Hockey Pitch, Wilberforce Barracks, Wednesday 22 February 2023 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has told the 14th Armed Forces Day Celebration that he owes who he is to the army and urged Sierra Leoneans to celebrate the great service of men and women in uniform.
“I am who I am because of this army. This army sharpened my core values of public service, discipline, and loyalty. Its enviable tradition of strict regimentation and esprit de corps moulded me nearly forty years ago. Like all of us who served then and serve now, this army taught us that there is no greater service than to serve our country through war and through peace.
“In the words of US General George S. Patton, ‘the Soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The Soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country’.
“It is in recognition of that obligation that I have, through my first term as President and Commander-in-Chief, worked diligently to strengthen and modernise the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) through both hard initiatives, including infrastructure and equipment, and soft initiatives, including welfare, training, and morale,” he said.
The President also noted, with humility, that those efforts were are unprecedented, but not unexpected, adding that in his manifesto of 2018, he promised the RSLAF that he would work diligently to transform it into a professional, well-equipped, and highly capable force with motivated men and women who could carry out their constitutional mandate when required.
“No head of state has paid so much attention to and done so much for the RSLAF in so short a time. I must, at this juncture, commend and appreciate the Government and people of the people’s Republic of China for unconditionally supporting my Government’s vision for transforming the RSLAF. Other global and sub-regional partners have also fully supported our bid to modernise and restructure our RSLAF. I thank you.
“Beyond the single-day celebration, I urge the general public to celebrate the great service of our men and women in uniform and to say ‘thank you’ in their own small ways whenever they interact with them. Upon producing a current identification card, private businesses should consider granting serving and retired personnel discounts on goods and services as well as preferential service.
“For instance, transport operators should consider lower fares; mobile companies should consider special discount plans; retailers, including supermarkets, building supplies, electronics, and houseware or general merchandise stores should consider special discounts; insurance providers and private healthcare providers should consider special rates; banks should consider special concessionary rates; houseowners should consider special discounts on rent, and more.
“Courtesy preferences could also be accorded service personnel for any services involving queuing. These are not policies or pronouncements. These are simply suggestions to citizens to say ‘thank you’ every day in their own ways, to our men and women in uniform and to those who have served this nation,” he urged.
He mentioned among other things that from the site of the old Myohaung Officer’s Mess, his Government had constructed a modern state-of-the-art Officer’s Mess and just it was the towering edifice of 104-bedroom accommodation for Single Officers at Wilberforce Barracks.
He also cited the ultra-modern Warrant Officers’ and Sergeant Mess at Wilberforce and at Spur Loop the six additional accommodation blocks for Junior Officers as well as construction of a Military Guest House, the Boom Defence, at Kingtom.
“Still on the issue of constructions, my Government has completed the Gondama Barracks Accommodation project and also finished the construction of modern accommodation for a minimum of about 360 personnel at six Forward Patrol Bases at Yumkella, Yenga, Sulima, Sinkunia, Sanya and Bomaru. There have been additional construction projects undertaken by my Government right across the force,” he said.
President Julius Maada Bio used the occasion to thank the First Lady, Madam Fatima Maada Bio, on behalf of the RSLAF, their families and the community for her great humanitarian work that had touched and transformed so many lives, especially those of girls, throughout the nation.
“Permit me, to register my gratitude for the fortitude in the face of challenges and constraints and her determined drive to make possible the delivery of modern medical services to military personnel at the 34 Military Hospital.
“She has championed the upgrading and expansion of the 34 Military Hospital. I am informed that construction work is either complete or nearly complete. The following facilities at the 34 Military Hospital will soon be commissioned: a modern administrative block; a total of 500-bed spaces exclusively for paediatric cases, for males, and for females; a fully equipped Defence Nursing school for training healthcare personnel that offers diploma level nursing courses; a Centre of Excellence for supporting survivors of gender violence; and, a fully-equipped modern diagnostic centre with a digital X-ray machine and CT scanner. My Government has also paved a 2.1 kilometre road around the 34 Military Hospital with asphalt,” he noted.
Retired Colonel Dominic Sowa, who retired after 41 years in the service, said he was a senior cadet officer in 1986 and was among the ten soldiers that were taken to Tanzania for special training.
“The Armed Forces Day celebration was taken from the Myohaung Celebration that is celebrated on January 24 every year after the Burma War. It was changed to “Armed Forces Day” after the late President Ahmed Tejan Kabba declared the end of the war in Sierra Leone on 18 February 2002.
“It is a week’s worth of activity by the military to show the equipment and strength we have to protect the state. It will be followed by a symposium, physical training, thank-you services, and a visit to war graves to remember fallen colleagues. A cocktail party is being organised for officers and entertainment for sergeants in all units nationwide; awards are given to deserving personnel for long service and efficiency with gallantry medals to encourage others to do more,” he explained.
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