>>> In January 2002, Joint Task Force Guantanamo (and its predecessors, JTF-160 and JTF-170) took over operations of the detention camp(s) at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. The facilities had been chosen to house "unlawful enemy combatants" captured during the so-called War on Terror.
A website for JTF GTMO was established no later than spring 2002. As it stands now, the website doesn't contain any of the earliest material that had been posted there. All speeches, press releases, and news articles from the first year of operations are long gone. I've recovered as much as I can and have posted it below.
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Commanding General Addresses Detainees
3/30/2002: Army Brig. Gen. Baccus speaks with detainees.
March 30, 2002
Updated: Saturday, April 13, 2002
Peace be with you.
My name is Brigadier General Baccus, the new commander of Joint Task Force 160. Brigadier General Lehnert, the previous commander of the joint task force, has been rotated back to his home stations as a routine change of assignment. I am a United States Army officer and a military police brigade commander.
My mission continues to be responsibility for the operation of this detention facility. We are continuing to construct a better facility, and when it becomes complete, I will inform you. The United States government has announced procedures for the military commissions, but I have no other information to report. I will keep you informed as we receive information.
I will ensure that you are treated humanely and as human beings. However, the military police soldiers who operate this camp are also human beings. I expect everyone in this camp to treat each other with mutual respect. I will not tolerate any disobedience of the camp rules. There are established consequences for those who disobey the rules. This will ensure your safety and the safety of the military policemen.
I will keep you informed of any development that may affect you. Imam Saifulislam will continue to come and visit you. He is my religious advisor and your sheikh. I advise you to be patient, as you know that “God is with those who are patient.”
4/7/2002: Army Brig. Gen. Baccus speaks with detainees.
April 7, 2002
Updated: Saturday, April 13, 2002
PEACE BE WITH YOU,
I WILL CONTINUE TO ADDRESS YOU WHEN I HAVE INFORMATION THAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.
I KNOW YOU ARE AWARE THAT NOT ALL OF THOSE WHO CAME TO THIS CAMP ARE STILL IN THIS CAMP. SOME ARE BEING CARED FOR AT OUR HOSPITAL. OTHERS ARE IN JAILS ELSEWHERE.
EACH OF YOUR CASES IS DIFFERENT. AS WE LEARN THE TRUTH ABOUT EACH OF YOU, WE ARE BETTER ABLE TO ADDRESS OUR CONCERNS WITH EACH OF YOU, AND THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT CAN RESOLVE YOUR STATUS.
WHETHER YOU ARE HERE AT THIS CAMP, OR ELSEWHERE, AS LONG AS I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU, BE ASSURED THAT YOU WILL BE TREATED HUMANELY, AND IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE REPUTATION OF THE UNITED STATES AS A NATION OF LAWS.
I ALSO EXPECT YOU TO RESPECT THE CAMP RULES. YOUR COOPERATION ENCOURAGES ME TO CONSIDER IMPROVEMENTS IN THE CAMP.
MY PRIORITY CONTINUES TO BE THE SAFETY OF THE GUARDS AND YOUR SAFETY.
THE NEW DETENTION FACILITY WILL BE READY IN ABOUT TWO WEEKS, GOD WILLING. WE WILL INFORM YOU ABOUT YOUR MOVE TO THE NEW AND BETTER FACILITY AS WE NEAR THE COMPLETION. I CONTINUE TO URGE YOU TO BE PATIENT. I WILL INFORM YOU OF ANY DEVELOPMENTS AS WE LEARN.
MAY GOD BE WITH YOU.
Press Release #2
Updated: Tuesday, April 09, 2002
Camp X-Ray receives second group of detainees
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — Thirty additional Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees arrived here today under tight security, bringing the total number of detainees to fifty.
The detainees arrived via military aircraft and were transported to Camp X-Ray for in-processing and detention.
"This group of detainees is just as dangerous as the first group that arrived last week. The transfer of custody from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is all part of the global war on terrorism. Removing these high-risk individuals from combat conditions in Afghanistan affords other military forces to concentrate on other vital missions. Today’s transfer and the future removal and detention of Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are all in support of Operation Enduring Freedom" said Army Lt. Col. Bill Costello, a military spokesman.
Detained persons have been and will continue to be treated humanely. Humane treatment includes adequate food, water, shelter, clothing and medical treatment. Guantanamo Bay is preparing to receive up to 2,000 Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees.
More than 850 military personnel, from each of the five branches of the Armed Forces, are currently assigned to Joint Task Force 160 to support security operations here.
Press Release #6
Updated: Tuesday, April 09, 2002
Muslim Chaplain joins Joint Task Force staff
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — A Muslim military chaplain joined the ranks of Joint Task Force 160 today to advise the commanding general and minister to the spiritual and religious needs of the detainees here.
Navy Lt. Abuhena M. Saifulislam visited Camp X-Ray today and prayed the Dawn (Fajr) Prayer with the detainees after meeting with Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert.
The purpose of an "Imam," a Muslim chaplain, on the JTF-160, is to serve three purposes. They are to advise the JTF-160 commander, support servicemembers of JTF-160 spiritually and give detainees spiritual support.
After he prayed with the detainees early this morning, Chaplain (Lt.) Saifulislam briefly spoke with many of them. He said the detainees were "very appreciative of the efforts we are taking."
Chaplain Saifulislam is currently one of three Navy Muslim chaplains and one of 12 in the U.S. military. He is the second Muslim chaplain to join the Navy and the first to serve in the Marine Corps.
Press Release #7
Updated: Tuesday, April 09, 2002
Medical facilities built for detainees
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - In response to health concerns about the detainees at Camp X-Ray, Navy service members began construction here this week of a temporary medical facility capable of providing medical attention that ranges from dental exams to major surgery.
The construction of the hospital required over 180 people in conjunction with Navy Fleet Hospital 20 from Camp Lejeune, N.C. Initially, it took 17 Navy builders from Construction Battalion 423, commonly known as "the Seabees," to clear and prepare the land for the hospital. This took over three days of intense 24-hour operations beginning January 18. Tents went up in one day and the International Standards Organization (ISO) containers were unpacked, expanded and organized into rooms and storage areas fit for labs, washrooms and examination rooms.
According to the fleet hospital executive officer, Navy Commander Kevin L. Gallagher, no detainees will receive medical care outside of Cuba. If a specialist is required, he will be brought into the hospital.
"There is a regular plan set to screen for diseases as the detainees arrive. Any test that’s indicated we have the capability to do, or we can send off for it," said Gallagher. "This is a complete hospital, so we have top of the line lab equipment, respirators, ICU (intensive care unit) equipment, OR (operating room) equipment, anesthesia machines… this is fully capable."
The hospital is also large enough to take on the task ahead.
"It takes up approximately 1½ acres. It has a 36-bed capacity. Due to security we are redesigning the hospital as we go. This hospital has never been designed to work with detainees, so it’s one of the things you have to adjust to as we go along," said Navy Builder Chief Will Clarke, Construction Battalion 423.
Joel Moore, with the Fleet Hospital Assistance Team (FHAT) represents the fleet hospital support office. His office designs and packs the hospital into the ISOs and sends a technical representative during construction. If there is a problem with the construction or utilities, they try to resolve the problem. He has been in the design department of the fleet hospital for eight years.
"In this particular hospital, it will have three wings: It will have a pharmacy, a lab, an x-ray, and mobile utility modules, (which is like a head facility)," said Moore. "The second wing is a medical suite which has the casualty receiving and operating room. The third wing is an intensive care unit wing."
This hospital will give the detainees the same care that we would give our own troops, he said.
Water is provided through one 1500-gallon portable tank and four 2000-gallon water bladders. Wastewater is stored in two other specialized ISO containers. Power is currently provided through generators, but there is a plan to hook up shore power and use the generators as backups. In addition, laundry facilities for hospital linens will be on site according to Clarke.
The 24-hour facility will have security measures in place, with two military police accompanying each detainee to the hospital and remaining there with him.
The majority of the hospital staff is from fleet hospital Camp Lejeune. There is also staff participating from all over the nation.
"It’s always neat to see something that you’ve put on paper for two or three years actually go up and go operational," Moore said.
The workload of the staff will depend on the health condition of the detainees and what their needs are, which will not be known until they arrive at the hospital.
The hospital is scheduled to be here as long as medical facilities are needed.
"The commander in chief requested that we treat these detainees and give them top of the line medical care and we’re proud to do that," Gallagher said.
Press Release #14
Updated: Tuesday, April 09, 2002
Detainees demonstrate displeasure
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – Detainees at Camp X-Ray today demonstrated their displeasure towards U.S. Forces by chanting prayers in unison, refusing to eat meals and clearing their cells of health and comfort items. Up to 194 of the 300 detainees have refused to eat meals since lunch yesterday.
Camp officials are looking into the cause of the refusal to eat.
Officials here admit some detainees have complained about a lack of understanding by guards of Islamic religious customs and practices. The latest incident involved a detainee being ordered to remove a makeshift headdress while in prayer. Previous complaints involved mishandling of the Holy Koran.
Detainees here continue to be treated fairly but firmly in accordance with international conventions. They have regular access to a Muslim chaplain, are led in prayer five times each day, and receive three culturally balanced Halal meals per day. On Saturday, detainees celebrated the Feast of the Sacrifice with specially prepared lamb stew, rice, beans, boiled cabbage and honey soaked pastry.
Press Release #15
Updated: Tuesday, April 09, 2002
Change of Command for JTF-160, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – Army Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus will take command of Joint Task Force 160 as successor for Marine Brig. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert. The official Change of Command ceremony will take place March 28. Location of the ceremony has not yet been determined.
Baccus, a member of the Rhode Island Army National Guard, arrives following a successful tour as the commander of the 43rd Military Police Brigade. He assumed that duty on March 7, 2001. As the commander, he was responsible for the readiness of six units and more than 800 soldiers.
Lehnert will return to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he commands the 2nd Force Service Support Group.
Press Release #16
Updated: Tuesday, April 09, 2002
TWO DETAINEES BEGIN INVOLUNTARY FEEDING
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA – After hospital staff had exhausted all means to encourage them to eat, two of 300 detainees living at Camp X-Ray here began involuntary feeding today after refusing meals for 30 days.
The detainees said they were refusing to eat because they wanted to go home, and not eating provided a means for them to protest their detention.
Medical staff began the involuntary feeding this afternoon by a typical procedure that involves inserting a naso-gastric tube through each detainee’s nose, and then down into the stomach. The staff then introduced supplemental oral nutrition through the tube. The milkshake-like substance is one of several products widely used among the medical community for involuntary feeding.
Earlier this week, the two detainees were hospitalized at Fleet Hospital 20, the mobile, state-of-the-art medical facility that provides medical support for Camp X-Ray’s detainee population. At the hospital, the detainees willingly accepted intravenous fluids to maintain their hydration levels, but still refused nourishment.
Medical staff with the fleet hospital decided to hospitalize the detainees after looking at a number of clinical health indicators. Among those indicators is body mass index. BMI, an internationally recognized method for monitoring an individual’s health, is found by calculating body weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. The World Health Organization recommends hospitalization when BMI reaches 16.5kg/m2.
Captain Al Shimkus, the JTF-160 surgeon, said both detainees complied well with the procedure.
“It went very smoothly and without incident,” he said.
Continued treatment is expected for at least the next seven days, said Shimkus. After that point, he said the body’s natural hunger pangs usually return, which helps encourage an individual to eat on his own again.
Press Release #17
Updated: Tuesday, May 21, 2002
National Guard Unit Makes History With First Ever Joint Task Force Command
The 43rd Military Police Brigade, a mobilized National Guard unit from Warwick, RI, assumed command of the core staff element of Joint Task Force 160 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Monday. The 43rd MP Brig. was activated in late April and joins its commander, Army Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, who assumed command of the task force March 28th.
JTF-160 oversees the care, custody and control of 384 detainees apprehended by United States and international forces in the global war on terrorism.
The 43rd MP Brig. replaces the 89th Military Police Brigade, an active duty MP Brigade based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Baccus praised the 89th MP Brig. for being a “…fine group of professionals,” and wished the unit a safe trip home.
Following a final call to formation, Baccus dismissed the 89th MP Brig. and welcomed the 43rd MP Brig. to its new home. The 43rd MP Brig. will continue the core staff and headquarters functions held by the 89th MP Brig. as well as provide critical security requirements in and around Camp Delta, where the detainees are held.
In supporting JTF-160's mission, the brigade sets a historic precedent as the first National Guard unit to assume the role of a joint task force command, demonstrating the National Guard’s ability to seamlessly transition into an active duty command.
Press Release #18
Updated: Monday, May 27, 2002
CUBA-BASED CHILDREN SHOW SUPPORT, APPRECIATION FOR LOCAL TASK FORCES
For this Memorial Day, the students and faculty at W.T. Sampson Elementary School here ended up performing an ‘unplugged’ tribute for a gymnasium full of joint task force 160 and 170 servicemembers and base residents Thursday.
About halfway through the presentation in honor of Armed Forces Appreciation Month and the joint task forces here, a power outage caused the gymnasium that the children performed in to go dark and left them without background music and microphones. But as it is in show business, the show went on, as the couple-dozen students rallied to finish the presentation with only their voices and drums to fill the gym.
“I think it was pretty impressive the way they finished the program,” said Sonya-lee Pollino, from New Orleans, La., who is now the school’s art teacher. With the help of the children she made the decorations for the program. “They were so inspired and they weren’t the least bit frustrated.”
An inspiring solo performance of the The Star Spangled Banner, sang by sixth grader Victoria Rivera, started the tribute. Hers and the other childrens’ performance, as the crowd’s reaction attested to, almost perfectly embodied the courage and strength that was a big part of the show’s theme.
“I was very proud of them and very impressed with all the kids. They did an outstanding job,” said Shirley Baggett, from Grand Ledge, Mi., the school’s four-year veteran music teacher and counselor.
Baggett directed the 45-minute program that spotlighted each grade of students in the school’s Music Enrichment Performing Group. Third-grade children performed a touching rendition of “If I Could Teach the World to Sing.” Other children performed a dance routine to Sister Sledge’s “We are Family,” and the entire group sang John Lennon’s “Imagine.” After every song, the crowd was alive with heartfelt applause.
“It was fun. It was a good time. I have kids at home and to see kids get out on the stage and have fun, and to do it for someone else like the troops, it was nice,” said Spc. Victor McKenna, 43rd Military Police Brigade, Rhode Island Army National Guard. “Props and kudos to the kids, they did a good job. It was cool.”
With the recent rash of storms in the area, the power failed in between songs, and the small floodlights above the exits became the only lights for both the performers and the audience. After the power went out, the children joined together for a percussion ensemble with bongo drums and after that was over, they sang “United We Stand” without any electricity until the whole crowd was on their feet with applause.
“I’m very thankful we had the turnout we did,” Baggett said. “Especially from the joint task forces. We were very grateful that they came and we hope to do it again. This is not a one-time thing.”
This was not the first tribute W.T. Sampson students have offered the JTF population here. In February, just over a month after detainee operations began, students wrote hundreds of Valentine’s Day cards for the personnel guarding Camp X-ray. They also arranged red, white and blue plastic cups into an American flag on the chain-link fence outside the school. They also baked hundreds of cookies to share with JTF personnel around Easter.
“The show was very enjoyable and I could tell how hard all the students worked to prepare for it,” said JTF-160 Commander Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, who is home stationed as the Army Rhode Island National Guard’s 43rd Military Police Brigade Commander. “Despite the electrical outage, I think everyone displayed how much they felt that ‘the show must go on.’ I was very pleased that so many JTF members took time from their routines to attend; I am sure the students appreciated it.”
Press Release #19
Updated: Thursday, June 13, 2002
IOWA ARMY RESERVE UNIT TO REDEPLOY:
339th Military Police Co. leaves Cuba for Kentucky
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba - The 105 members of the Davenport, Iowa-based 339th M.P. Company, U.S. Army Reserve, soon will leave Cuba for duty at Ft. Campbell, Ky.
The company was recalled to active duty last January for service in Operation Enduring Freedom, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The company's orders call it to active duty for up to one year. While in Cuba, company members were attached to Joint Task Force 160, with the mission of taking and holding detainees captured as part of U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Company Commander Army. Capt. Dominic Wibe said the unit now is ordered to leave Cuba next week, to take up post security duties at Ft. Campbell, Ky. He added that the unit likely would be deployed there for the remainder of their one-year recall period.
Press Release #20
Updated: Friday, June 14, 2002
CAMP DELTA RECEIVES MORE DETAINEES
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - Thirty-four additional Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees arrived here today under tight security, bringing the total number of detainees to 502.
The detainees arrived via military aircraft and were transported to Camp Delta for in-processing and detention.
"This group of detainees brings our total to 502 in custody," said Army Lt. Col. Joe Hoey, Joint Task Force 160 spokesperson. "Today's transfer of Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees from the battlefield to our facility means that all Americans can sleep a little safer tonight, because these individuals are 'off the street.'"
After arriving at Camp Delta, the detainees were in-processed and screened by medical personnel. In-processing includes showers; issuance of comfort items such as a Koran and toiletries; and writing an optional letter that will be mailed to whomever they choose.
The camp was first occupied on April 28 when 300 detainees previously held at Camp X-Ray were transferred to Camp Delta.
Press Release #21
Updated: Sunday, June 16, 2002
CAMP DELTA RECEIVES MORE DETAINEES
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - Thirty-four additional Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees arrived here today under tight security, bringing the total number of detainees to 536.
The detainees arrived via military aircraft and were transported to Camp Delta for in-processing and detention.
"This group of detainees brings our total to 536 in custody," said Army Lt. Col. Joe Hoey, Joint Task Force 160 spokesperson. "As before, the transfer of the detainees was handled with complete and utter professionalism by members of Joint Task Force 160. There were no incidents, and these detainees now are being held in secure facilities."
After arriving at Camp Delta, the detainees were in-processed and screened by medical personnel. In-processing includes showers; issuance of comfort items such as a Koran and toiletries; and writing an optional letter that will be mailed to whomever they choose.
The camp was first occupied on April 28 when 300 detainees previously held at Camp X-Ray were transferred to Camp Delta.
Press Release #22
Updated: Friday, June 28, 2002
Georgia National Guardsmen now on duty in Cuba:
"We're in the front lines of this war, now," says unit commander
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - Troops of the Georgia National Guard, engaged in their first federal recall mission since World War II, now are in the front lines of this nation's war on terror at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.
Troops of the 178th Military Police Company, Georgia National Guard, headquartered in Monroe, GA, arrived in Cuba recently and now have taken up the tasks of guarding the 564 suspected Taliban and Al Quaeda detainees here.
Army Cpt. Jeff Carlyle, of Loganville, GA, says his soldiers are pleased to be part of Operation Enduring Freedom. "This is a real-world mission," he says. "I see this mission as a real opportunity for our unit and our soldiers.
"Every one of us is glad to be here."
Soldiers of the 178th normally train to operate in a field environment, providing security to headquarters units, control of convoy traffic, and the like. Guarding the detainees in their individual units is a little different, says Carlyle.
"While it's not our primary mission, we've trained for it," Carlyle says. "We can do it." He added that many in the company are law enforcement or correctional officers in their civilian lives, and bring those skills with them to their military jobs.
The company was recalled to federal service in Feb., 2002, and left for Ft. Benning, GA. There, unit members performed post security and force protection duties, before coming to Guantanamo Bay.
Carlyle says a lengthy deployment, such as this, can occasionally be difficult for some of the unit's youngest members. "Some of them are newly married, and this is the first time some of them have been separated from their families," he says.
But unit member Master Sgt. Wade Harris, of Monroe, says reserve and National Guard soldiers, who often spend years in the same unit, are bound together as a sort of "interim family."
"We've all known each other a long time," he says. "We're a pretty close-knit group."
Harris noted the toughest jobs were those being tackled by their families at home. "The hardest part of this deployment goes back to our families," he says. "Having us gone this long is a huge adjustment for them.
"I think they've got the hardest jobs."
Press Release #23
Updated: Monday, August 5, 2002
The End of an Era
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - Freedom Heights, the 78-tent city erected in January to house the guards who watched over the detainees at Camp X-Ray, is all but gone now, torn down and packed up this past Wednesday and Thursday by 57 volunteers from Joint Task Force 160. "Today is a positive thing," said Staff Sergeant Tom McCarthy, "It means that the guards have moved into better quarters and maybe feel a little more appreciated for the job they're doing."
Given the historical significance of the global war on terrorism and the detention operation at Guantanamo Bay, this was more than another work-detail in the military. "The taking down of Freedom Heights symbolizes the end of the conditions present at the beginning of this operation, both for the detainees and the soldiers who guarded them," said Colonel John J. Perrone, Jr. the Joint Detention Operations Group Commander.
Camp X-Ray was first occupied on January 11 when the first group of 20 detainees arrived. They later were transferred to the newer facility, Camp Delta on 28 and 29 April. The guards had moved from X-Ray to Delta only days earlier. Currently there are 564 detainees at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to JTF-160 spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Joe Hoey.
Press Release #24
Updated: Monday, August 5, 2002
34 Detainees Enter Camp Delta
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - Amid extensive land, sea and air security, 34 suspected terrorists arrived here this afternoon by an Air Force C-17 military aircraft. Monday's arrival brings to 598 the total number of detainees being housed at Camp Delta.
"Our primary mission here is to receive and hold detainees in support of the "War on Terrorism," said Army Lt. Col. Joe Hoey, a military spokesman for Joint Task Force 160, the multi-service command in charge of detention operations here. "As in the past 21 detainee flight missions, the military service men and women who took part in the event performed their mission flawlessly. Americans ought to be proud of the soldiers whose mission it is to guard the detainees. They have undergone extensive military police training and are carrying out their mission in an extremely professional manner," Hoey said.
After arriving at Camp Delta, the detainees were in-processed and screened by medical personnel, and were issued comfort items such as a Koran and toiletries, and the option of writing a letter that will be mailed to whomever they choose.
Camp Delta was first occupied on April 28 and 29 when 300 detainees, previously held at Camp X-Ray, were transferred to the newer facility.
Press Release #26
Updated: Monday, November 4, 2002
Major General Miller takes command of Joint Task Force 160/170
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - In a change of command ceremony officiated by Gen. James T. Hill, commander, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Army Major General Geoffrey D. Miller assumed command of Joint Task Force 160/170 in a ceremony here today at 1:30 p.m.
The ceremony also acknowledged the merger of Joint Task Force 160 and 170 and the re-designation of the organization as JTF-GTMO.
Miller took command of the detainee operations from U.S. Army Major General Michael E. Dunlavey. Dunlavey was originally assigned as the JTF-170 commander in March and assumed command of the overall detainee operation at Guantanamo Bay in October, to include JTF 160, as part of an organizational realignment to streamline operations.
Prior to Miller’s reassignment, Miller served as the Director of Operations for United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command/ United States Forces Korea as well as the Deputy Commanding General for the Eighth United States Army, Korea.
The change of command marked the end of Dunlavey’s tour of duty at Guantanamo Bay. Dunlavey was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal for services rendered to his country and will return to his previous assignment as Assistant to the Director, National Security Agency, Washington D.C.
United States Southern Command established Joint Task Force 160/170, which was responsible for operating the detainee detention facility and conducting interrogations to collect intelligence in support of the War on Terrorism, in January. Since then, more than 625 individuals have been held at Guantanamo Bay.
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion THREE’s Caribbean Seabees making a difference
By Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Schulman
Civil Engineer Corps, U.S. Navy
January 16, 2002
Seabees from NMCB THREE Det Norfolk and Det Camp Lejuene recently joined-up with NMCB THREE Seabees at Detail Guantanamo (GTMO) Bay, Cuba, as our portion of the 22nd Naval Construction Regiment (Forward).
The original tasking for construction of a new port operations facility was postponed as we turned-to on the temporary confinement facility for detainees from Afghanistan. Working alongside the base contractor and NMCB ONE THIRTY-THREE, both active-duty and reserve Seabees are constructing 120 confinement cells out of chain link fence and corrugated metal.
Working two 10-hour shifts, the unique facility is rapidly nearing completion. The process has been challenging in that detainees already occupy the facility, so security has been tight, requiring many innovative solutions to construction requirements.
Seabees are also supporting numerous other units on the island, including improvements to the road system, and fixing up portions of housing areas that had been previously mothballed. It’s hot but beautiful here, and Seabees know that their work is crucial to the success of this mission, making it well worth the sweat and tired eyes you see on the job site. Morale is boosted daily by the big American flags hanging from guard towers around the confinement facility, a poignant reminder of how this mission started.
With only a few months left on deployment, we are all starting to look forward to seeing families and friends again in homeport, however, our participation here has been extremely rewarding. The Seabees of 22 NCR (Fwd) have added yet another chapter to their famous legacy of support and excellence!
January 31, 2002
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2002
Portable Hospital Provides Medical Care For Detainees
By Petty Officer First Class April Gorenflo
Only a stone’s throw away from the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, stands a maze of interlocking beige tents that weren’t there two weeks ago. Fleet Hospital 20 arrived in Guantanamo Bay recently to perform a mission unlike any other they’ve been asked to accomplish. They were sent here to care for the detainees.
From the outside this fully functional hospital, looks like something from the television show M.A.S.H.. On the inside, it is an air-conditioned pharmacy, lab, recovery and receiving ward, and operating room, where surgeons have performed medically necessary amputations and other emergency procedures for Taliban and al Qaida detainees.
Fleet Hospital 20, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., is one of ten fleet hospitals the Navy maintains. Each hospital is completely portable and designed to be transportable and fully operational in ten days. It’s a big job that requires a lot of teamwork to construct.
“It’s a concerted effort among the sailors of Fleet Hospital 20 and the Seabees attached to Fleet Hospital,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Clifford Phillips, Fleet Hospital Command Master Chief, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. “The area where the hospital is now was a grass field a week and a half ago. In the course of just four days this area was plowed by Seabees and the hospital was erected by our medical staff personnel,” added Phillips.
Two Seabee units train and deploy with Fleet Hospital 20. They play an important part in the success of the mission. “We join up whenever the fleet hospital deploys and
We are with them wherever they go,” mentioned Chief Petty Officer William Clark of Rochester, NY. “We’ve trained together for a while and we just recently had our operational readiness evaluation at Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton. I thought we did really well, and the Seabees and hospital personnel are prepared for this evolution,” said Clark.
In order to construct the hospital quickly, everyone gets involved. “Everyone was out here with a sledgehammer and all the needed equipment to put this up. All ranks from our Corpsmen to our surgeons who are commanders assisted in the process,” said Phillips. “It was real good,” said Petty Officer Third Class Bijou Hirkala, of Gig Harbor, Wash. “Everybody worked together, which was important, because everyone has a job that they know and their job is important,” he added.
Once the hospital was erected, it was time to put it into service. While the fleet hospital is completely capable of providing care, there still remain some challenges. “We don’t have all the assets we normally have at a regular hospital,” said Petty Officer First Class Clyde Headley, of Colorado Springs, CO. “We’ve been trying to liaison with the hospital here and they have been great at helping us out.”
Equipment issues aren’t the only challenges that face the Fleet Hospital. Guantanamo Bay itself presents unique problems. “The weather is something we have to deal with and also the natural terrain features,” said Clark. “There’s not actually a lot of resources we can tap into, so we had to come up with our own generation of power, sewer distribution, potable water, that kind of thing.”
“The biggest challenge here has been the environment, both with the heat and the dust. We get a lot of dust during the day. It’s been a continuous battle for this staff every day with vacuums and brooms to keep the dust out of the hospital, especially in a surgical environment,” said Phillips.
Keeping the hospital in service requires more than just doctors and corpsmen. Fleet Hospital 20 deploys with many non-medical personnel who are vital to the success of the hospital. “It takes many rates within the Navy to run a fleet hospital. We have Ship Servicemen who are running our laundry service, Postal Clerks handling our mail, and a journalist on staff handling our public affairs. They are all very important parts of running this hospital,” said Phillips.
Normally, fleet hospitals take care of injured American and allied service members. Although this mission is much different than that, the doctors and corpsmen say they don’t allow the fact their patients are al Qaida and Taliban detainees, affect the level of care they provide. “We’re here to take care of the enemy,” said Headley. “The thing that keeps me going and keeps my focus is every hospital corpsman’s oath to take care of the sick and injured. It doesn’t matter where they’re from. We all took that oath and we all have to stand by that oath. They (Taliban and al Qaida), are human beings and they deserve to be taken care of. What happens to them after they’re healthy is out of my hands,” added Headley.
Once they are healthy, the patients are sent to Camp X-Ray. A detachment provides routine medical care there. The hospital sees the more serious cases. “Much of what we are seeing on a day to day basis are the remnants of war wounds, gunshot wounds and blast injuries from the war in Afghanistan,” said Capt. Pat Alford, commanding officer, Fleet Hospital 20, Jacksonville, N.C.
Although most of the staff has treated cases like this before, they are all well aware of the uniqueness of this mission. “This is something that’s never been done before,” said Headley. We’re writing the book as we go, and we stumble sometimes, but this is like no mission anybody’s ever gone on before.
Alford is proud of the way his staff is handling their mission. He said the Navy’s core values are extremely important in situations like this. “We talk about honor, courage and commitment. We are an honorable nation, and we are treating our enemies honorably. That’s what the Navy is all about, he said. Our people have the courage to put aside any personal feelings they may have relative to what happened on Sept. 11, and they have the commitment to stick to their professions and practice as doctors, nurses and hospital corpsmen. We’re here to do our job the way we know how to do it best, and we’re going to do it in an honorable fashion,” he stated.
Although Fleet Hospital 20’s mission lasts only 179 days in Guantanamo Bay, a medical presence will remain, as long as the mission is going on.
Secretary of the Army visits X-Ray, Fleet Hospital
By Army Pfc. Daniel P. Kelly
January 30, 2002
Secretary of the Army Thomas White toured facilities here Jan. 30 in response to a request from the Secretary of Defense regarding war crime investigations.
“The Secretary of Defense has asked me to oversee the war crimes investigations of the detainees; and I wanted to come down and get first-hand knowledge of what the process looks like, and what they look like. I came to start out and get on with my mission, and that is why we’re here,” he said.
White arrived here about noon and went immediately to Camp X-Ray. There, he toured camp facilities, the Level I Aid Station provided for detainees and the Joint Interrogation Facility. After touring the facilities, White visited with soldiers from Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Hood, Texas, Iowa National Guard and Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., who make up the Camp X-Ray staff.
White then went to Navy Fleet Hospital 20 at Radio Range to tour the Level III Aid Station and observe working conditions there.
“Everyone had to get this ready to go under very short term emergency conditions, and they are doing a good job,” he said in response to the efforts of servicemembers here.
In response to questions about the duration of the operation, White stated that the Army would stay a big part of the effort here.
“Obviously as long as we have detainees here, the Army is going to be here playing our part, with Joint Task Force 160, and it’s hard to say how long detainees will be here.”
This was White’s first visit to observe Joint Task Force 160 operations.
February 8, 2002
Muslim chaplain teaches Islam to hospital staff, shares views
By Army Pfc. Jacob A. McDonald
“Islam is a commitment to peacefully surrender one’s will to the will of God for spiritual and personal growth.”
This message started the presentation given by JTF-160’s Muslim Chaplain (Navy Lt.) Abuhena Saifulislam, during a brief for hospital personnel here earlier this week.
In the briefings, Saifulislam went over the basic beliefs of Islam to help them better understand the customs and lifestyle of the detainees they are treating. He began by defining some basic Muslim terms such as Allah, Muslim and Qur’an, and then gave a history of Islam and the beliefs therein. He also described some basic cultural differences.
“The concept of worship in Islam is greater than what I am going to say. It is the whole life. Anything we do agreeing with the divine guidance is part of worship,” Saifulislam said. “Prayer is very involved; Muslims pray 5 times daily. Purification is required before prayer, including cleaning with water. Then there is the call to prayer. The person praying must face Mecca, the Muslim holy city. The person must then stand up and show the intention of prayer. The actual prayer or recitation comes from the Qur’an.”
There are relatively few prohibitions in Islam, he added. Knowledge of dietary restrictions such as pork products and alcohol gained through the briefings will allow medical staff to adjust protocols and better serve the detainees.
“It seems to help others and that’s why I get this kind of request often,” Saifulislam said. “It helps people to know what the religion is all about and be aware of the sensitivity. And if they have any misunderstanding, …misconception [or] misinformation which they ask me to clarify, it helps bridge the gap of understanding between different faiths.”
“Of course my primary thing is to talk to different military units: those who may be or are about to be deployed to countries that are mostly Muslim,” he said.
Saifulislam also works closely with the detainees. According to him, some of the religious concerns of detainees are the food, getting more religious-related books, religious service performances, and purification before prayer.
The briefings have already helped with understanding and resolving issues according to Saifulislam. As other issues are brought up, he believes the cultural and religious education will continue to help.
Differences in medical procedures or treatment for Muslim detainees could include diet.
“Medically, if they are sick, they are sick. They need medical treatment, they don’t need religious treatment. If someone is coughing and you want to give him a medicine that is full of alcohol, he might not accept it, but if it is saving life, any life will take precedence,” Saifulislam said. “Religiously they are not supposed to do anything that is harmful to their own body. Religiously they don’t own it. They are responsible to take care of it.”
Due to wounds some patients are physically restricted in their movements. Restrictions may change the way prayer can be done.
“There are exceptions to how they pray. They can pray sitting down. If they are sick they can pray lying down. The motion will be different, but they can still perform the ritual. He is not going to commit sin by doing it, but he is forced to do it. We have to be sensitive to the fact of the prayers. Can we let them pray normally? Or due to physical restraints or security, will they have to alter their prayers? If he is forced to pray differently it reflects on us rather than on him,” Saifulislam said.
Saifulislam arrived here from Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he was serving as chaplain in the Assault Amphibian School Battalion. Among other accomplishments, Saifulislam spoke on religious diversity in America at the embassy in Oman. He is a member of the Religious Ministry Team, and has a Master of Islamic studies with a concentration in religious practices.
“It is not my judgement to determine whether they are Muslim or not. It is up to God to make that judgement,” Saifulislam said.
Coast Guard helps protect harbor
By Army Pfc. Jacob A. McDonald
February 15, 2002
A Coast Guard crew check their weapons, flares and other supplies on their 25-foot, freshly cleaned, twin engine boat at the boat shed before going into Guantanamo Bay for a 12-hour shift on the clear blue water today.
United States Coast Guard Reserve Port Security Unit 305 out of Fort Eustis, Va., helps protect the harbor here 24 hours a day. With three mounted guns on each boat, and other tools and weapons at their disposal, the unit’s main job is to provide port security and harbor defense for JTF-160 operations.
“First, we have to have some sort of threat. Right now, we are …out there identifying the different craft: friendly or foe... We act as a threat deterrent.” Bozeman’s Mate Second Class Matthew Q. Graziani said.
To complete the threat-deterring mission, the unit is divided into different jobs. Security teams in the boats patrol the harbor, escort boats and detainee transfers, and assist in other missions. Support teams, including hospital corpsmen, yeomen (administration), mechanics and supply personnel help accomplish the mission by providing round-the-clock assistance to the crews and maintaining the boats.
“We have 12-hour watches,” Graziani said about the unit’s schedule on an average day. “We get up, come on watch and the first thing we do is check off the boat…we make sure everything that we’re supposed to have we do have. Then we take on our weapons, load our weapons, of course making sure that everything’s there that is supposed to be there, and then we get underway.”
After the preparations the crews take the boats out onto the water for three hours at a time before coming back to the boat shed to eat and rest. Then another boat crew goes out on the water for three hours.
“The sun can really drain a lot out of you and you don’t even know it. It definitely can make you less than sharp,” Graziani said.
On a busy day, the three-hour time limit may be extended. All of the boats may be on the water at a time. Escorting, assisting in detainee transfers and emergency rescues can make for a long twelve hours according to Graziani.
“Here, we have just been escorting threats and all we are looking for is making sure they are not dropping things in the water-making sure they stay…on their course. No drastic turns. It’s a counter terrorism role that we’re playing,” he said.
The unit has many tools available to it for its job of counter terrorism, but nothing replaces a good crewman Graziani said.
“The people are the best tool for the job. We do have equipment. We have radar and NVG’s [night vision goggles] and stuff like that, but nothing can take the place of a good crewman,” he said.
Other than the personnel, the Transportable Small Boat (TPSB) is the primary tool for this unit. The TPSB carries one .50 caliber and two .60 caliber guns. It is capable of driving at forty-plus knots. The three or four man crews are armed with M-16s and shotguns and they have been trained with M203s. Also, they use concussion grenades and different types of flares to light up any area, Graziani said. To become better acquainted with those tools, members of the unit have been to the tactical boat handling school at Camp Lejeune, NC.
“It really puts you into that tactical mindset of the ‘what ifs.’ Always ‘what if-ing’ the situation your in. Watching to see if any of those ‘what ifs’ are actually coming out and making sure they don’t,” Graziani said about the training.
“When we are actually performing our mission a lot of things change. Of course because the mission becomes the most important thing to us,” he said.
“I feel like they need us here,” he said about the mission, “but the harbor patrol’s doing a mighty good job of what they do also. I’m hoping that we’ll get the opportunity to integrate with them, and maybe help them train.”
At the end of the day the boat crew drives slowly through the no wake zone. The sun has set and darkness covers the bay. The lights on the small boat illuminate the water around them. Dolphins swim up to the sides of the boat and poke their heads out of the water. Ahead of them, the boat shed is alive with activity as the next crews prepare to continue a watchful presence in Guantanamo Bay.
February 28, 2002
Behind The Scenes With “The Dirt People” of Fleet Hospital 20
By JOC Bill Austin, Fleet Hospital 20
Behind every successful operation there is usually a team that contributes significantly to that success but sometimes goes unnoticed by the limelight. At Fleet Hospital 20, a field hospital set up here over a month ago to treat detainees of “Camp X-Ray,” there is a hard working team that has named itself of all things, dirt people.
These sailors are supply types who are tasked with keeping the hospital well stocked with supplies and medical equipment. Their workspaces are huge steel shipping containers filled with everything you could imagine a hospital would need to keep in constant operation. These “warehouses” are situated behind the hospital tents in dirt, that according to the crew, often blows in their faces like miniature sand blasters.
“We call ourselves dirt people because we’re out here day in and day out in the dirt,” said Chief Petty Officer Les Adams who coined the phrase.
“I’m a dirt person too,” said a smiling Petty Officer Third Class Nichelle Tyson as she stood in the fire-hot sunlight. “You wouldn’t get by without our supplies,” she rhymed with a wave of her hand.
On the opposite side of the hospital compound, you’ll find another group that spend plenty of time in the dirt themselves, Navy Seabees. Construction Battalion Unit (CBU) 423, based out of Little Creek, VA., deploy with Fleet Hospital 20. They make sure vital functions such as power and much needed air conditioning are running smoothly. The Seabees also handle all structural repairs and transportation for hospital personnel to and from the field.
When asked for his comment about the “dirt people” termfloating around camp, Chief Petty Officer Will Clark didn’t hesitate. “I don’t mind at all. Seabees have always been called dirt sailors.”
Apparently the behind-the-scene Sailors of Fleet Hospital 20 have latched on to their new enduring term. Recently the team got a break from the dirt however, and spent an entire day at the beach where they ate lunch, enjoyed the sun and topped the evening off with several games of bowling.
“I’m so proud of what these Sailors have accomplished,” said Adams with an ear-to-ear grin. “They have all risen up from the dirt like a phoenix.”
NYC flag raised over X-Ray
By Marine Sgt. Joshua S. Higgins
March 8, 2002
A New York City flag was raised here Friday to honor victims of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack.
Seabees attached to Joint Task Force-160 hoisted the flag – orange, white and blue with the city seal in the center – during a morning ceremony held at Camp X-Ray, the temporary detention facility that houses 300 Taliban and al-Qaida detainees.
Reserve Seabees from New York, now assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, brought the flag with them after stops in Afghanistan and Guam, where it flew during their participation in Operation Enduring Freedom.
The flag was originally received from New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection by Petty Officer 2d Class Joseph McShea, a reserve construction electrician who is also an employee of DEP.
According to McShea, when DEP Police Lieutenant Gene Sass, a retired Navy Chief, heard McShea had been called to active duty, he asked if he would take the flag wherever his unit went. He was more than happy to oblige.
“It’s been a great honor carrying the flag with us and supporting the city,” said McShea.
After being activated, McShea, and 13 other New Yorkers, joined NMCB 133 in Guam where he presented the flag to Commander Douglas Morton, NMCB 133’s commanding officer. It flew over the Seabee camp there from mid-October to late November when part of the unit deployed to Afghanistan to repair a runway and build a camp for U.S. forces. Although McShea was not with them, Petty Officer First Class Robert Tanner, a builder with NMCB 133, took the flag and delivered it to Camp Rhino, where Marines raised it on a bamboo pole beneath the U.S. flag. It was also flown in front of the detention center the Seabees built in Kandahar.
Meanwhile in early January, McShea and several other members of his unit were assigned to JTF-160 and tasked with building detention units at Camp X-Ray, a job well-received by McShea.
“It was a good feeling to build those cells,” he said. “And it’s a beautiful thing seeing those guys in orange suits; knowing they won’t be able to get out and hurt more Americans.”
McShea recalled the days following the attack when he assisted with rescue efforts at ground zero. He and seven other members of his reserve unit worked on bucket brigades, digging by hand trying to find survivors.
“It was just amazing,” said McShea. “It looked like a nuclear bomb went off.”
McShea also noted the irony of a group of New Yorkers helping build the detention facilities for those linked to terrorist acts, and the fulfillment of seeing the flag flying over Camp X-Ray. “This gives me a great deal of satisfaction,” he said.
The decision to raise the flag over Camp X-Ray was not a difficult one according to Brig. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert, JTF-160 commander.
“X-Ray was selected because many of those inside the detention facility are here because they were part of the forces of terrorism,” he said. “For us, the New York City flag represents hope. It represents the fact that terrorism will not be tolerated by this nation or any other civilized nation. It represents the resolve of free people.”
115th Military Police Battalion combats terrorism at home, abroad
By Army Pfc. Daniel P. Kelly
April 5, 2002
"We're the best insurance policy this nation has got."
That's what Maj. Gen. James F. Fretterd, Maryland National Guard Adjutant General, had to say about the National Guard. The 115th Military Police Battalion here is living it.
"I called it 'Maryland's Finest.' They proved it in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and now they proved it here in 'Gitmo'," Fretterd said.
Soldiers of the 115th were activated almost immediately after the attacks on Sept. 11. Approximately 250 soldiers from the 115th began their deployment the next day at the Pentagon.
"We were activated at 1423 hours on Sept. 11," Liswell said, "We were ordered to the Pentagon Sept. 12. We arrived there at approximately 1000 hours to provide physical security and force protection around the Pentagon, specifically the crime scene at the crash scene. We worked pretty extensively with the Pentagon police and also the FBI protecting the crime scene both internally and externally."
"Units HHC [Headquarters and Headquarters Company] as well as the 200th [MP Company] and the 290th [MP Company] all went to the Pentagon," said 115th MP Bn. Command Sergeant Major Carroll Adams.
After helping with security at the Pentagon, the 115th was called up to go to Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Upon arriving at Fort Stewart, the 115th went through a validation exercise, Adams said. The validation exercise was put in place to help train soldiers of the 115th on how to perform force protection.
The validation exercise helped refresh the soldiers force protection skills. Once the exercise was over, soldiers of the 115th began putting that training to good use in force protection operations at Ft. Stewart.
While performing force protection at Fort Stewart, some soldiers of the 115th were called on again to go to the Pentagon.
"Around Dec. 10 we received an order to send 160 soldiers back to the Pentagon. At that time we took 160 soldiers from the 200th, 290th, HHC, and they all went back to the Pentagon on Dec. 13," Adams added.
Not more than a month later, soldiers from the 115th were asked to move again. This time it was Guantanamo Bay.
"Around Jan. 2, we received an order that the HHC element, approximately 82 soldiers, was going to be sent to Guantanamo Bay," Adams said.
HHC, 115th MP Bn. arrived here within 72 hours after their notification of deployment, Liswell said. Once they arrived, they were assigned to work for the Joint Detention Operation Group.
"We are the battalion command and control element for the Joint Detention Operation Group, JDOG, here," Liswell said, "We also supply security at the Fleet Hospital and some security at the brig. Tentatively, we'll probably be here until the middle of June, at which time we'll be transitioning with another element to take our place."
Much praise has been expressed to the soldiers from the 115th.
"Overall, I think that they've done an outstanding job," Adams said.
"The soldiers have felt that they have had a worthwhile mission down here. It's a real world mission, and they feel like they're doing their part for the war on terrorism and keeping our country safe and sound," Liswell added.
Fretterd also felt very positive about the job the 115th MP Bn. is doing.
"To integrate all of those various components and services…I think is just an extraordinary job that they've done. It's functional and it's working, and this is a very, very sensitive mission. They adhere to the rules. They are really true professionals. I can't tell you how pleased I am…very impressed."
"Wire" staff cuts out
By Army Spc. Frank N. Pellegrini
June 7, 2002
The Wire is dead — long live the Wire.
"The Wire," JTF-160's source of internal information and weekly morale-boosting field newspaper for servicemembers stationed at Guantanamo Bay, changed ink-stained hands this week as the Army journalists of the 27th Public Affairs Detachment reluctantly gave their brainchild over to new management.
As the 27th heads back home to Fort Drum, N.Y., and the 10th Mountain Division, the new staff, a team of journalists from the 361st Press Camp Headquarters out of Fort Totten, New York, takes over a paper built from the ground up.
"When we first got here in January there was nothing," said the paper's editor, Spc. James Strine. "There was no internal information at all for JTF 160, just 30 copies of a 10-page Microsoft Word document made up of stories pulled off the Internet."
"Jim took one look at it and just laughed, and said, 'we can do much better than this,' recalled the four-man print staff's Officer in Charge, Capt. Jeffrey P. Nors. That process began with style -- turning the layout of the thrice-weekly handout into something that looked more like a newspaper -- and ended with substance: news stories not only for but about the JTF-160 community.
"As the folks out at X-Ray got more and more access to newspapers, television and the Internet, they didn't need as much outside news — what was going on back home — from us," said Nors. So his staff dropped issues as time went by, and redirected their energies toward covering the soldiers themselves. Eventually the Wire got to the point where it is now: one edition per week on Friday, with the emphasis on the local content.
"This stuff fires up the troops. They love to see their name in the paper," said Nors. "Our mission is morale — that's what field newspapers are all about."
The Wire also has a website now, thanks to the initiative of Pfc. Daniel Kelly. Only three months out of Defense Information School when he deployed, Kelly was convinced that a modern newspaper had to have an Internet presence, and badgered his superiors until they let him have the task. Now, at www.nsgtmo.navy.mil/jtf-160, web surfers can get not only every edition of the Wire but press releases, biographies, photos, graphic art, audio released by JTF-160. Since Feb. 10, Kelly said, the site has received over 55,000 hits — and not a few emails thanking Kelly for his good work.
As the Wire has evolved, so has its staff. In the beginning Strine, FORSCOM Journalist of the Year in 2001 and the most broadly experienced of the four, did most of the layout work. Now each member of the staff, in addition to writer and photographer duties, lays out his own stories and contributes equally to the final product.
"These guys are a very talented group of young people," said the group's NCO in Charge, Sgt. Christina M. Bhatti. "They have exceeded all my expectations when it comes to their journalism skills."
But as journalists, the soldiers of the 27th still had to overcome one last challenge of a challenging deployment: the security considerations of the historic detainee-handling operation going on right under their noses.
"We were frustrated, as any journalists would be," said Spc. Travis Burnham. "They call it Heartbreak Ridge (the media vantage point for Camp X-Ray) for a reason. You stand there and it breaks your heart because you can't get any closer without putting away your paper and camera."
But Kelly said it wasn't long before that feeling faded. "Once you realize what your mission is, not to cover this historical event but to write for the soldiers and sailors and marines and everyone else involved in this operation -- once you get out there and start talking to soldiers and getting their stories, you don't mind any more.
"In the end, they're just detainees. In some ways, it's more exciting to find out what an Army bus driver does."
For Pfc. Jacob McDonald, just the chance to work on a newspaper was enough. "This is what I love to do. I got a lot of great experience that's going to help be with what I want to do in civilian life, which is be a journalist. It's the only job I wanted in the military."
The 27th had been itching for a deployment for a long time — on Sept. 11, knowing they'd be needed somewhere, they were already packing up their office by the time the World Trade Center towers had finished tumbling to the ground. First they expected to be sent to Manhattan to help with the recovery effort — then, as the war in Afghanistan began, their best guess was Uzbekistan. Finally, on Jan. 13, the call to Cuba came - and 48 hours later they were Guantanamo-bound.
Six months later, the 27th is "mission-proven," as Burnham put it. To Nors, they're barely recognizable. "This is not the same unit, as far as training, as far as ability," he said. "We left Drum and we had a lot of soldiers that were just out of DINFOS. And now, you couldn't ask for a better crew. They're seasoned. They've got a deployment under their belt. We're excited they're going to go on and do great things."
"I'm glad to be going home," said Strine, who admitted some nervousness at giving up control of the paper he created. "But I definitely won't forget what I learned here, and hopefully what we put together — the newspaper and the website — will stick around for years to come."
The Wire will continue to evolve under the care of the 361st. Blessed with a larger staff, the unit will be able to produce more local content and will expand next Friday's edition to 16 pages instead of 12. Even the name may change, if only to preserve the Army tradition of clear accountability. But as long as JTF-160 and Operation Enduring Freedom continues at Guantanamo Bay, the spirit of the Wire — news and features for servicemembers, about servicemembers, wherever they may serve — will never die.
Changing of the guards: 401st leaves
First MP company on ground heads home
By Army Spc. Frank N. Pellegrini
June 14, 2002
Before the first detainee arrived, before Camp X-Ray was even a camp, before they even knew exactly what their part in Operation Enduring Freedom would be, the soldiers of the 401st Military Police Company — motto “Always First” — were here. And now they're going home.
“When we got here January 6, we didn't know what to expect,” said 2nd Lt. Roscoe E. Woods. “There was nothing here for us. X-Ray wasn’t finished being built yet. It certainly wasn’t a typical deployment in terms of what we’ve been trained for. But the soldiers and NCOs adjusted well, and did what needed to be done."
For the first few weeks, that meant a life in Guantanamo Bay that, while better perhaps than normal field conditions, was one that few arrivals here since have known: twelve-hour shifts, dirt floors, no running water.
The rest of Guantanamo Bay was right down the road — the movie theater, the NEX, the McDonald’s. But if the troops weren’t working, they were sleeping. And if they were awake, and had the time, the company’s round-the-clock shifts often freed soldiers long after the shops of GTMO had closed their doors.
And then there was the matter of the mission. Normally, the skills of the 401st center on law enforcement in a war zone: battlefield circulation control, checkpoints and encampment security.
But at Camp X-Ray, and later at Camp Delta, there was no war. There were only the leftovers of one — the detainees that began arriving only days after the 401st did — and suddenly this unit of military policemen found itself having to retrain on the ground and learn the business of corrections.
“The Marines gave us some additional corrections training,” said Staff Sgt. Corey J. Corwin, a squad leader in the company. “We’d had some previous training for maintaining security in a prisoner of war camp during wartime, but that wasn’t too applicable either. It was a very different challenge.”
But the company’s commander, Capt. Luis R. Hernandez, said that through it all — getting called up on a Friday and going “wheels up” on a Sunday, starting off with little in the way of preparation and less in the way of accommodations, and landing in the middle of a mission they hadn’t really been previously trained to do — his soldiers came through.
“It was pretty rough for a while. It was hard to adjust,” he said. “But I never heard a complaint out of them. They’ve been great.”
Tuesday, the soldiers of the 401st celebrated a mission well done with a barbecue at Windmill Beach. With 1st Sgt. Ronnie E. Phillips on grill and filling bellies with hamburgers paid for by MWR — whose varied sports program Phillips credited with keeping his soldiers healthy and sane for six months — everyone had a chance to sit amid the sun and sand and look back on their time here.
“People say this job is easy, that any soldier or sailor could do it,” said Corwin. “And in terms of what the actual day-to-day tasks are, the corrections work, maybe that’s true. But in normal corrections-type work there isn't a large international political influence, and all the pressures that come with it.”
“In addition to that, there’s the nature of who the detainees are, why they’re here,” he said. “You have to be so careful because of all the personal feelings that are involved in this.
“You’ve got to remain professional at all times, and keeping up that professionalism every day for six months is tough,” he said. “But we all did it. I'm proud.”
It was also time for the 401st to look forward — to going home.
“They call GTMO ‘the least worst place,’” said Hernandez. “Fort Hood, where we’re from — we call that ‘the great place to be.’ We’re looking forward to rediscovering the difference.”
“How do we feel? We're all very — how can I say it? — happy to get home and see our wives,” said Corwin.
Spc. Mark Schaffer, a driver with the company, was due to get out of the military May 20; the mission here — and the Army stop-loss policy that came with it — prevented that.
His hair at regulation-stretching length in his final days, Shaffer said he was looking forward to getting on with a planned career in corrections in the civilian world. But, he said, he didn't mind the extra month if it meant being a part of this mission.
“After all,” he said, “it ought to help me on my resume.”
MIUWU makes GTMO harder to hit
Watching the sea all day and all night, if these sailors let down the MIUWU,
they let down you
By Army Spc. Chris S. Pisano
June 21, 2002
They're on guard 24 hours a day. Their job is seaward surveillance — to watch for and detect any dangerous threats, ranging from submarines to enemy scuba divers. They are the sailors of the Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Unit 208, reservists from Miami, Fl., and they guard the fourth fence line of Guantanamo Bay.
“In GTMO, we are the fourth fence line,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Casson, command administration officer with the MIUWU 208. “We're on a Naval base surrounded by hostile territory, with fence lines on the land but nothing on the sea. We're charged with detecting and dealing with any threats on the entire south side of the bay.”
The MIUWU 208 operates out of several stations strategically located high in the hills of GTMO, where they have a tactically advantageous view of the sea.
With coast watchers on a continuous lookout, the nerve center of the operation at every point is the Radar Sonar Surveillance Center.
From the outside, it appears to be rather nondescript, but from within the RSSC is a glittering menagerie of hi-tech equipment, screens and panels that allow the sailors to search the underwater depths and communicate with the other stations.
“This is the main platform for conducting the watch,” said Casson. “From here, we can communicate with all the reaction forces on the island, like Army or Coast Guard. We fill a void in the joint effort.”
Standing watch may seem simple, but it is challenging and exacting work. The value of such work is tremendous, and these sailors know their job and take it seriously.
“Let down the MIUWU, let down yourself,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Steve DeLisle, watch supervisor with the MIUWU 208. “We have a very important mission, because there is no other surveillance like this here. Our mission is a big one.”
Always training for that big mission, 24 hours a day, the sailors of the MIUWU 208 have continually improved their mission readiness. When they started in January, they only had half the necessary people to successfully complete a mission of this duration. And to make matters a little more complicated, only half of those sailors were able to do the job.
“When we started, we were only 55 percent manned, and only half of them were trained to operate the equipment,” said Casson. “We had enough people to stand watch, but not for 24/7.
“This was the first time this type of unit has been recalled for this type of mission,” he said. “On a two-week AT we can get by on a skeleton crew. We were equipped for short-term, but not for this deployment.”
However, Casson has remained understanding about such obstacles with an optimistic view toward military circumstances.
“It's the nature of the beast, but it's a challenge any reservist's unit might encounter when called to duty.”
In answering that call and in order to reach operational status, the 208th had to pull people from other MIUWUs still in the United States. Most of the needed people came in after the first month, but Casson said the unit wouldn’t be at full manpower until halfway through the deployment.
The hard part, he said, was making sure that every one was trained, learning the job as they went along.
“Everybody had a whole list to learn, while at the same time perform the mission,” said Casson. “We had to train from scratch, so it was a real learn on the job experience.”
One coast watcher, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Larry Thomas, has had such a great experience on this mission that he has decided to remain on active duty when the deployment is over.
“On Sept. 12, I volunteered to go active duty,” said Thomas. “I've had a real great time on this deployment and now I have the opportunity to keep doing it.”
Scheduled to return home by the end of June, the highly motivated sailors of the MIUWU 208 have done everything necessary to get to where they are now. And Casson couldn't be more proud of them.
“These guys really work hard,” said Casson. “Looking back, we've come leaps and bounds. It's really amazing to think back to the first time you do something that's hard to learn, but then you eventually get good at it and realize that it isn't so hard after all.”
After all, he said, the mission can be summed up pretty simply.
“We're just making GTMO harder to hit.”
Finished but not done: 414th moves on
After six months in GTMO, these MPs will go home only briefly before it’s on to Ft. Benning.
By Army Spc. Joseph A. Morris
June 28, 2002
It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.
“At our lowest point, we were emptying waste buckets for the detainees,” said 1st Sgt. Michail D. Eckles of the 414th Military Police Company, a reserve unit from Joplin, Mo. “Morale was low and conditions were tough, but we really stepped up and pulled together to overcome the situation. The unit really performed their jobs like professionals.”
But when the professionals of the 414th originally received their orders to serve duty at GTMO, they didn't have much of an idea what to expect — or much time to react.
“I packed my bags and was ready to go. I had no expectations and no clue what was to come,” said Eckles.
“The kind of work we were tasked to do when we arrived here was different than any kind of work we have done before,” said Capt. Shane Campion.
“Our soldiers are trained as military police officers, not guards. We had to learn how to handle the detainees. With help from the Marines and some of our soldiers who do work like this on the civilian side, we were able to learn how to perfrom this mission,” said Campion.
“Not knowing what to expect, we had to keep cool,” said Sgt. Michael G. Abram. “We worked well together through all the changes and took things in stride. Things worked out smoothly.”
It only took the 414th a couple of days to hit the ground and start running, said
Campion. “The unit adapted fast and started taking care of business.”
That wasn’t easy either. When the 414th arrived here at Camp X-Ray the living conditions weren't as bearable as they would be at Camp America three months later. No air conditioners, no hard roofs overhead. Few other commodities to enhance the quality of life for troops with an often unpleasant mission.
“We started out living in tents with dirt floors. We were taking showers using gardening hoses. It was tough on the soldiers, and it was hard for them to keep high morale,” said Eckles.
Long guard shifts, lack of sleep and the heat didn't make life any easier. It took a while, but as time moved on, the living conditions improved with the construction of Camp America.
“We spent over three months in tents before Camp America was built,” said Eckles. “After moving to Camp A the quality of living got better and morale began to rise. It was nice to be able to take a break and relax in the air conditioner on our off time.”
But quality of life isn’t everything.
“The overall conditions of the deployment were better than I could have expected,” said Abram. “The hardest thing to overcome was the reality of the people who we were dealing with.”
But after the troops came to realization of why they were down here, it was just a mattter of getting the mission done and not letting the environment get to them mentally.
Now, though, the MPs of the 414th can reflect on their time here and look back at their accomplishments with pride.
“Every soldier in the unit should be satisfied with the way they worked down here,” said Eckles. “Overall, the unit did an outstanding job.”
“I'm very proud of all the soldiers for doing such a great job of taking care of Camp America,” said Campion.
Most importantly, every member of the 414th will be headed back to the continental U.S. safe and sound.
“We are successfully bringing every soldier home in the condition we took them. That is a primary goal for all of our missions, and we achieved it,” said Eckles.
The mission for the 414th at GTMO is now completed, and they are being replaced by the 571st MP Co. out of Fort Lewis, Washington.
“The new unit has picked things up fast, and now they are ready to take over their responsibilities at GTMO,” said Campion. “I have no doubt that they will perform the mission well.”
“It's been a tough road, but we had fun and now it's time to move on and try something new,” said Campion.
But while the 414th might be done serving here, their job serving the country is not over.
“We’re going back to the states, but we're not headed home,” said Campion. “We're heading off to Fort Benning, Ga., for a follow-up mission in force protection.”
They’ll only have a few days with their families, only a few days to be reservists again. But for this weary crew, said Eckles, “it means a lot just to be heading back stateside.”
New top "DOG" takes command
Army Col. John J. Perrone Jr. settles in as head of Joint Detainee Operations Group
By Army Pfc. Jean-Carl Bertin
July 5, 2002
It's Friday afternoon. After a long business meeting with his staff and his company commanders, Army Col. John J. Perrone Jr., the new commander of the Joint Detention Operations Group (JDOG) puts aside his administrative duties for the day and pays a visit to Camp Delta, where the detainees from the U.S. global war on terrorism are housed.
Perrone proceeds to the main gate and waits patiently for the guards on duty to come and let him in.
Before he enters, he looks around to make sure that everything is in order. He then goes through all the gates, each securely manned by MPs, to get access to the detainees' units. As soon as the soldiers see him, they all assume the position of attention and wait for him to review the logs and examine the conditions of the units.
“As the commander, my responsibility is to oversee the entire detention operation, including all the MPs, the battalion, the companies, as well as infantry units that provide external security,” Perrone said.
His job, he said, is mostly administrative — to oversee the detainee operations here on behalf of Commanding Gen. Rick Baccus and the Joint Task Force 160 command, and make sure that all personnel work together toward the success of this operation that has captured the eyes of the world.
“But I also make it my goal to come out here to Camp Delta at least once a day and see how my soldiers are doing,” he said.
Perrone, who has been at GTMO for approximately a month, doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.
He is replacing Army Lt. Col. Bill Cline from the 455th Military Police Detachment, attached to the 800th MP Brigade in Uniondale, N.Y.
Cline went back home to New York last week after serving JDOG for six months.
Like Cline, Perrone is a New Yorker. He is from Monroe County in Rochester, recently retired from his civilian job at the Monroe County Sheriff Department after spending the past 30 years of his life holding a multitude of different positions.
“I started on road patrol and worked through the ranks. I retired as a major and division commander of operations,” he said. “As the commanding officer, I oversaw patrol precincts along with special teams such as Swat, EOD, Scuba and Marine and canine units.”
“I thrive on organization, structure and discipline,” he said. “That's why I got into law enforcement, and that's why I joined the Army.”
Perrone, who has been in the Army for more than 32 years, said that almost everything he did in civilian and military life was a preparation for the position he now holds.
Before he was called up for “Operation Enduring Freedom,” he served on active duty for a year as the chief of Force Protection and Anti-terrorism for the 2002 Olympic Games at Salt Lake City.
“A great deal of it was the interaction with local state and federal law enforcement agencies as well as providing force protection plans for the military units,” he said. “There were 18,000 security and law enforcement people including 6,500 soldiers supporting that mission.”
Perrone has filled a wide variety of military roles as well: S-4 in civil affairs, staff officer at the battalion, brigade and division levels, and provost marshal and commander of a transportation company.
“There wasn't really much in the way of opportunity that the Army has not afforded me,” said Perrone.
All that experience has led to this. “He came highly recommended for this job,” said Army Lt. Col. Don Wedewer, JDOG's executive officer. “We want to support his decisions and grab his experience and education. I've been in the Army for 23 years, and I still have a lot to learn from him.”
“Col. Perrone has a tremendous outgoing personality and he motivates all of us,” said Wedewer, who recently started working for the commander.
“Col. Perrone is a charismatic and personable leader,” said Army Capt. Keith Bowers, from JDOG S1, recalling his first meeting with the commander outside the office.
“On my second day here in Cuba, we went out fishing and I got a chance to talk and interact with him on a personal level,” said Bowers. “It was a very casual environment. Perrone made everybody feel at ease. He's really down-to-earth. Surprisingly, after fishing he agreed to go with us to the Downtown Lyceum to catch a movie.”
Although he is away from his wife and his three children, Perrone said he is enjoying GTMO and hopes to play some golf and spend more time fishing whenever his busy schedule allows it.
Before assuming the new position, Perrone had a chance to spend a couple of weeks working with Cline and his staff. He said he has had a good understanding of what they were doing and wants to build on their work.
“Perrone is very meticulous and thorough,” said Bowers. But the man himself says he’s no micro-manager.
“My leadership style is to be on top of as many issues as I can without being a mile deep in them. I have to look at the broad picture,” said the new commander.
For Perrone, a good manager or leader has to be able to assess the strength and weaknesses of his command.
“That’s one of the reasons we have the weekly commanders’ meeting now,” he said. “All of the company commanders need to get up and brief their own operations and explain why they’re doing something or why they’re not doing something.
“If a company commander exhibits leadership, some issues will not have to go up to my level and to the level of Gen. Baccus.”
“I don't need to know everything,” he said, “but I do need to know those things that are important for me to deal with. So does Gen. Baccus.”
But with more than 1,000 servicemembers under JDOG’s command, Perrone has to work to make sure his and Baccus’ orders make it down to the ground level.
“It's one thing to write down the standards,” he said. “It's another to actually sit down and train people to understand and enforce them. I believe that if you don't enforce them, they become a useless document. Perhaps we have to do a better job ourselves, making sure everyone understands the standards before enforcing them.”
He said he understands that GTMO is “a high-stress environment for a lot of the young soldiers. But we have to make sure they are properly trained and properly equipped to carry out their mission.”
“This is a great mission, a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for a lot of the soldiers,” he said. “They should be proud to be part of this mission, and above all, proud to be Americans. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to do my part.” said Perrone.
For the next half-year, Perrone will keep doing it — keep meeting with his company commanders on a regular basis, and keep getting out to Camp Delta and Camp America once a day to monitor the progress of his the operation he now oversees.
“I have a very simple vision,” Perrone said. “Be the best we can be, providing a level of excellence in everything we do. We are not there yet, but we're certainly heading that way.”
GTMO a No-Spin Zone for day
Bill O'Reilly of Fox News pays base a friendly visit
By Army Spc. Michelle M. Scsepko
July 12, 2002
Guantanamo Bay was a No-Spin Zone for a day Saturday as Bill O’Reilly, host of “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News Channel, brought his camera crew here to interview the military men and women who make Camp Delta’s detention operation run.
O’Reilly, greeted at the plane by a phalanx of public-affairs officers and media escorts, said he had no problem with the security restrictions placed on him and other media for the protection of our troops. He wasn’t here for a scoop, or a controversy — just a story.
“I’m not here to do a political story like Newsweek,” said O’Reilly. “There’s no controversy surrounding this mission to me. I agree with exactly what the Department of Defense is doing.” That, he said, is because of the nature of this war.
“Obviously, it is harder for the media to cover a war like this because we have to be patriots as well as journalists. We can’t break stories that might put peoples’ lives in danger for the better of our own careers. It’s not like Vietnam or the Gulf War, where we could hunt our own stories up. We just can’t do that; we play it the way the Defense Department wants it to be played. The war is now in the country, and we’ve got to be very cognizant of that,” he said.
O’Reilly and his supporting staff hit the ground running, moving purposefully as they exited their private jet to meet with their media escorts for the day.
“Mr. O’Reilly, we welcome you to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Following a brief overview of the itinerary and the ground-rules, we’ll be ready to get this mission started,” said Army Maj. F. Lee Reynolds, officer in charge of the Media Support Center. After receiving a warm welcome from the rest of a public affairs staff clearly pleased to meet him, O’Reilly and his team were mission-ready and Windward bound. First stop, JTF-160 Headquarters.
Once there, Commanding Gen. Rick Baccus walked out and introduced himself to O’Reilly and his staff as they approached. Introductions were brief, however, as the crew quickly departed and headed for their first location for taping: The Northeast Gate.
With a handful of Marine guards watching from their posts, Baccus and O’Reilly strolled for the cameras along what has been GTMO’s defining feature for decades: the chain-link, concertina wire-topped fence line dividing the U.S. military’s Cuba and Fidel Castro’s.
After taping O’Reilly’s interview with the commanding general and collecting some background footage of the area, the entourage proceeded to Guantanamo Bay’s new hotspot of media attention and occasional political controversy: Camp Delta and Camp America, where the detention operation is located.
That operation — the soldiers who run it and the detainees who are its mission — was what brought O’Reilly to GTMO.
“I am here to do a day-in-the-life-of story on the detainees,” said O’Reilly. “The American people are curious about what the detainees do all day long, and that’s why I’m here. I want to find out what their routine is, and what their day is like.”
During his visit to Camp America, O’Reilly made a stop for chow at the Seaside Galley, which afforded him the opportunity to speak with some of the men and women who make the detention facility run. Living up to his image as a “working class hero,” O’Reilly could have been one of the troops, chowing down and chatting amiably with hard-working GIs.
“I’m very happy to be here. I think everybody knows that 90 percent of the country is behind the military, the War on Terror, and what these troops are doing here,” said O’Reilly. “There’s an enormous amount of people in America that support this cause, and you usually never get this kind of support for a war. The troops should know that we’re all behind them and want them to stay safe.”
After signing a few copies of his book, “The No-Spin Zone,” and taking pictures with eager soldiers, O’Reilly selected two sergeants to come back to Headquarters with him to be interviewed along with the Commanding General. The interviewees said O’Reilly focused on many different aspects of working with the detainees, as well as their day-to-day routine.
“He asked me about the female perspective of day to day work with the detainees,” said Sgt. Gabriel E. Graham.
“He was interested in finding out what happens with the detainees when they misbehave or if they are caught with contraband,” said Sgt. Bernard Buehler. “He also wanted
to know if I ever feel sympathetic toward them.”
After spending a day in GTMO with the opportunity to converse with the Commanding General and troops, O’Reilly offered his own opinion on the mission here.
“It looks to me like everything is very well organized and that there isn’t anything left to uncertainty. This is a very methodical operation,” he said.
“These people put themselves in this position, and they’re being treated humanely. Basically, that’s all we owe them at this point. We’re at war, and if you’re going to mess with our country you’re going to have to pay the price.”
After sitting in the hot seat with O’Reilly, Baccus was satisfied with the visit.
“I thought the interview with O’Reilly was very positive, he really sounded like he supported the mission and what we’re doing down here,” said Baccus. “This coverage will clearly tell the families exactly what kind of mission we’re doing and how important what we’re doing is. I think it will give Americans a better picture in terms of how serious a mission this is and certainly that all the servicemembers take the mission very seriously,” he said.
O’Reilly expected that media like him would be coming back to GTMO — and covering the war on terror — for a long time to come.
“With the way I see the War on Terror is being handled here, a year from now it will still
be front-page news,” he said. “Except with a lot less terrorists around — that includes Saddam Hussein.”
As for his visit, O’Reilly had but one disappointment.
“I was hoping to see Fidel, but I guess he’s not in today,” said O’Reilly. “Although I did see an iguana. He was probably a communist.”
The segment will air at 8 p.m. July 15 and 16 in the states, and is scheduled to be on AFN News (Ch. 97) on July 16 and 17 at 2 a.m.
Telling the GTMO story
USARC's top PAOs come to Cuba to try to give the soldiers on the ground their due.
By Army Spc. Frank N. Pellegrini
July 26, 2002
History, they say, doesn't happen without someone to tell the tale. And military missions don't happen without committed servicemembers on the ground — and taxpayers back home who are willing to foot the bill.
In the detention operation at Guantanamo Bay, some 80 percent of the nearly 2,000 servicemembers here are now reservists, called away for six months or more from wives and husbands and homes and hometowns. Even in the aftermath of a nation-binding event like Sept. 11, that can be a special test of public support and troop morale.
That's where military public affairs comes in. This week, the Army Reserve’s top public-affairs men from the U.S. Army Reserve Command (USARC) came here, visiting GTMO for a three-day fact-finding tour.
Their mission: to take the measure of the operation here, and — keeping in mind the all-too-real demands of operational security — look for ways to better tell the reservist's story to his two most important constituencies: the folks back home, and the soldiers themselves.
“There’s an incredible amount of interest in the mission here back in the U.S.,” said Mr. Joseph Hanley, Director of Public Affairs for USARC. “The exotic locale, the detainees — people want to know what serviceberry are doing here, and our job is to try to maximize coverage of it so that they do.”
Hanley, joined by USARC colleagues Army Lt. Col. Boyd Collins, chief of marketing and media relations, and Army Maj. Gerard F. Healy, head of policy and plans, took the full GTMO tour, from JTF-170 headquarters to JTF-160 headquarters, from X-Ray to Delta to America to GTMO's own tip of the public-affairs spear, the Joint Information Bureau and the newsroom of “The Wire.” All said they were impressed with the level of professionalism and competence among servicemembers — and the level of security surrounding the operations here — wherever they went.
But there was one troubling part of the visit: seeing first-hand all the stories that couldn't be told.
“We came down to see that the American public gets to see what the Army reservists are doing down here,” said Healy. “Because of security concerns, though, a lot of the superb, even heroic efforts of a lot of Army Reservists and National Guard members — as well as the active-duty soldiers and all the other servicemembers working so hard here — will never be widely known. That's unfortunate.”
“But a lot can be known,” he said. “And we're here to find out what can be done to better support the public-affairs effort. We can always do a better job making those military efforts public that can safely be made public. And we're going to try to do that.”
As any graduate of the military’s Defense Information School (DINFOS) can tell you, that PA effort comes in two prongs. The first is media relations — ensuring that civilian news writers and broadcasters get the stories they want promptly and accurately without endangering the security of the nation or its servicemembers.
“The media, the so-called ‘fourth estate,’ is there to keep the public informed as to how their tax dollars are being spent and how their sons and daughters in uniform are being used,” said Healy. “And it’s our responsibility to ensure that the sacred trust between the military and the American people is maintained. We have to help the media help us do that.”
“When the media asks questions, our job is to answer them,” he said. “They’re asking on behalf of the public, and in the end, we work for them.”
“Besides, with the media the way it is today, in this operation we could get enough press coming down here to sink this island,” Healy joked. “We have to make sure we’re ready for anything.”
The other half of the PA job is internal information — keeping the troops themselves informed as to what their command is doing and where they fit in. And here at GTMO, you know what that is: “The Wire.”
“It’s absolutely critical in a place like this,” said Hanley. “It’s important for the servicemembers to understand what the organization is and what it does, and it allows him to see how he fits into the big picture.”
It may not seem like much sometimes, but when a soldier or sailor or Marine or Coast Guardsman finds himself or his unit featured in the base paper, he can send it home — or refer them to the Web site — and feel like his family or friends can better understand what he’s doing here. And that can make the separation pass less painfully.
“It can be a real morale booster,” said Hanley. “This isn’t the worst place in the world to be, but the people here are still a long way from home — if not in miles, than at least in feeling.”
That feeling can be particularly strong for reservists and guardsmen, who have to leave homes and jobs — sometimes on only a few days’ or weeks’ notice — and uproot their lives when their country calls. But Hanley says that the large reservist presence at GTMO these days has a special significance.
“The wide use of reservists in the war on terror demonstrates that the will of the American people is really invested in the cause,” he said. Reserve call-ups make such an impact on homes, and families and communities, that it shows the commitment of this country to this cause that the support is still there.”
And in this visit and previous ones to the places where reservists are serving, Hanley says he’s heard time and time again from the commanders on the ground that far from being mere “weekend warriors,” reservists bring something special to the mission itself.
“The comments we get are that reservists often bring in a level of experience that’s very valuable in a setting like this,” he said. “Many of the soldiers involved in this detention operation are in law enforcement or corrections back home. Bringing that on-the-job experience can be a real plus.”
“These are not nice people they're guarding,” Hanley continued. “Nobody wants to have a mistake made where one of the servicemembers get hurt — or one of the detainees get hurt. Sometimes that maturity level can keep that from happening.”
“When we took our tour, there was an active duty company on duty. And I noticed they were very young — very professional, but very young. The reservists tend to be older, with more time in the job. And the leadership feels that's a real plus.”
That makes USARC’s external public-affairs mission — maintaining public support for those reservists — even more critical.
“They’ve left their homes, inconvenienced their employers, left their communities,” Hanley said. “We want to demonstrate to those people what the reservists are doing and why it’s important.”
For Lt. Col. Collins, that means getting them on America’s favorite information medium: television. Collins supervises the collection of background footage of soldiers on the job, or ‘B-roll,” which his office then markets to local and national TV outlets for use in their programming. “We let them edit it, record their own voice-overs on it, and run it as if they got it themselves,” he said.
“They love it. It saves them money and gets our story told.” Collins said recent placements include Fox, CNN, “America’s Most Wanted,” and countless local TV stations eager for stories on members of their communities called up to serve.
At GTMO, Collins said, the “stars of the show” are the MPs at Delta. “There’s been a lot of interest in the guards down here. Our job is to get the media what they want without compromising security.”
Of course, part of these PAOs job is to fine-tune the structure and manning of public-affairs personnel on the ground, wherever they are deployed. After all, one of the other special characteristics of reservists is they’re always going back home and being replaced.
Part of this visit was making sure that JTF-160’s own public-affairs operation is running smoothly — that the current crew, the reservist journalists of the 361st PCH, were telling all the GTMO stories that can be told without endangering operational security or servicemembers’ lives.
So next time a print journalist from “The Wire” comes up to you with a notebook and pen, or a broadcast journalist points a camera in your direction, just try to remember — we’re all in BDUs here. We’re doing our part of the JTF-160 mission, doing it the best we can with what we’ve got. We’re doing it for all you servicemembers who are stuck in GTMO a long way from home, just like us.
And we’ve got bosses too.
End of an era at X-Ray as former troop living quarters broken down for repurposing
By Spc. Frank N. Pellegrini
August 2, 2002
The nearly 1,000 MP guards and infantrymen that lived there in its heyday are mostly gone home now; the 300 detainees they guarded at Camp X-Ray were all moved to Camp Delta in April, guarded these days by MPs who live at Camp America, sleeping in air-conditioned SEAhuts and showering in concrete latrines.
Erected in January by the Marines, who commanded the detention operation here for its first three months, the 78-tent city called Freedom Heights is all but gone now, torn down and packed up Wednesday and Thursday by 57 volunteers from all over the JTF — from Camp America and the JTF Headquarters, from the Pink Palace and the motor pool, all pitching in on a hot GTMO day to bid farewell to a relic of the detention operation’s rough infancy.
And workers used to the finer living JTFers enjoy these days — whether at Camp America or cushy Windward Loop — got a firsthand look at the home-away-from-home that the Marines and Army MP units like the 401st, 414th and 988th knew all too well: sun-baked tents with makeshift flooring that only arrived a month into their stay, showers made of plywood with pails for faucets. Running water? Not here.
And after this week, Freedom Heights wouldn’t be here either. What did it all mean?
“Today is a positive thing,” said Staff Sgt. Tom McCarthy, J-3. “It means that the guards have moved into better quarters and maybe feel a little more appreciated for the job they’re doing. And if X-Ray is ever used again, the next group of guards here should have it a little better than the last.”
“This is what deployments are all about,” said Senior Airman Brandon Miranda, J-6. “Tearing down the old stuff means you’ve put up new stuff. When they came here, this was the best we could do. Today is a closure on that part of the mission.”
But three soldiers on site, escort guards with the always coming-and-going 342nd MPs now staying at Camp America, had had it both ways — and to them, Freedom Heights wasn’t all bad.
“Sometimes I’d rather be here than there,” said Pfc. Matthew Burns. “It sure was warm — but it was fun. I liked hanging out with the Marines when they were here at the beginning.”
“There was a little more community,” said Sgt. Kyle Robinson. “You could just look over to the tent next to you and say hello. Even if it was to an iguana.”
Certainly if you’re one of those who find that the air-conditioned rooms here can get a mite chilly, or you sometimes find yourself craving something a bit more rugged for your deployment lifestyle, there was an undeniably attractive “hard-core” quality to Freedom Heights — including the occasional scorpion in the mess kit.
At least the breaking-down work itself was a change of pace for the crews on site more used to day after day of detainee-watching at Camp Delta — or the various forms of office slavery at the Pink Palace and the JTF headquarters — good, honest, sweaty manual labor.
“Take all the tents down, pull the stakes, take out all the electrical wiring,” summed up JTF-160 1st Sgt. Teddy Hebert. “Pull the poles and band them together in piles. Fold the tents, palletize them, get them ready to be shipped out. Stack up the flooring and forklift it away so trucks can come pick it up. The last thing’ll be the sandbags.”
With the sun blazing, BDU blouses and caps came off, rank was forgotten, and water breaks were mandatory. The crew from Camp America got into a friendly competition with the crew from the JTF buildings (The outnumbered JTFers lost.)
Air Force computer geeks humped tent poles next to Army bus drivers. Sergeant majors stacked floorboards with specialists, Marine and Navy desk jockeys pulled out wiring with shift-working MP guards. Among the ruins of a place dominated by unshakable routines, everyone on this detail got a welcome break from theirs.
“We’d pry up floorboards and find scorpions, tarantulas, mice,” said Sgt. Major Daniel M. Polinski of the 361st PCH. “We even pulled one up and saw what must have been a four-foot snake chase a mouse across the camp.”
But given the historical significance of the war on terror and the detention operation at Guantanamo Bay, this was more than another work-detail day in the military. These crews were tearing down the quarters of the first guards of the first detainees at GTMO, hastily assembled living spaces for what was then, in many ways, a hastily assembled detention mission undergone in response to a war on terror that had just begun in earnest.
JTF-160 Army Commanding Gen. Rick Baccus, who took over the JTF from the Marines and was at GTMO while Freedom Heights still teemed with soldiers, even stopped by Thursday to look in on the crews’ progress.
In many ways, the breakdown was less ceremonious than it was utilitarian. The tents had stood empty since April, and most of the detail’s job was to gather what was still serviceable — tents, poles, stakes, wiring — for future use. Even the countless sandbags were due to be picked up by the infantry at the end of the week.
So was Wednesday a significant moment, or just recycling?
“The taking down of Freedom Heights symbolizes the end of the conditions present at the beginning of this operation, both for the detainees and the soldiers who guarded them,” said Col. John J. Perrone, Jr., JDOG commander.
But a lot of that significance rides on the next chapter in the life of now-empty X-Ray, and that story only time can tell.
“I have no idea what they’re going to do with this place, so I don’t know if it’s a big moment or not,” said Capt. Tony Lloyd of JDOG. “All I know is this is hard work, and these guys out here today are doing a great job.”
Meeting the press: GTMO gears up for Sept. 11 anniversary rush
By Spc. Frank N. Pellegrini
August 9, 2002
Army Capt. Sandra M. Orlandella is getting very busy again these days. As the Joint Information Bureau's operations officer here, it's her job to plan and coordinate all media visits to Guantanamo Bay. She makes up the itineraries, sets up interviews and press conferences, and generally makes sure the U.S. and international media gets the story they come for - without, of course, violating operational security. And the GTMO detention operation looks about to enter another phase of media madness.
"The first round was back in January when the detainees first arrived," she said. "The second was in the spring when they were moved from X-Ray to Delta. And now, with the anniversary of Sept. 11 getting close, they're coming back."
Since May 13, Orlandella estimated, only 50 media have come through; this week a group of 12 is on the ground - and that's after teams expected from CNN and the BBC rescheduled their visit for the coming weeks.
It may only be the beginning. "I expect the pace to double by Sept. 11, to two groups of 24 every week," Orlandella said. "Some are coming back here to prepare something for Sept. 11, some want to be here that day. We're getting a lot of special requests, like live broadcasts on the anniversary, that we're not going to be able to accommodate. But as long as we have quarters for them, they can come and stay as long as they want."
This week's visitors arrived on Wednesday for the full detention-operation treatment - visits to approved observation points outside Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta, a tour of GTMO and opportunities to interview Delta guards Thursday at their quarters in Camp America.
Army Maj. F. Lee Reynolds, like Orlandella (and the staff of The Wire) a member of the 361st Press Camp Headquarters out of New York City, is the escort chief, charged with escorting the civilian press around GTMO, answering their questions about the operation and keeping them advised - and in line - as to what the limitations of OPSEC are while they're here. Where they can't photograph, where they can, and with what lenses. Interviews with passing soldiers are prohibited; approved interviews are set up through the JIB. And of course, while they're on the Windward side, civilian media are to stay with their escorts at all times.
To a journalist after the whole story, or at least something to beat the competition, those limitations can be frustrating.
"What we'd like to see and what we're going to see are two different things," said photographer Harry Page of the British tabloid The Mirror. "Hopefully we'll get something - it's a long way to come to take pictures of OPSEC signs."
But The Mirror is here nevertheless. Especially as September approaches.
"We would be here anyway," said Page. "But with the Sept. 11th anniversary coming up, the public interest in Europe is going to be as high as ever. That makes whatever story we get that much better."
His colleague on the visit, Mirror U.S. editor Richard Wallace, is the kind of journalist military public-affairs people tend to keep a close eye on. His paper is aimed at a European audience deemed more critical of the detention operation here than most American news outlets.
But Wallace says he's not here to criticize the operation itself, or its treatment of the detainees at Camp Delta. Instead, he says, he wants to bring up questions not about the operation's methods but its very existence - why, to what purpose, and for how long.
"We're not saying that these detainees are all nice boys who love their mothers - not at all...the question is, we got these guys, they're many of them bad guys, what are we going to do with them now? I'm here to try to find out what the next step is going to be."
Does he expect to find that here, where American military policies are carried out but not made? "I'm not confident because the general, like all of you, will say 'we're doing our duty, we've been asked to take care of this business by the politicians, and we're taking care of this business,'" he said. "I'm not being super-optimistic that I'm going to get an answer here. Maybe we'll get some clues."
"But there's no harm in asking the question," he said. Which is what we've been doing all along. Just ask the questions that have to be asked, and hopefully, that will channel the minds of the politicians."
Julian Borger works for another British paper, The Guardian, and he's playing things a little straighter.
"There's plenty of room on the editorial pages to debate the rights and wrongs, which are really the legal issues," he said. "I'm just coming to describe what it's like here. Otherwise you're arguing in a vacuum, without a clear idea of what the place is like."
"The anniversary coverage will be very big," he said. "It's a worldwide issue. And for me, I think the angle is going to be what has become of all those inmates at Guantanamo Bay that you heard about all those months ago. Where are they, what's happening with them now."
As for the security environment here, the Washington-based Borger has covered wars in Angola, Mozambique and Saudi Arabia. GTMO, he said, "is a much more controlled environment for a journalist to work in. Inevitably, it's difficult to get a sense of what it's like inside the camp. But you have to understand the limitations."
Roy Freddy Andersen and Thomas Nilsson, with the Norwegian paper Verdens Gang, are also here for the big picture.
"If we were writing for a local American newspaper, we would be doing a military angle. But there are no Norwegian soldiers here. So we're going to get whatever we can on the detainees."
"We'll get whatever you let us get. We have to do the best that we can." He paused. "The Kvaerner company here is owned by a Norwegian millionaire," he said. "Maybe we'll do a side piece on that." Wayne Partridge and Grant Tyler Blankenship from the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, though, were indeed here for a military angle: the 178th MP company out of Monroe, Ga.
"We're going to talk to them and do a story for the Georgia audience," Partridge said. "They're the guys who take the detainees to and from the interrogations. They're really the hands-on guys, and it's something people at home really want to read about."
Whatever angle the stories begun this week will take, if Wednesday's visit was any indication GTMO's expected busy season for media visits in the weeks leading up to the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11 will go smoothly. Journalists seemed understanding of - if occasionally frustrated by - the security limitations inherent in the detention operation.
No one risked expulsion by taking pictures in prohibited areas, or interviewed anybody they weren't supposed to, and after the end-of-the-day stop at the Naval Exchange everyone was back on the bus on time.
And JTF-160 will continue to open its arms to the U.S. and international media.
"We're in an active posture," said Army Lt. Col. Joseph A. Hoey, Public Affairs Officer of JTF-160. "We readily engage the media within our public affairs guidance and the needs of operational security."
"We have certain limitations, but we actively welcome the media here," he said. "Both to tell the servicemember's story and also to clarify what the detention operation is all about, so America and the world knows what we're doing, and so families back home can see why their loved one is here." For Orlandella, her job is about just what the JIB name suggests: information.
"People outside the military need to know what we do here. I think we need to give the most we can without violating security and putting anyone in danger. We need to put a face on the uniform and on the detainee mission here. American citizens deserve to know what's going on, especially after Sept. 11.
"Everyone saw that," she said. "This is what we're doing about it. This is what we're doing to prevent it from happening again, and it's important that the American people and the world get to see that too."
Guarding GTMO from attack:
Marine Corps Security Force Company stays 'on line' to ensure base is safe
By Spc. Chris S. Pisano
August 16, 2002
All that separates Guantanamo Bay from a communist country and the possibility of terrorist attacks is a fence. And along that 17.4-mile fence line, their professionalism and vigilance keep GTMO safe from harm. Guarding the border between GTMO and Cuba are the Marine reservists from Texas serving in Marine Corps Security Force Company, DET A, Bravo Company 123.
And make no mistake; these reservists have a full-time job.
"Basically, we protect the fence line and do reconnaissance on the Cubans 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Sgt. Jose Diaz, sergeant of the guard with MCSF Co. "We accomplish our mission through the guards keeping watch in the many Marine Observation Points along the fence line and also through the foot and mounted patrols which are conducted 24 hours a day."
Between the guards in the MOPs and the Marines on constant patrol, there is very little that they miss, according to Diaz. But the MOPs, which are the guard towers you can see peppered across the northern GTMO horizon, are what really allow the Marines to carry out their mission.
"In the MOPs, they observe just about anything and everything the Cubans do," said Diaz. "And the Cubans on the other side do the same to us. I don't blame them. We look at them, so why can't they look at us? But I don't think they do as good a job as we do. We're more disciplined. I have faith in those Marines in the MOPs and out on patrol. They're pretty observant and really detailed as to what's going on."
Attention to detail is everything within the MOP, for the security of the entire base could be compromised if a vigilant eye is not kept on the border below.
"I observe everything, right down to a twitch of a finger. If I fail in my job, everyone on the base might die because there will be no warning," said Lance Cpl. Ramirez Gomez. "In this work, you have to stay focused. If the Cubans try anything on my MOP, they'll have to answer to my M-16. I'm here to protect the base and to serve the Marine Corps and my country."
And given the current global threat of terrorism since Sept. 11 and the fact that 598 detainees are being held right here in GTMO, watching out for troublesome Cubans is now only one threat they have to look out for.
"Since Sept. 11, the importance of our mission has increased ten-fold," said Cpl. Mark Palos. "Not only do we have to watch the Cubans but also look out for possible terrorist attacks. There's a real possibility that terrorists can come through that fence. People have to realize that there is a communist country on the other side and we have no say on what goes on over there. If they want to let terrorists into their country, they can. We're the only thing between them and the base."
With all the attention placed on the war on terror and the detainees, the long-standing mission of these Marines might be somewhat overshadowed, but it is a mission that needs no outside attention to get done.
"Most of the attention is going to Camp Delta now, but we're not looking for attention or glory," said Palos. "We have a job to do. They can keep all the thunder they want."
When they're not "on line" doing their job, the Marines here conduct extensive training, said Diaz, which includes martial arts, mounts, working with mines and polishing their basic infantry skills. Everyone in the unit really holds their own, he said, and takes the training to heart - after all, they may need to call on it someday.
"We try to do a lot. We know how to do our job," said Palos. "Back at home during drill weekends, we also do a lot of infantry operations and tactics."
And now that they're deployed to Guantanamo Bay, the unit as a whole is well prepared to accomplish their task.
"I was active duty before, so I'm used to being away from home," said Diaz. "It's hard to just get up and be gone for a year, but I think that these Marines are handling it very well. They miss their families, but their minds are always on the job."
"Well, this is my job," said Cpl. Keith Harris. "I know why I'm here, so I have to go do it."
"You learn a lot of tolerance and patience," said Palos. "Nothing is set in stone. You have to learn not to take it personally; it's all just business. We all have a job to do."
That business is part of the long and distinguished history of the Marines at Guantanamo Bay, and the legacy continues with the tireless efforts of these reservists.
"This base has been changed from Marine to Navy, but the security has always been Marine, since the Battle of Cuzco Wells in 1898. Only since Sept. 11 has the intensity increased," said Palos.
"For over a hundred years, Marines have been here doing this job, and we will continue to do so as long as we need to," said Diaz. "I think that people really don't understand that there is a communist country on the other side of that fence. All of the Marines here take this job very seriously."
Marines often have the reputation of being fanatical about being Marines. For these reservists, it's simply a grave responsibility.
"We have a vital mission here," said Lance Cpl. Kevin Martinez. "If we weren't guarding that fence line, there's no telling what could happen. We're keeping the people here safe, and we're going home safely. That's the Marine Corps way."
MIUWU 204 unit members say good-bye to a fallen friend, who is gone but not forgotten
By Spc. Michelle M. Scsepko
August 23, 2002
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
John F. Kennedy, 1961
The tragic attacks on the United States of America that took place on Sept. 11, 2001 united all Americans and sent thousands of servicemembers to Guantanamo Bay in their support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Although all who are here were touched by that somber morning that is still fresh in the memories of the people of this nation, members of the Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Unit 204 here were especially so, having lost one of their own.
Navy Gunners Mate 3rd Class Thomas Butler, a member of MIUWU 204 for five years, was one of the New York City firefighters who courageously rushed into the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks on that gruesome day that America is still mourning.
This Aug. 15, five members of the MIUWU who were close friends of Butler’s left GTMO and returned to the U.S. to attend a memorial service in his honor. The service was held in memory of Butler at St. Joseph’s Church Saturday in Smithtown, N.Y. There, they were able to bid farewell to their fallen comrade and sailor, whose body has yet to be found.
“With the one-year anniversary of 9/11 approaching and the search for bodies at the World Trade Center site ended, the ceremony gave us closure and a chance to say goodbye,” said Navy GM3 David J. Wentworth.
The memorial service consisted of a full mass with eulogies, a final roll call by the FDNY and military ceremony.
“The five of us who attended the service were GMC Robert Christy, GM2 Patrick Donahue, GM3 Daniel Sheehan, EO1 Chris Thatcher, EO1 Yvonne Zirrith, and myself. We were all good friends of Tom, and were deeply saddened by his loss,” Wentworth said.
Butler’s life was filled with fire and water. A firefighter with Squad one in Brooklyn, N.Y., a part-time bay constable in Smithtown, N.Y., and a Navy GM3. His life was dedicated to serving and protecting others.
“Tom was a great guy. He was very quick-witted. As a sailor, he was completely squared away,” Wentworth said. “It is hard to explain just how much he is missed on this deployment. His death justifies our mission here. At least for me; it gives me a purpose for being here,” he said.
The mission of the MIUWU here is surveillance and defense.
“We defend our assets, and during this operation, Guantanamo Bay and all that inhabit it are our assets,” said Navy Cmdr. Sheldon D. Stuchell, commanding officer of MIUWU 204.
“Since Tom’s passing I’ve spoken to his wife often. She’s hanging in there, though she misses him terribly,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tracie M. Smith-Yeoman.
His wife, Martha Butler, described him as the epitome of the laid-back man in a New York Times article published in January.
“He was my rock. We would get bills and they would give me ulcers, and he’d say don’t worry about it, the bills will be there tomorrow,” she said.
Butler, proud father of Sean, Kelly, and Patrick, was 37 years old on the day he fearlessly rushed into the Twin Towers.
Those who served with him will miss his calm, light-hearted presence.
“He was very quiet, but all of a sudden he would come out with zingers that would make everyone laugh,” Smith-Yeoman said.
Members of MUIWU 204 feel the loss of their fellow servicemember and friend everyday due to the cowardly attacks that took place on September 11. Although, they have lost one of their own, they are aware that every American’s life was touched or changed by that day as well.
“We are going to commemorate Sept. 11 with everyone. It will be a sad, somber day, in which we can all seek comfort in one another,” said Stuchell.
Although the attacks of Sept. 11 were intended to tear the nation apart, it has only united and strengthened it. As John Adams said in 1776,
“Through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see the end is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph.”
Thomas Butler did not die in vain on Sept. 11; he lost his life as a hero. Remembering him and all those like him reminds us why we are here and how important what we are doing is. It reminds us why we are here — the same reason Thomas Butler would have been, but is not. But there are many ways to make the ultimate sacrifice, and many for whom to make it.
“He died doing what he absolutely loved,” said Wentworth. “Being a fireman.”
What's so funny about GTMO?
USO teams with Comedy Central to bring comic relief to servicemembers
By Army Sgt. Michelle M. Pessoa
August 30, 2002
The naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has been host to a number of notable visitors during Operation Enduring Freedom, but on Tuesday a delegation arrived whose only desire was to show support for the men and women deployed here as part of the ongoing war on terrorism. And get some laughs.
The USO, in partnership with cable station Comedy Central, brought 11 comedians to Cuba to entertain the troops Thursday night. The taped shows will air on cable in late October and will be repeated through December.
The entertainers invited included such names as Colin Quinn, Lenny Clark and Tony Rock. The USO and Comedy Central just completed a successful three-show set at McGuire AFB in New Jersey in July.
“The USO’s mission is to provide a ‘touch of home’ to the troops,” said Betty Naylor, the USO tour producer who handled the mammoth task of booking nearly a dozen comics and getting them here. She has booked acts for Cuba before, most recently Charlie Daniels.
The comics’ GTMO experience started with a noon arrival Tuesday. The guests were checked into the CBQ and driven to the Windjammer club in the early afternoon for some refreshments and a briefing given by Army Lt. Col. Joseph Hoey, the Public Affairs Officer of JTF-160. The overview gave the entertainers and production staff the lowdown on what kind of troops have been deployed to Guantanamo, who runs the base, and what life is like for those deployed here.
The entertainers were then treated to a windshield tour while the stagehands worked behind the scenes with Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s Craig Basil to adjust the lighting and sound system of the Windjammer for Thursday’s performances.
On Wednesday the USO group got off to an early (for comics) start and embarked on a tour that took nearly eight hours, but which gave them a taste of how the different branches of service represented here work together in a Joint Task Force environment.
Bright and early at 8 a.m., the group paid a courtesy call to the naval base commander, Captain Robert A. Buehn. Buehn picked up where Hoey left off the previous day and showed the entertainers a slide presentation that touched on the history of the U.S. presence in Guantanamo Bay. A Comedy Central cameraman mentioned to Buehn that he had been stationed here in the Navy 30 years ago, and comedian Lenny Clarke got a quick laugh when he remarked that the barracks probably look exactly the same.
The role of the base in aiding Cuban refugees was mentioned in Buehn’s presentation, as well as the new function of the base as the holding place for detainees from the war on terrorism.
The next stop for the comics was the docks, where they got to hear about military boating operations for the Coast Guard Port Security Unit 307. Lt. Tomas A. Kringel arranged for the comics to board some vessels and take a little trip out into the Bay. While waiting for his turn to board the next boat, Tony Rock took some time out to talk to some of the coastguardsmen.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said, in reference to questions about being the brother of the more famous comedian in the family, Chris Rock.
There are benefits in name recognition, he admits, but he wants to be his own man. Coast Guard Lt. Dan J. Egan struck up a conversation with him and shared that he, too, has had to follow in someone else’s footsteps.
With regards to Rock’s approach to Thursday’s shows he explained. “There will be no cursing, no mentioning of female body parts. Since this is a military show, I can’t do my Coast Guard joke,” he added with a cryptic laugh.
“I have no military background, I’ve probably been in two fights in my life, but I got involved with the USO because that’s my way of contributing,” he said, explaining his reasons for supporting the troops.
“I’ve never met a more appreciative audience,” said Clarke as he walked around and introduced himself — loudly — to all within earshot.
After an hour and a half at the PSU, the group moved from a waterside view of the base to one of the lofty hills that dot the bay — the home of the Mobile Inshore Underwater Warfare Unit. Saturday Night Live comedian Colin Quinn broke off from the rest of the group to do a radio interview on “The Blitz” 103.1 while the others were greeted by Navy Cmdr. Sheldon D. Stuchell of the MIUWU. The comics shook hands with the handful of servicemembers on top of the hill and they were invited to peep through the large telescopes that few outside of the MIUWU’s staff get to see, let alone touch.
The tour deviated from the itinerary after the MIUWU visit. The visitors were met by a humvee and the comics piled into the back to experience the thrill of a ride down a winding hill in a tactical vehicle. The comics were all smiles when they hopped out of the vehicle at McCalla hangar, so the bumpy trip was worth it.
In the hangar the USO group met with the servicemembers who work at the Pink Palace and JTF-160 Headquarters. The troops expressed surprise at seeing a group of strangers descending on their domain, but they quickly warmed up to them. They eagerly snatched up the glossy autograph sheets provided by Naylor and seized the opportunity to get autographs and pose for pictures with the celebrities.
The comics were allowed to sit inside a stationary helicopter and pose for a few more photos.
It was now past noon. There was a brief stop at the Windjammer to pick up security badges, then it was off to Windmill Beach. The comics had a chance to wade in the Caribbean Sea before taking a walk up the road toward Camp America.
Lunch was at Seaside Galley. Unfortunately, the galley was closed when the group arrived. Strings were pulled and the galley was opened so that the grumbling stomachs could be appeased.
JTF-160’s Sgt. Maj. Funaro greeted the group at the dining facility.
“I understand that you got a lot of new material today,” he joked, in response to their disappointment at some delays and not getting to mingle with any troops at lunchtime.
After lunch it was back to the grand tour. They exited Seaside Galley and met with troops at the new chapel. Word spread quickly through the camp and soon a sizeable crowd gathered under the domed roof to get autographs.
“I will definitely check out the show,” said Army Sgt. Steve Andronis of the 342nd MPs. “I watch them all the time. Nick DiPaolo is one of my favorites.”
“I have to work midnights, but I’m going to try to run out, catch the first show, and make it to work tomorrow,” said Spc. Autmn Blewett of the 346th MPs.
“I had just gotten to sleep, but I saw everyone coming up here and I had to come right away.”
The comics left Camp A after signing autographs for 45 minutes. The day concluded with a stop at the Naval Station Hospital. A tour was conducted by Navy HMC Joseph Engel. The comics, eager to surprise someone, visited a bed-ridden patient, Sgt. Christopher Renard, 346th MPs. “It was looking like a boring day... Thank you!” said a stunned Renard.
As this paper goes to print, the comics were scheduled to perform in 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. shows Thursday at the Windjammer. Tickets were to be distributed through the chain of command to the different units. Approximately 400 servicemembers were expected to attend each show.
Clarke summed up the Comedy Central tour neatly: “What the troops are doing is tremendous. I’ve been involved with the USO for seven years now. Anytime they want me to go, it’s my pleasure. We’re here to make morale.”
GTMO gets ready to remember
How the detention operation will memorialize the awful day that spawned it.
By Spc. Frank N. Pellegrini
September 6, 2002
“On the one hand, we’re all working that day, just like every other day,” said Camp America’s assistant camp commandant, Staff Sgt. Janet Harnack of the 346th MP Co. “On the other, it should never be an ordinary day.”
Such is the balance JTF-160 and JTF-170 are striking as the one-year anniversary of last year’s Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approaches. One year after hijacked planes full of jet fuel slammed into both World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon; one year after a fourth plane — thought to be headed for the White House — was heroically brought down in a Pennsylvania field by its self-sacrificing passengers; one year after thousands died and millions cried and the world’s most powerful nation was plunged into war with a shadowy network of terrorists, it is time to remember what we can never forget.
Certainly the U.S. military has been honoring Sept. 11 since the terrible morning itself. Reservists in New York City and Washington, D.C. reported for duty at city armories while dust and debris were still falling. National Guard members went to work establishing perimeters and guarding airports. The Pentagon dusted itself off, mourned its dead and began prosecuting a war on terror in Afghanistan, liberating a nation from a repressive government and hunting terrorists to the darkest corners of the deepest caves.
And as 2001 turned to 2002, that war grew a rear guard here on Guantanamo Bay. A remote Caribbean naval base, once near to withering away, is teeming anew with servicemembers again, all working to operate — and protect — a detention operation that not only keeps our enemies off the battlefield but mines intelligence that saves American lives both military and civilian.
Nearly 80 percent of the servicemembers here are reservists, with lives uprooted from jobs and homes and hometowns — they honor Sept. 11 merely by calling GTMO home. So too do active-duty servicemembers, far from Fort Lewis in Washington state, Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico or any of the towns across America that active-duty units here call home.
Operation Enduring Freedom is the U.S. military’s tribute to Sept. 11. In Guantanamo Bay, JTF-160 and JTF-170 are its missionaries; Camp Delta and Camp America, the Pink Palace and the “Head Shed” and the Child Development Center are its shrines. Everyone here is paying homage every day to the blood spilled that September morning with sacrifices of their own. Certainly no one here is likely to forget; it is why they are here.
But Sept. 11 struck us in a special way. Not just as soldiers, but as people.
“This event was personalized. It wasn't an attack by a nation, or an army, but of individuals, upon individuals,” said Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Raymond A. Tetreault. “The people who died on that day didn't consider themselves at war when they went to work that day. Neither did America. All that changed, and we all feel vulnerable in a new way.”
“It's an event that has touched all our lives,” he said, “besides being the reason that we're all here.”
And so at 7:30 a.m. in the Camp America chapel and 6:00 p.m. in the Naval Base chapel, Tetreault and Army Chaplain (Maj.) Michael S. Merrill will represent JTF-160’s spiritual side with non-denominational services held in memory of the attacks.
Both services will feature a slide presentation of Sept. 11 images and remarks by NYPD officer Sandra M. Orlandella, an Army Capt. serving as operations officer at the Joint Information Bureau. The morning service will feature comments from JTF-160 Commanding (Brig.) Gen. Rick Baccus; Navy Capt. Robert A. Buehn, base commander, and JTF-170 Commanding (Maj.) Gen. Michael Dunlavey will speak at the evening service. Attendees are invited to linger and share recollections of the day.
“It's more spiritual than religious,” said Tetreault. “But in the aftermath of the attacks, it was to churches and synagogues and mosques that people turned for some kind of solace and meaning and sharing. We realize that this anniversary may be difficult for some people, and we want to provide some of that here as well as remembering the lives that were lost that day.”
But for the commands of JTF-160 and JTF-170, whose missions honor that day every day, it is equally important to take a few moments from work to remember in a military way the first sacrifices of this war.
“Sept. 11 marks the first anniversary of the cowardly acts that killed thousands of innocent people and plunged our nation and this military into a global war,” said Lt. Col. Dennis H. Fink, JTF-170 public affairs officer. “The least we can do is take a little time from our day to reflect on those terrible acts.”
And so at exactly 8:46 a.m., the moment that the first plane struck the first tower, JTF-170 will hold a formation outside its headquarters at the Child Development Center. Bells will be tolled and “Taps” played, followed by what Fink called a “brief and fitting” memorial service.
Simultaneously, JTF-160's Joint Detention Operations Group will raise the American flag at Camp Delta and hold a moment of silence and short ceremony of its own, including comments from JTF-160 Commanding Gen. Rick Baccus.
“Yes, this whole operation is a commemoration in itself,” said Army Col. John J. Perrone, Jr., JDOG commander. "It's a real testament to the American will. But I think we also need to take some time to reflect on that day in history. It really has changed the world, and the fact that we're here on active duty is evidence of that.”
Also deserving of remembrance is a different kind of soldier killed in that surprise attack — the firefighters whose sacred duty it was to rush up the World Trade Center stairways when everyone else was rushing down.
At 10:05 a.m. and 10:28 a.m., the moments when the two towers collapsed, members of the civilian GTMO Fire Dept. will hold their own tribute in conjunction with fire departments the world over, forming up outside GTMO's four fire stations and sounding the traditional salute to firefighters fallen — three sets of five bells, followed by a moment of silence.
“We're doing this because 343 of the people that died that day — more than 10 percent of the total — were firefighters,” said GTMO Fire Chief Francis C. Kruppa. “That’s probably the largest non-military group that's ever died in a single attack. And they were all in there with one goal — to save somebody else. So it’s extremely important that firefighters all over the world remember this event.”
And so Sept. 11, 2002 will be in most ways little different than any other Wednesday in the life of this detention operation. MP companies will go on and off shift at Camp Delta, take detainees to and from interrogations, play their part supporting this war on terror as they have since this operation began. Infantrymen and Port Security Units will keep perimeters and shores safe and secure. Support staffs and command chains will try to keep the detention operation and its troops well fed, fully cared-for and fairly paid.
But now and then throughout the day, at the times we all know all too well, the mission will pause. Soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines, Coast Guardsmen and firefighters, JTF-160 and JTF-170 alike will stop to honor the dead and remember the fallen of that terrible day, and remind ourselves one more time: This is why we’re here.
So you're going home...
How to deal with the stress of redeploying back to the life you left behind
By Spc. Michelle M. Scsepko
November 1, 2002
Finally! The day has come when you’re going back home, returning to those you left behind so many moons ago. Yes, this is the day you’ve been waiting for, reuniting with spouses, children, and loved ones. But brace yourself, servicemember, there may be some unexpected changes in the life you left when you departed and landed on GTMO.
Troops deployed to Guantanamo Bay in support of operation Enduring Freedom left behind friends, loved ones, and careers to selflessly fulfill their obligation to defend our nation in these chaotic and unstable times. As the days of their service go by here on the island where time seems to stand still, it’s easy to forget that the world outside has been moving at a business-as-usual pace. Although the men and women serving in GTMO have not waged war and carried fallen comrades off the field, they may still find that returning to the “real” world leaves them feeling out of place.
“Just because GTMO is not a ‘hot zone’ and troops stationed here aren’t dodging bullets doesn’t mean that they will return home unaffected by their time here or smoothly adjust to the changes at home,” said Army Maj. Sharon M. Newton, OIC 85th Combat Stress Control, Fort Hood, Texas. “We’ve found that redeploying back home is actually more stressful than deploying from home. Some soldiers feel the anxiety of not knowing what to expect upon their return, or they expect to go back and pick up where they left off — they hope to resume their normal routine, when things may have changed quite a bit,” she said.
Adjusting to the changes at home might initially be challenging for servicemembers. Roles in the household may have changed to manage the basic household chores; children may have grown and may be different in many ways, and spouses may have become more independent and learned new coping skills. This can leave a servicemember wondering if they still fit into the family.
Adjusting back into the hustle and bustle of everyday life can also come as a bit of a culture shock. Just the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit here at GTMO is a big difference from multi-lane traffic speeding down the highway at 70 mph.
“Communication is the key!” said Army Staff Sgt. Richard B. Howard, NCOIC CSC, Fort Hood, Texas. “Servicemembers must talk to their loved ones about how they feel and what they are thinking. Keeping emotions bottled up will do nobody any good. It will only cause more tension and frustration.”
Some possible expectations for soldiers about to depart and head home are: they may want to talk about what they saw or did, and others may seem not to want to listen. Or perhaps they may not want to talk and others will keep asking. Soldiers may miss the excitement of a deployment for a while, and may have changed their outlook and priorities in life. Additionally, face-to-face communication with your loved ones may be hard at first, as well as sexual intimacy.
“Soldiers have to understand that although things have changed somewhat, it’s okay and they have to learn to accept it. From changes at work to their children growing up a bit, in time, all will fit into place,” said Howard.
Sometimes young children don’t recognize their returning parent. They may cry or may hide or hesitate when asked to come to the servicemember at first. Older children may seem not to care, and children ranging from ages six to 12-years-of-age may want a lot of attention.
All of which affects the servicemember.
“Often, servicemembers want to jump in and do it all. But, they must remember to take it slow and ease back into their lives,” said Spc. Kathryne S. Hernandez, 85th CSC, Fort Hood, Texas.
“They want to do everything at once. Rebuild relationships, make up for time missed with their children, which becomes overwhelming for them,” said Newton.
Some tips for troops about to make the transition back to their normal lives after departing GTMO are: support good things your family has done while you’ve been gone, take time to talk with your spouse and children, make individual time for each child and your spouse, go slowly when re-establishing your place in the family, be prepared to make some adjustments, take time to listen and to talk to loved ones, and last, but certainly not least, go easy on partying.
“What’s recommended more so for Reserve and National Guard servicemembers upon their arrival home is that there is a family day in which everyone and their families get together and kind of wrap things up,” Newton said.
A similar tactic may work with the servicemembers with which you’ve spent so much time here — keep in touch a little, talk a little, and help each other regain your lives back home. “After living and working together with your unit members every day for the last however-many months, transitioning to no contact at all can be a little bit of a shock for the servicemember,” she said. “A gradual weaning may be helpful.”
Most importantly, all servicemembers must remember that there is no shame in asking for help with coping with feelings after returning home from a deployment.
“The help is available. May it be speaking to a chaplain or seeking counseling, there are outlets for soldiers to help them deal. Servicemembers must know that seeking help doesn’t mean that they are weak and it will not jeopardize their military careers. Lots of soldiers are going through the same things they are,” said Army Capt. Douglas W. Lane, 85th CSC, Fort Hood, Texas.
“Some of the greatest military minds, such as George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant struggled, faced depression, and needed help now and again.
“There is no reason for soldiers to feel ashamed,” he said.
Miller takes JTF reins
JTF-GTMO era kicks off with new permanent-party, active-duty commander
By Spc. Frank N. Pellegrini
November 8, 2002
In January there were the Marines, and Camp X-Ray. In March came the Army reservists and Camp Delta, and the dividing of leadership and responsibilities between JTF-160 and JTF-170, between detention and interrogation.
And now, nearly 10 months after the first detainees from the War on Terrorism arrived on this well-guarded tropic isle, the two missions are officially one, consolidated under an active-duty, permanent-party commander with an eye toward the future.
In a change-of-command ceremony held Monday afternoon outside the Pink Palace, under the American Flag marking the spot on which American soldiers first fought at GTMO over 100 years ago in the Spanish-American War, Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and his wife Pam assumed leadership of the new Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay.
“Today's change of command is a particularly special occasion, since it marks the end of an era,” said Gen. James T. Hill, commanding general of United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). “It affects not just these two officers but the entire command. It marks a change of leadership. It's time to recognize the accomplishments of the past and a time to renew our commitment to the challenges of the future,” he said.
It was also a time for ceremony, with the JTF’s Senior Enlisted Person of the Quarter, Sgt. Fernando Martinez of the 571st MP Co., and its Junior Enlisted Person of the Quarter, Airman 1st Class John L. Grant, presenting a bouquet of flowers to the incoming first lady of the command; JTF Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Raymond Tetreault delivered his invocation; and Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Mark J. Owens sang the National Anthem.
Then, after Hill’s remarks, it was time to honor the outgoing commander of JTF-160/170, Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, with the Defense Superior Service Medal for “exceptionally superior service while serving as commander Joint Task Force 160 and 170, United States Southern Command, from March 2002 to November 2002.”
Then it was Dunlavey’s time to say farewell, and pass the mantle of command to his successor.
“Today is a bittersweet day for me,” Dunlavey said. “I leave a command that as of March 1, when I formally arrived here, we had 28 people, a folding table and a laptop computer. Today we are a robust task force of over 2,000 personnel representing all the services as we contain over 600 detainees, many of whom are the most dangerous men in the world. We've completed over 4,000 interrogations, produced over 1,000 intelligence reports, and provided tactical intelligence to our troops in the field in Afghanistan, all while continuing to march forward and ever continuing to grow.
“We have had our bumps in the road,” Dunlavey acknowledged, “but due to the incredible professionalism of this truly joint command, we have a synergy and level of cooperation that I've never experienced in over 35 years in America's military. It's been a good-news story all the way.
“It's been tough to say goodbye to all of you,” Dunlavey concluded, “but I do it with the knowledge that I'm being replaced by Gen. Geoff Miller, a true soldier's general. I couldn't ask for anything better than that. Geoff, Task Force GTMO is all yours.”
With that, Miller strode up to the podium and officially assumed command. And if those standing ramrod-straight in the formation were inwardly looking for clues as to what life under this ‘soldier’s general’ might be like, Miller, in a Texan drawl, dropped a hint with his first words.
“Okay, everybody in this formation, g'head and flex your knees a little bit, and we'll get this ceremony over,” Miller began, before getting down to the official sentiments of the day.
“Gen. Hill, thank you for your confidence in selecting me to lead this Joint Task Force. I am proud and humbled to be given the opportunity to lead this effort to support the nation's campaign to win the war on terrorism,” Miller said.
“Our mission to gain and provide essential intelligence and secure the detainees is a critical element in setting the conditions that will ensure our nation and coalition partners will triumph. The accomplishments of Joint Task Force 160 and 170 have made a difference. Leaders and warriors, thanks for your commitment to excellence and your willingness to set the standard in our tough demanding mission.
“I'd like to thank Maj. Gen Mike Dunlavey for his superb efforts to move our task force forward and lay the foundation for future success. Your advice and expertise will be a key assist as we transition JTF-Guantanamo. Thanks for volunteering to spend some additional time sharing your recommendations with me as we shape the JTF's future. Again, thank you for your commitment to winning our critical portion of the war on terrorism.
Then Miller again spoke directly to the servicemembers standing before him, the enlisted and officers and company commanders representing the 2,000-strong JTF-GTMO that he is slated to lead far into the future.
“Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, make a difference every day,” Miller said. “That's our mission, that's our business. I look forward to leading you in this effort.”
For Miller, GTMO is the latest rung in a distinguished career that ranges from Germany to Fort Ord, Ca., from Commanding General of XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery, at Fort Bragg to Deputy Commanding General Eighth Army United States Army, Korea.
For JTF-GTMO, the arrival of a permanent-party commander is the latest sign of SOUTHCOM’s — and America’s — commitment to this corner of the War on Terrorism, and the latest reminder of how much a long-term part of that war this place is.
Veterans' night at GTMO
High command of JTF-GTMO gathers at Camp America to remember veterans
By Spc. Jean-Carl Bertin
November 15, 2002
On Veterans Day, more than 90 servicemembers assembled at Camp America’s new chapel to recognize those who have given and risked their lives to defend the values and freedom of the United States of America.
Present at this memorable event were Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the new commander of JTF-GTMO and Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, the former commander of the joint task force.
Invited by Army Chaplain (Maj.) Michael S. Merrill, Miller stepped up to the pulpit to share a few words of motivation and inspiration with the audience.
“It’s great seeing all of you coming here to celebrate the fellowship of the military, and more importantly, commemorate Veterans Day,” said Miller.
“The veterans we honor tonight are like each one of us, men and women who came to answer the call of our nation — to do the nation’s business — and to guarantee our freedom and the freedom of so many other people around the world.”
“We’re military for one reason,” he continued. “That is to defend the freedom of this nation. The nation has called on our military, you, to fight, and when we’re called on we’ll win. That’s what we are about.
“As you know, the nation is at war tonight. Our part of the war is here at Guantanamo Bay, making sure the detainees from the War on Terrorism are unable to further attack our nation, our country, our people. The good news is we have you here to ensure that it’s successful,” said Miller.
“We are all grateful for what you do. Many of you have made a very difficult sacrifice to give up a part of your life in the last six months to ensure we are successful. I am proud to be the commander of this joint task force, and I am proud to have you as its members,” said Miller.
Before concluding his impromptu address, the general reiterated his appreciation for the servicemembers here. “Thanks for making a difference to your nation. Thanks for carrying out to make sure that freedom’s light will always shine. Life is good on the first team, and that’s what we have right here. God bless you!”
After the general’s speech Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Raymond Tetreault led the audience in a prayer remembering the veterans for the sacrifices they’ve made for the flag. Afterward, he said to all the participants to “enjoy the night,” because this was also a social event for people to share food, drinks and conversation on a special occasion.
It seemed that everybody was moved and blended into the spirit of the “veterans’ night.”
“I think this is a good opportunity to really think about the people that have given their lives for us,” said Coast Guard Capt. Paul Crissy of PSU 307. “I think the general put it very appropriately when he said ‘everybody gave something, but some gave it all,’” said Crissy.
“It was a nice time to get together and to say goodbye to a lot of people and have some fellowship on Veterans Day,” said Army Maj. Gen. Dunlavey, who after seven months as commander of JTF-160/170 was due Tuesday to board the ferry, leave the GTMO sunshine and return home to his civilian life. “C.G. had a great thing to say: ‘we’re all veterans, and we’re still fighting this war,’” said Dunlavey. “We’re trying to protect everything we need and hold dear. We were there praying together, and ironically the enemy we’re fighting in the current global War on Terrorism is trying to rely on his version of what God said to destroy the world. What a contrast!”
Chaplain Merrill, the lead organizer of the event, was content with the turnout. “We had a house. Tonight we have seen that the leaders of Joint Task Force-GTMO support the soldiers,” he said.
“We wanted to do something from the leadership perspective to let every soldier, sailor, Marine, airman and Coast Guardsman know they are important, and that they are appreciated, and that we respect everyone who is down here making a sacrifice of their time and their lives and serving our country,” said Merrill.
“What happened tonight was actually a testimony that people of the different branches of service can work together for the same common goal. We may wear different uniforms, but when push comes to shove we have the same goal, which is to stand for what’s right and stand up for freedom.”
“I think it was a tremendous success, a testament to the cooperation of the forces here and a testament to the Lord,” said Sgt. Mark Winters of the 342nd Military Police Co. “It shows everybody in Camp America we can work together, and people are looking out for them.”
“I think one of the most important things we can do is remember our veterans, because if it wasn’t for them and their sacrifices we would not be here. Certainly we would not be here as free as we are,” said Winters.
Like Merrill, the organizers of Camp America’s Protestant services called the night a success.
“This just started out as a small conversation about organizing, for the soldiers here at Camp America, a social night in remembrance of the veterans, and amazingly we got more. The whole JTF-GTMO command came,” said Army Staff Sgt. John Sain. “I wasn’t expecting to see two generals in one night. It’s unbelievable and really gratifying.”
“When we try to do something, and God is in it, it just gets bigger. He’s totally awesome,” said Sain.
“Tonight was an excellent gathering. I was very impressed by the night whole setup, the whole format,” said Spc. Hollister Robinson of the 342nd MPs.
“I think we have achieved the purpose of the night,” he said. “Fellowship is always a great thing.”
“It was nice to have a commemoration of Veterans Day. On Monday night, I saw many veterans from Vietnam and the Gulf War,” said Army Chaplain Tetreault. “It’s important to pass on the tradition.”
“The reason behind these holidays is to not forget the sacrifices that were and are now being made for this country. I was pleased to see Gen. Miller coming up and showing his support for the servicemembers here,” said Tetreault.
“We always have to remember those who gave their tomorrow so we can have our tomorrow,” he added.
“A special thank you to the Navy Exchange for the refreshments, and the warehouse that provided all the paper product for the celebration of Veterans Day at GTMO,” said Chaplain Merrill at the end of the gathering.
Goings and comings...
‘Tis the season for rotation as units across GTMO get ready to head home for the holidays
By Spc. Frank N. Pellegrini
November 22, 2002
It’s that time again. The six months after six months of this Caribbean corner of the War on Terror are coming due, and another crew of the reservists and National Guardsmen who are the blood, guts, sweat and tears of this detention operation are getting ready, over the next handful of weeks, to go home. GTMO has been in love with transitions lately, from JTF-160 and JTF-170 to JTF-GTMO, from Gen. Baccus and Gen. Dunlavey to Gen. Miller; but this is the one that matters to a soldier or sailor or Marine or Coast Guardsman. This is the one that changes his life, or rather changes it back; this is the one when a troop takes the ferry to Leeward and never return.
This is GTMO’s own “Circle of Life.” The 342nd MPs, after more than their half-year share of flying detainees in and guarding them in Camp Delta between flights, took their own plane home to Ohio on Tuesday and passed their mission on to the the 984th out of Ft. Carson, Colorado. Next week the 239th ends their own year in active-duty boots (before GTMO, it was six months holding down Fort Polk) and beats it back to the Bayou, home in time for a Thanksgiving turduckin. The 43rd MP Brigade, who came down from Rhode Island in May to be the JTF’s supporting staff umbrella, will turn over the shop to their replacements in a few short weeks. Even “The Wire” will change hands soon, as the 361st Press Camp Headquarters heads back to New York City and hands the journalistic and press-escorting reins to the 362nd out of freedom-loving New Hampshire.
All through December, redeployment “windows” will be opening and closing, and by the new year there will be a new Camp Delta, with new name tapes for the same old detainees to try and read through. The 571st MPs will return to Fort Lewis, Wash. and rediscover rain; the 114th goes back to Mississippi and the Delta where the blues began. The 178th will head back to Georgia, where Dawgs can run free, and the 346th back to Kansas, where there’s no place like home.
And the new guards, the new staffers, the new soldiers and sailors and airmen and Coast Guardsmen will come rolling in. Some have already arrived; you can see them at McCalla Hangar filling out meal cards, at Camp America learning their mission; at the Tiki Bar, jabbering on about the view and the sunset and the price of beer, steadily boring those of us who’ve been here, done it, and seen it all before and before and before.
Some outgoing troops may shock the newbies with how happy they are to be leaving an all-expenses paid Caribbean tour to go home to winter coats and rent, but grizzled GTMO veterans might remember that maybe they were a little excited too, when they first showed up. Others will want to school their replacements about their new job, their new life, without making it sound as dreadfully dull as it’s probably become for them; they’ll remember how they felt the first time they looked a detainee in the eye and instantly realized just why they were here. They won’t be too cynical about all they’ve seen and heard, and allow the new arrivals to come in with their military ideals intact; everyone will just have to find out for himself what should be hoped for and what must be grudgingly accepted. The best course: look forward to home, and look back on six months in the sun with clear eyes. Come on — this place wasn’t so bad.
“I’m sure ready to get home,” said Spc. Timothy Bordelon of the 239th on Monday night, celebrating his last swing shift at Camp Delta. “But in the past six months, I’ve done a lot, seen a lot, and there’s a lot that I didn’t get to do, that I wish I had. What I have done has been rewarding, and now it’s time to get home and be with the family. But we can all look back and feel proud.”
“Now that it’s over,” added fellow 239th guard Spc. Cory Brown.
“Yeah, now that it’s over,” Bordelon agreed, laughing. “There’s a lot I’m going to miss about this place. But I’m glad to be home for the holidays. The holidays this year are going to mean a lot.”
For Staff Sgt. Donna E. Cordero of the 43rd MP Bde., finishing up her stint in the Inspector General office at the Pink Palace, redeployment time was a time of mixed feelings as well. “I’ll be happy to be home with my daughter,” she said, “but I’ll feel... I’ll miss the friends that I’ve made here and the sense of accomplishment of being part of this.”
“I always I knew I was a patriot, and I begged to come here, to be a part of this piece of history. But I also didn’t know how I’d be able to handle it, being away from my daughter every day for such a long time. But I’m proud of myself how I’ve done it, and I’ve really had some good times here.”
But time marches on, and all across GTMO, units of every shape, size and mission are going through the rigorous motions of departure. Cleaning and “sterilizing” HUMVEEs for transport back stateside; making inventory lists and packing six months’ worth of gear into duffel bags, anvil cases and CONEXes. After-action reports are being drafted, continuity books compiled, time for transitioning carved out of hectic short-timer’s schedules. And everybody who’s getting ready to leave is wondering if maybe there’s one more thing they want to do, or say, or save, before they leave GTMO for good.
For the 342nd, that impulse was better left alone. As the unit took its very last bus ride past Camp Delta in the wee hours of Tuesday, a tower guard saw the flash of a camera. The bus was boarded, all cameras were confiscated, and the unit left for home with a sour taste in its collective mouth.
Fitting a few last items into a CONEX out at McCalla hangar, 1st Sgt. Melvin Tipton of the 239th MP Co. shakes his head at the story.
“It must be tempting to try to take one shot to sum up this experience,” he said. “But you know, you’re never going to capture all you’ve done and seen here in a picture.”
“After all this time here, I know every fence, every gate in Camp Delta, every detail of that place,” Tipton said. “I’ve got it all” — he tapped his temple — “up here. If I’m home, and I want a picture, all I got to do is push replay in my head.”
New sheriffs in GTMO
300th MP Bde. hits the ground, prepares to be support staff of the JTF
By Spc. Chris S. Pisano
November 29, 2002
A group of volunteers greeted them at the Windward ferry landing with much fanfare, celebrating their arrival by waving American flags, giving out hearty handshakes and holding welcoming banners high in the air. But this was no welcome-home parade for soldiers returning to the States from the front lines. No, this was an arrival: that of the 300th Military Police Brigade from Michigan, hitting the ground at GTMO Saturday and marking their territory as the new supporting staff for JTF-GTMO operations.
And while many servicemembers throughout the JTF are looking forward to returning home for the holidays, finally finished with their deployment and content or not with what GTMO had to offer, the soldiers of the 300th will be seeing this Caribbean base with fresh eyes backed with the determination to fulfill their role in the current War on Terrorism and Operation Enduring Freedom.
“We’re here to provide full support of the War on Terror, to be an integral part of the mission completion of the JTF while taking care of all of the servicemembers serving in it,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John R. VanNatta, command sergeant major of the 300th and now camp superintendent for JTF-GTMO.
Ceasing to exist as a brigade in the traditional sense upon their arrival, the 300th is now part of the combined force here. In command of an area spanning five states back home, some of the units that fall under the jurisdiction of the 300th have already been deployed here, such as the 342nd MP Co., which just left the island last week after finishing their deployment.
While mobilizing out of Fort Dix, N.J., the brigade headquarters linked up with several of the units currently getting ready to come down to GTMO. Additional Michigan units that fall under the umbrella of the 300th will soon be here to offer their services and to support the brigade as a leading force in Enduring Freedom.
“The 300th has had a big chunk of the War on Terrorism. Since Sept. 12, 2001 we have been heavily engaged with numerous, ongoing deployments throughout the world,” said VanNatta. “While at Dix we had an intense train-up with all of the other units deploying down here, which has prepared us even more for this mission.”
In addition to the already healthy portion of canned mobilization activities, including the myriad of Soldier Readiness Process stations and the venerable weapons qualifications, the 300th went through non-lethal weapons and techniques training and Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical training. Perhaps most helpful, though, was the Mission Readiness Exercise, which involved training in the actual handling of a detainment facility.
“Prior to leaving home station we went through a pre-scrub SRP, and as reservists we were constantly training,” said VanNatta. “We even had trainers come down here ahead of time, see first hand what we would encounter, and then build a program that could better prepare us while at Dix. The training was real good and went down smooth.”
But getting ready to handle a detention facility of alleged terrorists can only be prepared for so much.
“The mission here is a little bit different than we’re used to. We were originally trained for interment/resettlement, basically Prisoner of War operations,” said VanNatta. “Here, we follow the Geneva Convention principles, but the detainees are not military combatants.”
The battalions of the 300th back home are capable of holding 4,000 to 6,000 POWs in a mass camp, he said, but Camp Delta is a different animal — a high-security facility. And dealing with detainees is a lot different than dealing with the average enemy soldier. The soldiers of the 300th, however, should have no real problem getting into the swing of things.
“The basic principles of a confinement operation are the same, which will help to crystallize our mission — dealing with a prison environment. It won’t be that great of a leap to get accustomed to this operation,” VanNatta said.
A warden/superintendent of a 3,188-bed prison back in the civilian world, VanNatta is no doubt in tune with this sort of operation, and said he will draw from his own personal experiences and education in this field to better serve the mission.
But VanNatta isn’t the only man who knows what’s going on.
“Our brigade does have Enemy Prisoner of War units, which will help the mission,” said VanNatta. “As units with more expertise come in, there will be a constant building on the enhancements in the JTF.”
Change is good, and VanNatta has already seen it during his short tenure in GTMO.
“From when I first visited here a couple of months ago until now, I’ve noticed the quality-of-life has been greatly improved, which is evident in the attitudes of all the servicemembers,” said VanNatta. “GTMO is a good assignment. It’s a solid, clean base, and I’m impressed by the friendliness of the servicemembers working here. Morale also seems good, and it’s always improving.”
The 300th will be adding to that pool of morale, said VanNatta, representing the reserves as the backbone of the Army.
“We’re fortunate to have some strongly motivated troops from the Guard and Reserves at GTMO,” he said. “Also, the EPW units are strictly Reserve and National Guard, which is a good show of how they help augment the active component.”
The “purple” joint-service environment, peppered with representations of all the different services, is another plus for the 300th, according to VanNatta.
“It’s an honor to be able to work with the other branches. There’s truly is a wealth of leadership here. We’ll be able to learn from their strengths, incorporate them into ours, and the 300th will return as a better unit,” he said.
Also, the transition with the members of the 43rd Military Police Brigade — who will be returning home to give Rhode Island its population back — has been progressing smooth as silk, according to VanNatta.
“It’s hard to let go of ownership, but the 43rd has been very good with passing their knowledge off,” he said. “So fortunately we won’t have to start from square one.”
Having a Joint Task Force out of short pants is a huge benefit for the soldiers of the 300th MP Bde., with the structural groundwork well-laid for them already. And when their subordinate MP companies arrive here, the average Camp Delta guard here will have been long spared from having to live in the tents of Freedom Heights. And now that Camp America North, with its hard roofs and indoor latrines, is open, even the fine SEAhuts of Camp America will look rough enough to these newbies.
“We’re very appreciative of the sacrifices that our predecessors have made here,” said VanNatta. “They had a rough go, but we hope to pick up the ball and carry it even further. We’ll build on the remarkable accomplishments that they have made, just as we can expect the people to follow us here to carry on the same.”
In other words, to VanNatta, GTMO’s future looks bright.
“Joint Task Force -GTMO will only improve,” said VanNatta. “We have excellent soldiers and leaders coming, and with the excellent ones already here in place, we’ll have a winning combination for running a fantastic military operation.”