June 3, 2004 – In the second major military homecoming within three weeks, family, friends and public officials turned out at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport at mid-day Thursday to welcome the V.I. National Guard's 661st Military Police Company back from a year's duty at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in his remarks told the 62 company members: "I take great pride in joining with your families, friends and loved ones in welcoming you home. You have served America in the best tradition of thousands of Virgin Islanders before you who have departed these shores to do their part in the preservation of our freedom."
He extended "the commendation and gratitude of all freedom- and peace-loving people of our great nation for the unselfish service you have given."
The unit was activated last June 27 and was deployed to Guantanamo Bay last August. There, according to a V.I. National Guard release, the company was assigned to conduct detention operations at the Camp Delta Maximum Confinement Facility. Its mission, the release stated, involved "hands-on enemy detainee operations."
Turnbull in his remarks said he had been briefed by V.I. National Guard Adjutant General Cleave McBean that the Virgin Islanders carried out their mission to conduct detention operations "with professionalism and with the highest degree of dedication."
Before leaving Cuba, the members of the company "celebrated a successful tour of duty with a victory dinner during which Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, JTF-Guantanamo commander, congratulated the group," reads the caption of a photograph of some of the company members published in last week's issue of The Wire, the newsletter of Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen, in a release issued from her Washington, D.C., office Thursday afternoon, also welcomed the National Guard unit home.
"Although I am not there to personally welcome you," she said, "I want you to know that we are very grateful that you have returned to your families safely."
Christensen recalled having had the opportunity to see some of the Virgin Islanders at their post in Guantanamo Bay when she visited there February as part of a congressional delegation from the Committee on Homeland Security. "I was very proud to witness first hand the good work that you were doing in Cuba," she said, adding that she, along with "the rest of the community and the nation," is "very proud of your service."
After completing its mission at Guantanamo Bay, the Virgin Islanders spent a week at Fort Dix, N.J., going through demobilization procedures before they were flown back to the territory on Thursday.
Following the welcoming ceremonies at the St. Croix airport, the St. Thomas-St. John soldiers then were transported to Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas, where McBean and other officials also participated in a homecoming ceremony.
It was the opposite order of arrival from that of May 18, when 54 V.I. soldiers of the 631st Engineer Team were flown first to Cyril E. King Airport on their return from eight and a half months of duty in Afghanistan. (See "Hugs, Tears, Yelps of Joy Greet Returning VING Unit".) Those from St. Croix were then flown to Rohlsen Airport.
At present, no other V.I. National Guard units are on active duty abroad, although individual Virgin Islanders are serving with attachments deployed from the mainland.
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