to every soldier in the force but come next year the GDF will introduce promotional examinations which would be similar to the examinations in the programme.

Meanwhile, Best said that the force continues to “aggressively” pursue the AK-47s that went missing almost four years ago. He also stressed that the force will not stop until all the weapons are recovered. Best also said that the force will continue to discipline any “and all of its ranks who breach our operational procedures.”

While Best could not say how many of the 32 weapons that went missing from its headquarters some years ago were still unaccounted for, according to Stabroek News’ count around 20 of the weapons were recovered. Most were found in the possession of criminals, while others were discovered hidden.

Best called upon members of the public to assist the GDF in its efforts as it defends the borders, maintains a stable, secure environment and in “identifying rogue elements and encouraging ranks who have deserted to return to us.”

In regard to a renewed initiative to go after deserters, Best once again stressed that while there are many reasons why the men and women would leave in such a manner, it boiled down to a lack of discipline. He said many of the persons would not have fulfilled the mandatory two-year enlistment requirement and opted instead to desert the organisation as it would have been difficult to get permission to leave. He said more persons are now requesting to leave the proper way.

He pointed out that the list published in the media recently included persons who would have deserted the force over a lengthy period of time and for some it would have been more than five years.

“Desertion is a crime on the face of the record. It is happening all the day. Every day you stay away is another act of desertion…, you cannot have people leaving the military organisation anytime they feel they can leave because you may have persons on an operation and a man may just decide to leave,” Best said.

He said if the force does nothing about deserters then it would break down the chain of command and break down discipline. He could not say how many of those on the published lists turned up at Camp Ayanganna but said some have and pointed out that others might be working and the publication may alert their employers to the fact that they are deserters. “We urge them to return so that they could be processed out of the Guyana Defence Force rather remaining on the list of deserters,” Best said while noting that they would have to be disciplined.

The news conference was one of the many activities organized to recognize the force’s 45th anniversary. Best also told the media that the GDF has completed its organizational analysis and it is currently undergoing a strategic defence review process. “This will inform our strategic defence plan and our multi-year development plan,” he said.

Best also said that by the end of next year the GDF’s floating base in the Pomeroon River may be completed and ready to be commissioned. He noted that because of the area is water logged they opted for a floating base.

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