He had one of the most important mandates to fulfill during the just ended Regional Security System-led mission to Dominica.
Chef Keble Knight of the Barbados Coast Guard was the one responsible for preparing sumptuous meals at least three times a day for fellow troopers, including 56 members of the Barbados Defence Force (BDF), as well as scores of residents affected by Hurricane Maria.
The three-week mission only ended last Friday, which meant that Knight was not around this year to prepare his highly anticipated Christmas dinner for family and friends, but as usual, he was simply delighted to serve.
“I knew I was going on this task so I had spoken to my wife and children to let them know the mission I was going to do, so they had no problem with me going away to doing it,” the 57-year-old maritime officer said, while pointing out that “usually at Christmas I am the [one] who takes on the cooking and baking for the whole family to make them happy, but they understand in this commitment that I had to go to Dominica to make sure the people in Dominica were safe and comfortable.”
It was in mid-September last year that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country was battered by Maria, which killed more than two dozen people and left a trail of destruction.
Approximately 90 per cent of the island’s infrastructure was either damaged or destroyed by the monster category five storm. Following the passage of Maria, the island also experienced severe shortages of food and water, with officials currently estimating that it would take billions of dollars to rebuild the nature isle of just over 71,000 residents.
In light of this, aid has started to pour in from around the region, as well as from international agencies, individuals and other groups.
Not to be left out was the RSS, which provided invaluable assistance in transporting needed relief supplies, as well as on-the-ground security and other assistance in Roseau.
The troops from the BDF formed part of that wider team.
Though not his most challenging assignment to date, Knight described the Dominica mission as fulfilling since it gave him the opportunity to assist people in need.
“It wasn’t easy to do the job because there were a lot of things you had to move around and get around to get the job going and it took a lot of time and commitment to do that job,” he said.
He also compared his Dominica experience with the one he had in Grenada immediately following the devastating passage of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 saying it was not as troubling as Grenada where he was stationed for six months after Ivan has brought widespread devastation to the “spice isle”, damaging 90 per cent of homes and claiming at least 15 lives.
“I found it very enlightening to go and feed the people that really needed it because in Dominica where we were staying there were a lot of people living under us who could not get anything, so every time I cooked, I put them in [for] all three meals a day to make sure they ate and were comfortable,” Knight said, adding that on any given day “there were so many people coming to hug me and saying, ‘well done my good and faithful servant’.
“When I put on a pot I included the people of Dominica that were around and we had a nice Christmas. The same whole Christmas thing we do in Barbados I did down there, as the boss will tell you what a wonderful time they had when they arrived,” he quipped.
Welcoming the troops back home at the end of their final voyage for 2017 was BDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant Colonel Glyne Grannum who described the entire journey as an unprecedented operation “of a scale we have not seen before in the Caribbean.
“Hopefully we won’t see it again, but regardless, we have to be ready, and I am very proud of the contribution that the media brought to the operation in terms of being able to showcase and to highlight and support our troops from across the entire RSS. We are very happy that the media could be part of the joint effort,” he said.
Urging Barbadians to be ready, the BDF top official said going forward the island would remain one of the leading member states of the RSS who would be rendering assistance to any affected country.
“It is the responsibility of the Barbados Defence Force to maintain a level of commitment to the security alliance and that would mean if they require assistance in terms of operations, relief, enforcement or their police force or disaster relief mechanism, that we would be willing to step up and to redeploy persons to help in particular cases,” he said, while acknowledging the work done by the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).
“So going forward we are determined to continue to assist Dominica as is required with specific items and to include wider readiness within the RSS, within the CDEMA mechanisms for our regional effort,” he added.
Besides helping to feed a country in need, the BDF troops also came to the aid of a stretched Dominica police force by assisting with patrols and other security duties, as well as ensuring basic law and order was maintained.
A very happy Colonel Grannum told Barbados TODAY he was proud of the contribution made by the BDF team in helping Dominica “to get to where it is today”.
However, he acknowledged that the mission was difficult and required 13 hours of travel by sea even though he said “there were no challenges that we could not knit our resources together, apply a solution and overcome”.
While some level of normalcy is beginning to return to areas of the once lush landscape, Dominica still carries the ugly scars of the traumatic mid-September experience, as residents continue their slow but deliberate efforts to pick up the pieces of their storm-battered lives.