The Royal Gibraltar Regiment in Gambia

November 30, 2008 at 2:14 pm

This post is combined from a variety of articles, posts and news articles so not my original work, but, all together, they deserve a much wider audience than just in Gibraltar.

In sweltering tropical conditions members of the Gambian Armed Forces are being trained for a peacekeeping deployment to Darfur by soldiers from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.

Twice a year for each of the last three years, the Gib Reg (as they are known locally) has helped the Gambian troops to prepare for their six-month tours of duty as part of the UN-African Union mission. (UNAMID).

With just 13 Gibraltarian soldiers in his team, the Gib Reg’s Officer in Command, Acting-Captain Dayan Pozo is responsible for 4 weeks of training for over 450 Gambian troops. In Yundum Barracks near Banjul International Airport, over 200 infantry soldiers, plus 150 paramilitary policemen, are learning a wide range of peacekeeping skills such as clearing minefields, operating Vehicle checkpoints, handling displaced persons etc.

In the same barracks, Cpl Norman Pozo is training twelve vehicle mechanics in the technical and practical skills of vehicle maintenance. ‘These guys have lots of ability and enthusiasm but they lack technical knowledge,’ said Norman. ‘I particularly enjoy the work because I really feel that I’m accomplishing something with them.’

Several miles away in Fajara Barracks, WO2 Danny Rowbottom and Colour Sergeant Trevor Nunn are training Gambian officers and Senior NCOs in all aspects of running an effective Operations Room. They cover such topics as signal communications, map-reading, and report-writing.

The two Gib Reg instructors have been teaching up to fifty Gambian soldiers in all the clerical skills needed to work in a major military headquarters -which is what they will be doing in Darfur.

Out in the Gambian countryside, Corporal Ronnie Wallace and his team of twenty GAF tradesmen are working on the team’s Community Project. They have renovated a run-down classroom at a local school: it now has a complete new roof, a new floor, re-plastered walls and it has been completely repainted.

‘This project began when a little child approached Major Bonfante in a filling station and asked him if we could give some help to their school, ‘said Ronnie. ‘We felt that it was appropriate that we put something back into this area as this is the area where we do the training.’

Another part of the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT) is the police course being run by Inspector Paul Richardson and Sergeant John Goodman of the Royal Gibraltar Police. This course is being run in conjunction with the Gambian Commissioner of Police, Mamo Job and with local Chief Superintendent Fajaro who has just returned from a two-year deployment to Darfur. Over 160 policemen and women are being trained not only for a Darfur deployment but also for possible detachments to Liberia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In running these various elements of the training package, Dayan Pozo must always consider the tropical heat and humidity of Banjul. Every day, the temperature rises to the mid-30s with very little shade for most of the students or the instructors. Those who are working inside the classrooms have no air-conditioning and few fans. The barracks have no IT facilities and, indeed, the frequent power cuts often reduce all the classrooms to complete darkness.

Finally, the distance between the various courses means that Company Sergeant Major Kenny Alvarez spends much of every day driving along the Gambian roads in order to provide the various teams with bottled water and with almost everything else they need.

But, despite the problems and difficulties, there can be little doubt that the Gib Reg’s Military Advice and Training Team is much appreciated by Britain’s Acting High Commissioner, Susannah Montgomery.

‘The Royal Gibraltar Regiment’s work is of enormous value to the Gambian people both to the Armed Forces and to the people who benefit from the community projects,’ said Susannah. ‘But it also does a lot for Britain’s image here. We are particularly pleased that the Regiment’s work is continuing as it shows that Britain, and Gibraltar, are still interested in the people of the Gambia.

Having completed a year in Darfur with the Gambian Army, Sandhurst-educated Captain Lamin Sanneh has no doubts about the value to the Gambian Armed Forces of the RG’s courses. ‘Since this training began in 2006, Gambian troops have been withdrawn from regional sectors of Darfur and, instead, they’ve been given key posts in the Mission’s headquarters,’ said Lamin. ‘The Mission’s senior officers have real trust and confidence in their Gambian troops. During my time in Darfur, we had a visit from the UN Secretary-General and it was Gambian troops who filled all the security positions for his visit.’

‘The level of the RGR’s professionalism and commitment is clear to my guys so they are always keen to make full use of this training,’ added Lamin. ‘Since we started these courses in 2006 we have had only one casualty in Darfur and he was the victim of a road traffic accident so this military training must be good. The Royal Gibraltar Regiment, indeed the whole British Army, is constantly revising its tactics and its doctrine so our guys are getting the very latest information, which is what our Forces want. These RG courses are a great asset to the Gambian Armed Forces – in fact, we would like more of them!’

But perhaps the people who benefit most from the RGR’s Military Advice and training Team’s work are the RGR soldiers themselves.

‘I’m a newly-promoted Lance Corporal,’ says Marco Galliano, ‘And this is the first time I’ve given lessons to soldiers and on what a magnitude! Some of these groups contain 200 soldiers and they’re all willing to learn and they give 110% effort in the lessons. If I tell them to do it a certain way, they do it right every time and with aggression! The satisfaction of being their instructor is immense!’

Lance Corporal ‘Ash’ Rodriguez, 19, agrees. ‘It’s a pleasure to teach these guys,’ he says. ‘They’re polite, they ask lots of questions and they just seem to want more and more information. When you’re teaching them you feel very proud it’s a great experience.

‘These people are like sponges,’ says Corporal Dale Lavagna. ‘They suck every scrap of knowledge from you and then ask for more!’

The High Commission values the RGR’s work, the Gambians value the work and the RGR’s soldiers value the work and no doubt the troubled people of war-torn Darfur will value the RGR’s work. It’s just a win-win-win-win situation.

As I say, a compendium of various articles and emails, but well worth saying. We should always thank them and many others for their service.