Members of the Virgin Islands National Guard and Air National Guard may be staying in the Caribbean for the next year, officers said Saturday at a deployment ceremony at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus, but their deployment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is still a critical mission.
About two dozen St. Croix members of the Guard got a warm send-off from family and friends. A similar ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Sgt. First Class Leonard B. Francis Armory for the remaining members of the 72-member contingent of V.I. Guard members bound for Cuba.
The 786th Combat Services Support Battalion will be part of the 2,200-member Joint Task Force at Gunatanamo, a strategic intelligence gathering and detention facility holding enemy combatants in the war on terror.
"While we’re not going into a combat zone, there is dangerous work ahead," said Brig. Gen. Timothy Lake, deputy commander of the task force. But he assured the family members present that "every effort will be taken to be sure your loved ones return to you safely."
After the ceremony, Lake said members of the V.I. contingent will not likely come into contact with the people held prisoner at Guantanamo. Instead, they will serve as his support staff, lending their experience and leadership to the headquarters.
It is an experienced group, noted Maj. Gen. Renaldo Rivera, adjutant general of the V.I. National Guard. Of the 72 members going, 26 on on their second deployment and seven are making their third.
"That is commitment, that is a soldier being a soldier," Rivera said. Turning to Lake, Rivera said, "I am giving you the gem of the Virgin Islands to command and control."
Command Sgt. Maj. Barry Frederiks told the family members present that their loved ones were going away for a year on a mission that is important to the country.
"This mission is delicate," he said. "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."
1st Lt. Josephine Hector-Murphy noted that the deployment is historic for another reason as well. It is the first time that members of the V.I. National Guard and Air National Guard have deployed together, she said.
According to the Guard, the V. I. troops will depart from the territory early November to a mobilization station at Fort Lewis, Washington. After a brief training period, the unit will advance to their duty station in Cuba for the next year.