The VKS: Built on discipline and integrityPOSTED: 06/28/12 12:00 PM
St. Maarten / By Torana Granston – The Voluntary Corps of St. Maarten (VKS) observes fifteen years as a paramilitary organization in the service of the nation today. Commander of the unit, Major Jean Illidge is excited about the numerous activities that have been running all week to mark the milestone. Reflecting on the principles upon which the VKS was formed he said that outstanding discipline was one of the tenets that ensured its survival.
“It has not all been smooth sailing over the fifteen years but we have come so far because of the discipline of the organization. Our training is based on military standards and we give assistance to the police. In any military organization, discipline is the foremost principle. You have to live up to the rules and regulations and there is no deviation from that. We are not flexible. Our rules are maintained strictly.”
You must be a Dutch citizen and residing on the island before you can be considered for membership in the VKS. Once a person fills one of the application forms that are available at the organization’s Guadeloupe Road, Madame Estate office it is then scrutinized. This is to ensure that the applicant possesses neither criminal record nor a background of delinquent behavior. One also has to do a preliminary test, a physical and medical examination after submitting the written application.
“You have to follow the first preliminary course which lasts for eight months before you are installed as a soldier,” Illidge explained.
People can then gradually climb up the ladder. The chain of command lies strictly with Illidge as commander, his assistant (the first officer) and his secondary staff.
“We have meetings every month with this select group to discuss our policies and programs.”
As the name suggests, the corps provides voluntary service in the broadest sense of the word. Particularly when there is a hurricane or any other natural disaster, all man hours are seen as selfless service to the nation. However whenever assistance is requested by the Police, the members of the VKS receive a compensation. It is stipulated in the organization’s charter that the entity that requests the assistance of the corps has to carry the financial burden. The organization is also maintained through a government subsidy annually to offset operational expenses.
“A lot of time is being invested with the police, prison and the Customs,” Illidge said.
Requests are also made by non-profit organizations for the services of the VKS. The group is very active in community service as well cleaning beaches, painting buildings and drug rehabilitation projects.
“The voluntary corps is a stepping stone for its members to get inside some of the government entities such as the House of Detention and the Customs. Those organizations believe that when you come from the VKS you have a lot of discipline and integrity.”
It is because of this impeccable image that Illidge anticipates that within a few years even more young people will join the VKS and eventually further careers in law enforcement.
Officially established on June 28, 1997, the VKS was modeled after a similar system in Curacao. “We had a hurricane in 1995 and during that period a lot of officials could not really function. Their homes were destroyed and in the disaster no one was controlling. The Voluntary Corps of Curacao (VKC) came over to render assistance by preventing looting and maintaining law and order. After everything came back to the normal, the then Commissioner of Police and the head of the VKC got together and discussed the development of a similar organization here. I was approached and we tried to set it up as fast as possible,” Illidge explained.
He reminisced on the first recruitment drive where more than 100 people applied. Only 35 of them passed the rigorous evaluation process, though, and were installed as the first batch of officers. During that time he travelled back and forth between St. Maarten and Curacao to upgrade his certification to the military level.
The group was also instrumental in assisting the police’s riot squad during a protest action to stop the construction of the boardwalk. However the challenge always remains effective functioning during a hurricane.
“The biggest challenge to date is when we have to leave our homes and function during the hurricane. We usually have to be on standby and then work at the shelters along with the Red Cross. After the passing of the hurricane, we execute the curfews that are put in place.”
A proud Illidge said that he is at the helm of an organization that is always training and always ready. If there is an emergency, they give themselves a window period of one hour to be fully operational. In fact, the Latin motto of the agency, Semper Paratus, means always ready.
Most of the VKS officers have a regular job and choose to devote the rest of their time to voluntary service or the regular training sessions on weekends.
“You have to be committed when you are in this organization. It’s not just about putting on a nice uniform. We have motivational and training courses continuously.”
A highlight of the 15th anniversary celebrations for the VKS will be a formal reception and award ceremony at the Holland House on Saturday night June 30. A loyal service silver medal will be given to persons that have been with the organization from the beginning while those amassing seven and half years of service will be accorded the bronze medal.
“Being that we render assistance to the police, Holland will also award medals to volunteers in the public order and security field. It will be quite a nice ceremony,” Illidge said.
Before that ceremony, the public has been invited to witness a parade in front of the Government Administration Building from 4:00 p.m. It will include the VKS, Police, Fire Department, Prison and a contingent from the Royal Anguilla Police Force.