The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

May 4, 2014

W.Va. Guard unit goes to Gitmo

Working security in Guantanamo Bay

FAYETTEVILLE — A West Virginia National Guard unit will carry on a tradition of the soldiers who fought over 250 years before them.

Thirty men and women of the 863rd Military Police Company, based in Glen Jean, will travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to help run the prison there, officials said Saturday at a send-off ceremony at the Fayette County Memorial Building in Fayetteville.

“They’ll see a lot of interesting things and people that have value systems that aren’t even close to what we think is right,” Major General James Hoyer said. “They’ll be part of the detainee operations support mission.

“This military police unit will actually be running the day-to-day security and operations related to maintaining those detainees down there in Guantanamo Bay.”

Hoyer said it’s the National Guard that helps run the prison there and each unit rotates on and off.

“This particular unit as a military police company was tasked to provide a rotation for down there,” he said. “They’ll be on-ground for about 9 months and their total deployment is almost a year.

“They’ll do some specific training to ensure that they have the right skill sets to be able to manage the kind of detainees there.

“While we don’t get credit for it all the time, we as Americans take a lot of extra effort to make sure that detainees are properly treated and cared for, no matter what they’ve done.”

Hoyer said the heritage of the West Virginia National Guard goes back to a time before West Virginia was even a state.

“We carry a flag in one of our units that’s part of a militia company that was formed in 1735 and fought with George Washington when he was a major in 1755,” he said. “In 1775, General Washington called for them to come to Cambridge and be part of the original formation of the Continental Army.

“In July of 1775 a group of 98 did the same thing these guys are doing at Shepherdstown and marched 600 miles to Cambridge. They’ve got a huge tradition, lineage and history that we have to keep up. Those people dealt with the same thing that these people are dealing with.

“They’re facing separation from family and community,” Hoyer added. “They did it because they love their family enough that they’re willing to make that sacrifice. That makes for a pretty unique group of people.”

We don’t give enough credit to military families and what they do, Hoyer said.

“Sometimes we forget that the families are sacrificing as much, if not more, than the service member,” he said. “The service member has the ability to stay focused on the mission.

“The family has to be back here and deal with everything that goes on during the day-to-day while worrying about that service member. That’s a huge challenge for service families.”

Being away from those they love will be hard, but the experience will be a huge learning opportunity for the soldiers, Hoyer said.

“The particular mission that they’re going to see, whether it’s at Guantanamo Bay or a young sergeant on patrol in a village in Afghanistan, it’s all about learning other people’s perspective,” he said. “In the case of the National Guard, we’re good at setting the example of building partnerships with other nations. They’ll get a huge perspective on what things are like outside of West Virginia.

“They will have a whole series of additional training focused on their role in the detainee operations piece to understand the things they need to understand to be effective and to follow the right rule of law.”

The soldiers leave for Fort Bliss in Texas on Sunday, Hoyer said. After a month of training, the men and women will go to Cuba.

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com

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