When it comes to COVID-19, there must be “no retreat and no surrender”!
It was this motto and that of the Barbados Defence Force – Excellence – that kept Captain of the HMBS Rudyard Lewis, Lieutenant Coast Guard Anderson Goodridge, going when he was thrown in at the deep end to work directly with the Ministry of Health and Wellness when COVID-19 came to our shores.
Setting aside fears for his own personal safety, that of his family and colleagues, Lieutenant Goodridge had at the forefront of his mind – “I bear an allegiance to serve my country”.
“When you join an organisation like this (BDF) and you put on a uniform, one of the first things you do is bear allegiance; you serve your country,” said the Lieutenant, who was also awarded the Star of Gallantry Award for working on the cruise ships.
A member of the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ Emergency Operations Centre from the inception to present, Lieutenant Goodridge said, as he boarded cruise ships to conduct COVID-19 tests on crews, that commitment to country remained at the forefront of his mind.
Recounting his experience, the soldier stated that during this time, the big picture was “getting out there and helping people; getting the tests done to identify those persons that would have been exposed; as this would have a great impact on reducing or controlling, or managing the whole process”.
For him, it was about recognising that he was in a positon to help not just individuals or organisations, but his entire country.
The trained Nursing Assistant, First Aid Instructor and Environmental Health Officer admitted that he swabbed persons for the PCR test at times fearing not just for his own personal safety and that of his family, but also the type of domino effect that becoming infected could have on his work colleagues.
“An immediate concern has to do with health and safety. You have to be careful. You don’t want to contract or get exposed because you don’t want to take it home to your family, and also you don’t want to be that person that is going to be affected because it will have a domino effect.
“If I am down, obviously somebody has to fill that role, so it tends to be a burden on the manpower,” Lieutenant Goodridge pointed out.
But, still he presses on, traversing the entire island conducting tests, as part of the Ministry’s mobile testing team.
For him, “your day is what you make it…. It could either be very hard, very hectic, very stressful or very calm. Once you communicate with the clients they will make you feel good,” he said, noting that the biggest challenge in conducting the tests was swabbing children.
But, for Lieutenant Goodridge who served with the BDF since 1987, service to his country came with a personal sacrifice as he had to defer studying for his Masters’ degree at the University of the West Indies, and forego family vacations overseas.
However, his faith and relationship with God, the support of his wife, and work colleagues are among the resources he draws his strength from to get through the challenging times.
“I tend to use Psalms 23 and also lean on another bible verse ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. Also the fact that our motto is Excellence, we try to live up to that as much as possible,” he said.
The Lieutenant added that he also leans on the words of Minister of Health, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic – “no retreat and no surrender” – when it seems impossible to get through the difficult times.
Captain of the Leonard C. Banfield, Lieutenant Coast Guard Shawn Hazelwood, shares a similar view.
Tasked with ensuring safety of life at sea, the Lieutenant noted that the response to a medical evacuation from a tanker; rendering assistance to a vessel with mechanical difficulties, and the humanitarian assistance disaster relief effort to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, following the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano during the pandemic, changed as a result of COVID-19.
Lieutenant Hazelwood explained that given the prevailing environment, they are often required to assess the task before deploying. However, he stressed, as part of the minimum standard, soldiers are outfitted with the right level of personal protection equipment before being deployed.
He pointed out that the response to the situation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines required a different level of preparation in a COVID-19 environment.
“What was done prior to the additional personnel embarking on the boat is that they would have been tested. The vast majority of them were also fully vaccinated. So, you would not have had the luxury of fully spacing; they were tested, so you knew their COVID status and also that they were vaccinated. That was a fail-safe,” Lieutenant Hazelwood recalled.
He added that working at sea constantly required him and the officers under his command to follow the protocols – conducting temperature checks; wearing masks and hand sanitising – along with having additional internal protection systems.
Like his colleague, Lieutenant Hazelwood sets sail to protect the interests of his country and render assistance to those in need, at a sacrifice to his family.
In some instances, he said that meant not going to see his mother, who is over the age of 70, or his son or daughter.
“There is technology; WhatsApp video calls, so you just utilise other means to maintain the contact with them,” he said, noting that his was a job that had to be done.
Both boat captains are urging members of the public not to be “lulled into a false sense of security”.
“Always ensure you have your mask and hand sanitiser. I would recommend taking the vaccine. Do all things possible to protect not just yourself but your loved ones as well,” Lieutenant Hazelwood urged.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Coast Guard Goodridge recommended that residents adhere to the advice from reliable sources, such as the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
“Keep sanitising, wearing your mask and do not drop your guard. Don’t be distracted,” he stressed.