Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force: A Preliminary Look

Dion E. Phillips

The Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force (ABDF) was established when Antigua and Barbuda attained independence from the United Kingdom on the 1st Nov. 1981. In fact, two months before Antigua and Barbuda became a sovereign state, its parliament passed the Defense Act, 1981, which resulted in the creation of the ABDF on September 1, 1981, (Antigua Defense Act 4). Interestingly, Lionel Hurst claims that Premier Vere C. Bird initially resisted the need for a standing army. He asserts: "Where in the world have you ever heard of a Police Force overthrowing a government? I want to have only a Police Force."1

Regular ABDF

The regular infantry of the ABDF was once the Antigua Volunteer Force (then called the Antigua Defense Force). This force was started in 1897 by the sugar planters to protect they interests, but especially to prevent the burning of sugar cane fields (Antigua Defense Act 1897). When it was disbanded, it had no headquarters of its own, no indoor facilities for training and no accommodation for its equipment and stores (Antigua Report 54). However, it was re-instituted on June 1, 1956 and subsequently incorporated into the regular ABDF in 1981. In a personal interview with Carlton Lake, a former member of the West India Regiment (WIR), he observed that some of the individuals who served as volunteers and became an integral part of the regular ABDF were ex-servicemen of the Leeward Islands Battalion from Antigua who served in World War II and ex-members of the defunct WIR stationed in Jamaica, 1958-1962. Among the former World War II veterans are Lt. Col. Dennis Gardiner, Captain Herman Blackman, Captain Leo Gore, Captain Joseph Robinson and Lt. James Johnson. Fourteen persons from Antigua and Barbuda served in the WIR.2

Coast Guard

The ABDF took over operational command of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force Coast Guard (ABDF CG) on 1 May 1995, essentially because it was felt that Antigua and Barbuda should come in line with the other defense forces of the Commonwealth Caribbean. The traditional white, naval uniform, white ensign, and naval rank structure were adopted. The Coast Guard, headed at the time by Lt. Cdr. Mike Wright, a Royal Navy officer, was previously the Marine Unit of the Royal Antigua and Barbuda Police Force. Lt. Cdr. Wayne Mykoo3 reported that while under police control, it consisted of 24 personnel, 21 of them were seconded to the defense force. However, due to voluntary requests and personnel sent back to the police force for disciplinary reasons, only 11 remained (Personal Interview). Lt. Cdr. Wayne Mykoo of the Jamaica Defense Force Coast Guard was seconded on 30 April 1995 to serve as the Maritime Advisor to the ABDF. He assisted in setting up the new unit. In other Commonwealth Caribbean defence forces, British Loan officers normally performed this function. Mykoo, whose six month-secondment was extended to four years, was also appointed Commanding Officer of the ABDF CG at the rank of Lt. Commander on 1 May 1995. On 1 July 1999, he was replaced by Lt. Cdr. Paul Wright,4 another officer from the Jamaica Defense Force. Lt. Cdr. Wright was replaced on 27 June 2001 when Lt. Nixon DeSouza assumed command and became the first Antiguan to command the ABDG CG. Lt. DeSouza was one of the police personnel of the ABDF CG who opted to change to a military way of life during the Unit's transition. His appointment concluded six unbroken years of JDF CG assistance and command.5


Figure 1 presents the existing structure of the Antigua Barbuda Defense Force.

Figure 1: Existing Structure of the ABDF

At the apex of the ABDFs structure is a six-member National Security Council (NSC) which falls under the Ministry of Defense. The council comprises the Minister of Defense (usually the Prime Minister) who serves as chairman, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, the Attorney General, the Commander (ABDF) and two other persons.6 According to Major Llewellyn E. Harewood, the NSC was made up of six persons (Personal Interview). However, Vere Bird, Jr. served as de facto National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister and the Commander, which suggests a certain personalistic relationship of the Bird family with the military.

An example of this seemingly personalistic relationship was when Vere Bird , Jr. ordered, by sleight of hand, a shipment of arms from Israel in 1989, on the pretext that they were meant for the army, when in fact they were intended for and ended up on a ranch in Columbia owned by the later Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, a leader of the Medellin drug cartel, a well-known drug trafficker from Columbia (Outlet 1, 3).7 The arms were intended to be used for the training and survival school of cartel hit men. As a result of a 1991 government-appointed Commission of Inquiry, it was ascertained that Lt. Col. Clyde Walker of the ABDF had ordered the arms from the Israelis and that Bird, Jr. had signed the end user's certificate (Bloom-Cooper 57-98). Both men were censured for their role in the illegal arms shipment scandal. The commission recommended that Bird, Jr. be barred for life from holding public office whereas Walker was dismissed as commander of the ABDF (Barbados Daily Nation 9).8

Up until 1991, there was no set plan or system of promotion in the ABDF. Hence, there were instances when persons who were due promotion were denied and others who were not qualified were promoted because of their affiliation and association. This situation, which resulted in frustration and poor morale, caused many to resign and others to transfer to the Volunteer Element where it appeared that personnel were promoted much earlier.

Today, a three-member Commissions Board advises the governor general through the minister responsible for defense on promotions and the granting of commissions. The three-member Board comprises the deputy commander, ABDF, the accountant general and the Chief Establishment Officer. Promotions in the ABDF up to the rank of major are made by the NSC on the recommendation of the Commander. Appointment beyond the rank of Major are made by the Prime Minister and cabinet.

Unlike other Commonwealth Caribbean defense forces, e.g., the Jamaica Defense Force and the Trinidad and Tobago Defense Force, the ABDF, as of 1999, has never had a Defense Advisor/Attaché stationed overseas. Personnel attending overseas training courses are looked after by Force Headquarters via the Antigua and Barbuda missions in the U.S., Canada or the United Kingdom. In 1995, Antigua became the third English-speaking member of the Inter-American Defense Board (Jamaica Gleaner 6A).

The commander is in charge of Force Headquarters and carries out the general administrative responsibilities of the defense force. It comprises the following: Deputy Commander, G1, G2, G3 and G4 of the ABDF, the commanding officer, Coast Guard, and logistics officer. The position of the aide de camp to the Governor General has not been filled by a military person since 1995. An officer of the Royal Antigua and Barbuda Police Force, the Special Branch in particular, usually serves in this capacity.

As shown in Fig. 1, the ABDF consists of four major units under Headquarters: the First Battalion Antigua Barbuda Regiment (1ABR), the ABDF Coast Guard, the Support and Service Unit and the National Cadet Corps - ABDF. All of the above, except the ABDF Coast Guard, are located at Camp Blizard, the former U.S. Navy Support Facility. Prior to 1995, the ABDF headquarters were located at the Botanical Gardens, St John's in the nation's capital.

The First Battalion Antigua and Barbuda Regiment or 1ABR is the infantry or fighting arm of the force. Previously called the Rifle Company, it was established in 1995 and is made up of an Headquarters company; three other companies (A, B & C) and headed by a Commander with the rank of Lt. Col. The A Company is a regular infantry unit; the B company is a volunteer unit and the C company is a combat support company.

Among other things, 1ABR, located in the Battalion Headquarters Building has it own staff officer; adjutant and sergeant major. In a 1996 interview with the then Major Ivor Walker,9 he indicated that there were plans to re-configure 1ABR as well as alter its relationship to Force Headquarters so as to bring the ABDF in line with proper military structure.

The Service and Support Unit was established in 1997, is headed by a Lt. Col. and is responsible for providing administrative, material and engineer support to all other units/elements, among them, Registry, Military Police, Intelligence Centre, Training Wing, Quartermaster (tailor and catering), Administration, Signals, Transport and Medical.

Prior to independence, the Volunteer element was essentially the entire Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force. However, this ceased to be the case when most of its members joined the re-constituted ABDF when it became a regular force. Presently, the existing volunteer force has been reduced to the B company of 1ABR. This three tiered platoon body of part-time soldiers, comprised largely of ex-ABDF officers and other ranks, has its own Commanding Officer and, in view of the above, comes under the command of the Commander of 1ABR. The ABDF band was established in 2001. Plans are afoot to start one. Instruments are in storage at Camp Blizard but a band has not been established to date.

The ABDF has responsibility for the Antigua and Barbuda National Cadets which is composed of students who are enrolled in the following nine secondary schools in Antigua and Barbuda: Antigua Grammar School, All Saints, Ottos Comprehensive School, Princess Margaret Secondary, St. Joseph Academy (Private), Antigua Girls' High School, Clare Hall Secondary, Jennings Secondary and Pares Secondary School. The overall enrollment was 85 in 1994 and students met every Wednesday and Saturday evenings at Camp Blizard under the supervision of their own Officer-in-Charge, usually a regular officer. Unlike the defense forces of Belize, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and the Bahamas, the ABDF has no air unit. When a need for transportation arose, it was carried out by a U.S. army aircraft or a Caribbean aircraft was chartered.

The ABDF Coast Guard is the maritime arm of the ABDF. Its headquarters is located at the St. John's Deep Water Harbour, St. John's, approximately six miles from Camp Blizard. There is one other place of berth, namely, the Boat House Jetty at Camp Blizard. 10 The ABDF Coast Guard has its own Commanding Officer, supported by an Executive Officer, and is responsible for its administration.

Structurally, the ABDF CG is divided into four principal entities: the Office of the Commanding Officer with a secretary, an Engineering unit headed by an Engineering Officer, an Administrative Unit, headed by a Regulation Chief, and a Flotilla, the latter divided into four crews: 'A' crew, 'B' crew, 'C' crew and 'D' crew. The $2.5 million Shore base located at the Deep Water Harbour in St. John's comprises the office of the Commanding Officer, accommodation for personnel on duty, and a jetty for mooring and servicing of coast guard vessels. The base was constructed in 1987 by a development grant made to the government of Antigua and Barbuda by the Overseas Development Administration of the United Kingdom. New barracks for ratings and quarters and a wardroom for officers were completed in August 2000. A workshop for maintenance and repairs is located at Camp Blizard.

The Engineer Unit provides a maintenance program for the flotilla, the latter being the operational element of the coast guard itself. This department includes a shipwright, outboard technician, electrician and an electrical assistant. The ABDF Coast Guard flotilla consists of four vessels, namely, the Liberta, the Palmeto, two Boston Whalers and one Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RIHB). The Liberta, the coast guard's flag ship, was purchased from Swift ships of Morgan City, Louisiana, in the United States of America. It is a 65 ft. all-aluminum vessel with two diesel engines. The Palmento, a gift from the United States, is a forty-feet aluminum hull boat. The two 22-foot Boston Whaler "Guardian" boats, worth over $200,000 in 1988, were delivered to Antigua in 1989, through the U.S. Military Assistance Program. Each "Guardian" is equipped with one 155 HP outboard motor as well as radios, life saving and towing features and standard day/night navigation equipment. In accordance with the 1999-2004 five-year plan, on 8 October 2000, the ABDF CG Volunteers was founded to establish a reserve unit.

Manpower Strength

The regular ABDF has experienced a modest growth in its twenty-two year existence, 1981-2003. When it began in 1981, it was 70 strong. Eight years later, in 1989, it had grown to strength of 175, including regulars and reserves. With the coming to power of the Bishop-led People Revolutionary Government of Grenada, Prime Minister Bird quickly built up the army and justified his action by talking of communist elements in Antigua and the threat that these elements held to a peaceful and democratic Antigua.11 As far back as 1978, outstanding Caribbean personalities were banned from entering Antigua. This was accompanied by a noticeable increase in police presence at the meetings of the government's opponents, particularly the Afro-Caribbean Liberation Movement (ACLM), which also experienced difficulties in the printing of its newspaper, Outlet.

On 5 May 1979, the government of Antigua claimed that it had foiled a Cuban-backed plot organized by the ACLM, in collaboration with Kenrick Radix, then Attorney-General of the new PRG government of Grenada.12 In 1991, twelve years later, the 186-member ABDF was the largest it had ever been. Of this number, the regular force consisted of 96 persons; the volunteer element on paper had approximately 90 registered, though only 40% showed up regularly for practice.

In 1991, it was felt in some quarters that due to its small size, the ABDF was unable to sustain a long operation to serve and protect the Antigua and Barbuda's population of 65,000. In light of this, it was recommended in a forward looking ABDF in-house document, entitled, Roles Capabilities and Limitations of the Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force, that the force strength be increased to approximately 235 (Thomas 8). In 1999, the force strength was 215, thirty of whom were volunteers and 29 coast guardsmen. In the case of the latter, in May 1996, the Government gave authority for its establishment to have a complement of 50, namely, 5 officers and 45 other ranks. With respect to the infantry, it is expected that the Service and Support Company will grow in the future in anticipation of the expanded civic/developmental role of the ABDF. Table 1 presents the estimated strength of the ABDF in the year 2000.

Table 1: Estimated Strength of the ABDF

Unit Year 2000
Headquarters 8
Battalion 77
Service and Support 71
Volunteer 30
Coast Guard 29
Total 215

Women in the ABDF

From its inception, women were accepted into the ABDF on 1 September 1981. The first to enlist was a group of 12 young women, including Gale Morgan who joined on 22 September 1981.13 Initially, they worked as financial clerks. In 1989, that figure was 23. Of the original twelve, at the time of writing (1996), one was still a member of the ABDF. In 1999, the two highest-ranking females in the ABDF were Lt. Maxime James and Lt. Mikyla Frederick; they first served as Assistant Staff Officer, Personnel. As of 1996, there were no women in the Coast Guard and their appeared to be no plans to begin recruitment.


The ABDF is largely funded by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. In 1981, the defense budget was $1.5 million; whereas, in 1996 it was $ 4.4 million. In addition, specialized training courses in soldiering and seamanship (discussed later) are supported by such programs as the International Military Education Training Scheme (IMET) which is provided by the United States of America. Coast guard training was provided by the United Kingdom and the Canadian Military Training and Assistance Program (CMTAP) sponsored by the Canadian government.


According to a February 1991 ABDF in-house report, on account of the lack of adequate finance, the ABDF is unable to acquire the type of equipment that is necessary to achieve the best results. Much of its equipment is outdated, especially its vehicles which are over ten to fifteen years old. This presents a logistical problem in the maintenance of these vehicles and other equipment since spare parts are extremely difficult to acquire (Thomas 8). Most of its weaponry, vehicles and radio equipment were donated by the U.S. Government, under the Military Assistance Program. This source, on a short-term basis, is quite acceptable but when these donations are discontinued, the ABDF is faced with the logistical problem of not being able to acquire spare parts locally. In view of the above, the ABDF is handicapped in its ability to provide disaster relief over a sustained period and/or effectively participate in internal security should the need arise.


In the 1970s, the ADF was trained by the Canadian Space Research Corporation who also provided it with uniforms and other assistance (Garcia 19). This training however came to a halt when Prime Minister Vere Bird, Sr. (then premier) expelled the company when it was proven that it had sent arms to South Africa.

ABDF recruits receive in-house basic infantry training at Crabbs in the parish of St. Paul, located around 12 miles from Camp Blizard. This is carried out by the Training Officer. Training was conducted for ten, reduced from the previous 16 weeks. The main courses of training consist of map reading, field craft, drills and weapons training. In terms of the coast guard, all ranks are also required to undergo initial basic training as soldiers, after which training is carried out by the ABDF Coast Guard, both ashore and afloat.

Training has also included ABDF personnel attending civil institutions either with or without the financial support of the ABDF. These institutions include T.N. Kirnon, the Antigua State College for studies at the Commercial, Engineering and A levels Departments, and the University of the West Indies School of Continuing Studies.

Field training in military skills is carried out annually; however, it is often interrupted for the performance of other tasks. Due to the force's small size, when troops are solely committed to training, it adversely affects the performance of most of the other sub-units. Regardless, this 10-day exercise includes basic skills, weapons training, physical fitness, first aid, map reading, communication skills and so on. The location of this training can vary and includes the Nelson Dock Yard Area. Such training existed prior to the creation of the regular arm of the ABDF in 1981.

The third annual camp was held in August 1959 at Cobbs Cross in the parish of St. Paul and the fourth in August 1960 at Big Duers, an old estate owned by the Antigua Syndicate Estate Limited (Antigua Report 60)

Training teams from the Caribbean Area Headquarters came to assist in organizing and guiding such training. Annual camps have also taken place in St. Vincent and Grenada. In 1989, the ABDF conducted, for the first time, its annual training, code named "Exercise Quick Silver" on the island of Barbuda, though mainly in Beazels. Acting Lt. Col. Walker, stressing the benefits of soldiers practicing in Barbuda, pointed out that since the majority of the population lived on Antigua, map and compass reading were not very effective since several soldiers were dependent on their personal knowledge of the island (Hartley 12). This exercise was repeated in 1990 when an 80-strong detachment from the regular and reserve, including 14 women, attended.

Since 1984, the ABDF has taken part in combined exercises with the U.S., the U.K., and other Commonwealth Caribbean forces. Relative to the U.S., Special Forces teams, Navy Seals and Air Force Parachute crews, (the latter in 1985 and 1986) have trained the police and soldiers of Antigua and Barbuda. Between 1979 and 1987, Special Forces Teams or Security Advisory Control Teams of Green Berets from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, trained the police and soldiers of Antigua and Barbuda. Those who receive training at Crabbs Training Area were usually 40 soldiers and 40 police officers, the latter members of the Special Patrol Group.

Such training included paramilitary, amphibious, coastal defense, narcotics interdiction and search-and-rescue operations. Most of the graduates of the first Mobile Training Team were part of the Caribbean peacekeeping force in Grenada.

Another exercise, code-named "Upward Key", and took place in Barbuda in 1985-86 (Caribbean Contact 12). Yet another exercise involved the training of Antiguan forces with the St. Kitts and Nevis Defense Force in St. Kitts in 1987. Some of this training incorporated the following exercises with the U.S., the U.K, and other Caribbean forces: UNITAS XXV (1984), Exotic Palm (1985), Ocean Venture and Lava Flow and Operation Cammille (1986). Also, Antiguan forces have participated in all of the annual Trade Winds (1987 through 2003) including Trade Winds IV (1990) and Trade Winds VIII (1994), both of which had a presence in Antigua. In the summer of 1995, plans were afoot to initiate an exchange with the army of France, in particular the 44th Battalion, stationed on the French Overseas Territory of Guadeloupe.

ABDF personnel have attended schools in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America, Trinidad and Tobago and in CARICOM states. Four officers have each received basic officer training at Fort Benning U.S. Army Infantry School for six months.14

Three persons have also completed the Senior Staff Officers Course at the Canadian Land Forces Staff College at Kingston, Canada.15 Additional overseas training has been received by ABDF personnel in the Caribbean and is discussed in the upcoming section on intra-Caribbean training.

After the military took over the Marine wing of the Coast Guard, many new training opportunities opened up in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada as well as within the Caribbean. These programs were previously in existence; however, the police-type Coast Guard did not have access. Elroy Skerritt, who graduated in 1995, was the first Antiguan officer cadet to attend the Royal Britannia Naval College, Dartmouth, UK. He was followed by Elvis Murraine (1996); 2Lt. Elvis Murraine (deceased) departed this life in August 1998.

Through the British Military Assistance Training Team, previously located in Barbados (now Antigua), one of the police officers who made the transition to the defense force, completed the International Marine Engineering and Craft Course at Sultan, United Kingdom, from 4 September-22 December 1995. In do doing, he was the first student to successfully complete a course at a British Royal Naval Institute. Another police officer, Corporal Nixon DeSouza, who is highly cross-trained, (including training in navigation) attended the International Navigation Course at HMS Dryad, United Kingdom.

Also, officer cadet Elroy Skerritt of the ABDF infantry was the first to receive basic officer coast guard training at the International Midshipman's Course at the Royal Britannia Naval College, Dartmouth, United Kingdom, from September 1995-December 1996. Elvis Murraine, also of the ABDF infantry, was the second officer cadet to attend Dartmouth. Prior to the transition, the ABDF infantry sent Officer Cadet Maxine James, a female, to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut, United States, to pursue a 4-year degree (Barbados Advocate 10).

Additionally, while still under the umbrella of the police, personnel received training in Antigua from a U.S. Coast Guard Technical Assistance Field Team (TAFT). The team comprised three men who assisted with basic organizational structure; taught maintenance fundamentals and established operating criteria in 1984. Others coast guard personnel, then police, have taken courses in Panama at the U.S Navy Small Craft and Technical Training School at Rodman. According to Parkes, between 1983 and 1992, 36 Antiguans attended the Coast Guard College in Nova Scotia, Canada (Personal Correspondence). It has never provided training but the ABDF is allied with the Straffordshire Regiment in the United Kingdom.16

Assistance from Fellow Caribbean Countries

Over the years, the ABDF personnel have received training from fellow Caribbean defense forces, both at those defense forces or in Antigua itself. These include the St. Kitts and Nevis Defense Force, the Trinidad and Tobago Defense Force (TTDF), the Jamaica Defense Force, The Barbados Defense Force, the Belize Defense Force, and the Guyana Defense Force.

As far back as 1981, Private (now Ag. Lt. Col.) Ivor Walker, Lance Corporals Danny Nicholas and Samuel Howell completed a six-weeks Training Soldiers Course at Springfield in St. Kitts. In regards to Trinidad, office cadets Edward Croft, Ivor Walker and Harold Piper, have each attended an 8-week "Officer Indoctrination Course" at the TTDFs Teteron Barracks at Chaugaramas. In addition, four officers have completed the 3-month Junior Staff Course at the Barbados Defense Force, St. Ann's, Barbados: Major Trevor Thomas (1991), Major Edward Croft (1991), Captain Ivor Walker (1992) and Lt. Glyne Dunnah (1992). Still on the matter of Trinidad, in 1981, a training team of advisors from the Regiment, TTDF, under the leadership of Lt. Col David Dopwell, came to Antigua for six to seven months to organize and develop the ABDF.

Unlike the situation in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Belize, no ABDF personnel have received officer cadet training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Instead, they are sent to Canada, Trinidad, and the Colonel Ulric Pilgrim School at Camp Stephenson, Timehri, Guyana. In July 1996, Lenroy Brown and Dalton Graham were the first two officer cadets from the ABDF to do so (Green Beret 1). Telbert Benjamin and John Campbell, the later a naturalized Antiguan citizen born in Guyana, passed out in 1997.

Interestingly, as far back as 1970, officer cadet Payne completed the Section Commander Course at the Colonel Ulric Pilgrim School at Camp Stephenson, Timehri. According to The Alert, in terms of more advanced training, Captains Eugene Philip and Randolph Best completed the 13-week Staff and Command Course in Jamaica, designed by the Canadian Forces, for senior lieutenants and junior captains. Part 1 (staff) of the course was spent solely at Newcastle, whereas part II (command) took participants around St. Andrew and St. Catherine (Tomlinson 12, 13). Also, the JDF CG attached Lt. Leighton Miller, Chief Petty Officer L. Hutchinson, Chief Petty Officer M. Coldspring, Chief Petty Officer, D. McFarlane to assist with specialist training in their respective fields. In July 1999, the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Coast Guard provided assistance in the form of an Administrative Officer, Sub Lt. Michael Brathwaithe and subsequently Lt. (Naval) Sharam Parasham for a year. Members of the ABDF have attended the Section Commander Course in Belize.


The ABDF performed ten roles: Internal security, prevention of drug smuggling, the protection and support of fishing rights, marine pollution, prevention of search and rescue, ceremonial duties, assistance to government programs, provision of relief during natural disasters, assistance in the maintenance of essential services and support of the police in maintaining law and order.

Internal Security

Regimental Sergeant Major James, in a personal interview, noted that prior to independence, the ABDF was deployed on one occasion, and this was in response to civil unrest in 1968, thirteen years prior to independence. However, the ABDF does perform a limited internal security role. Unlike the incumbent Prime Minister Lester Bird who presently only receives police coverage, his predecessor and father Vere C. Bird, throughout much of his 30-year stint, had the military provide a sentry at his residence at Tomlinson, off Factory Road, from six at night to six in the morning.

In view of the fact that there are U.S. military installations in Antigua17 as well as the presence of other targets, including American Airlines, the ABDF during Operation "Desert Storm" carried out mobile patrols at night at the V.C. Bird International Airport. "Desert Storm" was code name for U.S. military action in Iraq in the year 1991.

Prevention of Drug Smuggling

Antigua and Barbuda have experienced an ever escalating problem of illicit drug use. This problem has progressed from the use of marijuana in the late 1980s to the introduction of crack and cocaine in the 1990s. The ABDF Coast Guard considers narcotics interdiction a high priority and spends about 80% of its time in drug interdiction. It conducts routine random patrols in the territorial waters of Antigua and Barbuda. However, during the period 1995-1996, the Coast Guard did not have any tangible success despite intelligence reports of several air drops. According to a previously confidential 1995 ABDF report, "on all occasions, we have been outfoxed due to the narcotic traders having more sophisticated communication network and equipment" (Mykoo 3). Along with the presence of the coast guard at sea, the ABDF infantry patrol the hills and the deserted beaches.

In addition to its independent actions and in view of the Ship Rider Agreement that was signed in 1995 between the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and the U.S., the ABDF Coast Guard regularly exercises with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Also, the ABDF Coast Guard, conduct joint operations against the narcotic trade within the region with other RSS countries during RSS patrols as well as with the British West Indian Guard Ship and agencies from other nations within the wider Caribbean. There is also a working relationship with the Greater Antilles Section Command (GANSEC) of the U.S. Coast Guard based in Puerto Rico. GANSEC plans and executes major operations throughout the wider Caribbean that involve vessels and aircraft from the U.S., Britain, France, the Netherlands and the Caribbean countries, including Antigua and Barbuda.

Protection and Support of Fishing Rights

The ABDF Coast Guard, with a knowledge of the many inlets and bays, for example, Indian Cove, endeavor to keep the territorial waters as well as the 200 nautical mile economic zone free from pirates and poachers. In view of this fact, the ABDF Coast Guard works closely with the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture with its enactment of the Fisheries Act. Such support includes the search for missing fishing boats and crew and the rescue of fishermen in distress at sea. In 1995 alone, the Coast Guard rescued 80 persons and a quantity of 30 vessels. In the case of the latter, they were worth over $1,973,420 EC Dollars. In regard to the Fisheries Act, the ABDF Coast Guard apprehended a fishing vessel from Guadeloupe in 1995 for fishing illegally in Antigua and Barbuda's territorial waters.18 The vessel was detained and handed over the Fisheries Officer for prosecution. The Coast Guard also provides instructors and a platform for an ongoing program undertaken by Fisheries to train fishermen in coast navigation and distress signals. Though not yet a reality, plans were afoot in 1996 to provide instruction for scuba divers.

Marine Pollution Control

Antigua and Barbuda has a tourist-economy and the ABDF has a vital working relationship with the Environment Protection Unit of the Ministry of Tourism. The Deep Water Harbour Port, the finger pier at Heritage Quay (both in St. John's), Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour as well as many recreational beaches are vital to the economy. The intent of this relationship is for the ABDF Coast Guard to assist that ministry in the enforcement of the Maritime Act. Hence, during patrols, the coast guard assists in the identification and reporting of environmental degradation and pollution within the marine environment. With specific regard to pollution, the Coast Guard is required to play a vital role in oil pollution containment, recovery and management within the marine environment. In so doing, under the National Contingency Plan, the Coast Guard is expected to be the on-scene coordinator in the event of an oil spill clean up. In a May 1996 report, there were plans to develop new strategies to ensure that the protected and endangered species of the twin-island, for example, deer on Guiana Islands, are free from harm (Mykoo 4).

In addition, the ABDF Coast Guard conducts spot checks for illegal sand mining. The following beaches in Antigua are well known as locations for sand mining: Ffryes, Fort James and Momora (the latter, west of the St. James Club). However, the most notorious target for sand mining activity is Palmetto Point on the sister island of Barbuda. Both the Antigua and Barbuda police and defense forces were posted there on 19 April 1993 to enforce a court order against a sand mining operation that was due to commence on 20 April. It was reported in the Outlet, Antigua's most widely read newspaper, that Lester Bird, the then Deputy Prime Minister and allegedly a major shareholder in the companies which were involved in the mining allowed the sand mining to take place in defiance of the High Court ruling. The Outlet also alleged that the Hon. Hilroy Humphreys, Minister of Agriculture, possibly acted on the Deputy Prime Minister's behalf. The paper further stated that "sand companies had unlawfully mined 114 thousand tons of sand out of Barbuda between April 20 and September 9, 1993, with sales of this unlawful sand grossing Thirteen million, Eight Hundred and Forty-eight thousand dollars" (Outlet 1, 3).

On Tuesday, November 23, 1993, the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal upheld a September 1993 high court decision that sentenced Hilroy Humphreys and two others for contempt of court. They had breached an interim court ruling by continuing to mind sand at Palmetto Point. However, Governor General James Carlisle granted pardon to the three after a request from Vere C. Bird, Sr.

Search and Rescue

Quite apart from the search for missing fishing boats and crew (discussed earlier), the ABDF Coast Guard, in its capacity as the Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) Coordinator within the national SAR plan, also conducts search and rescue operations for other persons who are reported to be in distress. This assistance to people and property in distress at sea is the paramount peace time role of the Coast Guard.

Search and rescue operations are not limited to the Coast Guard since ABDF soldiers have assisted the police on land. In May 2002, soldiers assisted police, emergency rescue personnel and volunteers in recovering the body of 35-year old Briton, Peter Beament, who was killed when his car went off a 1,000 foot cliff at the top of Shirley Heights, a scenic tourist attraction (Barbados Advocate 11).

As shown below, the ABDF Search and Rescue 1996 Report (Mykoo 9) disclosed that in 1995, 16 vessels (excluding fishermen's) were saved:

Table 2: Search and Rescue Report 1995

Types of Vessel Quantity Lives Rescued Value of Vessels (EC$)
Pleasure Boat 9 58 $1,000,000.00
Yacht 3 8 $7,537,590.00
Cargo 4 25 $2,970,000.00

Ceremonial Duties

Units of the ABDF are asked to perform on a variety of ceremonial occasions on the twin-island nation-state. These include Royal visits (e.g. Queen Elizabeth's in 1984), state funerals, state functions such as the Opening of Parliament, parades such as the Queen's Birthday, and national events such as independence celebrations, in particular, the parade where the Governor General takes the salute. The last is held annually at the Antigua Recreational Grounds, flanked by the Governor-General's residence and the HMS Prison, all of which are located in St. John's. In the case of funerals, the ABDF have officiated at the following state funerals: Sir Wilfred Jacobs (1981); Conrad Richards (1991); Vere C. Bird (1999); Sir Bradley Carrot (2001) and others.

Assistance to Government Programs

It appears that as of 1996, the ABDF has not been involved in very many Government-sponsored programs. One noticeable example, unlike other Caribbean countries, is its apparent non-involvement in the flag raising associated with CARICOM Heads of Government conferences when such are held in Antigua.

However, the Service and Support unit of the ABDF assisted in the building of the Sunnyside School in Piggots in 1993. It was also instrumental in changing the roof and erecting the fencing of the Lions Club, located west of the YMCA Sporting Complex in St. John's, in 1994. The ABDF was further involved in the construction of Camp Lightfoot to accommodate refugees who left Montserrat as a result of the volcanic activity during the period 1995-1998.

Assistance in Times of Natural Disaster (Domestic)

The ABDF, through the Office of Disaster Preparedness, provides relief and rescue services to the civil population in times of major natural disasters such as hurricanes. In September 1995, after Hurricane Luis devastated Antigua, the ABDF was intimately involved in disaster relief, in particular in the area of clean up and the provision of supplies for the needy. In specific regard to the Coast Guard, its vessels made over 100 trips to Barbuda to transport people,19 including personnel from the Ministry of Home Affairs;20 provided relief supplies and building material for Government agencies and assisted in the recovery of fishing vessels that were either sunken and beached during the hurricane. Also, Coast Guard personnel provided security for the port, a duty that was later handed over to ABDF infantry personnel. The ABDF was also mobilized in September 1998 when Hurricane Georges killed two persons and left hundreds more in distress (Nanton 23) and again in October 1999 when Antigua was battered by Hurricane Lenny.

Assistance in the Maintenance of Essential Services

The infantry of the ABDF, in particular the service and support unit, was involved in the manning of the Desalination plant at Crabbs in 1987. Also, army personnel assisted in the running of the Electrical Power Station at Friar Hill and Casada Gardens. In the case of the Coast Guard, during the industrial dispute in December 1995, when port workers were on strike due to the nonpayment of their Christmas bonus, it provided the use of the port's vessel for the purpose of transporting the Port Authority's Chief Pilot to Merchant Cruise Ships entering St. John's harbor. In so doing, the Coast Guard was able to assist government at a critical junction to keep the country's open to commercial activity.

Support of Police in Maintaining Law and Order

The ABDF has played a police role not just in the preservation of public order but in combating crime and related violent activity. On 4 July 1994, the ABDF assisted the national police in its search for six escaped prisons from the HM Prison on Coronation Road, east of the Antigua Recreational Grounds, who were hiding in the Signal hills. During the operation, which resulted in two of the escapees being shot and another being killed, 8 to 10 members of the military stayed in the field round-the-clock for six weeks until the remaining prisoners were apprehended. According to the Barbados Advocate, following the tragic shooting of 26-year old Wendy Newbigging, a Canadian visitor, by 26-year old Antiguan Michael Mason in February 1995, the Ministry of Tourism said, in a statement following an emergency cabinet meeting, that "urgent measures will be taken to ensure that there is no recurrence of this type of incident" (40). As a consequence, the Antigua and Barbuda police and the army mounted all-day joint patrols for three months on Dickinson Bay and Jolly Beach, two beaches frequented by tourists.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Luis in September, 1994, 24 men from the ABDF, under the command of Captain Glyne Dunnah, were deployed to the Heritage Key area in St. John's to restore order. This team was instrumental in cording off the area; moving the crowds back to Market Street and by so doing were able to control the sporadic looting that had began.

The ABDF was also called out to assist the police on the night of 1994 to conduct road blocks on Kentish Road, St. John's, in its search for drugs, arms and ammunition. Again, in March 1996, when Princess Diana and her two sons visited the K-Club resort on Barbuda, 10 miles from Codrington, the town that houses most of Barbuda's 1,500 inhabitants, they were protected from a posse of paparazzi and royal watchers by police and armed Antigua and Defense Force soldiers assigned to assure her privacy. The Palmetto, an ABDF Coast Guard vessel, patrolled the waters in front of the club and turned away photographers trying to reach the area by boat (Massiah 7). A similar patrol was carried out by the Liberta in December 1995 on Princess Diana's previous visit.

Because of a manpower problem with the police, the army was called out on 28 March 1999 to help end a crisis in which businessman Michael Aflak was held hostage by Garfield Thompson and Christopher Grant, both Jamaicans. Though the ransom money was paid, Aflak was killed and so were the abductors/captors by a hail of bullets by members of the ABDF (Weekly Gleaner 15).

On 11 June 1999, a contingent of 16 police and army personnel were deployed to Antigua' sole prison to assist Amalgamated Security Services (ASS) of Trinidad and Tobago with its management in the wake of a mini-riot (Virgin Islands Daily News 18). This was not an isolated case because in July 2000, after prison authorities discovered a variety of implements seemingly to harm prison officers or assist them in escaping, the military assisted the police in conducting a detailed search of each and every cell. ASS has repeatedly complained of being attacked by inmates armed with various objects (Jamaica Gleaner A8). In October 1999, after the police were instrumental in apprehending and deporting 17 illegal immigrants from Santo Domingo, the first such incident in Antigua, Truehart Smith, Antigua and Barbuda's Commissioner of police, highlighted the need for the coast guard to become more vigilant.

Assistance in Times of Natural Disaster (Overseas)

On account of the needs that arose on the island of Montserrat given the dislocation caused by the activity of the Soufriere volcano and the ABDF was instrumental in writing the first draft of the evacuation plan. The ABDF Coast Guard, made five trips to that island in 1995 to transport food, medical equipment and supplies for the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross. In 1998, the ABDF rendered general assistance and acted as a staging area for the relief operation in St. Kitts in the aftermath of Hurricane Georges.

Overseas Peacekeeping

The ABDF, on 25 October 1983, sent a 14-man squad led by Lt. Trevor Thomas to assist in the Grenada rescue mission codenamed "Operation Urgent Fury" designed to dislodge the Revolutionary Military Council headed by Hudson Austin which had assumed power after the brutal killing of Grenada's Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop (Adkin 220). Antigua and Barbuda forces, including police, stayed in Grenada until Spring of 1985 as part of the regional peace keeping effort. Members of the ABDF returned to Grenada in late 1986 in response to a request from Prime Minister Herbert Blaize. Blaize had feared the eruption of violence as the Maurice Bishop trial neared its end.

Also, twelve persons from the ABDF, led by Lt. Eugene Philip, participated in peace keeping efforts in Trinidad in August 1990 following the coup attempt by radical Black Muslims against the constitutionally elected government headed by Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson.

In a personal interview with Captain Best, he noted that though ABDF personnel were not in Haiti as part of Caribbean Battalion I, they were members of Battalion II, III and IV, codenamed "Operation Uphold Democracy." For Battalion II, the ABDF sent 15 soldiers led by Lt. Tybrel Raymond on September 1995. In respect of Battalion III, the ABDF sent 20 soldiers led by Captain Eugene Philip. The third contingent part of CARICOM IV, was headed by Captain Randolph Best, Jr. They were all awarded a medal for military achievement from the United Nations for service in Haiti, including Private Timothy Dubois, who on account of his involvement in the motor patrol, was singled out for recognition.


This article found, among other things, that the regular Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force (ABDF) was formed to coincide with independence in 1981 at which time it incorporated the pre-exiting ABDF, a volunteer force, the latter being formed in 1897.

Headed by a Commander of the rank of Colonel, the 215-strong ABDF (in 2000) is made up of four major parts: Force Headquarters (inclusive of which is its Service and Support company), the First Antigua and Barbuda Battalion (1ABR), the ABDF Coast Guard and the National Cadet Corps, all of which report to the Commander. The ABDF took over operational command of the Marine Unit of the national police force on 1 May 1995. As of 1996, it was without both an air wing and a military band.

In its 22-year existence since independence, the ABDF has had three Commanders, all of whom have been Antiguans: Major Llewelyn E. Haywood (1981-82); Lt. Col. Clyde Walker (1982-1990) and his successor, Col. Trevor Thomas, MBE. Apart from initial infantry training which is carried out in Antigua, ABDF personnel, both infantry and coast guard, have received training in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, Panama, Jamaica, Belize, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago and St. Kitts. By way of example, as of 1996, four army officer cadets had attended the Ulric Pilgrim School, Guyana Defense Force, in Guyana and two ABDF coast guard cadet officers had completed the Midshipman's course at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, U.K.

The ABDF is associated with twelve different functions, among them are internal security, the prevention of drug smuggling and overseas peacekeeping. Two examples of the latter transpired in August 1990 when ABDF soldiers, along with others from two other Caribbean defense forces, were sent to Trinidad to restore order following the coup attempt by radical Black Muslims against the constitutionally-elected government headed by then Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson. Also, personnel from the ABDF served in Haiti in 1995-1996.


1 Lionel Hurst, "Diplomatic Notes", 21 Oct. 2002-3.

2 Two members of the West India Regiment (1959-1962) who also served in the ABDF: Private Alfred Brown and Private Sylvester Benjamin.

3 Lt. Cdr. Wayne A. Mykoo completed the Midshipman's course at the Royal Britannia Naval College, Dartmouth, United Kingdom, in 1988. He is the 26th Jamaican to do so and also served as the Aide-de-Camp to the Governor General of Jamaica.

4 Lt. Cdr. Paul W. Wright completed the Midshipman's course at the Royal Britannia Naval College, Dartmouth, United Kingdom, in 1991. He is the 30th Jamaican to do so.

5 Lt. Paul Wright, "The formation of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force Coast Guard, Alert: The Magazine of the Jamaica Defence Force 2002: 23 & 41.

6 These two persons were police officers: a retired and the incumbent commissioner of police.

7 Vere Bird, Jr.'s passport revealed that he had met with Colombian Medellin drug-cartel members in France to discuss the trans-shipment. In addition to the Colombia connection in 1989, Antigua was used as a territorial base by the Space Research Corporation to facilitate the illegal shipment of arms and ammunition to South Africa in 1978-1979.

8 On account of the degradation that Lt. Col. Clyde Walker's action is perceived to have brought on the good name of the ABDF, he has become somewhat of a pariah in their eyes. Though he has remained a resident on the island of Antigua, it appears that he is "not welcomed" in their midst and as reported to this author by a Senior ABDF officer, he has "never set foot" at Camp Blizard, home of the ABDF, since the scandal. Lt. Col. Walker was rehired by the government in 1993 as a consultant in the Ministry of Aviation with responsibility for security matters at the V.C. International Airport.

9 Now promoted to Lt. Col.

10 Barbuda, part of the two island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, is north of Antigua and has only 2 percent of the nation's population. A third and much smaller island, Redonda, is uninhabited.

11 Between 1979 and 1984, Antiguans were swamped by news stories about Grenada being a communist threat to its neighbors; "Antigua: Is it a case of insecurity?", Caribbean Contact, July 1978: 19; "Antigua leader seeks aid to stem Communism", San Juan Star, 23 June 1979: 12; "Beware of communism, warns Prime Minister Bird", Barbados Advocate, 3 November 1984: 1.

12 The San Juan Star "Antigua Bares coup plot involving Grenada aide," 5 May 1979: 9.

13 Gale Morgan later married a member of the Barbados Defence Force and relocated to Barbados.

14 These are Captains Ivor Walker (1985), Glyne Dunnah (1986) and Randolph Best (1987), together with Lt. Eugene Philip (1987). In addition, three officers have completed the 3-month Platoon Commander Battle Course at Warminister as well. There are Lt. Tybrel Raymond (1991), Lt. Arden Nicholas (1992) and Lt. George Wehner (1995). Lt. Nicholas is the only ABDF officer to have completed the 11-week Regimental Signal Course at Warminister having done so in September-November 1995. Lt. George Wehner is the only ABDF officer to have completed the Basic Engineer Course at the School of Engineers at Belvoure, Maryland, U.S.A.

15 15 There are Col. Trevor Thomas (1983), Ag. Lt. Col. Ivor Walker (1984) and Lt. Col. Edward Croft (1985).

16 The ABDF is an allied Regiment of the Staffordshire Regiment. This alliance was started with the former South Staffordshire Regiment dating from 1956. It is also based on the long spell of the 38th Foot in the West Indies, when it was stationed in Antigua from 1707 to 1764; Rob Chapman, "Renegades and Viragos: Staffordshire Regiment in the Caribbean, 1707-64," Military Illustrated, December 1994: 15-17; Rob Chapman, "Caribbean Posting: Staffordshire Regiment, 1707-1764," Military Illustrated, November 1994: 11-13.

17 There is a U.S. Air Force base in Antigua that collects satellite data as well as a 250-kilowatt medium wave relay station which beams programs throughout the Caribbean region, chiefly during the evening hours. Also, until its closure in 1995, the US operated a naval base. The latter is now the home of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force.

18 Antigua and Barbuda have had fishing disputes with Guadeloupe. Fishermen from Guadeloupe fish in Antigua and Barbuda's territorial waters. In September 1996, Prime Minister Lester Bird raised the issue with the president of the Regional Council of Guadeloupe, Madame Lucette Machaux-Chevry and the general secretary of the Prefecture of Guadeloupe, Dominique Vian, "Fishermen cautioned," The Barbados Advocate, 18 September 1996: 10.

19 Members of the Optimist Club of St. Johns were transported to Barbuda to repaint a school blackboard and distribute relief supplies.

20 Personnel from the Ministry of Home Affairs traveled to Barbuda to, among other things, check on the welfare and condition of senior citizens.


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