VKS commander Illidge says goodbye

POSTED: 03/11/13 12:39 AM

St. Maarten -Former commander of the Voluntary Corps of St. Maarten Lieutenant Colonel Jean Illidge bid an emotional farewell to public service to the nation on Saturday afternoon in the presence of close to 100 dignitaries and invited guests, as well as VKS ranks. The event was the farewell ceremony at the Clem Labega Square for Illidge who officially retired on February 28. Among those present at the ceremony were Governor Eugene Holiday, Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, Ministers Silveria Jacobs and Cornelius de Weever, members of the judiciary, representatives of the High Councils of State, past and present leadership of the Anguilla Police Force, the Voluntary Corps of Curacao (VKC), Dutch representatives, the St. Maarten Police Force and the former Voluntary Corps of St. Eustatius. No Members of Parliament were present at the ceremony.
Illidge said that he was overwhelmed, dignified and deeply appreciative of the sentiments that were expressed during the farewell ceremony, but had one regret; that he was unable to see the realization of barracks for the growing organization.

On February 6, Illidge held his last staff meeting with his final instruction being that no formal ceremony be held in his honor. However the ranks decided to host the ceremony anyway which was colored with a military parade, inspection of the guard of honor and speeches.
“All of my knowledge, professional expertise and everything I invested in St. Maarten, the former commander said. Illidge admitted that there were many challenges to get the organization to the place it is today but he had set out, from its inception, “to prove the critics wrong.”
He said that he encountered many difficulties due to the past structure of the VKS, which until 10.10.10 was an extension of the VKC.
“I had some run ins with the previous commanders of the VKC over their policies.”
He described the VKS as being on firm footing today with proud, strong and courageous members.
“Do not forget that most of what you are judged on is what you give and not what you get. The best you can give is your fundamental self,” Illidge charged the VKS.
He told the ranks how proud he was of them and indicated that although he may no longer be commander, he will still be “on the outside looking in” at the development of VKS.
He spoke of his code of conduct, level of discipline and responsiveness to the needs of the ranks. During his address, he read an excerpt of a letter that he had received from second lieutenant David Bartfield at the time of his retirement.
“You showed a commanding presence without raising voices or threatening punishment. Your word was ensuring that tasks would be completed and your demeanor never changed whether you were addressing officers or the newest soldiers. It goes without saying that the highest ethics and morality were expected of members…because the commander himself was a living example.”
The former leader spoke of the numerous training exercises and officers courses as well as social activities that were initiated under his watch.
In 2001 he was asked to set up the Voluntary Corps of St. Eustatius and was eventually asked to head that body, but Illidge said that he declined, preferring for the leadership role to be assumed by a Statian.
Six years ago he established a friendship agreement with the Royal Anguilla Police Force. That friendship and exchange of views remains intact today, even other different commissioners, Illidge said.
He was lauded by Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams for his invaluable service to the nation (see related story on pg. 4) while Chief Commissioner of Police Peter de Witte said that he was highly respected by the St. Maarten Police Force. De Witte then handed Illidge a token of appreciation on behalf of the force.
During the farewell ceremony, the VKS also hoisted its new flag.

The Future
Acting commander Captain Paul Martens after giving a history of Illidge’s contribution to the region said that there will be continuity of some of his policies. Martens said that as head of the management team he would continue to push for property to be made available for barracks to for the VKS.
“Promises were made but nothing ever materialized. We have our office but it is rather small.”
He suggested that the property that would be available for a building for the Royal Dutch marines could also be shared by the VKS.
He added that the under the guidance of the Ministry of General Affairs, the supervisory council will soon be in the place.
“Once the foundation is in place and the board members are appointed…there will be a new command structure. For the interim, I will function as I have been first officer for about 10 years; the first officer is also the Deputy Commander. But the leadership of the VKS is not something that one can do alone. The senior members, commissioned and non-commissioned officers are all part and parcel of it,” Martens stated.

Illidge in Brief
Jean Alexi Illidge was born on French St. Martin on October 18, 1934 but was sent to Aruba to continue his schooling after childhood days here. At that time he only spoke French and English but quickly learned Dutch. Illidge eventually joined the Netherlands Antilles Police Force. He served in various islands of the former Netherlands Antilles for over 30 years as a police officer. In 1983 he retired as an inspector in Aruba. He then returned to St. Maarten and took up a supervisory position at the Divi Resort until the hotel filed for bankruptcy in 1993.
He then joined a trio of former police officers and together they formed a police training academy here for the basic officers training course. It was initiated as an alternative to people heading to Curacao for formal police training and was housed at the complex that is utilized by the St. Maarten Academy PSVE. However, owing to poor attendance, the project had to be scrapped.
In September 1995 Hurricane Luis rocked the island. Rebuilding took quite some time and the VKC took the decision to form the VKS here in 1995. As first officer, Illidge was appointed Commander and held the position for 15 years and 8 months until his retirement. During the organization’s 15th anniversary last year, Illidge was promoted from the rank of Major to Lieutenant Colonel.
In his final words, Illidge recited a poem “In My Shoes”.
“I woke up one day and I realized that there were many things about my life I was not satisfied with or better still, there were challenges that were threatening my soul. And I said to myself, “Why should anyone envy me and want to be in my shoes.” They don’t know how far I’ve come, they don’t know what lies ahead of me, and neither do they know how dissatisfied I get with myself from time to time. People don’t know the troubles that you’ve had or the price you had to pay to get to where you are. All they want to know is that they wish they were like you. Why should you wish you were in anybody’s shoes when you hardly know how they fit? When you’ve worn your shoes for a while, they take the shape of your feet and align to the way you walk. If you were to wear my shoes, you will not be comfortable in them. So I stopped wishing that I am in someone else shoes because it might not fit; rather I thank God for my shoes, because they fit!” Illidge concluded.

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