Kenrick — A Conversation with Kenrick Mark Coleman Features Eric Neal
The Kenrick Mark Coleman Foundation
Kenrick — A Conversation with Kenrick Mark Coleman Features Eric Neal
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Eric Richard Neal. I was born in southside Belize City. My parents are Eric Gilbert Neal and Elaine Peters Arnold and I am the sixth of seven children. I am married to Nicole Arias Neal and we have one daughter Artesha Arias Neal.
I graduated from St. John’s College in May 1999 and St. John’s College Junior College in June 2001 where I obtained an Associate’s Degree in General Studies. In August of that year, I was hired to teach English, Social Studies and Physical Education. Upon the expiration of my contract in August 2002, I decided to seek employment at the Belize Central Prison as a corrections officer. During my tenure, I was promoted to the rank of Grade One Officer and I held numerous appointments primarily: Records Clerk, Inmate Welfare Officer, Officer in Charge of Boot Camp, and Officer in Charge of Remands Section for Team II. On the advice of my superiors and other retired members of the BDF, I decided to sit the Officer Cadet Selection in January 2004 where I was selected as a Cadet.
On 15th February 2004, I resigned from the Prison and enlisted in the BDF. By March 28th I was in Guyana, South America attending basic officer’s course at Colonel Ulrich Pilgrim Officer Cadet School and I was commissioned to the rank of Second Lieutenant on the 26th November 2004. Since my return, I have held sixteen offices/posts within the BDF notably: Force Junior Finance Officer, Force Quartermaster, Youth Programs Coordinator CYDP, Force Junior Adjutant, Officer Commanding Alpha Company, Officer Commanding Training Company, Force Finance and Logistics Officer (twice), Inspector General Ministry of National Security, and for 12 ½ years I was the ADC to the Governor-General of Belize. I have attended numerous courses namely: Quartermaster Course in Fort Lee Virginia (Outstanding Student Award), Junior Command and Staff Course (Superior Rating), Defence Resources Management, and International Logistics Officer Course.
I was also the Vice President of the PTA and a member of the Board of Management for Ladyville Technical High School. I was also a member of the Dispute Committee for the Belize Cricket Association and an Adjunct Lecturer, in College English, at the University of Belize. I am currently a Major and the Chief Scout of the Scout Association of Belize.
I hold a BA in English (Magna Cum Lude) from the University of Belize, an MA in Strategic Security Studies (Honors), and a War College Diploma in International Security and Combatting Terrorism from the College of International Affairs, National Defence University, Washington DC. I have also participated in several conferences where I presented on my thesis entitled “Indigenous People in Belize: Guaranteeing Rights and Security for All,” and on a research paper entitled “Iron Block: using Indigenous Land Appreciation to counter Incursions”.
2. You recently completed your Master’s Degree in the USA. What do you believe is important in this your role?
In June 2017 I graduated from the College of International Affairs, National Defense University in Washington DC with an MA in Strategic Security Studies (Honors) and a War College Diploma in International Security and Combatting Terrorism. I believe that it is important for me to remember where my loyalty lies. It is easy to become frustrated and flustered with the way things are in Belize; however, if one is dedicated to the overall success of the nation, he or she will do all to ensure Belize succeeds. I am a servant of my people and though I believe my skills, to this point, are not being used sufficiently, I perform to the best of my ability wherever my superiors see fit. It is not about what I want but what is in the best interests of Belize. When I cease to believe in that position I will do the honourable thing and resign.
3. Tell us more about your academic life at this University? How did you receive the scholarship? Why did you choose this particular University? When did you commence studies? What subject areas are focused on? What’s your relationship like with fellow students?
Life is very interesting, before graduating from UB, I was fervently applying to Universities in the US and UK for programs in International Relations but nothing was working out. I decided to just let it go and leave it in God’s hands. I graduated from UB on the 6th of February, 2016 and Monday the 8th I received a call from the United States Military Liaison Officer’s Office (USMLO) requesting a copy of my diploma, and transcript. I provided the information as required and within a month, I was informed that I had been accepted in the Counter-Terrorism Fellowship at CISA, NDU. I must take this time to thank Mr Eammon Gillet, from the USMLO’s Office, and Lt. Colonel Louis Sutherland for their dedication in getting the approval of the Defence Board for me to attend the program. My studies started on the 12th of July 2016 and the experience was memorable. The program focused on Counter-terrorism, Counter-insurgency, Strategic Thought, Geo-Strategy, Strategy and Policy, Power Ideology and Legitimacy, and my selected minor was in Homeland Security. The cohort was dynamic including thirty-eight international students, from over thirty countries, and about seventy locals. We worked well together to achieve our academic aims whiles analyzing and offering objective observations on issues that affect nations, regions, and hemispheres.
4. Describe your transformation process from little Belize to the USA?
My duties and responsibilities as an Officer in the BDF prepared me well for the challenges of relocating for a year. Living in the USA alone was not difficult but the hard part was managing family time, remaining focused after losing close family and friends, and paying attention to my studies. There were times I became despondent, bordering on depression which affected my academic performance. It was the advice of my Primary Faculty Advisor, other faculty, and my close friends that I refocused and took my pain out on the books. It was then I decided not to leave NDU without doing something great. The results are written on the wall.
5. What are the challenges you face as a student at university? Opportunities?
To be honest I had no problems understanding the material and performing tasks. I must admit that my studies at UB over prepared me for the demands of the program. Those late nights trying to understand Lacan, Fanon; interpreting Danticat and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and analyzing communal spirit in Matigari while juxtaposing it to Belize inculcating critical thinking and made reading over 1,000 pages per week effortless. The thought-provoking assignments, discussions, and questions of Dr H, Mr G, Mr Chan and Mrs Sangster fostered a sense of objectivity in understanding how basic grievances can manifest into terrorism if the aggrieved feel that they have no access to the political opportunity structure and if they have lost faith in our justice system.
6. Why is your major important to Belize’s National Progressive and Sustainable Development?
I believe my major is important to Belize’s National Security because it promotes critical thinking in identifying Belize’s deficiencies in strategic security while developing strategies, at the highest levels, to address those deficiencies. It also dispels the belief that a robust defence guarantees security, just ask those persons who have fortresses but are still burglarized. The major also dismisses the argument that the Human Security needs of a people challenge State Sovereignty, rather they complement each other. The more resilient a people, the more they will do to ensure the retention of territorial integrity and State Sovereignty. Lastly, this major highlights the importance of analyzing all incidents of crime, incursions, migration, delinquency and other matters that may affect national security and formulate comprehensive strategies focusing on a Whole-of-Government approach to prioritize response. The swarming response is unsustainable and often does nothing to truly address the root causes.
7. Apart from your studies, did you participate in activities with other Belizeans/classmates there? How did you uphold Belize’s namesake? What is your definition of discipline and excellence?
The University promoted interaction outside of academics through sports competitions and students from the four major colleges participated. Additionally, thirty-five international students lived together in the same apartment complex so regularly we had cookouts and other activities to share in our diversity and build friendships. The University also brought in dynamic speakers to engage students and offer advice on how to interact with strategic leaders, policymakers, and politicians. The speakers that stood out to me were Secretary of Homeland Security Gen Kelly, Sen. John McCain, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and my favourite former Secretary of State General Colin Powell. The most powerful message to students was whenever we felt that we can no longer support what our leadership was doing, the best thing for us to do was to resign. Ultimately, it should never be about us but about the nation, so just walk away. Concerning interacting with Belizeans, I spent significant time at the Embassy of Belize in DC where I would exchange my ideas, listen to the ideas of others, and offer advice when required. I also got to interact with the staff members and other Belizeans within the MDV (Maryland, DC, Virginia). I even got to visit an old friend that I attended school with, from infant one to fourth form. I also got to visit one of my Compadres and his family who I had not seen in over fifteen years.
My definition of discipline is doing what is right even when no one is watching; as for excellence, do your best not because it makes you feel good, but because it is in the best interest of the nation.
8. In one of my recent articles, I stated: ‘It is important to realize that majority of Belize’s younger populations continue to be very mediocre as it relates to becoming holistically educated and cultured, personally and professionally.’ What’s your perspective on this?
As an Adjunct, at the University of Belize, I often engage my students in meaningful discussions on this very topic and the response is troubling. Though they understand the importance of getting involved in determining the trajectory of our nation, they concede it is not worth the while to challenge the status quo. They, in turn, place the responsibility of influencing change at the feet of those of us born between 1980 and 1999. They believe it is our duty, to chart the way forward because our generation is the generation that is currently the shakers and movers. I tend to agree with them.
9. You recently commenced another postgraduate degree in Canada. Can you share a little story of the journey this far? (academics, scholarship, networking, travel, adjustments, et al) What can Belize expect from you in let’s say, the next 5 years?
On the 12th of August 2019, I commenced studying at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, Ontario, Canada where I am attending the Joint Command and Staff Program which is a requirement for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. This program focuses on Leadership, Command at the Operational Level, Component Capabilities (the different arms of joint forces), International Security and Canadian Foreign Policy, Operational Planning Process, and I have selected Economics of National Security and Defence as my elective. My application for the Master of Defence Studies is currently being reviewed, if accepted I will major in Intuitional Policy Studies. The course is routinely offered to Officers in the BDF as a partnership between Canadian Armed Forces and the BDF. I am the sixth person to attend. My biggest adjustment is shifting my thought process from thinking strategically to the proverbial box.
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone; therefore, I try to live each day to the fullest. If God permits, Belize can expect my undivided attention in using my skills to promote her overall success. I am a soldier and, as experience has proven, my intentions do not always align with how my leadership employs me. Though I might have ambitions to use my knowledge to formulate strategies and policies to address Belize’s strategic security, the reality is I am a servant and I must follow all lawful orders given to me. Upon completing this course, a degree in hand or not, I must return to Belize and serve a two-year bond, with the effect 25th June 2020. During this time, I avail myself to serve the BDF, Ministry of National Security and the Government of Belize in whatever capacity leadership sees fit. If at the end of my bond, I come to the conscious realization that I can no longer objectively align myself with the principles, values, and policies of my leadership I will do the honourable thing and resign. I will return to community outreach and use my knowledge and skills in a focused attempt to empower people, breaking the proverbial chains. Therefore, Belize can expect that I will give my all to ensure her continued development and prosperity without asking for anything personal in return.
10. What three words do you have to say to young Belizeans?
Integrity, Discipline, and Loyalty