(Jamaica Gleaner) Kirtland Gill had no idea that his flight out of Jamaica 20 years ago would have taken him to the Buckingham Palace and landed him into the history books as the first black soldier to head the oldest regiment in the British Army.
Gill, 40, was just going to visit relatives in February 2001 when he boarded the nine-hour flight to the United Kingdom.
After being persuaded by a recruiting sergeant, he joined the army and has gradually moved up the ranks.
The sergeant major, who was raised in Hampton Court, St Thomas, served in Iraq in 2005 and was a section commander in Afghanistan in 2007.
Come next year, he will be promoted to regimental sergeant major, and that position will see him leading the elite Coldstream Guards that is responsible for protecting the Queen. The guards in the 500-strong regiment also play a role in state visits at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
As a regimental sergeant major, he will be orchestrating parades, such as the Queen’s Birthday Parade.
Gill has already met Her Majesty twice.
“The Queen is a vague person, and to me, she really cares a lot about everything that goes on in the UK, not just the army, and she actually shows that keen interest in whatever we do,” he told The Gleaner.
The prospective chief guardian of the Queen said that while he is not surprised, he is delighted at his promotion, which he says is the culmination of hard work.
Gill’s brother, Ryan, had also joined the army, but he left in 2016. The siblings were raised by parents Michael Gill, a fisherman, and Castrolyn Scott, a dressmaker, and according to the army man, they “lived a normal country life”. Kirtland’s sister, Anneisha, is a teacher and still resides in Jamaica.
Gill said that former principal at the St Thomas Technical High School, Dennis Clarke, had a great influence on his life.
“He definitely left his mark on me. He was a disciplinarian. It’s what we see in the army as firm but fair,” he recalled.
After finishing school at 16 years old, Gill went to work as a carpenter with his uncle in Spanish Town, St Catherine, but left that trade after a year. He dabbled in fishing for a while until he left for England.
“It’s probably one of the things that I enjoy the most, other than being a soldier,” he said.
Fishing is definitely one of the things he looks forward to on his visits to the island. His last trip was in 2018, and while he had planned to visit this year, the COVID-19 pandemic threw off those arrangements.
Gill is aware that his new role is a unique one, which will take diligence, commitment and a high level of professionalism, but he is up to the task. The army, he said, presents great opportunities and he plans to continue working hard.
“I am the sort of person that tries not to look too far,” he said when asked his ultimate goal.
He is looking forward to visiting his camp, get a workout at the gym, and spend some quality time with wife Sashagay and his four-year-old daughter, Hayley, on Christmas Day, although he is missing home.
“I always say, there is no Christmas like Christmas in Jamaica,” he said.