After a hearing last year, the soldiers who suffered various degrees of injuries following an explosion at Camp Groomes on the Soesdyke/Linden Highway, 16 years ago, were confident that they would have been adequately compensated. But just over a year since the inquiry, they are worried that even a new Government, led by a retired Brigadier, has not in any way helped to change their situation.
Three of the nine soldiers, who have been voicing their concerns in recent years, yesterday shared their belief that from all indications, theirs is a fate of continuous neglect. They are however hoping that their fear will be appeased by the Head of State – President David Granger – who they claimed to have helped vote into power.
According to the now ex-soldiers who visited this publication yesterday to share their still traumatic tale, they were informed that the outcome of their situation currently lies in the hands of President Granger.
“We are hearing that everything is on the President’s desk and it has to go through Parliament and all sort of things,” the former soldiers said.
On the night of Monday, December 18, 2000, the now medically unfit ranks were among a unit tasked with guarding the ammunition storage (munitions) bond at Camp Groomes. The bond, due to reasons which have not been released to the public, exploded. The bond reportedly contained grenades, various rifles, guns, and a suspected chemical weapon which the government had said was destroyed at the time.
When the dust settled after the massive explosion, three ranks were dead and among the injured were Samuel Archer, Colwin Lewis, Wincel Wade, Kerwin Wilson, Curtis Samuels, Delroy Hutson, Joslyn Ross, Cecil Ault and Wendell Cort. The first three named ranks, who visited Kaieteur News yesterday, said that they were present when an inquiry into the matter was conducted in May of last year.
They said that they were told that within three weeks of a hearing into the matter they would all be contacted.
“The three weeks done turn into a year and we still ain’t hear nothing from nobody,” said Archer yesterday. The now 40-year-old man said that he suffered burns about 95 percent of his body following the explosion. He revealed that because of the burns he sustained, he can only retain short-term work.
“Every time I go out and do a li’l carpentry work here and there I does end up feeling sick. I find I does can’t push me body like before, because of what the burns do to me…but I does still got to try; I got a li’l son and me mother to think about,” related Archer, who hails from Kuru Kururu, Soesdyke/Linden Highway.
“I would really like the President to look into our situation and see to it that we are compensated…I believe it is time that something is done,” said Archer
Wincel Wade, another injured soldier, is currently 34 years old. But he remembers all too well the day of the explosion.
“I fly up in the air and when I land, both my hands break, and a piece of shrapnel fly into my back,” Wade recalled. He said that a doctor informed him that it would not have been wise to remove the shrapnel, since it was believed that it would have exited on its own. But the shrapnel, according to the Berbician, remains intact in his back years later.
Still struggling to come to grips with the fact that his injuries will remain with him for life is Colwin Lewis. He undoubtedly sustained the worst of the injuries. The 37-year-old, who lives in a 10×10 structure at Enmore, East Coast Demerara, sustained third degree burns on both legs, lost three of his toes, and his left heel was burnt to the bone. He also suffered severe burns to his back, and suffers bouts of memory loss.
Although he is still barely able to walk on his own, Lewis said that he felt compelled to once again make an appeal for Government’s intervention.
“I am pleading with this Government to do something for us. All that we are hearing is that this gonna do and that gonna do, but nothing is happening,” Lewis lamented.
He, like his colleagues, is dependent on the Guyana Defence Force pension which amounts to just about $27,000 per month. “I try to do what I can, but I am in constant pain, sometimes the pain is so much that I can’t even get up as I like,” Lewis confided. He has however been trying to maintain some sense of independence by rearing some poultry.
According to the ex-soldiers, they are prepared to disregard all the years of waiting and the many promises made by both the past and present governments over the years, in the hope that the findings of the inquiry last year would serve to bring closure to not only the ordeal they experienced, but the subsequent fate they were made to endure.
“By now we thought we would have been treated better, but all we get so far is promises, promises and more promises,” the ex-soldiers claimed.
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