News: Better the 2nd or 3rd Time Around
Story by Spc. Megan Burnham
By Megan Burnham
Joint Task Force Guantanamo
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - Not many Joint Task Force personnel today can say what U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay was like when the first tour began because they were not deployed here during that time, and they haven't returned to tell the story. However, four Port Security Unit 305 members have indeed returned to Guantanamo Bay to complete their second or even their third deployment here.
"I'm just glad to be back and look forward to it," said Coast Guard Command Master Chief Wayne Miesen. "A lot of things have changed."
Miesen has deployed to Guantanamo Bay all three times PSU 305 has deployed here. Chief Petty Officer Rick Reese, Petty Officer 1st Class Kirk McRee and Petty Officer 1st Class Luis Rivera were also deployed the first time in January 2002 and have now returned for their second deployment in December 2008.
"I thought [this deployment] was a mission that needed to be done," Rivera said. "I'm glad to be back."
PSU 305 was the first Coast Guard unit to deploy here in 2002, not long after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The unit had just come off active duty in New York in November when they received the call that they were coming to Guantanamo Bay.
"The anticipation of being called to active duty so shortly after the attacks on our country, of course, weighed heavy on everyone's mind," McRee said. "I'm personally proud to be here. I think the mission to come to Guantanamo Bay and work with others was a good choice from the beginning and it will continue to be."
After receiving the call, PSU 305 didn't have long to prepare and train before traveling down here to begin their tour.
"When we got here, we didn't know exactly what our duties were," Rivera said. "We learned as we went along but we had good leadership then that helped us to hit the ground running."
The quality of life in Guantanamo Bay was much different then, especially for the JTF. After they completed their in-processing, they were taken to their quarters in Windward Loop. In fact, the entire JTF was living in Windward Loop at the time.
"We were all jammed, the entire JTF, into Windward Loop which had been abandoned [at the time]," Miesen said. "We were given cots and up the hill we went."
It is safe to say the living conditions have improved since then with the construction of Cuzco housing. In addition to housing, many other aspects of the quality of life in Guantanamo Bay have also improved.
"There's a big difference from before, facility-wise," Miesen said. "All the accommodations have improved. There are more places to eat and all the hours [of the facilities] have been extended."
Even though much has changed over the years, some things have stayed the same.
"The recreation stuff, including fishing [has stayed the same]," Reese said. "The landscape has also stayed pretty much the same other than a few buildings stuck up here and there."
PSU 305 was also the first Coast Guard unit to deploy a second time to Guantanamo Bay in December 2005 and the only unit to return for a third deployment in December 2008.
"We have established a good relationship with the JTF," Miesen said. "We've had to work with both the Naval Station and the JTF and the boat operations got along well with the Naval Station in addition to the JTF."
"I knew this was a very purposeful mission that we would be given and I feel highly positive about our stand-up and our arrival here," McRee said. "It's been great since we've been here."