News: Second Mission to Cuba Completed
Story by Spc. Megan Burnham
By Megan Burnham
Joint Task Force Guantanamo Public Affairs
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – As the new year begins, the Joint Task Force will go through some changes as the 111th Combat Support Brigade (Forward) of the New Mexico National Guard completes their mission, and the Puerto Rico National Guard returns for their fourth deployment.
This is the second time the New Mexico National Guard has deployed to Cuba, their first mission was quite different. It was in 1898 when the New Mexico Guardsmen first served with Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders" and took part in the legendary charge of San Juan Hill near Santiago, Cuba.
More than 100 years later, in January 2008, the New Mexico National Guard deployed to Guantanamo Bay to relieve the Puerto Rico National Guard as the Headquarters, Headquarters Company of the JTF.
"We basically deployed to be the command element of the JTF," said Army Sgt. Maj. Matt Aragon. "The mission was stressful at first, but we took charge and have been doing an outstanding job ever since."
As the unit first arrived, everyone was assigned to a specific mission that related to their military occupational specialty. The different missions included: transportation, military commissions, support Headquarters of the HHC, engineering, the Joint Detention Group, operations, supply, security and administration.
"A majority came already knowing what they needed to do and had prior training," said Aragon. "When we had to fill slots, we tried to recruit Soldiers with the required MOS."
"A lot of the officers were assigned different and unfamiliar jobs," Aragon added, "but they soon learned and exceeded in their work which demonstrated good caliber of the officers."
This deployment was New Mexico's first time working in a joint environment, where different languages and styles of work were put to the test.
"There was a noticeable change when we got here, but everyone did their part and performed their work to standard," said Army Sgt. Griselda Holquin. "This all paid off because we'll be leaving [the JTF] on a good note."
"Everyone has developed in their leadership and organization skills," Aragon said, "and raised the bar of the standard operating procedures."
Army Brig. Gen. Gregory Zanetti, ground forces commander of the New Mexico National Guard, said that he was also exceptionally proud of how the New Mexico Soldiers performed at Guantanamo Bay.
"They are knowledgeable, professional, and dedicated Soldiers, America's best," said Zanetti.
As the Puerto Rico National Guard returns to Guantanamo Bay, Aragon had some encouraging words and advice to ease the transition.
"We're going to take advantage of the time we're here together so [the Puerto Rico National Guard] can ask us any questions they might need to accomplish the mission and to ease the transformation. We're going to ensure they can do the best job possible because they are the command element and they have to set the standard for the JTF."
"My advice to the Puerto Rico National Guard is to stay flexible," added Zanetti. "Much will be changing at Guantanamo Bay in 2009 but, I know they will perform the mission admirably."