Mon | Sep 26, 2022

Clarendon native in British Army awarded MBE

Former May Pen resident living her dream as a soldier going places

Published:Friday | June 10, 2022 | 12:05 AMOlivia Brown/Gleaner Writer
Watkinson
Watkinson
Watkinson in uniform.
Watkinson in uniform.
Felicia with her mother Grace.
Felicia with her mother Grace.
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From May Pen, Clarendon, to the British Empire. The story of Felicia Nadine Watkinson is one of resilience and determination.

Watkinson is set to be inducted as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2022. The MBE award, established in 1917 by King George, is an appointment to the Order of the British Empire. The honours system, founded during World War One, honours the work and efforts of civilians and servicemen in non-combat roles.

Watkinson serves the British Army as a staff sergeant of the Staff and Personnel Support (SPS) arm of the Adjutant General’s Corps.

In her citation, she is lauded for her work ethic, leadership skills and drive. Her citation reads: “Her intelligent leadership, initiative and drive have transformed the performance of her small team. Many of her initiatives and innovations have been adopted as best practice across the network of National Support Elements in location in Europe.”

Watkinson, of Bucks Avenue in May Pen, told The Gleaner that the honour is surreal. “I come from humble beginnings, and it seems a million miles away from May Pen to being awarded an MBE. I am still in shock and keep pinching myself. I am surprised; this is something I didn’t expect or believe would ever happen to me.”

Recounting news that she was named among the honourees, she said: “A couple of weeks ago, I was called into the office of my major general. I was amazed when he told me the news that I was to be awarded an MBE, and me being me, I gave him a hug; not something you normally do, especially to your superior officer.”

She asserted that her award is one of significant cultural importance, citing acts of diversity and inclusiveness being undertaken by the British Army. “It is a great honour to be appreciated and recognised by my team and staff. I see this award as a further example of how the British Army has changed and is becoming more diverse and inclusive,” she said.

A past student of May Pen Primary and Lennon High schools in Clarendon, Watkinson said some of her fondest memories are cemented in her life as a student in Jamaica. She shared that she in now living the life she had dreamed of, having long harboured dreams of becoming a soldier or a police officer.

CHILDHOOD DREAM

“Growing up and being very girly, I always wanted to be a soldier or a policewoman. I wanted to prove to myself and show that I could do anything as a girl and still be a girly girl.”

Her journey from Jamaica to England some three decades ago, however, was no easy feat. Watkinson said she manoeuvred the woes, working several jobs to save money to fulfil her dreams. “Like many Jamaicans and a black woman, I work very hard no matter the task, and to the best of my abilities at all times,” she said.

The 45-year-old, who joined the army at age 26, emphasised that being in the military, too, is not for the faint at heart. Nonetheless, she said: “As with all careers, the military has its highs and lows, but generally, it has been great and one I am very proud of.”

She added that her role as a military clerk has allowed her to tap into many opportunities.

“I have served in Belize, Germany and Belgium, as well as with other units in the UK, including elite units such as the first battalion Coldstream Guards (the oldest continuously serving regular regiment in the British Army). I have also served in numerous staff jobs, including Ministry of Defence London, United Kingdom,” she disclosed.

She lauded her family as her support, especially her household, which she describes as a military and public service family.

“My husband, David, served 10 years with the Home Office, his brother served 32 years in the Royal Navy. My oldest son, Ridge, also born in May Pen, is serving in the British Army, Royal Logistics Corps. My younger son, William, is a cadet corporal in the Combined Cadet Force (RAF section) at school. Uniforms galore!” she exclaimed.

Watkinson said her abilities were put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic, when her team maintained their flexibility and resilience in supporting the families who were travelling back and forth from the UK.

Watkinson, who was a sergeant at the time, was standing in as head of Location Brussels, working within the European Joint Support Unit, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe - a role that is three ranks above her own.

Her citation reads that she “shouldered considerable additional responsibility, including standing in as the head of Location Brussels and covering the absent Warrant Officer Class One position for six months, in addition to maintaining her own responsibilities and delivering high output and support for the headquarters”.

Watkinson added: “I was part of a small assurance team supporting British service personnel, civilian staff and their families serving in NATO member countries. This award has been awarded ostensibly for my work in Belgium; I led NATO HQ in Brussels as the head of location for six months during the pandemic. This role as the head of Location Brussels is a Warrant Officer Class One (WO1) position.

“I know that my family and friends are very proud of me, although I consider that I am accepting this award on behalf of myself and my colleagues.”

Grace Brown McIndoe, Watkinson’s mother, is proud indeed. McIndoe, who spoke with The Gleaner on Friday, said: “I am the proudest mother alive today. I am so happy that the Lord has kept me alive to see her come this far,” she said.

“I love all my children and I’m proud of them all, but Nadine has made us all very happy and proud. I had tears of joy when I learned of her MBE award, and I’m looking forward to attending Buckingham Palace, or Windsor Castle, to see her collect her medal soon.”

olivia.brown@gleanerjm.com