Establishment of a National Veterans Commission2138 21 Nov, 2013
ESTABLISHMENT OF A NATIONAL VETERANS COMMISSION
Mrs. Hughes: Mr. Speaker and Members of this honourable House, I rise on behalf of the Alliance For Change (AFC) to lend our support to this motion which advocates the establishment of a National Veterans Commission.
The motion today is brought to this House by the Hon. David Granger, Brigadier (Ret’d), a man of the army himself. I would like to state that the AFC believes that this nation – Guyana – will always be thankful to our veterans who, as far back as the pre-Independence era, left these shores to protect this land as part of the then British empire. Over time, in a post-independent Guyana, our veterans have served in the provision of national defence and public security services with distinction and their role and commitment to this country has not waivered or diminished with time. They have all stood tall, ready to serve and protect the country and us all.
I want to place attention to the noble and fearless men, but on this special occasion also to highlight the fearless women who made it their life and career to serve in our defence forces. Immediately, the name Clarissa Riehl comes to mind. History has it that when she first attempted to take up a military career, she was turned down as we were then under the British rule and they were not enlisting non-Brits. It was only following Guyana’s independence and the formation of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) that she was able to join the newly formed Guyana Defence Force in 1966. She was one of our four women to become a ranked officer in the army, earning the rank of Second Lieutenant in 1967 with the responsibility to head her own platoon. I am quite certain that the discipline and experiences she gained as a member of the Guyana Defence Force enabled Mrs. Riehl to serve in this honourable House in the exemplary way that she did, rising to serve with dignity and with the highest degree of competence as Deputy Speaker.
Speaking about the women in the army, I want to turn attention to Ms. Beverly Somerset, also known as “Thriller”, who retired in 1996 as a Training Staff Sergeant. Highly respected throughout the army and always commanding the confidence of her superiors, Somerset was a good example to all female soldiers and had she been given the opportunity, Guyana would have had its first female paratrooper much earlier.
Despite not being given the opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a paratrooper, Somerset, nonetheless, as a woman of indomitable courage, became the first female to climb Mount Ayanganna – 6,700 feet. She was allowed this opportunity in February, 1992 when she was part of a team led by the then Captain Wilbert Lee, and she made that climb even as some of her male counterparts dropped out without reaching the summit.
I think it is important for us to lay on the table the contributions of both the men and women of our disciplined forces, especially for our younger people who quite often are not aware of these stories and facts.
The history of our Defence Force is replete with stories of bravery of our womenfolk, of women who have tried and have successfully competed and conquered in what is often regarded as a man’s world. Following their lives in the army, many have gone on to have successful careers still in the service of their country and I can easily mention individuals like Christine King, Patrice La Fleur and so many who, up to today, still continue to serve this country with distinction.
It would be dishonest of me to suggest and assume that after their invaluable service, life, as they say, is always lived happily ever after. We know that all over the world the sands of time can be harsh to some veterans after their heyday has passed and often they can find themselves unemployed and unable to compete in the non-military world they are forced to go and find work in. As we heard from Mr. Granger himself, quite often, at an earlier age than the regular age of retirement, many have found themselves out of regular jobs and effectively unable to pay their day-to-day bills and, in worst case scenarios, it is quite possible to end up homeless.
Given the invaluable role our veterans played and continue to play, we support this country’s commitment, through this motion, to establish a National Veterans Commission that would protect them, that would constantly look at their situation, and that would ensure that their contributions are always recognised.
I thank you. [Applause]
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