The Barbados Defence Force (BDF) honoured one of its own Thursday, with the renaming of the Medical Reception Station after retired Lieutenant Colonel Florence Gittens.
Current and former officers, as well as members of the medical profession were among guests who witnessed the occasion at the BDF’s Headquarters, St Ann’s Fort.
Lt Col Gittens, the island’s first female soldier, joined the Barbados Regiment after building a successful career in nursing. She served in the BDF in several capacities until 1990, including Officer in charge of the Medical Station, Staff officer, Commanding Officer of the Barbados Regiment, and acted as Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff on any occasions.
The Medical Unit was her brainchild, and was opened in 1982.
Chief of Staff Colonel Glyne Grannum told the audience the renaming was not only fitting, but necessary “given the sterling service of Lieutenant Colonel Florence Gittens to Barbados through and outside of the Barbados Defence Force”.
“She has not only had a successful military career; her contribution spans a period of over 40 years and includes the training of military and civilian health care professionals who have applied their skills across the globe.
“Specifically to the military, she made a very outstanding and enduring contribution to the medical support services, to the Force’s strategy for health care and to the wider national public health care and disaster management systems. She has been a pioneer in local and regional disaster response planning and execution and is still active to this day,” Col Grannum said.
He added that while the facility has been built and refurbished by craftsmen, artisans and engineers, Gittens should be credited for its underlying concept and enduring spirit.
“Excellent First Aid training, preventive health practices, professional high quality health care and medical treatment in the BDF and indeed efficient mass casualty response with our operational partners in the national and regional medical and disaster response communities are all synonymous with Colonel Gittens and the courageous, pioneering and exemplary service she rendered.
“Thanks to the hard work, visionary ideas, mentorship, leadership and sterling example set by Colonel Gittens, our servicepersons can go into harm’s way confident that if they are injured they will be looked after fully,” he stated.
Lt Col Gittens, meanwhile, said she was “humbled and deeply honoured” to have the Medical Reception Station named after her.
“It is because of all the staff that I have had the privilege to lead over the years, that this Unit has flourished, and by staff I include doctors, dentists, nurses, medics, engineers, administrators, para medical and ancillary staff.
“The building was designed about 1978 by a young architect then working in one of the Government Ministries, David Spink, and it is designed to withstand winds of 120 mph. Believe me when I say that during construction in 1982 I came to know each cement block personally.’
She also recalled that the unit would not exist without the support of her superiors at the time.
“Back in 1974 I was enlisted in the Barbados Regiment by the Commanding Officer Col Leonard Banfield, who passionately wanted a medical unit in the Regiment, and I was willing to give it a try. Because I was female, other females had to be recruited to keep my company as I could not be the only one. So in reality women are in the BDF because of the Medical Unit.
“I also wish to thank Brigadier [Rudyard] Lewis for allowing me to develop the unit. I know he was tired of seeing me outside his office door every day and sometimes had to say ‘yes’ just to get away from me.”
Col Grannum noted that the mission of the medical facility was to “fix the nation’s servicemen and women when they are broken”, to allow them to return to duty as quickly as possible.
“In this regard we are proud to have expanded the range of services provided here at St Ann’s Fort over the 38 years of the existence of the BDF. The range now includes expanded physiotherapy and renovated dental facilities in addition to the well-known hperbaric medicine and admission ward bed space capabilities,” Col Grannum said.