By State House Communication Unit
His Excellency, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone and Commander-in-Chief (CIC) of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) on Sunday 18th February urged the venerable men and women in uniform to be always professional and remain professional. He made this call during the 9th Armed Forces Day Celebrations held at Hockey Pitch, Wilberforce Barracks in Freetown.
The president described the military as a professional institution democratically accountable to the citizenry as well as aligned to wider national interests, adding that the RSLAF has gone through tremendous transformation since 2002, particularly in training, operations, and discipline; such that the steps and procedures for recruitment, promotion, transfer, and retirement are all clearly laid out. “In today’s RSLAF, promotions are not unilateral; there are no double or treble promotions and no one becomes a brigadier overnight,” the Commander-in-Chief maintained.
President Koroma pointed out that it was not surprising, therefore, that the RSLAF has become competitive in regional and continental Peace Support Operations, saying that the RSLAF has contributed to global efforts of bringing peace to other parts of the continent and beyond. For instance, RSLAF personnel continue to serve in different UN Missions in Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Mali, and Lebanon. At home, he said, the RSLAF continues to provide prompt support to the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) in the form of Military Aid to Civil Power (MACP). “During the Ebola scourge, RSLAF supported the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in the form of Military Aid to Other Government Departments (MAGDs). It also provided Military Aid to Civil Communities (MAC-C) during the 14 August 2017 mudslide and flooding in Freetown. For all these efforts; I salute you,” President Koroma stated.
The head of state expressed satisfaction with the Forces Reconnaissance Unit (FRU)’s robust posture at key installations around the Tower Hill general area and State Avenue in particular, and added that as part of the presidential guard force, the FRU have performed extremely well over the period. The CIC also noted the continued readiness of the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) at Cockerill Barracks to respond to an emergency situation within the Western Urban Area as well as the formation of a Counter Terrorism Unit to enable the force to effectively respond to any terrorist attack in the country. He commended the selfless commitment to duty, willingness and determination of RSLAF to contribute to peace and stability of the country.
President Koroma went on to remind the distinguished men and women of RSLAF that his government has provided the enabling environment for the RSLAF to perform its constitutional role. He told them that despite the uninformed criticisms of some of those who want to be their Commander-in-Chief, his government has provided the funds for the acquisition of logistics and equipment for the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF) Company as well as a Peace Support Operation (PSO) Battalion. “I have been informed that 99% of ESF equipment are in the country and that the production of about 50% of LEOBATT2 equipment by an international company has rekindled the RSLAF PSO aspiration.”
He also noted that the current acquisitions will enhance RSLAF’s capability to deploy a Battalion and Company for UN and ECOWAS Peace Support Operations respectively, assuring that this time around, RSLAF will deploy on Wet Lease with Contingent Owned Equipment (COE) once the necessary planning and deployment with the UN is finalized. President Koroma further said that government has also acquired, quite recently, a reasonable quantum of essential equipment such as defense stores, beddings, cooking utensils etc as part of RSLAF G1098 Stores.
On accommodation, the CIC informed that the ongoing barracks expansion projects at Wilberforce, Gondama and Kambia, in sharp contrast to the ignominious operation pebble, are partially complete. He disclosed that on completion, each of the barracks is estimated to house approximately three to five hundred personnel; which would be a huge boost to accommodation for serving personnel. He also mentioned the Military Guest House (The Boom Defence) and the Hill Cot Flat which is also being rehabilitated to cushion the accommodation challenges facing the RSLAF.
In the area of uniforms and boots, President Koroma said that “your individual appearance now compared to the days of old is a manifestation of our commitment to the welfare of the RSLAF”. The high point of the address by the CIC was the mention of the terms and conditions of service of the RSLAF, which according to the president, is being given the requisite consideration it deserves even as he leaves office. There was deafening applause and jubilation among the mammoth crowd (comprising family and friends of serving personnel) gathered at the ceremony.
The president also noted that since training is the hallmark of professionalism, lots of training opportunities are now open to all serving personnel and across all ranks. He also informed that equal opportunities have been created for women to be enlisted both as officers and other ranks and be able to compete with their male counterparts, thereby addressing issues of gender equality in the military. He revealed that there are 615 Cadets and Recruits currently undergoing training at the Armed Forces Training Centre (AFTC) at Benguema; comprising 85 Cadets, 196 Specialists, and 341 Recruits. Among these numbers, President Koroma said, there are 20 female Cadets, 33 female Specialists, and 80 female Recruits.
In a somber mood, President Koroma told the men and women of the RSLAF that this year’s Armed Forces’ Day Celebrations was very special to him because it coincides with the end of his tenure in a couple of weeks ahead. He told them that it was, therefore, a fitting moment to bid them farewell and to thank them most profoundly for the support they have provided to his Government. “Let me also, at this stage, entreat you to always remain loyal, committed and dedicated to the service of our motherland and the people of this country.”
Giving a brief background on the rationale behind the Armed Forces Day, Brigadier General Usman Turay, ACDS PR/Info and Defence Spokesman said the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) fought bravely as part of the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) during the First and Second World Wars (1914-1918) and (1939-1945) respectively. In India, Burma and the Cameroons as well as in the ECOMOG, Liberia and the 11 years rebel war where the army also fought gallantly. He also mentioned the RSLAF’s involvement in peace support operations in DR Congo, Sudan and recently in Somalia.
He noted that the celebrations are in recognition of the victories achieved in all these operations as a departure from the traditional Myohaung Day Celebration observed on 24th January every year which recognized victory in only a single battle during the Burma Campaign.
Brigadier General Turay assured the Government and people of Sierra Leone of their preparedness and commitment to sustaining the peace and contribute their own quota to the development of the country.
The ceremony climaxed with an award ceremony for deserving members of the RSLAF who have excelled themselves in various categories. The recipients include SL27566 Pessima Lomboi born in 1921. Joined the army at the age of 21. He is now 94 years old.