GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - When a service member gets orders for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, their duty typically lasts anywhere from six months to three years. But now, thanks to an innovative training plan initiated by a member of the Port Security Unit 301, Maritime Security Detachment, Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, some Coast Guard Reservists could get orders for just a couple weeks of Active Duty Training. And, in that short span of time, they will face many of the same challenges as those deployed to some of the most hostile combat zones in the world.
Far from the frigid winter waters of Cape Cod, Mass., Coast Guard Reservists from PSU 301, arrived at GTMO for a three-week training scenario and to join their fellow maritime enforcement specialists currently supporting JTF-GTMO for an ADT scenario designed to improve individual and unit readiness. Right away, the maritime enforcement specialists hit the ground, just as they would in a real-world mobilization, with briefings and training.
“We joined the Marines and started with standard patrolling,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Luke Charette, ME specialist, PSU 301, who came in for the training. “We were in the field for three days the first week and we did day patrolling and night patrolling with blank rounds.”
As the Troopers patrolled, groups of Opposing Forces roamed around. The OPFOR set IEDs and concealed machine gun nests, which the Coast Guardsmen and Marines reacted to. The Troopers practiced defensive driving skills including: three-point turns in Humvees and ways to block intersections. Based on feedback from other contingency operations, the Troopers focused on identification of potential IEDs, reactions to IEDs and complicated ambushes that incorporated Rocket Propelled Grenades and machine gun fire. The training culminated a with fire-team level live-fire exercise at end of week.
“As MEs, a security division of the Coast Guard, our manuals all come from the Marine handbook,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Ralph DiLisio, ME specialist, PSU 301. “They all reference the Marines.”
And the joint training benefits not only the Reservists, but also the Marines who are stationed at GTMO and charged with base security.
“We have the Coast Guard out here participating like Marines,” said Marine Capt. Josef Patterson, commander of Bravo Company 5th Platoon, said. “Here at GTMO we work together to secure the water, the ports as well as the land, so we need to know what language to speak. So, when we’re communicating from ship to shore and shore to ship, we can keep this place safe.”
In addition to working in four to five person teams, the Marines and Coast Guardsmen completed a six-point, 10-mile land navigation course covering some of GTMO’s most inhospitable terrain in the blazing Cuban climate.
“The land nav went over a bunch of hills, just up and down,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Gentile, maritime enforcement specialist with PSU 301. “The first few days were the roughest. You would go to sleep at night and be soaked in sweat and wake up and be freezing. That second night too, your boots were wet; but it’s the military so you can’t complain, you just have to do it.”
“The weather just made you more tired, it wore you down,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan MacDonald, maritime enforcement specialist with PSU 301. “You’re tired from not sleeping and we probably walked about 36 miles throughout the whole 48-hour operation.”
As part of the training exercise, both Marines and Coast Guardsmen were given one Meal Ready to Eat per day and received a scant few hours, sometimes half hours, of rest between missions. This food and sleep deprivation had its purpose, though.
“You may go out there for a six-hour mission and end up being out for two days, so the food and sleep deprivation is a kind of mind and body hardening just so you know what it’s like,” said Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Teschke, infantry rifleman with B Co., 5th Platoon.
Along with the scheduled training with the Marines of MCSFCO, the Coast Guardsmen also spent time on actual missions alongside their Marine counterparts, working 10-hour, fence-line patrols in the guard towers along the Cuba-Naval Station border.
“Up in the tower you were scanning your sector, looking for anything out of the ordinary,” said MacDonald.
“It was us watching them, them watching us,” said Charette. “You watch them do their guard change over, and they watch us do ours. You try to develop patterns of what the Cubans are doing and anything unusual will come out of the pattern you set.”
Much of the training received is unit specific to PSU 301, which specializes in Port Security Operations. The unit is charged with deploying anywhere in the world and securing a port or waterway. Most of their missions also involve working jointly with Marines and integrating security teams with the Marine’s security teams for a unified front. Once the transition has taken place, the PSU provides security for naval supply lines to come in and reenforce the assaulting force on land.
“What we’re doing is availing ourselves a training opportunity with one of the finest Marine Corps units in the world,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Mark A. Stuart, deputy director and executive officer, PSU 301. “We brought them down here to train with the best. The time to flex our capabilities isn’t when you’re under fire, it’s now, when we have the opportunities to work with them (Marines). That’s why we need to train with these guys.”
Although the Coast Guardsmen had some similar training at their ME school, working with Marines who are doing the job day-in and day-out paid substantial dividends in terms of building lasting foundations of cooperation. Not just for the MCSFCO or PSU, but for the entire Naval Base.
“This training furthers our relationship,” said MacDonald. “We came down and thought we were going to be doing stuff with our unit and when we got here we found out we were doing this and we weren’t lost. We had the skills, this was just honing them.”
“This training makes a more well-rounded Coastie,” said Gentile. “I had Coast Guard training, but now I have Marine training, more in-depth training. It shows you an angle you haven’t seen before.”
Although the Coast Guardsmen may have gone to different schools for their training, their performance was well noted by their brothers-in-arms.
“They did phenomenal,” said Marine Lance Cpl. Shannon Acey, infantry rifleman, MCSFCO, B Co., 5th Platoon. “I think it benefits us to bring other branches in to learn what we do because if something happens, we all need to know how the others work.”
“I would love to have these guys out every time we train,” said Patterson. “They’ve been an asset to have with the Marines and I’d like to see different ones to get that cohesiveness going. They’re safe, they’re proficient, they’re attitudes are wonderful, they have no discipline issues at all; they’re one of mine.”
As the training concluded, the Cape Cod-bound Coast Guardsmen from PSU 301 said they would be taking what they learned and experienced during their tour at GTMO back to their home unit.
“It’s huge for us go back to our unit and wherever we go with our unit, whatever we do, we know how the Marines operate,” said Charette. “We take our qualifications to another level. It gives us great ability to instruct back at our unit on what our unit expects from them. It creates a working environment where the Marines know ‘these guys are the real deal, they’re trained up and we can work with them.’”