Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss Gorman never set out to break the glass ceiling or prove that women are just good as men. Her drive, which has resulted in her outstanding historical achievements, is more deeply entrenched in her innate desire to fulfil the self-given mandate to selflessly serve her country and be an agent of change and an inspiration to any boy or girl with big dreams.
She thought she could, and she did, is the perfect statement to describe her approach to life ever since she was a little girl growing up in Top Alston, Clarendon.
“I was just a little girl growing up [enjoying] a normal childhood,” Wemyss Gorman shared in a Gleaner interview. “But I think what is essential to the person I am today is the fact that I don’t think that there are things that I can’t do. I wasn’t socialised that way. I had strong women all through that influenced my life.” These strong women included her grandmother, Lynette Freckleton, and her mom, Marie Freckleton.
The first female chief of defence staff in the English-speaking Caribbean and the Commonwealth, Wemyss Gorman, stands tall in her field and can be justly proud of the accolades. To put her extraordinary achievements in context, she is the second woman in history, behind retired Major General Alenka Ermenc of Slovenia, to command a national army and the only current female army chief.
A proud graduate of the Britannia Royal Naval College in the United Kingdom and the United States Naval War College, Weymss Gorman credits these institutions with providing her with much of the requisite knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to create and inspire change. In her speech at the Change of Command ceremony, she outlined her approach to the task at hand. “I will enable service members by focusing on professional military education and proficiency at all levels. Gender and trade neutral opportunities for leadership and development will be prioritised,” she shared. Such a recipe, properly executed and served, is bound to be palatable and augurs well for the future of those under her command and the nation as a whole.
The JDF made a bold and historic move when it became the first defence force in the Caribbean to have women serving on the front line. Wemyss Gorman was the first seagoing female officer to serve the Coast Guard unit. Of course, this was just one of the first remarkable achievements in her career.
Stories are told about her stance at sea – a firm and dedicated team player whose goal was to get the job done. As she grew and progressed in her profession, she became more committed to her personal and professional growth and development as well as that of the other members of the JDF. She was instrumental in coordinating and planning fundamental courses at the Caribbean Maritime Military Training Centre (CMMTC). CMMTC is responsible for delivering maritime training to regional maritime forces. Over the years, the institution has delivered phenomenal training that has no doubt positively impacted the region’s security.
She also led the Force Strategic Defence Review and oversaw the policies of all the staff branches within the division’s headquarters.
Her decades of exemplary service led to her being honoured for Distinguished Leadership by the United Way Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) and other groups who recognised and praised her impact on the region’s maritime security.
The first and only woman to attain a flag rank, Wemyss Gorman has served in several capacities since joining the army in 1992.
From as early as 1998, she served as director of marine transport in the Ministry of Public Utilities and Transport until 2000. She also served as the commanding officer of the Coast Guard from 2013 to 2018, and from 2018 to 2019, she served as brigade commander, maritime air and cyber command. In January 2020, she assumed the post of force executive officer (FXO) with the responsibility to provide strategic guidance to the force in support of the transformational vision of the then chief of defence staff. As the FXO, she formulated and directed force policies while coordinating all the staff branches responsible for the daily operation of the force.
As chief of defence staff, Wemyss Gorman has openly stated her commitment to the security and development of Jamaica. She also has an equally fulfilling role of mother to a son. Motherhood for her is a thrilling adventure. She embraces and revels in the opportunity to share in her son’s growth and watch him evolve. She is guided by the notion that motherhood and career call for tremendous sacrifice. Wemyss Gorman has proven that even on a tightrope, one can achieve balance if one remains focused and committed to the goal.