opinionBy Philip N. Wesseh
Traditionally, the new Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) has made as part of activities marking its annual Armed Forces Day, the holding of a one-day symposium to discuss on specific topics on the future of the military. This year, the symposium was held last Thursday under the topic:"Training, Regimentation And Maintenance: Fundamental Necessities For The Armed Forces of Liberia Being Operational by 1014."
The Deputy Force Commander of UNMIL, Brig. Gen. John A. Kwasie, served as keynote speaker, while I along with former Chief of Staff of the AFL Gen. Henry Dubar and Col. Randolph White of the American Embassy served as discussants. Dr. Thomas Jaye of the Kofi Annan Institution in Ghana moderated the symposium.
In all fairness, the keynote speaker did justice to the topic to an extent that it provided an easy ride for the discussants. Some of the issues generally raised were discipline and support to the military. Besides the issue of the keynote speakers and discussants, the symposium also provided an opportunity for even the very soldiers for whom the symposium was being held to speak out on some burning issues. One of them raised the issue of promotion, yet to be made; another raised the issue of slog, where people from different areas or divisions are allowed to take advantage of training opportunity intended for specific areas.
But what was of concern to me specifically was an issue raised by a female soldier regarding disciplinary action against soldiers for any altercation with a civilian. The lady said that as a result of these disciplinary actions, some civilians do not really respect the soldiers. She said if this disciplinary action continues, it may affect the strength of the army.
Initially, during my discussion, as a member of the media, I reminded the soldiers to be careful and mindful in dealing with issues with civilians. I then cited the recent incident in Gbarnga, Bong County between a soldier and a motorcyclist, which caused serious embarrassment during the Vision 2030 Conference in that county. The situation led to motorcyclists going on the rampage for a matter not relative to the military, but only because a member of the military allegedly manhandled a motorcyclist.
I further told the gathering that because of one's status and position in society, one must be prudent in dealing with certain issues so that to avoid any embarrassment to their institution. In the case of soldiers, I told them that at times, they will be provoked, but should be able to control their emotion and temper because of their stratus and duty in society.
I invoked laughter at the forum when I gave as an example a recent incident between a motorcyclist and myself. The motorcyclist insulted me in the traffic and threatened to beat me. But I told the audience that this motorcyclist did not know that I used to go on the "beach." But I said that I accepted the insult and threat because this young man had nothing to lose because if I had joined him to show strength, I would have been blamed for getting involved in such act.
Still to the military, I said that the public looks up to them for certain behavior and attitude, reminding them that there is high respect out there for them, but equally so, they have to exhibit those attitudes and behavior for such respect to be maintained. I said whenever there is a problem between a soldier and a civilian; the soldier should seek proper redress, instead of trying to vent his or her anger on that civilian because in the end, the soldier will be blamed for not acting prudently as someone who should be reasonable and disciplined.
To this, I certainly agreed with a point made by the keynote speaker that soldiers are managers of violence and not perpetrators of violence. Additionally in his text he went on to say, " a well-trained, motivated soldier imbibed with good regimentation does not indulge in vandalism and violence but rather uses his professionally acquired knowledge to manage violence."
To conclude, let me remind members of the AFL that discipline should always be the hallmark as they go about their duties and also as they interact with civilians. Even if they are provoked by any civilian, they should exercise restrains because of their calling and duty.
Again, discipline should be the hallmark. I end with these words on discipline from the keynote speaker who said:"Discipline is the practice of enforcing acceptable patterns of behavior. Military discipline is the foundation for military professionalism and regimentation. Discipline is an important ingredient in all military endeavors. It is discipline which determines the level of professionalism of any Armed Forces. Without discipline, the Armed Forces will drive blindly into the arms of her enemies. A disciplined soldier does not involve in subversive acts against the state; a disciplined soldier obeys and lives by the rules; a disciplined soldier does not indulge in acts of vandalism; a discipline soldier is the one who would go the extra mile to save his/her country even at the peril of his or her own life. In real terms, discipline controls our attitude, temperament, behavior and response to any event..."
Finally, as the UNJMIL Deputy Force Commander, Brig Gen. Kwasie, who sounded like a journalist or a journalism classroom teacher, during one point during the discussion in response to the AFL female's concern, that, "if a civilian attacks a soldier, it is not news, but if a soldier attacks a civilian, it is news." Therefore, as the AFL ends this year's celebration, its members should guard against making negative headlines in the media. No amount of provocation should cause them to indulge in acts detrimental to their organization or that which will cause opprobrium to fall on their organization (The Army).Just to borrow from the keynote speaker that, "Discipline is the practice of enforcing acceptable patterns of behavior."