11 years ago, the Coast Guard was basically willed into being through US funding and training and Belizean political will. It's no small feat, creating an entire wing of the armed forces out of little more than seed funding and the idea that it has to happen. Since then the Coast Guard has moved from strength to strength, rapidly expanding its ranks, its infrastructure, and its fleet of vessels. Today, 11 years on, they reflected and looked ahead. Daniel Ortiz reports:...
Daniel Ortiz reporting
Out in the downpour, the officers of the Coast Guard's Honor Guard stood at attention, paying little mind to the fact that they were getting drenched.
After all, these are men and women whose battlefield is at sea, and so, water certainly is not their enemy.
Still, it did make for a striking contrast that all the other VIP's were observing their diligence under the shade of a tent, and away from the rain. They remained stationary for about an hour without complaint, and they got a nod of approval from their Coast Guard Boss:
Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard "Good morning to all and in deed it is a fine morning. It would not be complete without the weather being on our side. Let me congratulate the fine men and women of the coast guard who's been out here for almost an hour now. Let me reassure you that your efforts are well appreciated."
It's an important day of ceremony for these military men. The Belize Coast Guard is celebrating its 11th Anniversary, and for the leaders, it's a time of reflection on where they have come, and where they want to go as the frontline defenders Belize's maritime areas.
Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard "11 years of growth and development saw us transformed from a handful of brave soldiers and policemen to a small, but potent fighting force of 350 brave men and women today."
Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of Defence "The Ministry of Defence, the government of Belize, we are all very proud of the outstanding achievements that this young but absolutely committed group of officers and sailors have attained in such a short time."
Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard "We were a coastal operation and outfit. Now we've extended to the limits of our territorial seas and into the exclusive economic zone. A very potent and credible force that we believe that is on par with any other force, sister force being in locally or in the region and ready to conduct our missions and our mandates in providing the safety and security and protection of our sea spaces and the resources and personnel of this nation."
"Our plan is to grow the coast guard to a desired end strength of 700."
As part of the celebration, the Coast Guard inaugurated its newly created obstacle course on the compound of their Belize City Headquarters. The Commander says that it is important because each officer is expected to sharpen his or her physical skills, and to be combat ready at all times.
Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard "We inaugurated our brand new first ever obstacle course. An obstacle course is developed by military organizations to instill discipline, confidence - it's big on confidence, physical fitness being flexibility, speed, agility, endurance, upper body strength. These are all qualities that you need when you have to answer the call to go to battle some day in your career. Hopefully it never arises, but we must be prepared. So it is trying to simulate the environment which we will fight as near as we can. It makes a soldier/sailor more robust, more competent and more confident in his own personal abilities in the ability of his team and the abilities of his leadership. In the coast guard we will serve until we are 55 years old. We can't just sit around in our haunches and expect that exercising and training two days per week. Here we train 5 days per week - every single day and I encourage the men to train on their off time during weekends. Keeping yourself robustly fit, strong and ready to do your missions."
Nevertheless, these maritime protectors enjoy the continued confidence of their Minister, and the Government of Belize.
Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of Defence "Just 11 years old today, still a pre-teen organization. With limited resources, the Belize Coast Guard does an excellent job of patrolling and maintaining the integrity of Belize's marine resources and they continue to deliver and even surpasses expectations in the performance of their duties."
Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard "We remained undaunted. We were here and are here to serve this nation and we will live or die by our core values of courage, commitment and respect and we will always be Utrinque Paratus ready for anything."
We note that the vocalist for the song you're hearing is no other than the Coast Guard Commandant himself. That's right, the Coast Guard Boss, Admiral John Borland, recorded the vocals, and it was played for the entire Coast Guard's ranks at today's anniversary ceremony.
Coast Guard Wants More Bases, Boats, and Bodies In Uniform
So, while the Coast Guard is looking to grow to 700 officers, they also want to acquire more assets, including a number of forward operating bases. Today, the Minister of Defense, John Saldivar, announced that the Hunting Caye Forward Operating base will resume construction.
That's the forward operating base that was nearing completion when it ground to a screeching halt because the public learnt that it was a Guatemalan company that was constructing it. Well, after months of trying to get a new contractor to finish it, the construction resumes. Here's how the Defense Minister announced it, and how the Coast Guard Commandant discussed a number of other projects on the near horizon:
Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of Defence "I am also happy to be able to report that work has re-commenced on the construction of the Hunting Caye forward operating base."
Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard "On the immediate horizon is the construction of our sector headquarters down in Big Creek, which we refer to as Coast Guard Sector South. We are now in the process of doing the landfill and as soon as that landfill is done, hopefully before the end of the first quarter next year, we will be breaking ground on that project and that's a tremendous project that will open up new horizons for the coast guard - deploying 150 men to that location on a one year deployment with their share of assets and resources to manned and to maintain and to shore-up the southern sector. So that's big on the horizon."
"The other thing is the construction of our patrol base on Northern Ambergris Caye. We finally come to terms with the land lease arrangements. So that itself is a milestone for us. So, that was what was holding us back - getting the land acquisition sorted out. I expect by the end of 2017 that patrol base will be completed. To compliment that patrol that is out there 365 days a year on foot patrol. They need a patrol base from which to operate. Then the other one is a station in Punta Gorda. The people of the south as you heard on the news a year or two years now are clamoring, requesting a coast guard presence and that is beside our partnership that we have at the Sarstoon forward operating base with the BDF. The Coast Guard will have its own independent station to take care of that entire Port Honduras area, the area in front of PG between PG and Barranco."
Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of Defence "Plans are already in effect for the acquisition of two future large patrol boats in the form of two SEA AXE class 100 foot offshore patrol boat. These boats will be acquired at a cost in excess of 12 Million US dollars."
Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard "That is a part of what we called the CABEI project - The Belize Integral Security Project and the coast guard is included in the third phase of that project. We are trying to fast track it for coast guard to be brought up perhaps to the second phase. What it means though is that we are 18 out for our project to hit the ground. But that is, I don't want to say written in stones, but is already approved. It's there in the books and it's a matter of timing now. The vessels you were referring to are what we called the 3007 SEA AXE coastal patrol boats. Those vessels will give us the blue water capability that's been written in our strategy from the short term. But things take time and we are very grateful that finally its coming to fruition and these are going to be like the minister said, national security assets. The coast guard is going to manage them and operate them and take care of them. They belong to everyone in this country."
These Sea Axe Class Coastal Patrol Boats are 100 foot vessels which are being referred to as "National Security Cutters", meaning they will move about Belize's entire marine territorial waters. Their flexibility will allow the Coast Guard to take on marine enforcement missions, as well as humanitarian missions, such as search and rescue.