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HomeNewsArchivesNational Guard Troops Gearing Up for Delicate Cuba Mission

National Guard Troops Gearing Up for Delicate Cuba Mission

To much applause and many high-fives, some 70 V.I. National Guard members were saluted Sunday on St. Thomas as they prepared for a year-long deployment to the controversial U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

About 200 family members and fellow soldiers and airmen packed the auditorium at the Leonard B. Francis Armory to celebrate the 72-member contingent of V.I. Guard bound for Cuba.

"I’m proud to serve with each and every one of you," said Brig. Gen. Timothy Lake, who will lead a rare combined task force of National Guard soldiers and airmen. Lake is deputy commander of a 2,200-member Joint Task Force at Guantanamo.

He urged those present Sunday to support the soldiers and airmen by helping those they leave behind and by keeping details of their mission quiet, reminding them that Guantanamo is about to become a political hot spot.

President Barack Obama has promised to shut the infamous detention center down at Guantanamo, saying in January that the prison "will be closed no later than one year from now."

That puts the deploying members of the V.I. National Guard right in the middle of the transition time, which is sure to be front-page news around the world.

Some 220 prisoners remain in the facility, which was opened after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

"This mission is delicate," said Maj. Gen. Renaldo Rivera, adjutant general of the V.I. National Guard, at a similar ceremony Saturday on St. Croix. "There might not be bullets flying, but what they have to do is vital to the nation. They have to do it right, and do it right the first time."

The National Guard spokesperson for the territory has ignored numerous requests for more information on the deployment.

What is known is that V.I. soldiers from the 786th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB) and airmen from the 285th Combat Communications Squadron will deploy from the territory in early November, first to a mobilization station at Fort Lewis, Wash., and then, after a short stint of training, to Cuba.

About 30 other members of the V.I. National Guard are deployed now for a year-long tour in Kosovo. A third of those deploying to Cuba have already deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Some are on their third post-9/11 deployment.

Support from the community is vital right now, said Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis.

"Focus on the mission," he told the deploying troops Sunday. "Leave your families to us. They are going to be taken care of."

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