Following 15 weeks of intensive military training, 106 recruits of Liberia's new armed forces are finally out, although they still have to undergo other trainings to completely get regimented. At a colorful program marking the graduation of the soldiers at the refurbished Barclay Training Center (BTC), they displayed conventional and contemporary military artistries much to the satiation of the audience.
In attendance were several present and former government officials, including Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, United States Ambassador Donald Booth, former Chairman of the erstwhile National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), Charles Gyude Bryant, former Defense Minister Daniel Chea, relatives, wives, friends and well-wishers.
Delivering his keynote address, Vice President Joseph Boakai admonished the men and women to be proactive, especially with the dramatic end of the cold war and the new wave of democratization that is sweeping across the world today.
He said throughout the world, the mission of the military is in constant, transforming to suit the demands of the nation. Vice President stressed the need for the new AFL to assume new responsibilities by engaging in the process of providing humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and international peace-keeping, combating drug trafficking, narcotic terrorism among others.
Ambassador Boakai wants for the relationship between the civilians and military to be redefined, adding that it is time for the civilians to tell the military what they want from them in the society.
We want a military that plays a supportive role in the consolidation of democracy and in the protection of human rights," he noted. He said in the 20th century, threats to constitutional governments, especially in the African countries, came from various leftist insurgencies but also from the armed forces.
"In many countries, elected governments were overthrown by military coups, and gross human rights violations were committed in the name of national security," he said, adding, "but in the 21st century, it is time or period for civilians and military authorities to collaborate to ensuring that the military has an investment in democracy."
He underscored democracy and free markets as vital and stressed the need for the new army to be proactive and not embark on the process of human rights abuse, noting however that it is their constitutional responsibility to be loyal to the state and its people.
He challenged them to establish human rights strategy to prevent both human rights abuses and deal with transgressions when they occur. Vice President Boakai stressed that such strategy could include the preparation of code of conduct and regular and periodic human rights training and education.
"We as civilian authorities should create the necessary legal framework to restrict rights abuses by members of the Armed Forces of Liberia and other authorities," the Vice President stated and called on members of the new army to consider the ongoing national reconciliation as an imperative for democratic consolidation.
He noted that the past needs to be forgotten and that they must strive to develop a new attitude as soldiers, with loyalty to the state and its people. According to him, the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF) is currently in its formative stage but is optimistic that the new AFL will surely constitute part of the emerging force and must be prepared to make a difference.
Vice President Boakai told the nation that new army must and will be in a position to help the Liberian society or stand to face the present realities and address the challenges ahead. "At the same time, the Liberian Vice President has said that government will shortly name a Liberian who will serve as deputy command officer-in-charge of the army, to work along with the Nigerian General who is presently steering the affairs of the army.
Also speaking at the program, US Ambassador to Liberia, Donald Booth said the new AFL underwent what he called "first class world training" and added that they are important in preserving peace and the rule of law in the Liberian society.
He reaffirmed his country's continued commitment to rebuilding a well trained and professional army that will respect the rights of its people and foreigners alike. He called on the soldiers to respect their responsibility as a soldier, whether in uniform or out of uniform, adding that what they do wrong will definitely destroy their careers.
"The eyes of the world are on you. The American government salutes you, we believe you and God blessed," the former American Army General told the graduates.
For his part, Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai expressed conviction that the new army will remain to the American military doctrine, indicating that "our military doctrine remains that of the US military training doctrine." According to him, his ministry will seek financial support from government to maintain the logistical equipment, quartering and welfare facilities that have been provided by the US government, for the new armed forces.
He added that there are more efforts to seek bilateral and multilateral assistance for additional training opportunities, in order to build a professional cadre of officers and non-commissioned officers. "We intend to benefit from professional military institutions in Nigeria, Ghana and elsewhere for the professional development of our military personnel," Minister Samukai further pointed out, and thanked those who worked very hard to make the exercise fruitful and rewarding.
He extended exceptional congratulations to Senator Blamo Nelson of Grand Kru County and Natty Davies who, he said, worked tirelessly with the previous and past administrations in making sure that the new AFL get on the current track of the new transformation.
Minister Samukai also lauded his predecessor, Mr. Daniel Chea, for working hard under critical condition in laying the foundation that is being built upon. At the same time, four out of the 106 recruits were certificated by authorities for what they called their "exceptional and exemplary performance" during the 15 weeks training exercise.
The offices are on a week vacation and are expected to returnfor another round of six months training before deployment at the Edward B. Kesselly Military Barracks on the Monrovia-Robertsfield Highway.